Thursday, May 26, 2022

Leadership Is...

Leadership is...sending emails to retiring teachers to thank them for their years of service - because they deserve it!

Leadership is...recognizing when you need to practice self-care and taking a break to go on a walk with a coworker/friend.

Leadership is...not worrying about the exact time a meeting should start but giving a hug because that's what is needed most.

Leadership is...sending emails out with decisions, some popular and some unpopular, and trying to tame the anxiety that comes with knowing the responses are coming!

Leadership is...going to a workout after sending said emails out because then you can't stare at the screen, waiting (and also because you ate two cookies after sending those emails out...some coping mechanisms are healthier than others)!

Leadership is...waking up at 5am on Saturday and remembering something you were supposed to do ten days ago and doing it.

Leadership is...listening not only to the words someone is saying, but the heart behind it.

Leadership is...admitting that things are hard, but not dwelling on it.

Leadership is...learning to accept compliments and let people in to help.

Leadership is a lot of things, but above all, it is being human. We sometimes talk about the fact that teachers don't teach content, teachers teach kids. I could extrapolate that to say that admin or leaders don't lead initiatives, they lead people. And, just as importantly, they ARE people. Especially in the world today, couldn't we all use a little more human-ness in our lives?

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Equity Reflections: Survey

Disclaimer: I am sharing this only to share my own story, to spread awareness and empathy - not to make any global statement about collecting data or equity or anything else!

Recently, my district sent out an anonymous survey for staff to fill out to give feedback. I've been asked by numerous teachers if it is truly anonymous, and my answer has been yes - beyond my general inclination to trust when people say that responses are confidential, it is being conducted by an outside company, and I feel reasonably confident it is truly anonymous.

When I finally sat down to do the survey, I tried my best to be honest about both the positives and the challenges I see in our district right now. I was thoughtful and wrote out my answers, before clicking "Next" to get to the next section. Finally, as I neared the end, I hit the demographics section.

As I marked "Asian" for my ethnicity, the doubts started to creep in. "I mean, how many Asian staff members are there in the district anyway? Not many. Could/Would these answers be traced back to me? Do I need to rethink what I wrote?" I actually hit the "Back" button and reread my answers, wondering if there was anything in them that would trace back to me, especially if they were just being looked at in a group of staff members who marked "Asian." In the end, I decided not to change any of them - I believe in honest feedback and I am choosing to believe in the integrity of those who will read and interpret these results, that it will be presented in a way that does not single out certain groups with small numbers.

Still, the experience has stuck with me. I'm sure I'm not the only person who has ever had these thoughts, and it's something I don't think I would have considered as an equity issue. I fully support using demographic data to better understand results, and I don't have all of the answers - I'm not sure if there is a better way to do it. I'm simply realizing that it was a bit of additional mental load for me to work through, and these little moments add up. As we design opportunities and systems to further our equity work, I hope that we can keep the lived experiences of POC in mind!

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Roller Coaster

What a week this has been! Figuring out how to support a community through a wildfire that took out 1000+ homes in the community is intense. There is so much to do (tasks) and so much to hold (emotionally). It's been a bit of a roller coaster, and as I often write to process, this blog reflects that.

Thinking about 1,084 homes destroyed and 149 homes damaged (along with several commercial properties) is staggering in and of itself. Add in the thousands of homeowners who are dealing with smoke damage and limited utilities (although I think most are back now), who were displaced for several days. And then you go to the ~35,000 residents who were evacuated, many who left through thick smoke, seeing flames in the vicinity of their houses. The collective trauma is huge. Even those who were not directly impacted by the fire are feeling it.

Oh yeah, and it was less than a year ago that we had a shooting at a local grocery store, just down the road from several schools, where ten people lost their lives. Another incidence of collective trauma.

And there's this little thing called COVID-19...and all that comes with it.

It's all too much. I'm seeing big, red, flashing warning lights. We don't have much left to give. Call it compassion fatigue, call it a mental health crisis...but teachers/educators are BURNED OUT. I've talked to more people considering taking a leave of absence for their own mental health in the past week than I have in the past five years. I'm seeing people desperately to figure out their sick days because, three days after the semester started, they need a day...or two...or three...to breathe. It's not unusual to hear that someone isn't sure they can make it through the day. We hired 6 new teachers in my areas at semester because people resigned or retired midyear, and probably have 2 more in the next week or two. We're at the end of what we can handle, and it's showing.

And yet, while I deal with that existential crisis in my mind, I also see incredible moments of joy. Kids being kids, even after everything they have is gone. Kids loving each other, caring for each other, helping each other in the most precious of ways. A community that is surrounding us, being so generous, giving more than I ever imagined possible. Miracles happening all over. For me, it was some sweet friends who brought me food this week to make sure I am taking care of myself as I spend time taking care of others.

How do you reconcile these highs and lows? I don't exactly know, but here are two things I am focusing on this week:

1) Basic self-care. Making sure I eat at reasonable hours (which didn't always happen last week). Getting outside for some fresh air. Moving my body and exercising. Going to bed at a good time. Making sure I have at least a waking hour or two per day that is not focused on work or fire stuff.

2) Self-compassion. As I walked into a school to sub on Friday, I was thinking, "I don't know what I have to give, but I'm here with whatever I have for these kids today." I'm not at my best...and that's okay. I can be gentle with myself and know that doing something is better than doing nothing, and that is enough.

To those in our community: We're in this together.

To those at a distance: Please pray for us. And show some love to a teacher or educator in your life - this has been a tough year, regardless of fires or shootings or anything else!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

#oneword2022 & 🔥 Fires 🔥 in My Community

Last year, my #oneword was ATTENTIVE. I went into the year aspiring to be attentive to myself and the world around me, and to be present. And was I? In some ways, yes. Compared to a couple of years ago, I see huge differences in the way I make time to process and validate my own thoughts and feelings, and I definitely have continued to engage in societal issues and find my voice. But would I say this word defined my year? Not really - I think it got buried through everything going on!

As I thought about 2022, I wondered if I should even choose a word this year. To be honest, I'm ending 2021 on a bit of a low. It's been a hard year on so many levels, and just before the new year, fires ripped through my community, destroying nearly 1000 homes and damaging over 100 more. These are friends, teachers, students, administrators in my district - and the thought of how to move forward is daunting. It felt like we (collectively) were already trying to pour from an empty cup by the end of the semester; how are we going to add even more trauma and need?

Yet I am still drawn back here to my blog, and the word that pops out is one I had several years ago: LEAD. The first time I chose the word LEAD, it was almost prophetic. I was heading into my first time being in major leadership roles, from being a principal of summer school to moving to the district office from being a classroom teacher. I learned so much as a new leader that year.

This time, I'm coming at it with a little more experience and a lot of thoughts about different styles or characteristics of leadership I have seen through the past several years. I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my own leadership, both the leader I am and the leader I want to be. I don't have a nice sketchnote, and my thoughts are pretty consumed by the events of the past couple of days, but here are some of my current reflections on leadership.

I want to be an authentic, honest, and vulnerable leader.
I think that there is an unwritten chapter in leadership school that says that when you step into a leadership role, you have to have it together all of the time and not show weakness. That's simply not true! I find that it's a rare thing to have a leader who is truly authentic, but it's a huge blessing when it happens, and leads to deeper connection and community. I sent an email to my teacher leaders yesterday addressing the fires, and I won't lie, it was hard to write. I know that some of the people I was writing to just lost their homes. I wanted to strike the balance between looking forward with hope and acknowledging the devastation...and that, in many ways, I didn't know what to do or say. After hitting send, it was nice to get some texts and emails back, all checking in on each other, and then to see these teacher leaders send emails to their respective groups with a similar sentiment. When we are real, we are all a little more human.

I want to be a people-first, caring leader.
There is so much to do - all of the time! And I have ideas or programs or tasks or projects that I work on that I think are pretty great ;-). But, ultimately, my leadership needs to be about people first. I think of one of my leaders who always seems to find a moment to check in on me as a person, especially when I need it the most. With these fires, I've been trying to reach out and email and text teachers and some community partners who I know, just to ask how they are doing. Truth be told, it feels awkward at times. I don't know them particularly well, and sometimes it feels like I am going past the bounds of a professional relationship, but I have made a commitment to myself to err on the side of caring for people. And you know what? It has been appreciated. People need people - and that is true whether both at work and in our personal lives, and even more when disaster hits the community.

I want to be an advocate as a leader.
One of the most important things I can do, I am learning, is advocate for my people. That doesn't always mean I have to agree with them or support less-than-stellar work. But I can help set them up for success by thinking proactively about their needs and being aware of those who are looking for a different situation or who would do better in a different environment. I can advise them about what I know (and am allowed to share, whether good or bad) as they make career decisions or even just try to figure out how to problem-solve a specific issue. And I can share their great work with the world and quietly steer them in the right direction when needed. Advocacy is turning into one of my favorite parts of the job - the ability to help others create successful situations is wonderful, and benefits us all!

How closely will I pay attention to my #oneword2022? I'm not sure. I'm trying to go easy on myself right now and take things as they come. But I am confident that leadership will continue to be a part of my journey, and I look forward to seeing how that plays out over the year!

Finally, please keep our community in your prayers - with 1000 families who have lost their homes, I can't imagine how that will play out in the classroom ❤️.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Time I Asked for What I Needed

Hi everyone! It's been pretty quiet on the blog front lately, because:
1) This year is crazy...I can barely keep up!
2) Work this year has been hard, and I'm not sure how to capture it in words.

There are so many reasons that working in education is hard right now - staffing shortages, polarized viewpoints, a wider range of student skills than in previous years, HUGE SEL needs, pandemic fatigue, and I could go on and on. Some of my "hard" is definitely all of this - the whole system is under a huge strain, and it's hitting me too. But, beyond that, I've been struggling with my job - more specifically figuring out what my job really is and how it fits into the system.

Brene Brown says that, "Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind." My job, currently, is a little bit of everything, and it's not well-defined. The problem is that when you don't have a clear job description, your job becomes everything...and THAT gets overwhelming really fast! For the most part, I like the things I'm doing - it's not that I am unhappy with the work itself. The issue is that it's adding up to be so much and I don't have any good way to prioritize or say no to things because I don't really know what my job is supposed to be, and the more that gets added to my plate, the more things are falling through the cracks. Furthermore, specials and electives are rarely focused on in any strategic plan or data meeting...so it's been hard to see how I (and, consequently, all of the teachers and content areas that I work with) fit into any of it.

Fast forward to this last week. As much as I like to try to be independent and figure things out, I knew I was hitting a breaking point. Even though the holiday breaks would help me, something needed to change. So I took a deep breath and sent an email and asked for time to meet to figure this out. I'm not always good at asking for help, and it definitely took some courage to reach out...but once I did, it was easier to be honest about other (small) things that would help me in the conversations that followed. That whole "clear is kind" thing goes both ways - if there is something that I am looking for, hinting at it is not as effective as just saying it. I'm working on it!

So I'm heading into this next week with some intentional time on my calendar to try to figure out how to manage my workload, hoping that some of the tweaks I asked for will actually take place, and a continuing my mission to figure out how to bring more value to specials and electives in my district. I know it won't be quick and easy and there will be bumps in the road, but I finally feel like I've shared what I needed to and done my part in asking for what I need (yes, it took far longer than it should have). It feels selfish, but it's also a relief! I keep reminding myself that helping me be in a better place as a leader will undoubtedly trickle down to the teachers and students I work with.

My final encouragement is to not be afraid to ask for what YOU need. Reach out. Have courage. Don't just drop hints, be clear. It may be hard, but you are worth it. And it will have ripple effects on the people around you too!

Hang in there, my friends - we can do this!

Saturday, September 18, 2021

All Teachers Deserve Support

I've taken a long blog hiatus here - between moving (not far, but still) and starting a new school year, my time and energy have been consumed! But I am back, and I want to share something that has been on my mind lately.

All teachers deserve support.


Seems pretty simple, doesn't it? Our district strategic plan motto is "All together for all students." There's a lot of all in there, and I wish we could extend it to teachers. But the problem is, both locally and nationally, teachers' level of support varies greatly. There are a lot of different reasons for this, but I want to focus on one that has popped up in my world a lot: teachers get different support based on what subject they teach.

It's no secret that I spend a lot of time advocating for "specials" or "electives" - art, music, PE, theatre, and dance. You could even add other electives such as world languages and CTE courses in there! I believe that these classes are incredibly important to develop well-rounded human beings, and beyond that, they often are engagement hooks and the reason students are in school. After graduation, many students will follow these paths as hobbies or things they do in their free time - their education in these classes really influences their lives, and should be valued!

Yet we don't see a lot of that when it comes to teacher support.
  • How many times has a whole staff been required to sit through a professional development meeting on LA or math? What about art or PE? (I can't count the number of times I was trained on a system or told I have to use it, only to find out it offered nothing for my subject area.)
  • How many districts invest heavily in materials for science classes? What about for music class? Are instruments provided or only for the "elite" who can afford to get them? (True story: I applied for a job and was told that a prerequisite for registering for an instrumental music class was that the student could afford to rent or purchase an instrument because the school couldn't financially support that for students. I declined the job offer.)
  • Have you ever seen a message, especially during the pandemic, that sounded like, "We are providing xxx support/lesson plans/curriculum resources for all teachers!" only to find out that "all" meant LA/math/science/SS only. (Yes. All the time.)
As a person who advocates for these often-forgotten areas at the district level, it's exhausting. I don't know how anyone does it for long without getting burned out. How can we change the status quo?
  • What if we offered more flexible, customized professional development? Not only would it help specials and electives teachers, but I think all teachers could benefit from this! Some need exactly the training we have been offering. But some need something totally different.
  • What if we gave teachers the tools they needed to do their job and let them focus on the instruction? I know, this is a pie in the sky ideal because budgets are involved, and money is tight. But I wish that my teachers could focus on how to best instruct the kids in their class rather than spending hours looking for or putting together their own materials because my district can't afford (or is not prioritizing) money to purchase materials for them. Somehow, it just never seems to be a priority for these subject areas.
  • What if, when we say all, we truly meant all? This is just my plea to be careful in your communications. I don't believe we always need the same things, and sometimes it makes sense not to do the same thing for everyone - but please don't say all unless you truly mean all.
I feel like I spend every day as an advocate, and it's exhausting. As I recently told my coworkers, I can't do it alone. I need others to jump on board. I feel an incredible weight of responsibility as the one person on the instructional team with this type of background, and I feel like I carry so many voices of amazing teachers who just want to feel supported. I hope we can all come together to make it happen.

*I realize that this is just one of many issues - we could talk about so many other categories of people who experience similar disenfranchisement for other reasons, some even more serious. I by no means want to ignore that, but this is what is on my mind right here, right now, so it's what I'm writing about!

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Joy of Being Back with Kids!

As we look toward next year, I am continuing in my district role, and I'm grateful for that. I enjoy my job (mostly), and I like being able to affect change on the system. But my heart will always be the heart of a teacher. One of my colleagues recently told me, "You still are a teacher, you just teach teachers." It's true, but there's nothing quite like being with kids all day, and I miss it!

That's why, when the opportunity came up for me to run a week-long music camp for some friends' kids this summer, I jumped at the chance! The majority of my time in the classroom was with 5th-8th graders, but this was with 3-8 year olds. Still, it was a golden opportunity for me to feed my teaching heart and have some musical fun with these kids, so I jumped at it!

We had a great time. From music games to musical books to drawing how music makes us feel to exploring different instruments to making our own instruments, the week was a blast! I forgot how much planning it takes to really create good lessons - especially with younger kids - but it was worth it.

As much as anything, this brought me confidence (I can still hop in front of kids and teach music!), but it also back to the day-to-day grind of teaching. Planning, lugging materials around, management...it was a good reminder of everything our teachers do every day. I'm grateful for these opportunities to keep myself grounded, and I fully believe it gives me more understanding and makes me a better leader.

I had fun teaching. They had fun learning. We all enjoyed the music. What more can you ask for?

Our crew on "Make Your Own Instrument" Day!

Educational leaders: I challenge you to take opportunities to get in front of kids and TEACH! It is more than worth it for everyone involved!