The Importance of Staying Connected

Sometimes, even though we don’t want to admit it, as leaders we’ve been away from the “action” too long. Obviously, we are still in education so we are not that far removed. However, without intentionally staying connected to the realities of the classroom, we run the risk of being out of touch with what is actually happening. And that can have a serious impact on the quality of our work.

Going into this school year, I decided to focus all of my summer professional learning on the demands that teachers face each day. I attended 14 hours of core content driven PD sessions that my district offered. I sat in sessions with a nameplate that simply stated Ashley M.; no title or last name was given. I wanted an authentic experience and to see the teachers’ natural reactions to what was being asked of them. I learned a TON about how different the classroom is since I left (and that wasn’t that long ago). I’ve only been removed the classroom for six years, and from campus support for two. My, what a different landscape it truly is! I wish more of our leaders would make the time to have these experiences because they undoubtedly have an impact on the expectations that we have of our teachers and staff.

The image shows flexible seating with chairs that have detachable writing tops that are hanging on the hooks on the side.

Too often, we hear about changes being in how a room is arranged. We know that the days of students seated in perfect rows facing forward are long gone…or at least they should be. We know that flexible seating is taking over, and that students learn in a variety of different ways. What we don’t hear enough about is how the culture of today’s classroom environment has shifted. And when we start to understand the cultural shifts, that when we begin to get to the tip of the iceberg regarding the transformative practices that should be taking place.

As I sat through my first day of teacher professional development, two things were evident to me. The first, being that as an educational leader, your presence matters to those you support. The second big aha moment for me was that there is a horrible trend of miscommunication in K-12 systems. In this case, a small amount of effort truly went a really long way. I was able to connect with these educators from a place of trust and transparency. Let me explain.

At the end of each of my sessions, as people started talking and probing more, I decided to reveal my title/position. You would’ve thought I was on an episode of Undercover Boss. The teachers I encountered were so appreciative of the fact that I made time in my schedule to learn along side of them. There were even two teachers who specifically spoke about the lack of leadership presence in our summer professional development sessions. They expressed their frustrations and the fact that they feel like often times their administrators don’t know enough to properly evaluate them each year because they don’t stay current with what is happening with curriculum.

Picture shows a bridge over a large chasm with rapids flowing underneath.

While participating in these sessions, I also realized how deep the communication divide has become. As leaders, we have to stay connected so that we can build a bridge across the communication divide. There were so many differing stories of what messages that were relayed from central office to campus specialists to teaching staff. There was also an overwhelming number of inaccuracies in teachers repeating what was represented to them in terms of district expectations. Additionally, there was a gaping disconnect between what teachers are doing and what we are asking them to do. It was almost as if maybe the people making the decisions were quite aware of just how much has changed.

I don’t share my experience to put anyone else on the spot or to make people defensive. I share my experience so that we can all learn from them together. After all, every great educator should be a lifelong learner! And that’s the purpose of my blog, of sharing my story. If we can learn from each other’s experiences, imagine the collective greatness that could result. Maybe we really can change education, thereby changing the world (which is why we all became teachers anyway, right?).

I leave you with this. Stay relevant. Stay connected. If you don’t intentionally make the time to do so, you’ll never do it. You will always be too busy. There will always be something else that needs to be done. But our teachers need us to make the time. And Our students need us to make the time. We can’t afford not to. So take a moment before you close this page, look at your schedule for tomorrow or even next week, and make the time. I promise it’s worth it.

Serving is the Journey

Sometimes, we find ourselves in situations and we wonder how we got there. We started off with big plans and dreams, and yet even with the plans laid out we still ended up somewhere that feels unfamiliar. It’s almost like “this isn’t what I signed up for” when this is in fact EXACTLY what you signed up for! That’s the time when I find myself most reflective. In this current season of my life, I have a lot of questions. How did I get here? Where do I go next? What lesson am I supposed to be learning while I’m here? And in the midst of all of the questions, I realize how selfish they all are. Sure — there are many things that I did not sign up for. But there are equally as many things that I did sign up for.

Whether you know it or not, when you/we signed up to be a leader, you/we signed up to serve! I signed up to serve others, and that was always a huge part of my vision for this journey. And when the going gets tough, we all have to step back and remember that serving is the journey. People will never remember what I accomplished for myself. They won’t be able to rattle off my accolades. But they will remember what I did for them. How did I help? How did I serve? How did I make their lives easier?

As I write this, I find myself coming out of a funk. And you know what helped to pull me out…..serving. The joy that I felt as I witnessed the hard work and success of someone else was the most exciting thing I have felt in quite a while. It was motivating and encouraging. It helped me to center myself and become grounded again. I reminded me of exactly why I signed up for this leadership thing in the first place. Serving others is the best way to help yourself!

As I write this, I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to you. Everyday, we should look for ways to serve. Take the time to plan for ways to serve others. Build the time into your schedule. I promise you will not regret it. When you see the smile, read the email, and/or receive the thank you note, you will know that your time has been well spent.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Dr. Maya Angelou

Early Burn Out…

low batteries

As the new school year is upon us, I find myself almost burning out instead of charging up.  There are certain logistical aspects of the school year that make me want to run and hide.  To be clear, it’s not the kids. It’s NEVER the kids.  It’s the redundant questions about things that I have absolutely no control over.  And it’s the most frustrating thing ever.

I must admit, I struggled when deciding whether or not to write this post. There’s a fine line between venting frustrations and sharing lessons learned. There is also the concern that people will read my words and become offended or misinterpret something that I said.  But honestly, that is a risk that I am willing to take.  I have always been a person of honesty and transparency, almost to a fault.  Telling the truth should not be political. And if my experiences can help even one person in their own leadership journey, than the risk is definitely worth it.  You see, leadership development classes don’t teach you how to navigate the political landmines that are ever present in the K-12 landscape.  EVERYTHING is political, and has the potential to be career suicide…or so people would have you to believe.

Let me get back to the point of this post.  I’m frustrated. I work hard. I am essentially a K-12 project manager with one exception; I don’t have any autonomy over most of the projects that I manage. Most of the time, I’m okay with that, but there are specific times of the year when that becomes extremely frustrating. The beginning of the school year is one of those times, and I’ll explain why. One of my areas of expertise is implementing systems and procedures that make redundant processes more efficient. It’s a gift, what can I say! (lol)  And I become extremely frustrated when I know how to fix an issue, have made suggestions about how to fix an issue, but I don’t actually have the authority to fix the issue.  As a result, I find myself here at the start of another school year dealing with the same problem that could have been resolved 2 years ago. (Yes, that says 2 years.)

I would love to tell you that I have learned how to NOT get frustrated with the situation, but that would be an absolute lie. I am only human. I am, however, learning how not to let my feelings of frustration cloud my professional judgement. I am learning how to not let my frustration change my views and opinions of the people that I work with.  I am learning how to not let my frustration affect my relationships with my colleagues (trust me…this one has taken the most work.)  There is no magic bullet for learning how to process through these (or any other) emotions.  Everybody is different, and every situation is unique. I would encourage you to discover what works for you.  For me it varies. Some days, the right music playlist can take away all of my worries. On other days, I listen to a podcast or Ted Talk that helps me become grounded and remember why I started down this road in the first place.  And of course, there are still days that I choose to sit in my feelings because you can’t process or work through emotions that you don’t allow yourself to feel.

No matter how you or I choose to process through these feelings, the one thing we must remember is that we have to work through them in order to function at our best.  So here’s to processing frustration, and rekindling the fire before school starts. Our students and teachers deserve my best when they show up, and I’m willing to do the work that will ensure that’s exactly what they get!