It’s Never Too Late To Set A New Goal

I recently received an e-mail from WordPress notifying me that my yearly subscription fee would be due in a few months. It was at that moment that it dawned on me that I hadn’t posted on my blog site in more months than I would like to admit. After that e-mail sat in my inbox I began to question why it was that it had taken me so long to write on a platform that I once enjoyed so much.

I began to consider all the reasons why sitting down at the computer was starting to feel more like a chore than what was once a fun diversion for me. While I could convince myself that the summer months were meant to be spent outdoors rather than posting to my blog or that preparing for a new school year ate up all my free time, one truth kept nagging at my conscience that was difficult to avoid facing. The truth was that my initial motivation to create this blog was to share my passion for teaching and leadership, and what I began to realize over the last few months was that the spark had sort of fizzled out for me. I’m not sure exactly what prompted my temporary “burn-out” as I will call it but I will say that I know the only way to separate myself from this feeling is to move forward in both thought and action.

I find it simultaneously difficult and liberating to admit the truth to myself, let alone place it down on this blog post, but I feel that it’s necessary for me to move forward in being able to re-evaluate my current status as a teacher and consider the future choices that lie ahead in my career. So it was at 2 am this morning as I laid awake in bed that I realized I needed to admit this truth to myself so that I can begin to find what will reignite the curiosity, passion, and excitement again that I have for teaching and contributing to my blog. While I don’t have all the answers yet I am surprisingly excited by the prospect of not having it all figured out yet.

Who knew that a subscription reminder to WordPress would have such a profound effect on my thinking?

Thank you WordPress.

Raise the Praise, Minimize the Criticize

I first heard the adage “Raise the praise, minimize the criticize” while in an undergraduate class. It has stayed with me since I first heard it six years ago. While the saying was meant to frame the way in which we interact with students, it is also an effective way to live your life.

When we focus on what is positive we can grow in tremendous ways. We allow ourselves to be freed from restrictions we can put in our own way. Thoughts of “I can’t” can quickly become transformed to be “I can” if a positive attitude is adopted into all arenas of our life. The same is also true about how we think about and speak to our students. Rather than focusing on the gaps we have yet to meet with our students, we can reframe our thinking to consider all that they know so far.

One of my favorite TED talks features teacher and motivational speaker Rita Pierson who exemplifies an admirable model of someone who roots for all of her students despite potential shortcomings. Her TED talk can be featured here. During her talk she presents a truly poignant question, one that I am sure I share with many educators which is, ‘How do I raise my student’s level of self esteem while at the same time raise their level of achievement?’ Interestingly enough I believe that these two elements are directly related.

When students receive praise for all that they are and feel good about themselves, their level of motivation to become more will follow the same positive trajectory. Now wouldn’t this be an amazing thing for all of us to believe in leading our own lives? So here’s to a little more praise, and a little less criticize.

 

Three Lessons from an Experienced Principal

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There are times when we don’t realize that through our actions we are leading and teaching others in meaningful ways. I think that the remarkable way we can influence others without knowing it is at the heart of teaching and learning. I recently had my internship advisor visit me at my school to check on the progress of my internship experience. As we walked the hallways of the school I was learning so much from her words and her actions, whether she realized it or not. Here are three pieces of wisdom she unknowingly left me with that I know will impact my future work.

1. Stop and smell the flowers…literally!  We took our time to walk around the hallways of the school to truly get a sense of the environment and spirit of the school. We popped into several rooms that reflected the culture of the organization including the cafeteria, library, computer lab, book room, and faculty room. We also walked around the outside of the school to see the playground and front of the school. As we came to the main entrance of the school I walked forward to the front door while my advisor stopped in front a lilac bush to the right of the entrance. She stopped, gently took the flower in her hands and smelled the fresh, delicate scent that the flower was giving off. She didn’t realize it, but her small action of smelling the flowers was so powerful to me. She was appreciating the beauty in the small gift that nature provides us, which can be translated into larger lessons within the school organization on a daily basis with decisions that need to be made.

2. Organizational theory will impact your practice in tremendous ways.  Up until this year I was never exposed to books by authors like Peter Senge, Thomas J. Sergiovanni, Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal, or John Kingdon. These scholars explain the ways in which those in leadership positions can significantly impact the culture of an organization. I have to admit that I needed to reread and revisit these texts to understand them because I am not used to using theory to guide my practice. My advisor recommended that I keep these texts close to me and glance through them daily. I agree that revisiting the following texts is helpful in building a positive school culture: The Fifth Discipline by,Peter Senge Educational Governance and Administration by, Thomas J. Sergiovanni, Martin Burlingame, Fred S. Coombs, and Paul W. Thurston Reframing Organizations by, Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies by, John Kingdon

3. Appreciate the people in the organization – they will become your family.  On a daily basis I have to say that I am truly impressed with the caliber of educators that I work with. The staff in my school keeps kids’ needs in mind at all times and they go above and beyond to deliver instructional plans to students. As my advisor and I visited the spaces in the school building she pointed out that small thoughtful gestures make a world of difference to the visitors in the school and the staff members. She often says that her school is like her family and I believe this statement to be so true. Small acts of kindness show people that they are cared for and this can make a world of difference for positive school culture. The quote above by Henry Adams “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” has always been a favorite quote of mine. I believe that all teachers significantly impact the lives of their students in meaningful ways. For me, my internship advisor has provided significant learning lessons for me, even beyond her awareness.

It’s Not What You’re Doing, It’s How You’re Being

One of the reflective practices of my internship experience for educational administration coursework is to provide a critical incident that has served to be a poignant moment for me in the past four months. The critical incident serves to be a reflective practice that makes you stop and think and asks you to question your beliefs, values, attitudes or behavior. It can be a specific moment in time or it can be a larger process of discovering parts of yourself that you never knew were there.

Every day of my internship is providing me with a learning experience. I entered this experience full of enthusiasm to participate in the daily tasks of a principal. As the first weeks passed by I was growing concerned that I was not making the most of my internship – I was becoming impatient with the process and yearned to do more.  I was consumed with the mind-set that I needed to appear busy as evidence that I was working hard. I thought that having long lists of “To Do” items that could be crossed off as they were handled was an accurate depiction of the job of a principal. I do tend to work best when I can accomplish a goal and then move on to the next item in an efficient manner. However, I soon realized that the job of a principal is not as neatly packaged as I had thought it to be. The critical incident I would like to describe is one that I am experiencing every day of my internship. It is not one fixed moment in time, rather this moment I would like to describe is the larger process that I am coming to terms with. This internship has afforded me the great gift to evolve as a human being, something most young people cannot describe as a by-product of their day-to-day experiences in their career.

As time has passed I soon realized that to-do lists will not grant me access to the larger vision of the job of a principal. To-do lists, albeit necessary for organization and task completion, can pigeon-hole the larger vision and mission that a community of educators yearns for. Upon reflection, the depiction I had created in my mind of a principal was one that was very narrow-minded and transactional. Throughout the first weeks of my internship I was growing impatient feeling like I was not doing anything. However, rather than doing I realized I needed to rethink my personal and professional goals that I hoped to attain from my internship. I asked myself several questions, existential in nature, and not expecting to find an answer immediately. I believe these are the most important kinds of questions as they are the markers that signify change, growth, openness, and above all mindfulness. I asked myself the following questions:

What do you hope to gain after this experience?

Why are you doing this now?

How are you seeing yourself?

How do you think others see you?

These questions are difficult and I still ponder them daily as a practical self-reflection activity. I think that these questions and the thinking process involved in pontificating collectively function to be the critical incident that I am undergoing every day of my internship.

Throughout this process, I have learned so much from my professors, colleagues, classmates, and from educators that I have virtually met through blogging on WordPress and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Every day I am learning that a principal’s job is more about observing, thinking, and connecting to the people in the school community than it is about handling managerial tasks that can be flippantly crossed off as they are completed. My beliefs about the role of a principal have undergone alterations, which I originally had not anticipated. The internship experience is a continuous learning process. I am learning more about myself but also so much about the people around me through the observation and analysis of the inner-workings in my building. What I first considered to be a journey in advancing my career is turning out to be more about self-discovery, truth-finding, and learning how to just be. 

Losing Our Way

I have recently been exposed to many conversations regarding the well-being of teachers who feel de-professionalized in their careers due to the new reform movement in education. Unfortunately, many teachers express that that their profession, that more often than not chooses them as a calling, has left them. A huge sense of fear has infiltrated our classrooms. Instead of trusting their own judgment I have witnessed many teachers second-guess themselves in their classroom practices. How can we restore the trust and faith in ourselves as teachers and in our practice of education?

Just as doctors are required to take the Hippocratic Oath before formally entering the profession to uphold ethical standards of treating patients, maybe teachers should also make a promise to act ethically and be true to ourselves when in the classroom. Both professions directly impact the lives of those they serve by the moral decisions made by the professional. Physicians are revered in not just our society, but many others. Why is it that teaching is not held in the same regard?

Perhaps Harvard scholar Jal Mehta has unearthed the answer in his studies on the need for the professionalization of teaching. Mehta’s analysis proposes that the current movement toward educational accountability is a manufactured crisis that has plagued the educational field over the course of the 20th century. “The implication of this analysis is that while we often analyze school reform in terms of the effectiveness of particular programs, in a broader view it may be that the organization of the entire sector is problematic” (Mehta, 2013).  Rather than managing top-down mandates from business and government agencies who have low regard for public education the teaching profession needs to be re-established as the pillars upon which our society is built.

In an article from The Atlantic – The Wisdom Deficit in Schools – Michael Godsey, a high school English teacher explains his internal dilemma with the restraints posed by the Common Core State Standards in his classroom. Godsey’s experiences in the most recent years of his teaching career summarize common complaints made by many teachers. It is as if the education field has been taken hostage and the need for a restoration of faith and trust is paramount to the welfare of the profession. Godsey explains the moral responsibility he feels to raise the bar for thinking practices of his students through the exposure to rich classical texts and experiences. Godsey identifies that the current pressures on teachers affects the educational practices that he has refined over the years of his career. The reform movement that has promoted standardization of teaching has caused harm to the field of education through the disempowerment and de-skilling of teachers. Throughout various examples provided in the article, I couldn’t help but feel similarly to Godsey.

My Very First Blog Post

Taking my first step.

I began teaching five years ago right out of college. I considered myself one of the “Lucky Ones” in that I was able to secure a full-time teaching position at a time when many of my college friends were struggling to get their foot in the door. I am blessed to be a bilingual speaker of English and Spanish and credit that skill to being a determining factor in being hired from a pool of thousands of applicants in the New York City school system.

I began teaching at the inception of the Common Core State Standards in NY and through the roll-out of No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, I have to admit then that I did not fully understand the consequences that this federal initiative would have on my teaching practices. I was just a young teacher who couldn’t wait to start creating engaging lesson plans, putting up bulletin boards, conducting read-alouds, along with all of the rewarding activities that come with the job and of course ultimately affecting the lives of young children.

As the years passed I started to become more aware of how federal education mandates directly impact teaching practices, the philosophy of educational leaders, the well-being of teachers, and most importantly the welfare of students. I worked in a Bronx public school for two years and due to many reasons I left to take a teaching position in a small school in Dutchess County, NY. There I currently teach first grade in an inclusion classroom.

Fast forward to now, I feel that a veil has been lifted from my eyes and I am becoming more and more entrenched in the work of educators who are learning how to combat the educational reform movement. I am immensely impressed in the educators I meet who are willing to share their thoughts about how CCSS and the reform movement are affecting their teaching. I am still trying to figure out my stance on lots of issues and the platform from which I will grow my thoughts. So in this blog, I do not intend to share my personal and political views, instead I would like to reflect upon current educational issues. I also intend to share my thoughts on leadership and how best to lead in these times as I am learning so much information that I know will be useful to me in my future as an educational leader.

So here’s to taking the first step into the blogging world. Wish me luck!