Saturday, December 5, 2020

One #EquityWin at a Time

Equity is both a buzzword and very needed in education (and society) today. I wish we could snap our fingers and fix things! But years and years of systems and personal biases cannot be done in a day, week, or even a year. Rather, it is deep work that starts with awareness and often comes one step, one #EquityWin at a time. Sometimes there are wins and sometimes there aren't, but we have to keep pressing! Below are a couple of snapshots from my past two weeks at work.

Snapshot #1

Last week, I was so frustrated when it felt like some people in my district were designing systems that put up barriers that would prevent the families who need us the most from accessing certain supports. The most discouraging thing was the lack of understanding from the people I was talking with. I know it wasn't an intentional desire to make things hard for these families, it was a lack of understanding about the reality that they faced and how challenging it is. I don't pretend to fully understand it either, but I did want to share my concerns.

Sometimes I think that these concerns are taken much more seriously when they come from our equity team, or our team that focuses on culturally & linguistically diverse learners. But why? We all need to own this work! In the end, some (not all) of the barriers were removed.

#EquityWin? Maybe.

Snapshot #2

I received an email from a teacher who was thinking about using a certain song in their class, and a student had put in the chat, "That song is racist." After some research, they concluded that there was no major racist history to the song (although there have been some questionable uses of it in the past), but it was clear that a student did not feel good about it. This teacher was looking for advice about how to handle it and if they should still use this song.

This gets so complicated so quickly in the world of music history! We engaged in some great email dialogue, with several people chiming in, and ultimately the teacher decided to move away from this song out of a desire to be sensitive to the student. What I loved was that the teacher was able to make their own decision after weighing all of the perspectives, and ended the email saying that they felt so supported. This is the deep, internal work of equity -- not just being told what is or isn't appropriate, but learning, growing, and expanding perspectives to be more responsive to all of our students.

#EquityWin? Absolutely!

What now?

We don't always have these wins, and in fact, I had a situation later in the week that was the exact opposite (I will not share it here out of respect for those involved). I feel like this is the way it goes...two steps forward, one step back. When policies and systems are changed for the better, we should all celebrate! Yet equally as important are those subtle, personal, internal changes that happen every day. Today, I'm choosing to celebrate these "small" #EquityWins and to continue looking for more of these every day. Added together, they will change the world!

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Self-Care, Amazing Teachers, & the Roller Coaster of 2020

My mind is scattered today, which is no surprise. It seems to be a way of life lately! I found myself wanting to blog, but having a lot of half-formed ideas, so I figured I would just start writing and see what came out.


I think it's important to start with a bit of self-reflection. The past couple of weeks have been hard, as cases continue to rise and restrictions tighten in my area. I don't think I realized until now how much I don't want to go back to that isolation again. I know that it is important for us to protect each other, and I will do my part, but the tightened restrictions has made me feel more anxious (and I'm sure the election didn't help). Along with that, my workload has increased really significantly over the past several weeks (more on that below), leaving me feeling more and more overwhelmed.

Reaching out for help isn't always easy, but I decided I needed to do two concrete things to try to help myself. The first was expressing to my leaders how overwhelmed I was feeling with work. Even if nothing can be done about it, I still think it was important for me to share my thoughts rather than continuing on and pretending that all was fine. The second thing I decided to do was text a friend to ask if she had an idea of someone I could talk to for some mentoring about some specific situations I am facing at work. She responded with a suggestion, and I had a phone conversation with this person this week. It was so helpful to hear my own words and thoughts reflected back to me in different words, to have someone asking reflective questions, and to help me think through some concrete next steps. All of this has to do with my #oneword2020, value, in valuing myself enough to prioritize finding ways to help myself in a time when it feels like there are so many competing priorities!

Amazing Teachers

I don't even know where to start on this one...I have had the pleasure of subbing in several classrooms while teachers are out on quarantine, and I am constantly amazed by my colleagues. Sometimes when I am watching them teach virtually or experiencing their classroom routines, I feel like I am getting a masterclass in good instruction! All of this fills my teaching heart up, and it challenges me to be a better teacher every day.

I also am leading a task force which started this week, where we are trying to figure out how to solve some complex scheduling situations for next semester (traveling teachers + COVID guidelines + changed school schedules = chaos). I was so encouraged by the collaboration and creative thinking of our teachers and administrators on this committee. The focus on the common good and what is best for the kids is amazing! I was so nervous for this committee, but after our first meeting, I feel full of hope!

Roller Coaster

Although I am focusing on the positives here, I would be lying if I said that life didn't feel like a roller coaster at times. I have so many competing emotions: I love subbing in schools, but I get overwhelmed by the work that builds up when I am in schools all day; I get nervous about these complex issues to solve, but am encouraged by the collaboration and work of our educators; I want to keep everyone safe, but don't want to go back to a "Stay at Home" state. I think that we will continue to live through this, and I just keep reminding myself to give extra grace -- to others and myself -- during this time. Most of us are probably not at our best right now. The more we can move toward each other with compassion and grace, the better off we will be. I'm trying to remember that every day!

And thus concludes a snippet into my life and mind in this year of 2020!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Look Around

 Look around, friends. This pandemic keeps going. Along with it is the stress, the anxiety, the uncertainty, and the isolation. And now we're heading into the winter.

I know that I, myself, have appreciated the opportunities to be outside more and socialize while the weather is nice. It has gone a long way toward helping me feel less isolated.

Some schools are back, some aren't, and many are in a hybrid form of teaching and learning. It's hard. Even when we have amazing teachers and leaders and everyone is going above and beyond and being extremely creative to make the best of it, it's hard.

Look around at your kids. Look around at your coworkers. How are they doing? How are YOU doing?

The mental health statistics scare me. The suicide rates (attempted and successful) are up. Abuse rates are up. As we talk about a virus that can kill, I hope we also remember these other things too and that we are equally as attentive to them. They are sneaky, often silent, but have very real consequences.

I hope and pray that, as we enter another phase, we keep in mind the human needs above all else. Love. Connection. The need to be seen for who we really are. The need to be honest about the good and the bad in life. The need to know that you matter.

Look around. Be that person today who brings light to another!

*I hope nobody reads this and thinks that I am not taking the virus seriously...that is not my intention at all. I just see this other, more silent epidemic of mental health concerns going on, and I want to take a moment to shed light on that. These two things are not mutually exclusive!

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Teaching 1st Grade!

 On Friday, I got to teach a sweet group of 1st graders as they finished their first week of in-person school! Their teacher wasn't able to be there, so I got called in from the district office to sub. I was a little nervous, knowing that the majority of my experience is with older students and not during a pandemic, but it was a blast!

Here are a couple of things I learned:

  • The kids did great with wearing masks for most of the day!
  • As different as some things felt, so many more things felt normal and familiar. Seeing little people think, learn, and socialize was so refreshing!
  • Routines come quickly. This was only Day #4 of being in person for these kids, and they knew their spots, how to keep their distance, how to be careful not to get to close when lining up, etc. It's clear that their teacher really made the classroom a safe and organized space for them, and they are responding!
  • Even beneath the masks, there were lots of smiles and giggles. School did not feel like a sterile and scary place.
  • The school had it arranged really well for students to stay in their cohorts. We didn't cross paths with any other groups all day, which is important for contact tracing. Things ran like clockwork!
I know that there are many different feelings about returning to in-person school, and I can't judge -- we all have different life experiences and personalities that inform our thoughts and feelings. For me, though, it was a relief to see many of the safety measures truly worked as intended, and school still felt like school. I hope that we all continue to stay healthy and safe, and that we can continue to give students access to in-person learning in environments as safe as we can make them, for both academic and social-emotional reasons.

I'm also glad I got to experience it first-hand. I understand this was only one day, but sometimes I fear being a "district person" locked in an office, making decisions, and not knowing what it is really like. This one day of being back in the trenches gave me a renewed appreciation for exactly how often primary teachers have to tie shoes, help kids with a splinter, or take care of a loose tooth that just came out. And it helped me understand the joys and challenges we are all facing in our return to in-person instruction. I hope I continue to get opportunities to "walk the walk" as we experience this new way of doing school together.

I can't post this blog without saying, I am so grateful to the school where I got to sub and to the teacher who left amazing plans and who has clearly trained these kids well. It was obvious from the moment that I walked in the room that it was a place full of love and care and learning. I just got to experience it for a day :-).

And that, my friends, is my first pandemic teaching experience!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Weekend Self-Care

I'm taking a break from my usual professional posts to share a little something I did this weekend. About two weeks ago, I was finding myself feeling super overwhelmed by school/work. It's just always there, always weighing on me, and working from home, it's literally staring me in the face. I thought that I needed to get away; I needed to find something else to focus on.

I texted a friend and asked if she wanted to go hiking that weekend. We did, and it was great! It was so refreshing and exactly what I needed. But it was a one-time event. So, the next day, when another friend asked me if I wanted to hike a 14er (mountain over 14,000 ft elevation), of course I said yes!

Yesterday was the day! I spent all week preparing by making sure I wasn't staying up too late and gathering the things I would need for the hike (the outdoor education heart in me still beats strong...I can't go for a big hike without being prepared). I woke up at about 2am, and off we went! Without going into the details, it was an awesome hike. Exhausting. But amazing. Looking DOWN at mountain ranges around you is pretty crazy.

My takeaway? We are in such a giving profession. It's sometimes really good just to do something for yourself. I was able to set a goal and work toward it. I didn't have time to think about school for a bit, because I was just focused on breathing and making it to the top of that mountain! As my friend said at the end, "My body is tired, but my heart is happy." Don't be afraid to prioritize yourself once in awhile!

Saturday, September 19, 2020


 A couple of weeks ago, I found out that one of my refugee kiddos was on an IEP, and I was angry!

Let me back up a bit...this student went to school in my state for kindergarten, then moved out of state for 1st grade. He has moved back now for 2nd grade, and brought an IEP with him. With a diagnosis of a learning disability. Maybe it's just me, but 1st grade is pretty early to be labeled with a learning disability, especially for an Emerging Bilingual (English Language Learner) who did not have many opportunities to learn in any kind of formal setting before kindergarten.

Once I calmed down a little bit, I tried to put my finger on what was bugging me so much. A friend asked me, "What does this mean for him?" In truth, it means that he will probably get more help and more interventions. And have a label. It's really not the worst thing in the world.

But I think my anger was a reflection of a greater worry about the role of the education system in perpetuating stereotypes or injustices in our current society. Why is this student automatically labeled as having a disability? Reading his current IEP, have we truly explored whether his slow progress in reading is a result of a disability or the fact that he is learning English or that he has moved around quite a bit and that has disrupted his education? Does he truly have a learning disability, or is it just the easiest and most convenient thing to do to put him on an IEP?

And lest you think I am paranoid, we have statistics to back it up. Do you know that, in my state a couple of years ago (when I could find the data), students who are Black are 2.18 times more likely to be identified with an intellectual disability compared to their non-Black peers? And 2.02 time more likely to be removed from the classroom for discipline issues? That's a problem, friends. You can view these statistics and more on this sheet.

I talked to my student's current special education teacher, and she said that the team would do a full review, since our state qualifies students differently than the other state does. I shared my concerns, and tried to share that if he truly has a disability, that is fine...I never want to be one of those people who is like, "Not my kid!" I just want to make sure we are really considering all of the factors and not jumping to conclusions because he is a student of color who is behind. I felt much better after talking, and feel confident that his school will take an honest look at his strengths and challenges and data to determine what the most appropriate course of action is.

For my part, I know I will continue to speak up and advocate in little and big ways as we wrestle with everything going on in our society right now. Sometimes it is showing up at a public protest, but sometimes, it's speaking to a teacher about one student's IEP.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

#LessonsinLeadership: Stepping into Hard Conversations

 The concept of not backing away from tough conversations is not new. I remember reading Crucial Conversations when I was first beginning my leadership journey and really appreciating a lot of the concepts, even though I was just starting to think about when I had been in some of these "crucial conversations" with my principals and what that had felt like.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I find myself realizing that I step into many conversations every day, and my words and action matter. This is true for all of us, but it carries even more weight when I am in a conversation where I am in a leadership position and I'm talking to somebody on my team.

Several days ago, I stepped into what I knew would be a hard conversation. It was the end of the day, I was coming from a meeting on a politically charged issue, and I was asked to join this meeting at the last minute. I probably could have said no, but I knew that wouldn't help, so I said yes. As expected, the meeting was emotional and hard. I have the utmost respect for everybody in that video call, and I believe we have a good relationship, but that doesn't make it any easier when I am the one having to deliver/reinforce an unpopular message. I walked away feeling very unsettled, unsure if my presence had made things better or worse, feeling the loneliness of leadership, and just feeling really sad about the situation.

Luckily, I work with some pretty awesome people. Over the course of the next few days, I received several texts and emails from people in this meeting saying thank you and that they appreciated my leadership, that I clearly cared but held onto the integrity of my position and what I needed to share. What?!? It sure didn't feel good in the moment. But apparently it did do some good for me to be there. (Side note: I wouldn't assume that everyone feels the exact same way, but at least it made a difference to some!) These words from my colleagues were a welcome encouragement and have actually given me confidence to continue to dive into hard topics, rather than running away from them.

The lesson to be learned: hard conversations will occur in life. There's no way around it. But approaching them with love, empathy, honesty, and integrity makes them go a little more smoothly. So I will continue to try to hold that space and that stance in all of the conversations that come this next week, month, and year!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

#LessonsinLeadership: The Greatest Compliment

Quick post brain is too full to say much! Earlier this week, though, I led a PD session for about 200 teachers. Let's just say that coming back has been pretty overwhelming, and I could feel the tension and anxiety and fear and worry and exhaustion (and maybe excitement?) in the virtual room as we gathered. Most of the questions are ones we don't have answers to yet.

As I was going through the exit ticket responses, this one caught my eye:

I appreciate your positive approach.  It helps bring me back to a better mind space! You are an excellent teacher!

Teacher. That word hit me. Sometimes I feel like moving to a district admin position is like going to the dark side. But this teacher saw and recognized me as a teacher.

That was the greatest compliment I could have received this day!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

#LessonsInLeadership: Relationships Matter

If I had a nickel for every time someone said, "We don't know" in the past couple of weeks, I'd be rich.

All kidding aside, this is a time full of unknowns in life, and education is no exception. School leaders and parents are all trying to make decisions with minimal information (and/or information chat seems to change every day).

If there's one lesson I can pinpoint in all of this, it is that a little bit of listening and personal conversation can go a long way.

In the past several weeks, I have received numerous emails, texts, and phone calls from the teachers I help lead in my district. Many of them want to know if we can talk. And my answer is always yes.

I have been struck by how many of these conversations have ended with something like, "Thanks, I feel better now after talking to you." The truth is, I don't really have more answers or give people a whole lot of new information, it's just that we take the time to connect on a human level. We can talk through their individual situation, given the information that we both have at hand, and think about what it means. These conversations may take up some of my time, but the investment in people, in my team, is well worth it. I firmly believe that people will feel more comfortable, less anxious, and be better employees, teachers, and humans when they know that they are in a caring environment!

Contrast this with other situations I've seen, where the directive has been, "The leader is overwhelmed right now, so unless it's urgent, don't reach out." I get it -- this is an overwhelming time, and sometimes we need to focus on other things. But do you notice how that puts up a wall? It communicates that other "stuff" is more important than the person who is looking for help. And even if it is said with the best of intentions, it creates a less comfortable and more anxious working environment.

Even worse than that is when nothing at all is said. When people feel like they are just shouting into the void and not getting any answers. That can feel like, "You issue/question/situation isn't even important enough for me to acknowledge." Does that keep your team engaged and headed in the right direction?

I'm not perfect, nor do I have time to say "yes" right away every time. In fact, one of my recent emails sounded something like this: "I would love to connect, but I need to focus on preparing for teachers to come back next week. Could we try to schedule something after that?" Keeping the door open while politely protecting my time & top priorities for this week was my goal. And I received a very understanding response!

Connection matters. The more uncertain the future, the more people just want to know someone is out there who cares. Be human first, and a worker second. And 99% of the time, it will actually help your work turn out better, because your team is engaged, empowered, and spending more of their time focusing on what needs to be done rather than wondering what the leader is thinking!

Go forth and lead through relationships!

Saturday, July 25, 2020