Saturday, October 27, 2018

Leadership Reflections & a Scattered Mind

As I sit down to blog this week, I have so many ideas of what I could write about - an accurate display of where my mind is right now (all over the place)! The central theme, though, that has defined my week, is thinking about the weightier parts of leadership.

I feel like we're past the honeymoon period of, "I'm so glad to be here!" And, from the teachers I am working with, "We are so glad you are here!" Now, it's moving into reality - where real things are happening, real decisions have to be made, and tough conversations happen.

I don't share any of this to complain - I know what I signed up for, and I made the choice to step into it! But I have always tried to be honest on my blog with my reflections, and that includes the bad with the good.

The Hardest Thing

The most challenging thing, for me, is having to make decisions that I don't think are best. Sometimes, we are limited to Choice A or Choice B based on different constraints, and neither one is good! I might need to choose Choice A, because it is the lesser of two evils, but doing that and then "selling" it as I communicate out is a tough pill to swallow. I try to be transparent about what I think/feel, but it is a fine line, because sometimes the different constraints or parts that go into a decision are not things that can be made public...and I never want to throw anyone else under the bus, either!

Of course, not all challenges are like that. Some, my team & I have been able to think creatively about to solve with Choice C or M or Z. These moments feel so good - when we can find a way out of what looks like a no-win situation!

The Emotional Burden

This is nothing new, because we carry it as teachers, too - but it is just expanded. Simply put, educators care about people. That's why we are in this profession. And when the people who we work with have things going on in their lives, we feel it too.  Additionally, sometimes I know about things going on at the district level that might negatively affect individuals for a variety of reasons. Holding that can feel weighty and sad. I don't always disagree - sometimes what is best for the whole system isn't what is best for every individual - but I still feel bad for how it will impact others.

Courageous Conversations

This is an area where I have already seen a lot of growth in myself, and I hope it continues. Tough conversations happen. They need to happen in order to inspire change or growth! Yet, if I am honest, I just want to go and hide when I know these are coming. Humans don't like discomfort! Often, I have to take a minute to gather my courage before making a tough phone call or responding to someone, and then enter the conversation with grace, truth, and love. It helps me to think of being in the other person's shoes and thinking about how I would want to receive the information. I think that one of the worst things we can do is to try to "pad" bad news too much - sending very mixed messages and leaving a feeling of confusion behind. Kindness is important, but clarity is too, and we can't lose that!

So there you have it - random reflections from my week. I should also share that there have been so many good moments this week - from enjoying 1st grade art class to working with teachers eager to learn to attending an awesome art party to dreaming about the future! Most of my time, in fact, is filled with these exciting things! It all goes together to make this challenging, beautiful work of educational leadership.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Bus Journeys + Learning Journeys

This weekend, I am visiting friends who live about 4.5 hours away. I decided to be adventurous and take the Greyhound bus! It quickly turned into an adventure - we left nearly 2 hours late, and then an hour into the trip, the driver said that the bus had a mechanical issue and we needed to return to our starting point to get it fixed in the garage or to get another bus. We returned and waited for an hour, where they discovered it was a simple fix. We then left, and about 1.5 hours into our journey, the bus broke down again (a different problem). Because it was late at night, the garage did not have another bus/driver to send our way, so we ended up spending the night on a cold bus in the mountains until the next scheduled route came and picked us up in the middle of the night! On that warm bus, we finally made it to our destination, 12.5 hours late. My 5-hour bus ride had turned into a 17.5-hour journey.

While I was on the bus, I kept thinking how similar this is to teaching and learning. We often think it will be so easy to teach someone a simple concept or idea. But it might take longer. We might circle back and find things that were missed before and have to repair those misconceptions before proceeding. We may have to cover the same terrain multiple times to get where we need to go. It may be a winding journey, not straightforward, but I fully believe that we will get there in the end!

This really came to mind because it's October. As any educator knows, October can be a challenging month. The honeymoon period is over, extended breaks (Thanksgiving & Christmas) are still a month away, and weather changes can make kids crazy! This month can feel like one of those times where we are having to turn around and go back to the station, reestablish our norms & expectations, and then dive into the learning again. It may not be fun, but it is important!

One more thing - I am so grateful for my friends who encouraged me while I was sitting somewhere in the middle on a cold, dark bus. No matter where we are, having the support of others is vitally important!

Who knew all of these thoughts about learning could be sparked from a bus ride? I'll be honest, though, I'm hoping my return journey will be nice and straightforward - because sometimes teaching and learning is like that, too! :-)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

An Open Admission

Hi, friends. I need to admit something to you.

I'm having a hard time with balance right now.

I just started a new job, and I love it! But there is so much to do, and so much to learn, and everything takes me longer than it should because I am learning as I go.

There are some things I am really proud of, like taking the time to get into the schools and not getting stuck in my office all day long! The downside is that I am struggling to keep up with my email and office work, and if there's one thing I've heard clearly, it's that people want communication. This past week, I've just ended up staying late to catch up on it all. Every day.

On top of that, I still have things planned from my old job, such as the weekend event I attended today! Even though I didn't have to go, I wanted to! So what happened? I worked late every night this week and then went to an all-day work event on Saturday. doesn't take a genius to know that something is a little bit off here.

I know I can't keep up this pace, or I will burn out. But I don't know how to manage my time yet to get a little more in alignment.

There's a part of me that wants to chalk this up to it just being a busy season. While I think that's true (transitions are always a whirlwind!), there's got to be more to the story as well. I need to find a way to not let work take over my life so much and still get enough done that I can (mostly) keep up.

On Friday, on a whim, I texted a friend and asked if I could hang out with her and her family for a bit. It was a great couple of hours and the perfect way for me to break OUT of work mentality after a long week (because, you know, just because you leave work doesn't mean you stop thinking about work). It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

I do not write this to complain. I'm writing to acknowledge a tension that many feel in education, and in society. The competing desires to do well in a profession and take care of ourselves as humans can feel so hard to balance! This week has been very heavily weighted one way, and I want to be open and honest about that. Next week, I'll shoot for more little victories to help bring things back into alignment.

How do you find balance? I could use any tips & tricks - please share your ideas below!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Messages We Send

Leadership can be about what we say, but it is also about the culture we create through our actions. Think about the people who are leaders in your school or work setting. What do they do (or not do) that cultivates the culture of your group?

In my new leadership role, I've been thinking a lot about the messages my actions send.

I might be working on Saturday morning at 6am, but do I expect others to?

I really got this tip from a principal - when employees receive emails from their boss all evening or weekend, it puts out a subtle message or expectation that they should be working at all times. That is certainly not what I want to communicate! One of my peers said that she often starts an email with, "We all have different work habits, and this is my best time to get work done, but I don't expect you to be working at this time..." My favorite solution is Boomerang - I can write the emails whenever I want, and schedule them to send at a more reasonable hour :-).

As the one with the "title", it's up to me to set others at ease.

I was having a conversation with a first-year teacher, and they asked, "Can I call you Aubrey?" It didn't even occur to me that my teachers - who are adults - would wonder if it is okay to be on a first-name basis, yet I remember having similar thoughts when I began my career! This made me realize that people are looking to take their cues from me - I can actually make interactions more comfortable by introducing myself first, asking them to sit at this table, and just setting the tone so others aren't worried about things like, "Does it matter which side of the table I sit on?"

When a weekend event ends, do I stay to help clean up or leave?

Cleaning up isn't in my job description, and it's not exactly an expectation. But what does it communicate if I let others do the dirty work while I go enjoy my weekend? This is servant leadership at its finest - and if I want to be a servant leader, I need to show it.

If I see a teacher doing something awesome, do I share it?

One of the great things about my role is that I have a bigger megaphone. I can amplify others' voices and work. But if I never share the great work that happens, it doesn't matter how big my megaphone is - it still won't get out there! I have been trying to take the time to pause my busy day and snap/tweet that picture or write that email to a principal or other district leaders (whoever makes sense) about the amazing things our teachers & students are doing! It's not always easy...this is never an urgent task, and it can often go to the back burner...but we don't do enough celebrating or positive sharing in education.


Okay, this is a sore subject for many people, because it is just so hard to keep up! I attended a session about team-building with many people from our district office (who work in operations), and the thing that I kept hearing about building trust & teams was that people wanted follow-up, and quickly. They mentioned how much more they trusted someone who responded to emails right away as opposed to someone who took a few days to get a response from. Now, I would never advocate for being on your email all of the time, but this was eye-opening to me and actually made me prioritize emails a little higher on my to-do list. If that's a big factor in my coworkers' feeling like they are on a strong team, how could I not prioritize it?

I'm sure there are a million more ways our actions speak louder than words, but these are a few situations I have encountered in my first two weeks! Do you have any tips about what you wish leaders would or wouldn't do? Leave them in the comments!