Teachers

Mettle and Heart

Much is said in education today about grit. We know more and more about the need to help build resilient children, so they can persevere through struggles of all kinds. Whether social emotional or academic, life is not always easy for the students in our schools. Some have suffered trauma that is almost unimaginable. Some work harder than we will ever know to complete their homework and come to class ready to learn.

It takes grit, resilience, mettle, and not just for our students.

Every day the teachers in our schools are doing almost unimaginable work to help our students be successful. Whether social emotional or academic support, they go above and beyond to meet the needs. This job is not for the faint of heart.

I watch with amazement as teachers sit beside students trying to solve complex problems, prompting and questioning until that magical lightbulb moment.

I watch as teachers give high fives and hugs and tie shoes and zip jackets. I watch as they ask about the soccer game or the dance recital, as they celebrate with students after the musical or the basketball game.

And I watch as they worry about the student who needs a new coat or who might not get any gifts at Christmas.

Yesterday I saw post after post about the families who were adopted and the gifts and meals that were handed out by teachers and administrators and counselors and community members who come together every year to help through an incredible community organization called Project Wee Care.

I was once again amazed by the heart of our teachers.

I caught part of an old movie this weekend, The Guardian. It’s about rescue swimmers in the Coast Guard. After a particularly harrowing experience, the young trainee asks the experienced teacher how he decides who to save. The answer has struck me over the years as a decent motto for the work we do.

“I swim as fast as I can, as hard as I can, for as long as I can. And the sea takes the rest.”

I read a message last week from someone who implied that because we cannot do enough, we should do nothing at all. No one I know in this profession believes that. Everyone I work with in our schools and in our districts believes that each and every child deserves our best effort, and each and every child we can help was worth the work.

This is not easy. It can feel overwhelming. It takes grit, mettle. But it is the most important work I can imagine. And in this holiday season, I am grateful for the teachers who put their hearts on the line each and every day to do whatever it takes to help. You make a difference in the lives of children.

Keeping Connected to the Classroom

image

I have the best job in the world!  (Everyone in education says they have the best job in the world, and we all really mean it.)  After 13 years in the classroom and 9 years as a building level administrator, I am currently working in our district office.  My job is staff development and instructional improvement.  I get to spend my time talking about effective instructional practices.  It is an amazing gift!

This week I spent two hours with a colleague doing walk through observations in one of our high schools.  We are implementing a new instructional model, and this was my opportunity to walk my talk.  I have spent the last year facilitating staff development for our administrators about this new model.  Now I need to spend time in classrooms watching the model in action.  I need to spend time with the administrators who are actually using the model with teachers.  It was wonderful.

There is an energy in a school.  I miss it.  Engaging lessons in the classroom, excited students in the hallway during passing period, and people building relationships at every turn.  It was fun to be back talking about good teaching with a great administrator.

And then it happened.

We got back to the office and were debriefing our experience when another administrator in the building popped in to let us know there was a discipline issue being addressed across the hall.  And there it was…the real world.

We ask our administrators to do so much.  There are hundreds of tasks that need their constant attention.  Safety and security, technology, parent concerns, student issues…the list could go on and on.  We need them to manage the building, but we also need them to be instructional leaders.  Finding that balance is not easy.

Walk through observations, reflective conversations, and meaningful feedback are all critical to improving instruction.  We know this!  But finding the time to do those things effectively can be a struggle.

Today was a good reminder for me that the real world sometimes gets in the way.  As someone who is not currently serving in a building level role, there are things I need to remember.

Listen and Seek to Understand

I need to listen openly to the experiences of the people who are implementing things in the building.  They have the practical experiences and a more realistic understanding of what is actually happening.  I may think I know, but I am not the one doing it. We need to have a relationship that allows for honest and direct conversations.  Time is precious; there is never enough of it.  When we can carve out time to talk, everyone needs to be willing to share openly.

Empower Others

No amount of planning on my part can replace effective implementation by the leaders in the building.  My role is to empower leaders to be both visionary and systematic.  I can only make things happen by developing capacity in others.

Offer Grace

While instructional improvement is certainly not all I do, it is the big rock in my world.  But what is a big rock for me may be a pebble in the moment of what they are dealing with in the building.  It is critical for me to remember that my piece is only one piece of what they are being asked to do.  If something gets dropped or a detail gets neglected, my first instinct should be to offer grace.  I have no idea what student issue that administrator has been tackling.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not letting building administrators off the hook here either.  This same real world exists for our classroom teachers too.

We ask our teachers to do so much.  Administrators have to remember that their perceptions will never be as accurate as the teachers’ actual experiences in the classroom.

And finally, I’m not letting classroom teachers off the hook either.  We ask our student to do so much.

This real world exists for us all.  Listening and actually hearing the experience others are having is a powerful first step.