The Reflection Pool

Looking Back

Today I gaze back at myself as a new teacher. I had never imagined I might become a teacher, but there I was.

Last December, Vicky Loras posted a blog challenge “What’s Your Story“. I came across it through Doug Peterson, who posted his own:  “How Did I Get Here?”  At the time, I flipped the topic into my blog posts drafts but just couldn’t get started. I’m not sure my story is especially unique, but I’ll give it a try today.

Japanese mapleI began in French Immersion after a degree and teacher training in French. I really liked teaching. It was challenging, intellectually stimulating, and fun. Being with students was the best part, and I really enjoyed getting to know them and thinking I might be making a difference. These were the days when teachers closed their doors and worked alone. For an introvert, that wasn’t the worst thing, but I missed out on more than I gained. When I see how teachers collaborate in teams and push and support each other today, I am so glad things have changed. You can’t survive alone in our crazy difficult profession.

In between schools, I had a brief hiatus as a union leader. That was during the province wide teacher walk out and right before school board amalgamation in Ontario. It was an interesting year! I believed in the role of the union (still do) felt I was doing the right thing and loved the provincial perspective and big picture thinking. I met and was mentored by some powerful, smart women. That was inspiring. While I didn’t enjoy the adversarial nature of some of what I had to do, the experience was invaluable and added another facet to my perspective.

I returned to the classroom, but being who I am, I knew another change would come. (Did I mention I once moved house 8 times in 8 years? I’m pretty good with change.) Where might I have a positive influence beyond the classroom? After some wondering, I moved uncertainly into a vice principal role. That was one of hardest work transitions I’ve ever had. Leaving the collegiality of teaching for something unknown was tough. Fortunately, I had a wonderful principal mentor who taught me so much. I couldn’t have made it without her. And we laughed!

Things seemed to move quickly after that. Although I spent several years as a school administrator with some great successes and spectacular failures, I knew as a principal that I wanted to become a formal system leader, and I was quite deliberate about taking steps to prepare. Once again, I had loyal supporters who gave me the difficult feedback but also believed in me.

My first year as superintendent was humbling. Learning a multi dimensional new role, dealing with others’ preconceptions of that role and of me and working from a system perspective all added to that “newbie” feeling.  Thank goodness for a strong, collegial team of senior leaders who are never too busy to listen or to coach.

When I reflect over my career so far from teacher to superintendent, I see common themes of support from others, commitment, vulnerability, willingness to learn, doubt, yet a constant striving to be better. If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a work in progress.

It’s been worth every moment.

First Day = Best Day

The first day of school is the best day of the year. Every September holds the promise of hopes and dreams of students, families and staff. Students arrive ready to learn, probably more than any other day. It’s the day to connect with them, have fun, and help kids feel successful so they look forward to the second day. Let’s face it, while the syllabus and notebooks are important, they are not the most scintillating topics for the first day. They can wait.  happy-first-day-of-school-1

Sam Barringer, a student in our district, spoke eloquently at our opening breakfast event about the need for connections between students and teachers to engender motivation and engagement (he calls it e = mc2).  The first day is the best day for making those connections and jump starting the process for really knowing your students’ hope and dreams.

I have a great suggestion for first day = best day activities.  The maker movement in education is sweeping North America. The premise is that students use lots of 21st century skills when they make, including creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. To be honest, it reminds me of being a kid and having my mom teach me how to knit or cook. Or planting a garden with my dad. Or making scrapbook pages with a friend. Nowadays, these things are still great. But we have even more options that can happen in school. A low tech option is the Marshmallow Challenge.  Videos are within the reach of every student with fun apps like VideoStar and iMovie. You can go even further with 3D printing. Tinkering, inventing and making stuff can be powerful learning and super fun.

Last week, I noticed tweets from Pam Moran, a superintendent in Virginia. She was tweeting photos of first day activities at Monticello High School in her district. That led me to the principal, Dr. Jesse Turner who was proudly showing off a duct tape bow tie made for him by students.

These photos show that this isn’t hard. And look at the expressions on student faces. I know every educator wants to create those smiles every single student who walks through your doors.

What can you do to make sure the first day of school really is the best day? Please share your stories!

The beginning…

The beginning…thanks to Twitter (and @mrjarbenne!)

My decision to start a blog was inspired by Twitter. When I first joined Twitter a few years ago, I really didn’t get how to use it. I tweeted a couple of times, but then wondered what all the fuss was about and left it alone. Last year, I started using Twitter for updates to students and staff at our school, which sort of caught on, but I didn’t feel as if I was really connecting with others.

Finally, I started following people in my district – early adopters of educational applications in technology, innovators, and bloggers. As any Twitter user knows, that led to an avalanche of fascinating educators to follow and to me learning more than I thought possible through 140 characters. Their tweets were so interesting, but it was the links to their blogs that really opened my eyes. I began to see how blogging was a powerful self reflection tool – if I write, I have to think deeply. If I publish, it has to be from the head and the heart. Blogging will give me a way to learn more about myself, and what my motivations, passions and beliefs are about leadership and education.

I’m diving in. The water looks fine!