Call me stubborn, but I refuse to quit! T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. is the foundation to success in learning and life! Exploring the dynamics of a successful classroom and how grit is a vital characteristic for student achievement
I was walking past a storefront the other day when I saw a sign that read, “The Sun is Shining Just For You!” I felt a smile stretch across my face. For one second, I thought to myself how amazing is that… just for me!
As I continued on, I felt myself a little lighter on my feet and truth be told, in my heart. I went from looking around to looking straight forward and into the eyes of others, just trying to capture what was around me. With each shop, I started noticing the lighter moments. The small talk. The giggles. The laughter. It was like the sun was truly shining everywhere!
people helping others
doors being held
pleases being said
And thank yous being offered in return.
kindness in voices
care in words be spoken
love being shared.
where had I been
what else had I been missing, when I wasn’t looking forward.
That quote had shifted my mindset in one small moment. I had been filling my head with so much noise… like a storm that keeps you up at night, I had forgotten about the sun and how it does shine! I decided that I was going to head back and buy that quote. I planned to set in a place so that I would have to pass and read each day. When I entered the store, I looked everywhere. I asked a young lady working if there were any more copies of the quote in the window. As luck would have it, that was the last one and it was not for sale. With one last glance, I looked back to grab another glimpse as I left the store. It was then that I realized there was more. I had missed the bottom half, tucked behind a figurine. It read,
“what will you do with it?”
Oh, Wow! What would I do with it? I was convinced that it wasn’t for sale for a reason. It wasn’t mine to buy and keep for myself, it was meant to be given away. As I walked away, I knew that was there for me to read that day. So I leave you with this,
The Sun is Shining Just For You! What will you do with it?
My eyes have seen so much in my lifetime and my heart has felt each and every single moment. This is my story, one of circumstances, courage, love, and faith. I have seen the purest of love, felt laughter that has come from my toes, and have also had to refocus my faith at times when life didn’t feel as easy as I had hoped. My start in this world has always guided my journey… It has been my foundation, my compass, and my saving grace. I must never forget where I came from as it was there that my faith saved my soul.
To have complete trust
have full confidence
commit without reservation
My faith didn’t start as other Christians may share. For me, my journey in my faith was an escape from my own reality, one that fear dominated all of my senses. With fear, came a smaller world to live in and that was not what my heart was looking for… but someone once told me that fear and faith cannot live in the same home and it was from that point that trust had to be built for the grand living I had planned in my head!
I was committed to finding a better me.
The day came… I was but a child, and my neighbors offered to pick me up each Sunday and take me to church. They had noticed my family had gone on occasion to another local church, but not consistently and they wanted to offer this opportunity to me. All I had to do was be ready and waiting at the bottom of the driveway each Sunday. All I could think of was if they see potential in me, I need to open my eyes and see it too! I built up the courage and jumped on the chance. I made sure I was ready and waiting. Not because I was a good Christian girl, but because it gave me an opportunity to see beyond myself… to be around a place of calm when most often my own life was feeling nothing short of chaos. This experience was leading to a better me and I could feel it inside, filling me up. I would sit down in the pew and soak in every word being said. I would open up the hymnal and sing every song as if my heart had written each one. I believed if I looked for better in the world, I would see it. I didn’t know what shape it took or if I would know when it was right in front of me, but what I did learn quickly was how it made me feel and that was something I always recognized… it was a sense of trust, belief, confidence, and commitment. My FAITH was starting to grow inside me and I was no longer seeing the world through a lens of fear. I was but a child, age 7-8 , and I was certain that I wanted to be a part of something so much bigger than me.
Love steers so much of what I do. As the years have passed, my faith has been lifted, beautified, rattled, and at times felt like it had been crushed. I am most certain the biggest reason my faith has waivered has been because of how deeply I love. From the chaotic world we live in to the loss of dear loved ones, not to mention the ups and downs of raising children (which in itself is the scariest experience ever as we try to be the best parents possible to each of them individually), all while trying our best to live a life of goodness, balance, one of faith… one that serves.
As I age, I can now see that it is not a dark cloud that life hangs over me at times or that I was dealt a hand worse off than another… this. is. life. It is my life and in order to see the good around me, I must be the good around me. I must look for it, create it, and hold on to my faith to strengthen it.
This is my path. This is my journey. This is my heart. This is my faith.
Can you even imagine how every child could feel if we were to take what they are facing and turn it into an opportunity? When in life can you be handed the perfect storm of uncertainty to build such grit and resilience, blended with hope? This CAN happen AND through it, we have the ability to be a positive influence. What our children need is stability and we can be their stabilizer! The way that we become a stabilizer is by recognizing, owning, planning, and in the end, taking action for the betterment of every child!
First, we need to recognize that it is our adult responsibility to do everything within our power to keep our children stable or steady. This is the moment that we as adults should feel empowered by our knowledge, experience, and wherewithal to create impact. In addition, we need to execute and take hold of our opportunity to have a positive impact through our own words and actions.
Next, we need to recognize that we do have options and a larger sense of control than we always accept and project. This is the space that we take ownership of… not a space of blame.
Then, we need to plan. In order to start being a stabilizer, we must stop a few very basic things from happening that we actually are in full control of within our space. These are not limited to the 3 Step approach I lay out below in “Take Action”, but it is a starting point. I am simply pointing out that they belong to adults and not to our children! There is no doubt that I may get pushback on this by some that say they do not feel we should hide information from our children. However, the research suggests otherwise and children need us to protect the developmental process that they are naturally going through. Keep in mind I am talking about keeping the focus on our children so in turn, we must be the adults that they deserve.
Finally, adults must take steps to stop the negative impact, in order to make room to start the positive. Here are three simple steps that every adult can put into action to become a stabilizer for children:
Stop blaming others… If we want to raise our children to be accountable for their own actions, we must stop planting the seed that so much of their lives is to blame on others. This only steals their own power and sense of control that we should be nurturing.
Stop and think… is this conversation going to lead to betterment for my child? Should I ask them to leave or maybe wait until they are in bed? They do not need to know everything and yes, it can have a negative impact on them to know too much at an inappropriate age.
Stop talking about their “new normal” and embrace the change that is in front of you. No one ever said that we had to agree with it, but we must find our way through it. Simply put, we are not going to be given a pass to go around it. Change is the one constant that we can depend on in life and we must help our children learn how to navigate it while we are still able to do so alongside them. Not only does this help them understand that life will always evolve, but that our own resilience will grow stronger with each encounter.
Reframing our focus and taking on the responsibility to play a pivotal role is imperative. Let me share with you a time that my husband and I had to create an opportunity out of what felt like a complete nightmare that was out of our control.
As many of my readers know, my son Trent has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I remember when he was 8 and his worst fear was a pandemic. I remember thinking to myself, how does he even know what a pandemic is at the age of eight? And why did the world teach my sweet boy this huge fear? I also remember the reassurance we gave him reminding him that it was so unlikely he would ever have to live through one. It was almost like the reassurance we gave him was the open conversation we should have kept to ourselves, along with the quick reaction I had to blame the world for this fear. That reassurance came from a space of love wrapped around what we felt was our reality. For Trent, reassurance did not build resilience but brought about the need for more. It fed his OCD and in turn gave him less control and again built more resentment.
This open and ongoing conversation never built up his character so we knew we had to move on to a better plan. One that would empower him. One that created an opportunity for us to be his stabilizer, keeping him steady while he navigated life’s constant change. And so we did.
The unlikeliness of a pandemic kept us from facing some fears head-on, until now. That unlikeliness turned into certainty all these years later and what once would have broken him, became the ultimate test of his growth and strength. He is now 18 and has reframed OCD in his life. What was once a debilitating illness has now been refocused into strength and has even become his own positive stabilizer. He no longer looks at life’s struggles as an unfairness to a situation, and he holds himself accountable in the moment without letting it define his future. In place, he has stretched his mindset, developed grit and resilience, and has hope for a better tomorrow.
What will you do with this perfect storm of uncertainty? Can you even imagine how every child could feel if we were to take what they are facing and turn it into an opportunity?
I was in another conversation yesterday about what school will look like for our children this fall. That conversation wove its way in and around many topics before it led to the always-asked question, “ So, what grade do you teach?” My answer gave way to pause and laughter as I answered it incorrectly! Ha! You heard me… I answered that very question the same way I have answered it for over 20 years with, “3rd-grade!” And just like that, I took pause and said, “Well, I have been in that grade for a very long time, but not right now actually!” Yep,just like that, I went on to explain that my career path had changed to being a cyber teacher for the upcoming school year. The beautiful part was being able to share the WHY behind it… because that is what our children need right now.
It really is that simple. This is what our children need right now. Our children need an opportunity to choose where and how they will learn this fall and my district chose to create a program that would meet those needs. That is called change, not the “new normal,” but quite simply… change! In my humble opinion, this is the kind of change a community should rally behind!
My family lives in this very community.
I work in this community.
I believe in this community!
I want my sons to be grateful for the options they have been afforded and enter their senior and freshman year with an ambitious attitude, along with the mindset that their year will be a success for each of them. Our own children will be embracing another option that our district is providing, which is the hybrid program, where they will actually go to brick-and-mortar on scheduled days with the offset being remote learning. Why? Because it is what meets their needs at this time, just as the cyber program will meet the needs of many other students.
What I know now, but didn’t at the time was that my internal goal-setting ways helped me to hit the jackpot and obtain what I needed to be able to embrace the new journey ahead of me. It wasn’t quick and overnight-like, but with hard work, an open mindset, and determination, I was able to prepare for what is needed for our children today. I earned my Apple certification last year, my Google certification this summer, in addition to the Special Education certification that I worked on 25+years ago, along with many other countless professional development milestones! What I didn’t know then, that is staring me in the face now, is that it was a ripple effect of growth for myself and those around me! Knowing that I am capable of embracing this change definitely has an impact on my own confidence and drive to step forward. It wasn’t just about knowing that our children need this program, but it was about knowing that I am equipped to step forward and make an impact where it is needed. A need for disruption! New opportunity!
I think exnovation is very relevant and necessary when creative destruction or the need to disrupt is required – seriously challenging the existing practices to spot new opportunities.
Something that leaves me in awe is how I have thrived in an innovative space, what I would consider as an “exnovation” or a “best-standardized practice of learning” for our children. I have embraced technology, personalized learning, along with a mindset that sees many more approaches such as Community-Based Learning (CBL) and Project-Based Learning (PBL). As much as I would create the opportunity for each colleague, student, and parent to see value in these practices and embrace these innovative ways of learning, it wasn’t until the Covid19 Pandemic when it became an actual “need”, a true must-have for learning, that this mindset was embraced. Just like that, the pursuit of innovation became our stabilizer!
Wow, I restate that last sentence over and over again in my head as I type. Just like that, the pursuit of innovation became our stabilizer! This leaves me with one thought… the kind that I ask myself and now I ask you: What can you do today to prepare for the change that tomorrow will bring? Just like that, it will be here!
“If I took my connectivity out of the equation of who I am, I would probably understand how much more I really can do as a human and be what I need to be for people in my life. I feel that I have been so incredibly blessed to be a connected educator and appreciate how it has helped me both professionally and personally with the friendships that I have acquired. In turn, I now know that other parts of my life have taken a hit because of it.”
This was something that I shared with my friend, Rachelle Dean-Poth, as we voxed back and forth one-day last week. I was flying solo on my 3rd walk of the day while camping. Rachelle and I weren’t engrossed in a conversation of learning, this was simply a moment of missing a friend. One that I have been blessed to have in my world for the past several years. We were talking about all that we love about everything we do. We spoke about how we miss many conversations that we used to find ourselves in on a daily basis, but that the reality is that there simply are not enough hours in a day. It came down to one point… if we use too many of our hours being connected we will miss out on what is right in front of us. In the midst of our conversation, I literally stopped and said, “You know, I should blog about this!” Ha! Well, here I am!
REVISIT and REFLECT
As I continue to revisit and reflect on bets (chapters) that Jacie and I wrote in our book, “All In: Taking a Gamble in Education,” I turn my attention to Bet 20: “Double Down on Your PLN.” In this bet, we reminded our readers how social media can transform relationships and connect you with a network of educators to provide support and inspiration. We asked our readers to share what inspiration they found outside of their personal school district that has helped them to move forward. Our Double Down at the end of the bet prompted each reader to ask themselves… what is one way you can contribute, in place of consuming? It is my time to revisit, reflect, and re-frame this Bet, and I challenge each of you to do the same.
CALL TO ACTION: As a connected educator, OWN your part as a leader for every child and contribute what you have learned through your PLN without giving up your own identity and balanced existence
One of the biggest gifts I have been given is my incredible PLN. No buts about it. The one thing that I have learned is that by surrounding myself with those that are incredibly passionate about the same things in life as myself, I have grown beyond anything I have ever imagined! With that has come something else that I have learned… when I am contributing all that I have gained, at times I knock myself off balance from the world that I share with my family. This is where I re-framemy accountability in how and when I use my social media, not to mention how and when I connect with the most incredible friends and passionate educators that have truly blessed my world. I don’t believe there is a one size fits all approach, but for me, I have learned to navigate this in a different way over time.
Did you ever have someone say they love how your friendship can pick up where you left off? Whether it is a week or even a month, we don’t look back thinking of “what we missed”, but in turn, we live in the moment and look forward to “what can be!” No apologies, just welcoming arms. These are the people within my PLN/PLF that I find to get the most out of what I can humanly offer. We learn great amounts from one another. We take that information to create a better tomorrow for every child, but we do not hold the other to an obligation of connecting continuously. Let’s face it, now that we are truly connected educators we have blended “colleague status”/acquaintances with friendships that we are wired to give more attention to… so where do we go from here? Let’s get back to the roots of why being a connected educator is so important to you, your students, colleagues, and community.
For me, a connected educator means (not in order of importance, simply a list of impact):
-A constant support system (that is a give and take)
-Embraced risk-taking and disruption
-The constructive push-back that propels me forward
-Learning with a diverse PLN (Professional Learning Network)
-Leading beyond the four walls of my own existence
-Kindness connections that nurture my soul
-Joyful Leaders that remind me that my heart can impact the same as my brain
-The laughter that comes with endless conversations
To Be Better Than My Yesterday!
(graphic created and posted in 2018)
Being better than my yesterday has been my mantra since I was a child. Keeping my focus on a “me vs me” mentality and limiting my comparison to others has helped me to grow. What I am humanly capable of looks different from week to week, but for me, I must prioritize and keep focus… I challenge you to do the same!
Family First Always
Self Care/Well-Being (#1-2 are the same level of importance… the analogy of putting your mask on before trying to save others always stops me in my tracks)
Learning and Growing/Social Media
Contributing in all ways possible!/Social Media
If I truly want to Re-frame this Bet and take this CALL TO ACTION and live it, I must first keep numbers one and two on my list in balance. From there, anything is possible!
During this historic time, each of us have been tested. We have been pushed, pulled, poked, and prodded in ways that I do not think any of us could have ever imagined. Those who know me, know that I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. As I referenced in a recent post, there are always good things that come out of hard times. For me, this has been a time of tremendous reflection, questioning, and pursuit of deeper understanding. I am grateful for my #PLN and especially #BlogginThruIt. They have given me the space to express my thoughts, analyze my thinking, and dig deep.
As I navigate through this time, I have been grappling with my role as a leader and what relationships should and could look like. Vulnerability requires trust. Trust requires vulnerability. Healthy relationships require trust AND vulnerability! -Sari
As soon as I heard Sari say she was “grappling with her role as a leader,” I knew our friendship would be lifelong. It is the grapple that we feel inside that leads us to a better way. Through self-reflection we question and when we question we face honest answers that may be tough to hear at times. It is the grapple that makes me thrive, not only within, but with others! -Kristen
The Beginning of a Powerful and Healthy Relationship
Kristen and I connected through Twitter over a few tweets about George Couros’ inspiring book Innovate Inside the Box. Little did I know that when we connected, Kristen was wrapping up her own powerful book with Jacie Maslyk, All In: Taking a Gamble in Education A few short months later I was honored to join the first #AllInEDU book study, facilitated by #2MenAndABook. Chapter 2 of All In, or as Kristen and Jacie call it, Bet 2, is titled Poker Face. This chapter dives into the misguided belief that many of us have heard over the years: Don’t smile until Christmas; don’t let your guard down or you will lose control. As I started this chapter, I thought, I don’t have a poker face! I am open and transparent. I pride myself on the value of relationships. I continued to read in agreement. This is not a time to put up walls and create barriers; it’s time to break them down and make connections. Exactly.
Jacie and Kristen’s words spoke to me in a very dynamic, meaningful way. Integrating both perspectives, teacher and administer, resonated with me on so many levels. Understanding perspectives is key to developing empathy. As I reflect on who I am as a leader and consider the type of leader I strive to be, Kristen shared a courageous statement that profoundly impacted her district, and now me. -Sari
Through Sari’s reflection, I just felt this in my core all over again… this was such a bold and vulnerable statement I made that turned my entire life upside down in the blink of an eye! To know it resonated with Sari, and brought us to this blog together, speaks to me in the most profound way possible! -Kristen
Simultaneously, at work, we were having some very serious conversations that I needed to process. The discussions were truly weighing on me. I bottled up my emotions on the inside, placed a smile on the outside, and considered what I was feeling. Then it hit me…I was NOT being open. I was NOT being transparent. I was NOT being vulnerable. I was wearing a poker face. -Sari
This right here is such an awesome moment! This new perspective on something that I wrote with such conviction resonates with me. The idea that something could be perceived so differently. It is “push back” or questioning that gains perspective, and it is that space of vulnerability that affords for this to happen! Although my questioning has been viewed differently by others throughout my career, I believe that push back to one’s view should never equate disrespect (and that is how the admin felt that day with my bold statement). There are times that I feel when someone is invested in their own perspective they cannot stop and feel, or see someone else’s view. What then? How do we possibly serve and move forward if we cannot see what is right in front of us? -Kristen
Was I pushing back? Do I have walls? And even worse, do I have walls that I don’t see? Am I living a belief that mirrors “not smiling until Christmas?” Am I missing what is right in front of me? I struggled with this…I began to consider that perhaps I don’t lead by example. I felt a flash of discomfort.
I pushed my thoughts and questions into our Voxer book study and an incredible discussion ensued. Is it ever okay to have a poker face? Can a poker face protect others? Be vulnerable, but be strong….what does that really look like? Does a poker face mean dishonesty? How do you support others when you are still struggling yourself?
For our students, it is important that they receive information in a developmentally appropriate way. Or perhaps there is information that our little people should not hear at all. Does that mean that I am lying by omission?
“You don’t seem concerned, so I’m not concerned.” That phrase was said to me just last year by a staff member. It served as a reminder that our emotions can be contagious, both positive and negative emotions. If I choose to process my emotions before sharing with my staff is that dishonesty? -Sari
OM to the G! This right here is full gains! Another perspective… Maybe this perspective states that it is beyond appropriateness for just children… is it possible that there is information that adults should not hear/share just yet or at all… it all takes on a different view when restated with different intent. -Kristen
INTENTION! When I read Kristen’s words I realized that our WHY behind the poker face is most important. It is not about power or losing control of our classroom, building, or district. It is about putting others first. As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure we discuss important topics with students in a way that is developmentally appropriate but also provides opportunities to hear all stories, practice empathy, and build understanding.
We are navigating a precarious time. There are so many unknowns. School districts are facing significant state budget cuts. School districts are making decisions that no one ever wants to have to make; their impacts will be felt far and deep. Many districts will come out of this looking very different. What is the best way to handle this? There is already so much tension in the system. -Sari
How will it look? At first glance, it may appear that it is possibly not for the better… for now! Is it possible that these moments, when we have fewer options, will help us to appreciate the ones that are given? Think about the budget cuts and the shifting in one’s practice… will we still find opportunity in this change or will we snub it because it does not mirror the vision we once had. MakerSpaces… gone, but why? Is this a blame game? Do we trust those that have these very difficult decisions to make? Options to learn a foreign language… will they exist? Will they be plentiful? What about flexible seating… something that students love and are now embracing with ownership over their choices and actions? Will it be gone? Will it come back? Will we find voice and choice in this most radical time of change OR will we do what has already been done before and REVOLT? Is it the emotional attachment to what could have been? Is it the reality that our dreams are no longer our own to shape? Is it the vulnerability that we feel to be within a space of less control? What is it that scares you the most? Is it trust? What is it about education that children fear will change? Will we ask them? And if we do, how will we receive their answers. Will we cut them off and hand them the reason or excuse? Will we steer them to be more empathetic in their response so that it hurts us a little less? Will we even ask? And what will we do? Is it possible that the solution or vision of change lies with them and not us at all? Are we willing to let children reshape what we have created for hundreds of years… all while doing it within the constraints that our reality lies in.
Reality check… can we afford it? Have we given enough voice to our students to open their eyes and minds to an opportunity that does not look like their initial vision? Do we trust? Can they innovate inside the box, as George Couros has pushed us to question and rethink our philosophy and our practice? This right here will be very telling of what was before and what will be! -Kristen
One lesson I have learned during this time is the power of “I don’t know.” Kristen poses so many thoughtful questions. My answer to some of those questions has been…”I don’t know.” As a person, let alone as a central office administrator, it goes against the fabric of my being to just hang within a space of…”I don’t know.” I am not implying that I believe that I have all of the answers. However, I know how to seek out the answers. David Weinberger said it best, “The smartest person in the room is the room.” In order to get the best answers, we have to bring all perspectives into a room and hash it out. During this historic time, even that strategy has not worked. Throughout this pandemic, we have only been able to answer questions that focused on the here and now. All along we have been missing critical data to answer questions about our future…When will schools open their doors again? What will graduation look like? What is the best way to support students when we return to brick and mortar? How do we create a warm, welcoming learning environment while following CDC guidelines? How much more funding will the state cut? Will there be another wave of the virus? If so, when?
My experiences these past few months have reinforced that responding “I don’t know” is not bad. Saying nothing at all, avoiding the conversation, wearing a poker face, or faking it, breaks down the relationships and shows a lack of respect. Being vulnerable, discussing the facts of the situation, rather than silence, avoiding the question, or guessing, has proven to be invaluable. -Sari
The one thing known right now is the unknown. I have the utmost respect for the response “I don’t know.” Would I like to have a more detailed answer… of course! But in the end, the upfront honesty is what I need the most as an educator and parent. My friend, Tara Martin, shared with me that if I don’t tell my story someone else will, and in many ways, I feel that the same idea applies to this situation as well. If I am led to believe that administration has all of the answers, but are not divulging them, I may assume that they are withholding valuable information when in all actually they simply do not know. Assumptions can lead to inaccurate thoughts and unwarranted worry. That assumption is driven by a similar fear that holds leaders of all roles back in simply answering, “I don’t know.” Assumptions can be the detriment to most everything, with one being relationships. It is our relationships that will see us through… with them, we have trust and with trust we have hope. – Kristen
Each of us has a choice. In the absence of the answers, I am present and intentional. I choose transparency. I choose vulnerability. I choose to trust. I choose relationships. I choose HOPE! What do you choose? -Sari
Sari Goldberg McKeown has served as an educator in an array of K-12 roles for over fifteen years, including classroom teacher, literacy specialist, supervisor, and coordinator. Currently, she serves as a central office administrator on Long Island, New York. Sari is a lifelong learner. She is pursuing her doctoral degree at St. John’s University and is honored to be a part of the #EdCampLI planning team. Sari believes education is about who we teach, not just about what we teach. She is passionate about culture, relationships, and learning from each other. Sari believes in the power of being a connected educator. As educators, we are all in this together!
Why did it take a virus to bring the people back together?
– Tom Foolery
This very question, asked by the boy in the video, brings upon a self-reflection, leading to a chain reaction that leaves a lasting impression. Skies were full of smog and cars zipped by, we did not give a second thought as people died. As we stayed inside and the earth began to heal, we all were brought together united as steel. – Rob
There it is…that moment when everything seems so clear. When you think the dust is settling and you are about to open your eyes to what feels like the aftermath of a terrible storm. The world suddenly stops spinning for just a moment and you begin to take another look.
It was a world of waste and wonder… of poverty and plenty. Back before we understood why hindsight’s 2020.
– Tom Foolery
The emotions overcome you and you realize that this is no longer your vision. The vision you planned, nurtured, and were about to execute… the one that your heart got swept up in. Now, your mind is exploding in a full-blown sprint, and you find yourself chasing it down hoping to catch up to what seems out of reach… the reassurance that everything will be okay. And then the moment begins to fade and a new feeling sweeps over you. After a long pause, something begins to grow within. It is like you have to pinch yourself as a reminder that you are there and that you can take control. This is a moment. The moment of realization. One that you open your eyes to when life changes overnight! -Kristen
It is staring you right in the face. A new idea or possibly a better way. Something that you never saw coming until it fell straight into your lap or better said, has you in a complete choke-hold. Yes, that is the moment. The one that tells you every bit of your being is about to change. Life as you knew it is taking on a new vision, a new version. A better version… one of yourself and how you will create an impact. This is the moment that you “dust off your instincts” and begin to live once again! -Kristen
When we found the cure and were allowed to go outside… We all preferred the world we found to the one we left behind.
– Tom Foolery
“The Great Realization” is now when the 2020 vision was all of a sudden turned upside down, people were quarantined, schools were closed, businesses slowed, and people began to connect with one another. As relationships strengthened and flourished, we took the time to take walks, breathe the fresh air, and notice that the sky was no longer filled with planes. At night, stars could be seen, animals were safer, and less cars buzzed past as we sat on our porches enjoying the quiet.
Many people approached the scenario with anxiety and apprehension, but soon an Ahh ha moment occurred as we slowed our pace to appreciate one another and our beautiful earth with all of its natural beauty. When we began to take notice, children began expressing that they missed school and their teachers. Teachers learned new technologies because they missed their students and classrooms. The need to connect became apparent, and our focus shifted to what was important… the simplicity of human connection. – Rob
There are moments when “human connection” feels out of reach as we attempt to navigate these uncharted, murky waters. A new journey with a new path, one that doesn’t have a map, let alone understanding. It is going to take a village to lift us to higher ground, Life-lines are within reach. Those lifelines come in the form of colleagues, administrators, students, parents, family, friends, and even strangers. “Needs” would override “wants” and soon relevance begins taking shape within a learning space that once had to persuade others that technology could find purpose in their learning. It is here. Relevance is speaking and with it, purpose is driving out room for doubt. In turn, interpretation and perception have moved to the forefront of communication begging empathy and understanding to take hold. How will we merge these two worlds? – Kristen
Could this result in closing the gap between “poverty and plenty” or between those youngsters who are plugged in and those who would much rather have a conversation? Perhaps, this unwanted pandemic will yield a positive change… even more connections to one another… cultivated relationships… new technologies learned… a more efficient and empathetic… perhaps a kind perspective with grit and perseverance to maintain human connection. – Rob
Rob Wottawa is currently the Director of Art, ENL, Music, and World Languages in the East Islip School District on Long Island, NY. As a leader, he works to approach all situations with a kind empathetic lens to support the grit that is needed to accomplish the goals of his teams. Since completion of his doctorate in 2015 he has presented his research in New Mexico, Salt Lake City, and Long Island on Advice to First-Year Teachers. He recently completed a study with a Math professor from Stony Brook University on Parents’ Perceptions of Math and Math Education. Personally, Rob shares his time with his wife and two girls on Long Island. Where they love to cook, bake, and read together. In his spare time he enjoys mountain biking, road biking, running, and performing on various instruments. He hopes he can make his family proud!
As I push myself to disconnect from all the things, I can’t help but reminisce back to when I would sit with my boys in their toddler years and read “Goodnight Moon” over and over and over again to the point of memorization. This is dedicated to all the parents who have walked this walk and know the great green room I’m talking about. Enjoy!
In the quiet living room
There was an Xbox
And a loud boom
And the sound of…
Friends chatting over Zoom
And there were 100 streaks that Snapchat speaks
And three little posts of Instagram boasts
And a little pack of gum
And a snack crumb
And a pencil And a pen
And a five and a ten
And a little ol’ request for V-Bucks again
Goodnight friends chatting over ZOOM
Goodnight Xbox And the loud boom
Goodnight food fests
Goodnight pack of gum
Goodnight little crumb
And goodnight to the repeated request for V-Bucks again
Goodnight Remote Learning
Goodnight to all the questions that are still burning
-A remote learning spin-off of my sons’ favorite book “Goodnight Moon.”
I have to admit that there have been moments in my career where I have felt alone. It’s not the kind of alone where you feel like you have been abandoned on a deserted island. I’ve always been fortunate to have colleagues to laugh with, talk about family, friends, and personal adventures with; it’s the kind of a feeling where you are yearning for more perspective and professional conversations that stretch far beyond your classroom, school building, and district walls. Perhaps it’s because I previously worked in another field outside of education or that I have been employed in other school districts. I have encountered different styles of leadership, various types of school cultures, student populations, and collaboration styles. I guess there is something about being in the same space that can become too routine, stagnant, and mundane (if you let it). Why was I always finding myself trying to push down the walls in order to find the disruptors of conventional teaching and learning practices? Growth is something that festers within. You can feel the ideas churning in the pit of your stomach; you can see the big picture clearly; you attempt to design roadmaps that will guide you to a continuously evolving destination. Yet, you are longing for thinking partners who have that same type of stirring feeling inside. These are the people who are insanely passionate about what they do; they dream, they wonder, they develop visions, and challenge the status quo. And, sometimes when you least expect it, they magically appear and disrupt your world. You can feel yourself gravitating toward their innate desire to experience growth with you amidst a habitual sea of tradition. -Lauren
So many of us have been there… that point where you feel like the world is going on without you or maybe you are not even aware that there is a world beyond your immediate one. We don’t always recognize it; as our connections are strong with those around us. The fact of the matter is, it isn’t them, it is us. The disruptor in us that needs to be reenergized and pushed against. The internal conflict that we thrive on turns nonexistent and in place of it is a comfort and form of consistency that equates stagnancy to us. Then it starts to happen, something gnaws at your heart and spirit… something is saying that where you are just isn’t enough. There may even be a point of resentment that you can’t identify with because it doesn’t pertain to any one person, it really is yours to claim. You feel lifeless without opportunity because somewhere along the journey you forgot that your voice not only mattered but that it is also your own responsibility to use for growth. That mundane moment may turn into unlimited time (if you let it). -Kristen
Disruption is an Open Invitation to Oneself
And then it happened…I remember learning about Twitter from a colleague. “Lauren, just check it out. Thereare SO many educators sharing ideas, and the instant access to authors and literacy leaders…AMAZING.” Full transparency, I didn’t take the Twitter plunge right away. In fact, in 2014, I reluctantly downloaded the app to my Smartphone only to discover that I had already set up an account in 2012. I noticed that the username I created wasn’t reflective of the educator in me (@Lau7210), but it commemorated my first AOL email account, “Lau” (all my close friends call me that) and my birthday (7210). I didn’t put much thought into changing my Twitter handle; instead I was more anxious to explore this digital arena of promise. At the time, I had two followers, (my sister-in-law and a random person) and had never sent out a tweet. I immediately started searching for and following literacy gurus and expert educators like Nancie Atwell, Lucy Calkins, Fountas and Pinnell, Jennifer Serravallo and Dr. Mary Howard. And oh my goodness, that feeling when another educator followed me back was so exciting! I know that sounds really nerdy and perhaps odd, but it made me happy. I became a total Twitter voyeur. It’s like I was standing at the end of the bridge admiring the intellectual wonderland that was filled with collaborative conversation, professional discourse, and fresh ideas from educators across the globe. How could I have been sheltered from this accessible learning frenzy for so long? I watched, I read, I observed, and followed various Twitter chats frequently. One Thursday night, I stumbled upon the Twitter chat, #G2Great; a chat that revolved around meaningful and relevant literacy topics. At the time, it was facilitated by Dr. Mary Howard, Jenn Hayhurst, and Amy Brennan. I don’t remember the topic of the chat, but I vividly recall the feeling of fascination as I watched tweets flood into my Twitter feed, and rush right into my heart and soul. I marveled at the educators who had the courage to “tweet away”, share their philosophical beliefs, and contribute authentic examples of how innovative ideas were put into practice in their own classrooms/school districts. I gradually began raising my foot onto the bridge instead of standing at the edge. I crafted tweets in my head, pressed the “tweet” button, typed the words, revised them to meet the Twitter character limit, to only abruptly step off the bridge. Why would experts and other lead learners want to read my thoughts and ideas about the education field? Nevertheless, just a few weeks later, and with one eye open, I leaped onto that bridge and began walking across it….and then, I tweeted! Sending that first tweet in the Twitter chat transformed the trajectory of my career. I shared my spirit, my voice, my practice. As I crossed the bridge that evening, the responses began pouring in. I was moving toward a golden pot of endless professional learning opportunities that were waiting for me on the other side. It felt as if educators I had never known before were waving me in and giving me an open invitation to their professional party. There was a seat at the table just for me, to network, to connect, to collaborate. It was then that I realized that there was a disruptor within me. -Lauren
Disrupting the status quo may never come in a pretty little invite with your name spelled boldy across the middle, but it will come in open and honest conversations with others and yourself. You will feel that sense of urgency to shake things up if you take the time to place yourself around other experiences. You may even be at a point that you feel worn down and actually consider not showing up or regretfully declining the offer, but it will weigh on you. You will find yourself questioning the what if?
What if I had said yes?
What if I had just been myself and added my thoughts to the conversation?
What if I tried that?
What if I had just become more connected?
What if I had shown up for the professional party?
Those open invites will always be there because we know that change is inevitable. We can either show up and join in, or not show up at all. The disruptor in us will not be satisfied if we don’t at least try to attend. But that will not be enough for us. The disruptor inside of us will be the one tapping to the beat of the music while sitting around the table thinking what others are not willing to entertain… Why isn’t anyone else dancing? And then it will happen, because you just won’t be able to contain yourself anymore.
Two weeks ago was just like any other ordinary week for me. My connection to the world was strong and in full force. I was looking over the color-coded excel spreadsheet my husband made that meticulously listed my children’s upcoming sports practices and game schedules. There were so many things running through my head. I sat there trying to figure out how to be in two places at once. Who would I need to connect with to make it all happen? How could my networking help balance the perpetual to-do list? I knew I needed to start by making the necessary carpool plans. Then my mind shifted to visiting my Outlook calendar to check for upcoming meetings. I was excited to squeeze in time with my team to collect more raffle donations from local businesses in preparation for EdCampLI After Dark. I thought about the hundreds of new books I had to inventory and distribute to teachers’ classrooms and the shared level libraries within the buildings I work in. I needed to make this happen so that all students could have immediate access to them. On top of all of this, I was also feeling a bit stressed, but extremely enthusiastic about gathering all of the materials and revisiting the research around the topic I was going to share and present at the Lilac/Nassau Reading Council 2020 annual conference.
While all of these responsibilities were stacked in piles in my mind, like puzzle pieces are thrown together in a box, I could visualize the big picture clearly. Each time I connected those pieces, I could feel the tension slowly release. You know the feeling you get when you put the last piece of the puzzle in the picture? You breathe that sigh of relief and feel incredibly accomplished for the hard work that was put in to commemorate that moment. I COULD make this happen and I WOULD!
At the same time, I found myself insanely dedicated to listening to the messages in the #AllinEDU Voxer Book Study (Voxer: an online walkie-talkie app) group I am currently participating in. Passionate educators from across the country are making time to share their thoughts and perspectives about the book All In: Taking a Gamble in Education by Kristen Nan and Jacie Maslyk, all while engaging in various other topics in education. It is important for me to put myself out there and continue to grow so that I can be the best I can be in my position as an Instructional Coach. A major focus of my job is to stay on top of the latest research and instructional practices, continuously build relationships, connect, network, collaborate, be reflective, stretch teachers’ thinking about the impact that they can have on the social, emotional, and academic growth of their students, not to mention inspire and motivate them to push the envelope in order to be the best versions of themselves. For me, these Voxer groups have been my way to escape to a professional playground that invites nerdy conversations, allows me to share my voice freely, and has also challenged me to think differently about the organizations we work in including our colleagues, the students, and community we serve. I actually yearn for these networks, crave these intellectual discussions, and thrive on developing relationships and expanding my PLN (professional learning network) with other passionate educators from around the country.
And then…”We interrupt this regularly scheduled program to bring you this message…”
It was Friday, March 13th, 2020, a day I will never forget. This day looked very different Monday-Thursday of that very same week. It was a day of the unknown, as new information about the COVID-19 pandemic was trickling in on a moment to moment basis. That morning, my instructional coach team and I felt this incredible sense of urgency, as we were about to help facilitate and create “At Home Learning Plans” for our elementary schools. We were enthusiastic about taking on the challenge, but knew that we had limited time to complete an unbelievable amount of important work due to a half-day schedule. The information had to be disseminated to families and students that same day; yet we walked into the administration building of my school district calmly, focused, and ready to support the endeavor. Our collaborative efforts with our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and a dedicated team of educators from across the school district were about to go into action.
A Network of Trust
As educators, we tend to like a sense of control and like to know what to expect (for the most part). On this day, we were walking into the unknown and were navigating the uncharted waters of at-home learning. It was the most organized, peaceful chaos you have ever seen. The waters were a bit rough as we took over the Curriculum and Instruction office and administration conference room, ready to WORK; printing, organizing, debating, sharing all while the clock was ticking. It was a half-day of school and we needed to get these materials out, and collectively, we trusted… YES, TRUSTED each other!! At times it felt like we were building an airplane while we were flying it…but we did it and magic certainly happened all while keeping the students at the core of the work!
Moments later, we rushed to the print shop and as my fellow coaches and I waited for the “Home Learning Plans” to be printed, we turned to our #ALLinEDU Voxer chat for the most productive distraction we could count on! Professional growth is a part of who we are, so it was natural for us to reach out to our PLN for comfort. We discussed the book, we voxed, we laughed, we discussed our need to get all of the essential necessities if school closure was imminent, and even managed to take a picture to commemorate this moment in history.
As we walked to our cars that day, we made a promise to stay connected, to check in on one another and continue to push each other to share information and maintain our love of learning together. And, if this would be the last memory we would have collaborating in person as an Instructional Coach team, (my school district is eliminating the role due to budget constraints), I would be unbelievably proud of our collaborative efforts that day…in fact, it would be a day I’d never forget.