Where Loyalties Lie?

During my short time in education and as an educational leader, I have been called many things, but perhaps the most ironic word that has been used in an attempt to slander my name is disloyal. I am one of the most fiercely loyal people that I know. I am loyal to my family, my friends, and my purpose.  And I don’t pledge my loyalty or allegiance to anything that is not worthy of what comes along with that.  As an educator, I am loyal to students.  Period.  I don’t see any other way to operate.  I am loyal to doing what is best for students, in whatever capacity I may be operating. As a teacher, my loyalty was expressed differently than it was as a campus instructional specialist. The same can be said of my most recent two job titles. Loyalty for me simply means making decisions that are always in the best interest of students.  Different positions & titles cause you to be in the position to make different decisions, but loyalty means that those decisions are always rooted in the students’ best interest.

Today is a rare moment in time where I’m not physically at work, I don’t want to mentally be at work, but I cannot stop thinking about work related things.  Normally, I have a pretty decent routine established that helps me de-stress and unpack the weight that I am carrying. Today, however, is different.  It’s not that I’m stressed about any one thing. It’s more that my mind is all over the place. I have plans in place for some upcoming speaking engagements, which I love because I absolutely love to share what I know with anyone who will listen. I also have plans for the beginning of the school year, as that is right around the corner.  Lately, I’ve found myself spending more time contemplating the intersection of those two very big parts of my life: my public professional life (work) and my personal professional goals. There are places where the two areas seem to be in direct conflict with each other.

It’s not conflict in the traditional sense.  Rather, it’s a need to move forward in developing a particular area & skill set that I know will NOT be appreciated or supported in my work life largely due to a set of policies or procedures that will prohibit be from maximizing the use of my new skills for the population of students and teachers that I serve.  It’s quite the conundrum, as I find myself wondering whether or not the continued development of these skills and the time that is spent honing them is a reflection of selfishness on my part.  I keep trying to tell myself that it is not.  While I serve the students and staff in my workplace, as a responsible member of the education community I also serve a larger group of stakeholders. Am I not obligated to continuously develop and maximize my skill set for the sake of the good of all? Especially considering that I share what I know freely and willingly with everyone.

As leaders, are we obligated to limit our academic and professional pursuits based on the preferences of our employers? I have finally found the part of education that I am the absolute most passionate about.  I’m not talking about something that I just enjoy. I’m talking about something that I would be willing to hang my hat on as the bridge that will connect all of education to the ‘promised land’ that we all so often dream and speak about.  I understand, like most, that the world is a very large place. What if my contribution to the growing body of literature in this area has the potential to be a catalyst for real education reform?  I have seen firsthand the impact that can be made on the lives of children and adult learners as a result of growth and development of educators in this area.  I want to be a part of that progress, and I would love to witness that progress in the community that I currently serve.

But due to the differing foci of my work life & my personal professional goals, much of the time that I spend sharpening these skills is time away from my family. I try my best to work while they are working or sleeping, but that gets harder as time goes on. Even now as I type this, my boys are playing with their new race track set 2 feet away from me. I want to watch them & marvel at their innocence and delight with such a simple toy. But I also know that I have to finish the prep work for an upcoming presentation that I will be sharing, and I’m running out of time.

So today, my loyalties are being balanced between my family and my purpose.  Today, I think I’m balancing them properly. I have a timer set, and I have a stopping point. I know that my boys understand that mommy is working for a little while today, and it’ll be just the right balance.  I’m also well aware that this will not always be the case. There are bound to be times where I get it wrong.  But there will never be a time when I am not loyal to the things that matter most.

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The Truth Hurts…

…and that is why most people cannot handle it.  The funny thing about leadership, however, is that it requires that a certain amount of unadulterated truth be spoken.  There is really no other way to affect change if you cannot admit, see, or speak the truth.  In my admittedly short time in this new role, I have tried to walk the fine line between speaking truth and balancing the politics of leadership…which is another ugly truth that no one likes to talk about.

I wish I could tell you that this post will walk you down the road of successfully navigating this unspoken part of education, but unfortunately it will not.  I don’t have any of the answers that will get you to the other side. I’m still learning myself.  And the justice-seeking, advocate for the little people, who is perpetually standing on her soapbox that lives on the inside of me is becoming more and more impatient with the career-driven, office-politic-balancing professional that lives on the outside.

In moments like these I want to scream. I want to rail against the powers that be…the “THEY” that is so often referred to but never identified. But I don’t.  Because I have 4 children to feed and a mortgage to pay.  And that makes me sad. Because I vowed to myself that I would not conform…that I would not lose myself in the process of becoming a leader.

So tonight I will take a step back. I am choosing self-care. Because protecting the core of who I am is more important to me than fitting in the box and being the person I am expected to be.  Because Soapbox Ashley needs to know that she has value and is appreciated. Because Career Driven Ashley is going to burn out if she doesn’t slow down.  Because Mom/Wife/Friend Ashley needs a moment to relax and de-stress so that work doesn’t bleed over into home.  I encourage you all to do the same.

dont change
Photo Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/265149496785391919/

No More Shiny New Tools!

This weekend on Twitter, I was made aware of the fact that our beloved Padlet is going Freemuim.  For those of you who are unaware, Padlet is a service that has been free for the entire 9 years that I have used it. They have continued to make updates and improvements and have a very quality product. To be completely honest, I’m quite surprised that it hasn’t gone to a paid option before now.  (It’s nearly impossible to support video and audio file storage for free with no ads, and they have been doing it for years). Teacher Twitter has been in an uproar since the announcement was made, and I have largely stayed silent…that is until now.

If you know me, then you know I have been on my soapbox about shiny new tools for at least the past 3-4 years.  Every time I attend a conference, it ends up being 95% free advertisement for shiny new tools and it drives me insane.  It’s so bad that I literally won’t even go to most conferences anymore.  And here’s why…

Education does NOT need another shiny new tool.  Not that tools like Padlet and Flipgrid aren’t amazing; they are.  I have never said that they were not.  The problem is that for far too long, the Ed. Tech. community has spent much too much time focused on the tool(s) and not on the pedagogy behind their use.  Transforming classrooms will never happen if we continue to focus on the what and not the why.  Simon Sinek is widely famous for asking us to “Start With Why” and I’ll be the first to admit that I drank the Kool-Aid. If we don’t understand why we are doing this, what’s the point??

more than shiny new tool
Photo Credit: Rachel Deblinger at http://racheldeblinger.com/tools-for-teaching-research/

Giving students choice and leveraging technology to maximize all students’ learning must be our continuous goal. There is no single tool that will do that.  It will take all of the tools, being made available all of the time, in order for all of our students to be able to choose the correct tool to enhance their learning experience. There is no magic formula, there are no magic beans, and there have never been any magic words that will make it easier.

At this point, you might be asking me “so what do you propose we do instead?” because that is exactly what I would be saying in my head if I were reading this.  I offer you the same advice that I have been spouting for the past few years from the top of my soapbox: Group tools by what they can accomplish. Presentation, Organization, Movie Making, etc.  The groups can be created depending on your instructional setting, as long as you create the groupings.  And then…let the kids choose what they want to use.

And to all of the Ed. Tech leaders who may be reading this, I’d advise do the same for your teaching staff. Why buy a site license for one tool? Does everyone need to use the same tool? Do the kids all need exposure to the same tool? Of course not! Group your suggestions based on the instructional needs of your campus.  One of my current projects at work involves doing just that.  We are recommending digital resources & tools to use for presentations, organizing information, video production, participant feedback, formative assessment, graphic design, etc.  Teachers and staff will be able to choose what tools work best for their needs from a list of tools that have already been vetted.

And believe it or not, we do not offer professional development for individual shiny new tools! It would be impossible to sustain. Instead, I am encouraging teachers to utilize Twitter, YouTube, and their PLNs to explore different tools and examples of how they can be used with students. In this way, teachers are choosing their tools and being empowered to take control of some of their professional learning.  Imagine that – modeling for teachers what we want them to do with the students!! It’s a win-win for all parties involved.