I’ve been putting off writing this post for the past week. I usually love writing these reflective blogs (past year’s posts: 2017, 2016, 2015), but this year, not so much. Out loud, I’m blaming the busyness of ending school on December 21st, then immediately diving into all the holiday crazy. However, internally I’ve been finding plenty of other things to do instead because I want 2018 to be a thing of the past and I don’t want to dig back into the less great things of 2018. It’s necessary to reflect and learn, so, here goes!
Where I was (December 2017)
A year ago, I was very intentionally navigating the never ending challenge of work-life balance. It wasn’t easy, and thankfully I have amazing friends around me who constantly check in.
Professionally, I was coming off of a fulfilling year. And personally, I was having a bit more of a rough time. But, I was hopeful things would get better (spoiler: they didn’t get any better until the very end of 2018).
Where I am (January – December 2018)
I was so fortunate to participate in our district’s Teacher Leadership Academy, led by the amazing Amy duo, Amy Hunt and Amy Illingworth! I learned a lot about being an effective teacher-leader, working with Difficult People, and how to say “I’m not going to take that on.”
I had the opportunity to share my love of teaching and technology all over the US at various summits and professional development opportunities. Some highlights include Atlanta, Nashville, Phoenix, Chicago, and Greenville, SC.
“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I did a full re-read of the Harry Potter series in November and December, and I loved immersing myself in the magic again. It was so helpful to escape reality and the stress of life. I had to make a big choice this fall, and ultimately decided to end a 10 year relationship; though there are moments of sadness, overwhelmingly I feel happier and healthier. Along the way this year, I’ve had so many friends encouraging me and sitting down to have heart-to-heart chats about relationships and life. Thank you, friends.
I ended 2018 at a freezing cold New Year’s Eve party, surrounded by friends! I couldn’t ask for more (except maybe a heated blanket).
Where I’m going (January 2019 and beyond!)
New year, new me, right? For once, it really feels that way. After the stress of 2018, it’s as if a huge burden has been lifted. I’m ready for new opportunities and adventures! In the fall, someone asked me what 1 year in the future Mari would want for current Mari; that helped me put a lot of my life into perspective, and helped me make both hard and fun decisions.
In February, I turn 30, a gigantic adulting milestone. As my gift to myself, I planned a fun trip to New York City! I’ve never been, and it’s time I do something awesome just for myself.
As I planned out this post, I scrolled through my entire year on Google Photos. It’s fun to reflect back on the fun adventures I’ve had, and remind myself that, despite some setbacks and dark clouds in 2018, overwhelmingly it was filled with incredible friends. I’m really looking forward to 2019!
I love a good group blogging challenge, so I’m starting this one: let’s all share out 5 ways we commit to relaxing as we close out 2018. Please share out and tag #MyRelaxing5!
Lately I’ve seen a lot of us talking about work-life balance, and how we make sure we spend time to relax away from teacher lives–especially without feeling guilty! Shout out to Brian Costello for writing “Put Yourself First,” which inspired me to write this post. Despite what those on social media and trumpeters of eduspeak say, a good teacher doesn’t equal putting our 24/7 into teaching. Rather, it means putting our whole heart into our work, then stepping away to attend to our heart’s health (physical, social, mental-emotional) outside the classroom.
Each Friday, my teaching neighbor asks me what I am going to do for fun over the weekend. With the [annoyingly pointed and I-really-need-to-listen-to-this] caveat that presenting PD and snuggling my dog don’t count! Cue the total exasperation. But, it’s made me really think about how I spend my non-teaching time. And, I’m more aware that there’s a big distinction between “I’m having fun doing my work” and “I’m doing something fun outside of work.”
The #MyRelaxing5 are 5 non-work things that we will commit to doing for ourselves before the end of 2018.
1. Crocheting — This keeps my hands busy and brain creative. Usually, I crochet while watching sports or something else on tv. The best part is, I can’t also be playing on my phone or computer while I’m crocheting. And, it’s always rewarding to finish up a project, especially when it’s a gift.
2. Baking & Cooking — I enjoy being in the kitchen and cooking, especially when I can share what I make with my friends! As the holidays approach, I love trying new dessert recipes, and bringing them to work where I always have a captive audience. Last weekend, I successfully made a beautiful lemon meringue pie, entirely from scratch, and brought it to work to share with my friends. .
3. San Diego Zoo / Safari Park — I have an annual membership, and it’s easy to go for an hour or two. A bonus of my membership is I have a +1, making it the perfect friend adventure. There’s something so peaceful about walking through the zoo, enjoying the animals and plants, and chatting with a friend.
4. Beach time — I live in San Diego, there’s no excuse for not getting to the beach every so often. The weather will be at least warm enough to walk on the beach, even if it’s not warm enough to lounge.
5. Make it to the gym — I’ve totally fallen off the workout wagon, and I desperately need to climb back on. It always makes me feel better after I go to the gym. So, by adding this to my list, I am officially committing to getting some more exercise. It’s easier to convince myself to go when I know I can get a free hydromassage after.
Ok, now that this post is written, it’s time to make plans to accomplish my relaxing goals. I know that I need to prioritize myself a bit more, especially facing the stress (even if it’s positive and fun) of the holidays and end of the semester.
What 5 things will you commit to as we end 2018? Remember to tag #MyRelaxing5 when you share out yours!
I can’t believe it’s already back to school! I’m starting my 7th year teaching–it’s really amazing to look back at how far I’ve come over the past 6 years of teaching + 2 years of pre-service teaching! Thank you Teacher2Teacher for this awesome #TeacherStats graphic! Make your own here!
My kids start on Monday, July 23rd, and I think I’m just about ready. We’re on a sorta year-round schedule, with a 6 week summer and longer breaks. I really do love it, even if it’s hard to go back when everyone else is still enjoying their summer.
The 2017-2018 school year was stressful for a number of reasons, and I am hoping to really focus on balance this school year. I need to do a better job taking care of myself, managing all the things that stress me out, but are not in my control, and not working nearly as much.
The following are my goals for each area of my responsibility. If you have expertise in any of these areas, I’d love to know and learn from you!
With my science kids, I have two different areas I’m working on. First, as I continue to improve with mastery-based grading, one big thing I’d like to work on is helping my students to be more self-reflective and self-evaluative. Part of that will be teaching them how to provide effective feedback to their peers and themselves, then use that feedback to improve their work.
Second, I’m going to continue to transition my class social media over to my students. I’ve had them post regularly in the past, and I’d love to make it a class job, where we are regularly sharing what we are learning!
I love teaching AVID, and my 0 period AVID 8 kids are a special bunch. I had many of them in 7th grade science or knew them from popping into their AVID 7 classes, and I always look forward to continuing to build these relationships for a second year.
AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, and my focus this year is to guide my students in the “individual determination” piece by making the class portfolio-based, and potentially eliminating grades. I’d love to help my students find their own intrinsic motivation, and build their own external accountability, if they feel they need it. At the grading periods, students will self-assess and assign themselves a grade. This will prepare them for both college and adult life, where they are responsible for their own educational path. I have no idea how this will turn out, and I’m a little nervous, but isn’t that how we truly learn?
Blended Learning Specialist
As my school’s Blended Learning Specialist, I have 1 class period dedicated to technology resource and integration. Last year, we became the first Common Sense Media Certified School in our district, and I my goal is to double the amount of lessons taught, and provide a good foundation for our student, not only in digital citizenship, but also in effective searching and internet safety.
Furthermore, my goal is to encourage our teachers to share out the great things they’re doing on Twitter, using #VikingsLearn, our school hashtag. As of now, we have 22 teachers and admin on Twitter, and I’d love to get that number up to 30. I’d added a “Twitter Challenge” section to our monthly Virtual Vikings #PottyPD newsletter with specific things to share, such as “try a new tech tool” or “show off how you engage your students in reading.”
Teaching, in General
One thing I love doing is observing my colleagues! I’m in their rooms quite often, admittedly to say hi, see what’s up, or sometimes goof around (when appropriate, of course…we have SO much fun!). I want to spend more time intentionally observing, leaving feedback, and asking questions to make us all better teachers. We have a paper peer observation template; I don’t mind that it’s analog, it’s easy to grab my clipboard, then snap a picture of my observation before leaving the paper with the teacher. Plus, I can tweet out a shoutout when I visit.
I’m also hoping for more observations this year. When my colleagues walk in, I love handing them my clipboard and asking for feedback. This year, I’m going to add a sticky note or half-sheet of paper with my current goals for them to focus on.
Who wants to come observe? I’d love to have you!
Very limited work at home. I know no-work may not be possible, but I’m hoping that’s the case 93% of the time (meaning, once every two weeks or less!). I learned how to leave work at work through my “April No-Work Challenge,” and I expect to keep up these habits.
Please keep me accountable and check in with me over the next weeks and months. You have full permission to ask me how these goals are going, nudge me to share evidence of growth, and guide me in a positive direction! Thank you PLN, I love being on this adventure with you all!
When was the last time you were a total beginner at something?
This past week, I tried something completely new to me: Geocaching! I’ve heard about this for years, but I was never curious enough to actually try it. It wasn’t until ISTE this past June that my friend Wanda Terral, a super geocacher, gave me a little spark. I downloaded the app, and made a mental note to try it over the summer.
I tried Geocaching!
According to the Geocaching website, “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”
Finally, last week, I got up the courage to go out and try it. I did a little bit of basic research first (here’s a good place to start), like, what am I supposed to do when I find it? (Answer: open it, sign the logbook, then put it back. Easy enough, right?) Then, I played around with the app for a few minutes before I left home. There was one located about a 10 minute walk from my house, at a local park!
Ollie wanted to come too, so we walked (insert doggie head-tilt at the word walk) to the park together. I oriented myself to the park layout, and figured out where-ish the geocache would be located. Then I searched. And I searched. And I searched. And, I sat down and stared at my phone. What do these things look like? How hidden will it be?
And it was a lot harder than I expected
I almost gave up and walked home. I felt ridiculous, slowly walking at the edge of the park and staring into the bushes. There were other people at the park, surely they all thought I looked strange, walking near the back edge of the park with my dog. In fact, I walked halfway back to the street, before turning around. I felt defeated.
That’s when I realized, THIS is how it feels to be a total beginner at something! It feels awkward, embarrassing, and distressing. I took a deep breath, did a bit more how-to research, pulled up the app again, and used the GPS tracker to get within about 5 feet of where the geocache was supposed to be hidden.
But, I persevered, and I was successful!
Then, I peeked into the bushes, and dug around a little…and found it! It was hooked to the fence, hidden by some leaves, but obvious once I saw it.
I couldn’t stop smiling! I did it! That feeling of exhilaration–I haven’t felt that in SO long. It’s like the first time you are successful in an escape room or Breakout EDU; you know you worked hard, and now you have a great pictures to capture that moment. Plus, the journey felt way more important than what was inside the box/can/container.
I was so caught up on that feeling, I only took a few pictures–all of them Ollie + the geocache!
Then, I reflected on my experience
On the walk home, between meeting new doggie friends, I asked myself a few questions:
Would this have been less scary if I had someone like Wanda with me to guide/coach me through my first geocaching experience?
Would this have been more fun (and less awkward) if I brought along a friend, even if they’d never tried it before?
Was the seemingly endless discomfort erased once I was successful?
What needs to happen for me to try this again?
How often do I ask my students and colleagues to “just try it,” but then leave them without support?
Even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s good to be a beginner every once in a while. This experience helped to remind me that we all have to start somewhere.
I didn’t go out geocaching to intentionally experience being a beginner, or have all these feelings, or write a blog post about it. I thought it would be something cool to try, and I also expected it to be easy, like walking up to a PokeStop in Pokemon Go–as in, it would just be there, and I’d say “yay!” and move along.
I’m sold, and I’m definitely going to try it again. Who wants to go with me? There are lots in San Diego. Or, if we’re traveling at a conference/summit/workshop together, let’s go on a little adventure.
Ok, and seriously, if I’m not already happily nerding on this experience, I also learned that the term for a non-geocacher is a…muggle! Yes, as in, Harry Potter.
I am currently in Post-ISTE Recovery Mode, and finally have enough energy to reflect on the past 5 days. When I think back to my ISTE 2016 and ISTE 2017 experiences, I realize just how crazy these adventures are.
One of the coolest parts of ISTE this year was being a Young Educator Network Scholarship Mentor. Each year, ISTE awards 10 conference registration scholarships to local teachers. Mentors are paired with these scholarship winners, and we spend Sunday morning getting to know each other, orienting our mentees to the overwhelmingness of ISTE, and pass along some advice. I emailed with Martha before ISTE, and loved finally meeting her! For those of you attended ISTE or followed along with #notatiste18, please take a minute to fill out this form–I’d love to collect your advice and takeaways for ISTE 2019 newbies!
When I attended ISTE 2016 in Denver, that was my first time meeting many of my friends. Reflecting back, I’ve come so far both personally and professionally. It’s hard to attend these conferences, and not feel many new feels–some of which are uncomfortable. Since my past 2 years’ reflections have covered a lot of the ISTE basics, I’m going to take a different spin this year. Below are some of my growth areas over the last 3 ISTE conferences.
Be in the Moment
There is always so much going on at ISTE! When we say “yes” to one session or social, we’re saying “no” to at least one other thing we really really want to attend. Remove FOMO (fear of missing out) from your vocabulary, and enjoy where you are, and who you’re sharing this experience with. If you’re #notatiste, celebrate that social media allows you to learn along with us at the conference.
A big shift for me this year was I didn’t worry about finding all the people, only to run off to find someone else minutes later. I enjoyed some smaller group adventures and even some one-on-one adventures! I loved this quality time with great friends!
I’ve learned not to stress about what I’m missing, and instead focus on hugging the people I’m with! And, I’m so grateful I did. I have fewer pictures from this trip, and more happy memories.
It’s Ok to Feel Impostor Syndrome
Every single person presenting at the conference is a human, just like me. Some get gigantic stages, and some are attendees. We all bring value and expertise in our own ways. And, we all had to start our learning process somewhere. As I have shifted my classroom to mastery-based grading, I have also shifted my outlook on my own learning to mastery-based.
I had the opportunity to present at the EdTechTeam booth for 20 minutes on #PottyPD. Even though I’ve presented and keynoted around the US, this made me super nervous. The night before, I had a dream that I had to go up completely unprepared. Typical teacher, right? I’m grateful for a few people who offered words of encouragement and hugs before I took the stage.
I have to remember that when someone has The Microphone, they have put hours and hours of work into learning and preparing to get themselves where they are today. I can’t compare the start of my learning journey to the middle of someone else’s! In the past (ok, honestly, happens all the time now, but I’m better at identifying it!), I my inside narrative would tell me that I’m not good enough. With a shift in my mindset, I realize it’s all about putting in the hard work.
Tired and Happy
One cool part about joining a bunch of friends in a different city is spontaneous adventures! A highlight of ISTE sightseeing was visiting the Willis (Sears) Tower and taking fun pictures in the glass boxes. The wait to get up was long, and thankfully I had some great friends to chat with.
With all the fun and adventure comes balance. I packed a healthy lunch for myself each day, plus extra food to give to friends. It brings me so much joy to keep my friends fueled. I didn’t do a great job of staying hydrated, but got better as the week went on.
Now, I’m home and excited to enjoy my 3 weeks of unscheduled summer!!
A few weeks back, there was some Twitter buzz on what good teachers should or should not do with their summer break. Should we be learning as much as we can, preparing for our new students, and collaborating with our PLN? Should we be 100% unplugged, relax with our family, and not think about school until the night before we go back? Last summer, I wrote about Navigating the Sea of Shoulds, and pushing back against all the things we should do.
We all have our own summer priorities and ways we want to spend this time off. The key here is to find what works best for each of us to ensure we reach the first day of school with our whole and rested selves!
I reflected on my school year in last week’s blog post, and mentioned that it was a stressful and emotionally draining year. I didn’t quite realize the full extent until now, as I am struggling to come out of the fog. As much as I have relaxed at home and traveled to present at conferences (all of which help me decompress), I still feel the weight of the year.
As educators, we worry about kids and the “summer slide” where they lose some content knowledge during their time off. My district has only 6 weeks off for summer–a decision made before I entered the district 7 years ago, and presumably to help mitigate the summer slide.
What we don’t talk about is teachers and the summer slide! I know my audience is mostly friends on Twitter, so maybe this doesn’t entirely apply to this crowd, since we all embrace a growth mindset and are seeking opportunities (via Twitter) to grow as teachers and leaders. Nonetheless, how can we make sure we are intentional with our time, even during our summer break?
My take? I’m going to take the same advice/summer assignment I give to my students!
Read a Book
This one is easy. You don’t need to tell me twice to go read a book! I’m hoping to read a mix of YA lit, education books, and nonfiction this summer. Plus, I’ll sprinkle in a few audiobooks during my plane flights. Even with all my travel so far this year, I’ve only finished 2 books.
And, I admit, I’ve been watching more TV than I usually do–with new seasons of Masterchef and Food Network Star (really, the only two shows I regularly watch!), lots of baseball games, and the World Cup.
I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on some of my summer books on my book blog!
I want to return to school with a few more recommendations for my students. And I hope they have some for me too.
Give Someone a Hug
When I give this homework assignment to my students, I’m met with some incredulous looks. Yes, yes, I am asking you to go hug someone! Yes, it can be me!
This assignment is less about the hug, and more about seeking out people who we value, trust, and enjoy being around.
I’ll be at ISTE next week. Come find me, give me a hug, then let’s take a selfie!
It’s so easy for me to spend an entire day sitting on the couch, mindlessly scrolling Twitter, eating ice cream, and reading books. I know there are plenty of people out there that “go outside” is second nature. It’s like, third nature for me (if that wasn’t a thing, now it is). I have a hard time getting myself there, but once outside, I’m happy!
One of my favorite places in San Diego is the San Diego Zoo. With my membership pass, I can always bring in a guest for free. When I think about ways to get myself outside longer than walking my dog, hanging with the animals at the San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and learning about endangered species sounds like an excellent idea! And, this leads me to my next point…
Summer is a great time for learning something that interests us! I don’t assign my students summer reading or experiments for science. Instead, I want them to spend this time learning something new on their own. We are surrounded by so many sources of knowledge, from videos, to the internet, to local museums, to family members.
One great thing about San Diego is that different museums in Balboa Park are open to San Diego residents on Tuesdays (see the schedule here). I’ll be around for a few Tuesdays, and I look forward to visiting some museums.
I know I owe it to myself and my future students to take care of me. It feels 100% selfish at times, but I know ultimately this investment will pay off down the road.
I did a better job of incorporating social media into my classroom, both through interacting with students and by allowing students to take over posting responsibilities. There is still more I’d like to do next year, but for now, I’m happy with how our classroom accounts are going.
Common Sense Media Certified School
This year, we worked hard and became a Common Sense Media Certified School! I used the Common Sense Media curriculum, recreated the lessons using Pear Deck, then shared them with staff (read more here). Each department and grade level was responsible for teaching one 45 minute lesson. My teachers appreciated that there was little prep work they needed to do, since everything was included in the Pear Deck slides. Even some who are hesitant with technology dove in! This also produced fantastic conversations, both with staff and with students. By no means have we solved our cyberbullying problems, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Next year, we will recertify during the fall semester. And, I am revising the curriculum to push out district-wide so our district can become a Common Sense Media Certified District!
Hosting a student teacher
I blogged about my experiences having a student teacher back in January. I didn’t get placed with one for the spring semester–HR does the placements, not the SDSU cohort leads. I loved being able to reflect on my own teaching, and help someone else build their strong foundation. In spring, we had 2 student teachers down the hall from me, and I enjoyed getting to know them. Together we reflected, talked about successes and challenges of teaching, and continued to build strong skills. Even if I wasn’t their guide teacher, I appreciated our reflective conversations!
But, this year was really stressful…
Honestly, this felt like my worst year teaching. Not the teacher skills part, but my stress level was above and beyond any of the past years. I had a lot going on, both at work and outside of work, that made it difficult to stay focused on the big picture. There were plenty of moments where I was in survival-mode, and I know my lessons were just so-so.
I think this is called burnout. I don’t dislike teaching or my kids, however the stress overshadowed a lot of joy this year. I realized I needed to take some drastic actions to preserve my mental/emotional health, so I did an April no-work challenge. I didn’t know how much I needed some non-teaching hobbies! I spent more time crocheting, playing with my dog, reading, and doing nothing.
Additionally, student behavior tanked. I’m not sure what exactly was going on–there was way more drama, fights, and kids getting referrals than any year I can remember. While I won’t speak to our front-office discipline, I do know that I found classroom management challenging at times. Classroom management is one of my strengths, and overall my kids were great at our routines and following lab procedures. The biggest roadblock in classroom management was the more emotionally draining part of knowing that my kids are dealing with all kinds of home and school issues. There were dozens of moments where I had to help a student calm down or process something before we could get into our science. Even if this was incredibly stressful (and definitely not sustainable), I appreciate that I have the relationship with my students where they know they can be real people.
Finding the positives
As I scroll through my Google Photos, there are so many fun moments this year. It’s a good reminder that despite the stress, I had a great time!
More so than any other year, I got way more hugs from my kids! I had a few that regularly hugged me, and others who surprisingly wanted hugs. I’m a hugger, so this makes my teacher heart happy. And, with all the emotional challenges for my kids, I ended many of our conversations with, “would you like a hug?” They almost always said yes! With that, there were also many incredibly genuine “I love you” moments. I am confident that my students left my class knowing they are loved and appreciated for who they are, no matter their identity, the decisions they make, or their circumstances.
Lastly, I wouldn’t survive teaching without my incredible colleagues. My work friends are seriously the best. They’ve hugged me through a lot of challenging moments, and cheered for me when things go well. And, I’ve been able to do the same for them. It seemed like every period someone would drop by my classroom, either to grab something from the printer, informally observe, or grab a Diet Coke from my fridge.
With the informal observations, I started keeping our school’s reflection form on a clipboard, and I’d hand it to someone as they dropped by. I won’t dwell too much on this, but I didn’t have a single walkthrough observation from an administrator this year (with the exception of a 10 minute observation for my formal evaluation); even if I’m a “good teacher” I still have areas where I can improve. I crave feedback, and I’m grateful our school encourages teachers to observe each other! Of course, I returned the favor as I dropped in during my prep period.
Another set of colleagues I greatly appreciate is our science PLC. They are awesome, supportive, and think critically through all kinds of problems; it has taken a long time to get to this point, and it all comes down to building relationships!
Of course, I couldn’t do any of this without my PLN! I love connecting with you all on Twitter, incredible conversations and support over DMs, and traveling and working with friends from all over the world at summits and custom workshops.
Rest. Relax. Recover.
I’m not ready to set goals for next year, and that’s ok. I need to give myself time and permission to take care of me!
The blog post below is co-written by many members of the 2017-2018 Teacher Leadership Academy, and cross-posted to Amy I’s blog!
A brief note from Mari: I am grateful to Amy Hunt and Amy Illingworth for providing us this experience! For my blog, I have put my own contributions in italics.
What is TLA and how did it come to exist (Amy I.)
The idea for the Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA) came from our district’s Title II committee last spring. As we were brainstorming how to build teacher leadership capacity across the district, the committee agreed to two key pathways: teacher leadership book studies and a teacher leadership academy. I found a partner in another Amy, a district leader colleague who works in HR. We began to create a plan for the year of learning. The committee helped create a promotional video about the academy, with thanks from our communications department. We sent this out in an email inviting teachers to attend an informational meeting to learn more about the TLA.
Our goal was to create an application process so that we could find a relatively small cohort of teachers who wanted to participate in this monthly professional development opportunity; I think our initial goal was 12-20 participants. We received interest from nearly 25 teachers. We brought our Title II committee together to review applications and we selected 17 teachers to participate. Two of those had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, so we ended up with a cohort of 15.
We scheduled meetings once a month for two hours after school, which teachers were paid to attend out of our Title II funds.
What made teachers want to join?
I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because it provided classroom educators opportunities for personal and professional growth, without the pressure/expectation of taking our work into administration. Teachers being supported with time, collaboration and reflection is empowering and engaging for us to cultivate at leaders in our professional learning communities and schools. (Alicia)
I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because I wanted to gain new skills I could take with me back to the classroom. I also hoped to learn leadership skills I could take with me as an administrator. I wanted to gain as much experience as I could prior to completing my admin credential. I also wanted to learn new tactics for dealing with various issues in the workplace, particularly with issues that may arise in a PLC. (Sophia)
I wanted to join TLA because I was looking for the next step in my professional development apart from the administrative track. I was so excited to learn this was being offered. I was (and am) eager to continue growing and excited at the prospect of receiving mentorship from district leaders as well as learning and collaborating with others in the cohort. (Melody)
Since my long-term professional goal is to mentor current teachers and teach credential courses, the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy provided me with a important stepping stone in my journey towards that goal. Receiving mentorship was an attracting factor. As leaders, we take care of our colleagues and students’ needs and sometimes put aside our own needs. I had forgotten what I need to do to make sure I am taken care of, so that I can better take care of others. Knowing that I was going to be nurtured by Amy and Amy, as well as other colleagues in the district, was a driving force in my decision to apply for the program. (Anna)
I joined the TLA cohort because I was concerned with a growing trend of plucking “qualified” teachers out of the classroom environment to serve in administrative roles. My concern was twofold: first, that we would thin the ranks of quality practitioners, leaving less mentors and dedicated classroom teachers; and, second, that this inadvertently told teachers that there was a ceiling to professional growth as a teacher, and if they wanted to aspire to anything higher, they had to become an administrator. The experience of TLA gave perspective on the district’s growth of leaders both in teachers and administrators as well as opportunities for teacher leadership. (Melissa)
I applied for the Teacher Leadership Academy, eager to improve my skills as a leader. With no desire to pursue the administrator track, I found myself with a lack of growth opportunities within SUHSD. Even though I was hesitant to take on any more commitments for the 2017-2018 school year, I knew this was necessary; and, the cherry on top was that it was led by Amy I, who I look up to as a strong leader. After our first meeting, I realized that this would be, by far, the best in-district professional development I had ever experienced! (Mari)
Enjoyable experiences and anecdotes from the TLA experience
I appreciated the time to collaborate with teachers across our district. Getting to hear experiences from different departments and schools allowed me to learn more about not only teaching practices, but how to use professional learning communities to support teachers and students. (Alicia)
I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent getting to know other teachers from different sites, understanding the dynamics of different school sites, different ways to engage, and having something to take away from each session. Although I was unable to attend every session, I was pleased at what I learned and the growth I experienced after being a part of the TLA. (Sophia)
I appreciated all the thoughtful materials shared, but I most appreciated the lens that we were asked to look through- a loving and compassionate one that promoted empathy for all personalities. Fun themes that thinly veiled professional challenges, like herding cats, helped frame the monthly growth conversations with self-awareness. (Melody)
I very much appreciated how every monthly meeting was thoughtfully planned out and engaging. After a long day of work it was a lot of fun to go to the teacher leadership academy meetings because not only were they informative but they included many hands on activities. I specifically enjoyed the role playing activities, because it provided me with a new perspective. It helped me understand how to work with different personalities which is important to know how to do as an educational leader. Thank you for all the support, strategies and feedback that was provided to us. I will definitely be putting what I learned into practice. (Maria C.)
Takeaways that have impacted teacher leadership
The time spent role playing, discussing personal strengths and areas of improvement, and having courageous conversations has impacted my teacher leadership. I feel better versed in not only how to manage a team meeting, but to also build and cultivate positive relationships with my peers. Emotional intelligence is pivotal for high performing teams. Through TLA, I am prepared for effective collaboration centered around student growth and success. (Alicia)
I particularly enjoyed asking for feedback and receiving feedback from colleagues, including the principal at my school site. This had the most profound impact on my teacher leadership. It gave me the courage to continue to speak up, while also continuing to work on myself. I feel that I have received valuable tools that I can utilize alongside my peers. (Sophia)
Amy and Amy did a fantastic job leading our cohort through a series of activities, reflective questions, and challenges that pushed us to dig deep into our own perspectives. I enjoyed learning from teachers from across our district. One of the most memorable activities was when we talked about how to deal with “difficult” people; acknowledging that there are different ways individuals can be difficult, helped me accept that the only thing I can control is my own actions and reactions. (Mari)
I appreciated the candid conversations shared that reinforced how each of our journeys are normal because of the challenges we have. The themes explored made me feel more capable in the struggle and gave me tools to gracefully handle situations that may arise. My biggest takeaway though, has been the power to say ‘NO, I do not have the bandwidth for that!’ Realizing that the prosperity of my department does not rest on me; I cannot, nor should I, be the one to keep things afloat. If something is broken, let us shine some light on it and resolve things together!These realizations have shaped the way I interact with my PLC and we are stronger for it! Sincerest gratitude to Amy I. and Amy H., for broaching the tough subjects! (Melody)
I absolutely loved my experience in the TLA, and I am craving more opportunities to grow as a leader. Anna and I tweeted that we need a year 2, and no matter if there is funding or not. We’d love to have Amy I. lead us again, and if that is not possible, we will build our own growth opportunities. Maybe that’s the natural progression of an opportunity like this? We’ve been empowered to grow as leaders, and there’s no stopping us! (Mari)
This has been a gift- if there is an opportunity for TLA YR2, I am there!! Whether there is something structured or not, I will continue to develop myself as an individual and as a teacher leader, reach out to those who feel like I have, and to always continue learning, as Amy I. says. Every year gets better! (Melody)
What if I told you that I made it the entire month of April without doing any work-work at home? Would you believe me? That’s right, no lesson planning, no emailing, and no grading at home for an entire month. As crazy as it sounds, it was a necessary leap.
The no-work month challenge started on a whim, as I ended spring break and realized I had enjoyed periods of time without doing work-work or even thinking about teaching. However, I honestly doubted I could do it. I mean, I always have so much to do, and my to-do list never seems to get any shorter.
Very simple: All work-work had to be completed at work. Including grading, lesson planning, and checking email. Oh, and taking attendance.
There were text messages about work to friends, but nothing like serious work. Also, work-related errands (because birthdays, celebrations, science supplies) could be completed outside of work.
Tracking my progress
I kept a Google Doc journal throughout this month. I didn’t write every day, only when I thought of it and had something to say.
I’ve set the permissions to “anyone with the link can comment” and I would love it if you would add in a comment on something that resonated with you, or if you have a question.
What I learned
Aside from my reflections in my challenge journal, there are a few things I learned about myself:
Work is like a gas, it fills the container you put it in. If I allow myself to work all day, every day (except Sunday, because that work-limit has stayed strong), then I will have enough work to fill that space. Therefore, if I decrease the size of the container, then work will still fit.
Doing this challenge has forced me to put limits on what I say “yes” to. In the past, I have a hard time saying “no” because I can reason I can get things done at night or on the weekend. It just ends up being more stress. Unless I’m getting paid extra duty for these extra projects, I’m carefully considering additional commitments. This is a procedure I’ve had to put in place to safeguard my personal balance. Of course, there are exceptions for exceedingly cool things, such as working in the school garden on a Saturday morning.
Never do something you can have a kid do for you. I’ve always lived by this motto, but it really ramped up in the last month. Plus, my students love any opportunity to help. I need something taken to the office or another teacher? Please take this. There’s a lab to be set up? I’d like 2 volunteers who are done with their work to set up materials for tomorrow. Now the lab needs to be cleaned up? I will bribe you with chocolate if you stay for 5 minutes to help clean. Please, and thank you!
I have my brain back! I don’t find myself thinking about work every single second of every single day. It’s really refreshing; I’m learning to see myself as a human outside of my teacher identity. Don’t get me wrong, I love my teacher identity, but I felt like I was losing a bit of myself in the process. I’ve reclaimed something for me, and I’m much more relaxed.
Our district’s motto is “Putting Students First.” While it sounds counterproductive, I’m putting my students first by taking care of my own needs so that I can be a better teacher for them.
What’s next? I only have a month of school left, and I plan to continue this habit through the end of the school year. This summer, I will reevaluate my personal limits for next year.
Maybe this exact challenge isn’t for you. How will you ensure you set your own limits on your work-life balance?
That became my motto last semester, as I navigated myself through my first time as a Guide Teacher*.
I had such a phenomenal experience as an apprentice teacher (the year before student teaching) and as a student teacher, I always knew I wanted to give back and be a Guide Teacher someday. And that someday happened last August, when my principal walked into my room and asked if I’d like a student teacher.
It’s not easy to invite a stranger into your classroom, share the space, share the kids, and give them room to make mistakes. For me, it was so worth it!
Getting Mentally Prepared
I’ll admit, I was super nervous to host a student teacher. How do you even teach someone to teach?!
Thankfully, my good friend Doug Robertson was just finishing up his latest book, A Classroom of One! (Stop what you’re doing, and go buy yourself a copy on Amazon. No matter your experience level & role in education, this book is for you! And, I promise he’s not paying me to say this.) This was a life saver, it gave me a starting place, and some tips for building this teaching partnership.
The first thing I did was go out and buy a pretty notebook for Amy. As Doug advised, I wrote her a letter to start the notebook and our journey together. Letter writing is my jam, so it felt natural. And, I have to admit, I think this really impacted Amy. She talked about the letter multiple times, and even showed it to her mom–a retired Kindergarten teacher! It also helped me welcome her into our classroom, and set the foundation for our work together.
Before the first day, I called my Guide Teacher from when I student taught. Once a mentor, always a mentor! He gave me some great advice and questions to ask Amy on her first day.
The Start of Our Journey
On our first day together, Amy observed my 1st period class and I had her take notes. I introduced Ms. Ellevold to my class and explained she would be hanging out, observing, getting to know them, and helping out–and, I made sure Amy walked around and interacted on that first day!
In our first debrief, Amy asked a lot of great questions that made me reflect on my own teaching, the decisions I made, and how I view our class. In turn, I asked her questions about why she wants to be a teacher.
I found my superpower teacher senses also applied to having Amy in my “Classroom of One”. On her 2nd day in my classroom, she met her class (we’re on block schedule). I introduced her, then asked her to do the warm-up. I had given her about 5 minutes notice that she would go over the warm-up with the kids; she looked (and sounded) nervous, but I also knew the sooner she interacted with her class, the quicker the transition from me to her would happen. It was fun to get to write my observations in her notebook. As Doug suggested in Classroom of One, I created 3 columns: likes, suggestions, other.
We agreed that the next time she saw her class, she would do the warm-up and notes with them, then I would do the final activity. As it turned out, she was on a roll with her class, and they were loving her–so I didn’t stop her, I gave her the “keep going!” eyes, and she taught the whole block period!
She took on more and more responsibilities, including grading, attendance, and discipline. I didn’t have a set timeline for when all this would happen, but instead went by her cues for when she was ready. I also started stepping out for a couple minutes at a time, gradually increasing the time and distance away from our classroom.
As the semester went on, we got into this rhythm of one of us teaching, the other observing, and a big debrief after the lesson. Amy attended our PLC meetings, went with me for supervision, attended trainings, and asked a lot of questions!
By the end of the semester, I left her completely alone for the last 2 weeks. While this is not a requirement for her program, I saw it as her next step in growth. I can’t help myself from giving the “teacher look” to a chatty student or being available to answer a question. She needed to teach without me in the room! So, I parked myself in other classrooms or the library to work, and only popped in if I forgot something essential.
It Takes a Village
During our semester together, I encouraged Amy to observe as many teachers as she could. I made her a list, including the whole science department and multiple math, English, history, and AVID teachers.
I also went to observe the other 2 student teachers from her cohort, took detailed notes, and debriefed with them after. This experience helped me realize that each of us have different strengths as a teacher, and also as a guide teacher. I was able to provide a lot of feedback on classroom management and student engagement. (Don’t worry, the other 2 Guide Teachers have excellent management too! I just seem to have a particularly good eye for it, and a knack for teaching it with student teachers. They’re both better at teaching discussion and questioning strategies.)
I also invited the science department, administrators, and other teacher friends to come observe Amy as frequently as possible. They would leave her written or verbal comments at the end. Not only is this healthy for her to have multiple eyes watching her teach, but also it builds comfortability with having people walk in at any point during a lesson.
I Became a Better Teacher!
One of the best part of having a student teacher is having someone constantly observing me teach. There were multiple times the lesson didn’t go as I planned, and I’d turn to Amy mid-lesson and ask for feedback. We’d come up with a plan to change the lesson on the spot or for the next class.
Having a student teacher is a significant time investment. I know some teachers take on a student teacher, then immediately leave the room to get more coffee and chat with a friend. I was constantly observing, and our post-lesson debriefs + planning were often 1-2 hours–thankfully my prep and technology resource period directly followed both the class she observed and the class she taught. Effectively, I lost my prep periods for the first few months. However, this was a time-investment well spent. As I stepped out more and more, I got the opportunity to pop into other classrooms to observe and collaborate!
I will gladly take on another student teacher in the future! Even though I didn’t get one placed with me this semester, there are 2 with other teachers, and I look forward to supporting them however I can.
I’m also planning on recording myself teach more frequently this semester. I won a fancy Swivl at ISTE 2017, which was used a ton last semester to record Amy and another student teacher. I know it takes time investment (and a lot of vulnerability!) to record and watch the video playback, but I know it’s worth it for me.
While writing this post, I can’t stop smiling! Amy, you were a pleasure and a joy to work with! Thank you for an incredible first Guide Teacher experience, and for building so many classroom memories with me. You’ve made me a stronger teacher!
*Note: I use Guide Teacher throughout this post. Some people/programs call them Master Teachers, Cooperating Teachers, etc.