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.

No More War Stories

Do you ever notice our fascination with bad news, crazy tweets or others’ misfortunes? The web is full of these kinds of stories, whether about celebrities or everyday people. It’s everywhere, and I see it in education too.

We love to tell about how much marking or how many emails we have. Or about that student whose behaviour causes us grief. Or about how the public doesn’t appreciate the work we do. Does that elevate the profession?

I believe that we need to battle against the tendency towards “war stories.”  Negativity attracts negativity. Sharing bad news just ends up making me feel worse, not better. A few years ago, I made a commitment to myself to stop telling these anecdotes. I’ve succeeded, sort of, so I keep working at it. What I try to share is good news.

From http://www.think-happier.com/
From http://www.think-happier.com/

I’ve read many tweets about the importance of telling our positive stories of success and celebration, for if we don’t, who will? We need to be the ones who show the fantastic work teachers, educational assistants, caretakers, office staff, early childhood educators, principals and vice principals do. Every day, we can make a difference in someone’s life, whether we understand our impact or not. If we can see the light all around in classrooms and in schools, then when someone asks, “How’s work?” we can respond with amazing accounts of what we do day to day. We can describe the parent who came in to tell us how happy they are with their daughter’s progress. We can tell about the talent show where that quiet kid got up the courage to try out. Or we can share how one student with autism learned a new word.  These stories of joy exist in all of our schools.

Can you imagine?

 

(With thanks to Chris Crouch, #aprilblogaday founder and blogging inspiration.)

Open a Book

Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.

–Vera Nazarian

I love to read. I’ve been reading a lot since I was little. I was that kid who would lock myself in the bathroom so I could read longer when my mom wanted me to go outside and play.  My preferred reading material is fiction of just about any kind. The magic of a good story with rich characters draws me in every time, and there are so many good books out there! I’m also nerdy enough to set myself reading goals every year. This year, I want to read 51 books. I’m only at 12, so I’ll need some discipline to get there!

Right now, I’ve got Donna Tartt‘s The Goldfinch started and the next installment of the Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley waiting. Both have compelling characters with mysterious pasts. You can see my Shelfari reading shelf here to what kind of books I’ve read lately.

My professional reading list is part of this blog. Every so often I update it. It represents books that are influential on my thinking and books that I’m in the midst of reading. There are many wonderful leadership and education books and I would love suggestions.

I’m always up for more light in my life, so I read.