I do not believe in regrets.
I do believe, however, in years that were painful to endure.
I am more than ready for 2017 to go the way of Hans Gruber in Die Hard. It has been a year of "almost but not quite," of taking risks that did not pan out, having to spend a lot of money we were not planning to shell out, spending an inordinate amount of time having to teach students that even though politicians and famous people act that way we should not, and we capped it off with having to put our 15 year old border collie down- who has been with us since our first year of marriage.
I do not regret 2017, but I do eagerly await its passing. It is said that failure makes us grow, and after this year, I do agree with that part of growth mindset more fervently. I have come to take notice of things- from the way I present myself, to how others perceive me. I have learned that people always want to give you an encouraging word, but you sometimes need to be told the truth no matter how painful it is. I have learned that sometimes with loss comes a bit of freedom.
Between seeing my own year of trial (at one point I started a list of things that had not gone right- big things related to career, family, house and finances- and I could list 13 things)and seeing our world experiencing great turmoil, hope became hard to find.
In a year with more mass shootings and massive hurricanes, I have learned that the good guys do not always win. But they also never give up. I look at humanity in the wake of these tragedies and see hope.
My wife and I have been watching the Lord of The Rings with our oldest- her first time. At the end of the Two Towers, Samwise Gamgee speaks truth to me- and hopefully you.
2017 reminded me that up until then, I had had it easy. But if I want to make a difference- the kind of difference I talk about on Twitter and in blogs and to fellow educators- then I have to be willing to fight. Sometimes the fight will be about practice or to be taken seriously, sometimes the fight will be about ideology. But as I listened to Sam, and I watched Houston after Harvey where we came together for the goodness of all humankind, I realized I need to define what I am fighting for in 2018. Now, I have some personal goals to fight for in 2018, but for the sake of this blog, here are the BIG things I am fighting for that are not about me.
-For Students: It will ALWAYS be about students for me. A student's success and a student's safety trump anything else. If they cannot have one- safety or success- they cannot truly have either.
-Voice: Students and Teachers alike need to be heard. I want to find a way to spread that voice, and if needs be, be the voice for those who have none of their own.
-Empowerment: One of the best things that came out of 2017 for me was the opportunity to develop and lead a program that is devoted to student empowerment. Along the way, we realized that student empowerment like we are trying to develop cannot happen without teachers who are empowered as well.
-Vision: We need leaders in education and beyond that cast vision. They need to find the core idea of what makes school and classroom culture work for their specific situation and develop and share a vision that is clear and connected to their population.
-Innovation: Whether it is a small tweak to an existing idea, or a seismic shift of thought and practice, Innovation is worth fighting for- and celebrating. Too many innovators are overlooked or ignored because they lack voice or a platform to share their voice. If I myself cannot innovate a solution, I want to find and engage with others who can, and help them in whatever way I can to change our world.
After my year of living out the hard part of growth mindset, these are the things that I find important. These are the things I want to encourage and defend as a classroom teacher, a teacher leader, and hopefully someday as an administrator. These things MATTER to me.
What are your things worth fighting for in 2018?
We talk a lot about how to empower students in classrooms and beyond. It is an extremely potent term in education today, and schools and classrooms are taking some deep dives into just what empowerment looks like for them.
A key part of empowerment is understanding where a person is before we begin strengthening their knowledge and skills. We must ask what raw talent or knowledge exists, what deficits are present, and what hidden things lie beneath the faces we see day in and day out in our classrooms. This becomes even more crucial when we are talking about providing students growth opportunities outside of the classroom.
The program I (along with a team of teachers) am developing for my district, LEADS, is one such program. We want to help students develop leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity, and compassion through risk taking opportunities to meet needs on their campus and eventually in their community. At the same time, they will act as ambassadors for our district at district events.
Oh, and they are 5th through 12th grade students learning and growing together.
We are trying to break new ground and do something new- that means that empowerment is not just about the students. It is about the teachers who will guide the students.
I met with two of our teachers, Marina Rodriguez and Lauren Guest, who are working on the LEADS lead team today. We are preparing our first teacher training coming up in January and this was the first meeting where things went beyond recruitment. We talked a great deal about what our role would be as leaders of the teachers and what needs we ourselves needed to address in our first training. All three of us kept coming back to two things, things that are relevant for both students and teachers.
We need to know what their needs are, and we need to create a safe place for risk and failure.
We know that is true for our students, but do we as teacher leaders and administrators ACTIVELY get to know our teachers' needs? Do we create a safety net for their risk taking- and acceptance when they need to step back?
As we talked, it became clear that as much as it is important to cast vision, it is absolutely vital to develop trust and ownership for our educators. The three of us recognize that in order for LEADS to empower students, we must create a structure- and relationships- that empower our fellow educators first.
One of the first- and easiest- things we are doing is in our branding. Our teachers are not going to be advisers, they are Teacher Innovators. We want to inspire and instill a mindset in them that lives for creativity and risk taking. And what sounds more risky and creative- adviser or innovator?
What title could you give your teachers that inspires and empowers?
Secondly, we recognized that we need to gauge where our teacher innovators are in their risk taking journey. We are developing some activities that will test them, and some opportunities for reflection that will allow them a chance to assess just how innovative they are- and how innovative they are willing to become.
What reflective assessments have you offered your fellow educators? Are you aware of their comfort with innovation, or are you just assuming that level?
Finally, we have realized that as lead innovators, we must develop roles for ourselves that SERVE the teacher innovators. We must be to them what they need us to be- we must be flexible and open and willing to spend time behind the scenes to make the students and the teacher innovators the real leaders. We are simply preparing the soil for the fruits they will grow and bear. In short- we must set the teacher and student innovators up for success and allow them to dream big.
How have you set a fellow educator up for success? How or what could you do to empower your own teacher innovators?
I left our meeting today inspired. The three of us understood that the teachers we are asking to be innovators are taking a huge step out of their comfort zone. They are taking on an endeavor that they know little about because it is new, have no idea how much time it will take, and has no guarantee of success. We understand this because we too feel this weight. We know the risk- but we also know the potential.
As teacher leaders, are we modeling risk? Are we asking our fellow educators to do anything we ourselves are not willing to attempt?
It is my sincere hope that the empowerment I am feeling as LEADS takes shape will be contagious for all of our innovators. And I hope that you too will find and spread empowerment on your campus and in your district!
While I am somewhat famous (infamous) amongst my students for my Dr. Pepper consumption, I also have quite a taste for sweet tea. Like, real, Southern Sweet Tea- no lemon. The sweeter the better.
But for years, when I went to restaurants that only had tea with sugar in packets or sweeteners, I was constantly dissatisfied with my beverage. No matter how hard I stirred, the sugar just settled to the bottom. Sure, I could stir it up in a cloud and drink quickly, but then I just got the granulated tasted of sugar. I could also put saccharine in, but it would be just that- a chemically sweet flavor that was not ideal for my consumption.
So, I went for Dr. Pepper.
Then a few years ago, I got some Earl Grey. I thought I would give it a whirl- literally- and try it out. To my astonishment, when I put sugar in the hot tea and stirred, the sugar dissolved and became one with the tea and water. The missing element was the heat- I had motion, I had the right chemicals, but I needed the heat agent to create the tea I was longing for.
That, my friends, is when I learned the relevance of chemistry.
And there is a chemistry to teaching. Our students are part, are content is part, and we are the stirrer. We try to mix our students with the content, but often what happens is a cloud in which some flavor of learning is present, but ultimately the students and the content separate. We are missing the heat needed to break down each part so it can be more completely combined.
I believe the heat for this particular mixture- students and content- is relevance. Just like I did not see the need for chemistry until I discovered the chemical process of heating the tea to blend the sugar and tea and water to make my tea, students do not see the value of our content until they see why it benefits them.
As educators, let me encourage you to find your heat source for making your content relevant to your students. Then grab a spoon!
It will be a great blend.