While writing my last post, When Connection is at the Core, I was scrambling to manage my home life and prepare for emergency remote learning at the same time. I made unexpected discoveries, some which held beauty I couldn’t wait to share. This post is about what I’ve discovered since, as an educator in a district where #relationshipsmatter has never mattered so much. This post is about leading beyond my title in ways I never imagined and seeing those around me do the same. This post is about growing through change as a district every minute of every day. The lessons I have learned over the past month have given me faith in our journey together and will live long past this time in our lives.
Choosing Urgency Over Perfection
In my short experience so far, adapting to remote teaching, learning, and leading has required innovation, determination, and heart. The school and classroom cultures our principals and staff members work tirelessly to build must suddenly exist without physically sharing space. This is anything but easy. Yet in a district that chose urgency over perfection, we are not only learning to accept it, but my colleagues are rocking it.
The pace at which we moved sparked some initial panic yet there was also an explosion of collaboration and solutions regardless of roles and titles. When we’re not handed all of the answers (and we see this magic happen in the classroom), there is more room for creativity among all involved. I’ve learned over the past month that leaving space for imperfection, in turn, leaves space on the deck for all hands.
Owning the Rookie Status
I realize how lucky we are in Natick to be able to connect with students and families. In fact, I’m still in awe of our administration and technology department who ensured enough devices and hot spots. As they were working at lightning speed, I joined a powerhouse digital learning team responsible for training and supporting our PreK-12 colleagues with holding “Classroom Chats.” Google Meet would be the platform that would help us unleash our number one goal as a district; connection. The thing is, I had never used Google Meet to run any kind of class and desperately wanted to support colleagues in this new digital arena.
After long hours of relentless learning I still felt new, not totally prepared, and as 130 staff members and administrators entered my first training, I began to sweat. Yet through their patience and support, I quickly realized that in some way, we are all rookies. I’ve learned that it’s not only okay to not know, but to be wrong. When we can admit that we’re all learning (and that it’s hard!), and come together through gratitude and forgiveness, the game changes. Even as a team of rookies, we have a much better shot at winning.
Recognizing the Importance of Interaction
Every other day, my children’s teachers now enter our house and we enter theirs. They are sharing their lives more deeply than ever and students are certainly doing the same. As a parent observing this magic take place for her nine and seven year old, it’s hard not to become emotional. Between watching Tess and Jackson and chat hopping as much as I can, I’ve recently seen the importance of maintaining interaction.
Whether it’s watching students use a code indicating they’d like to share, greet their classmates, and even dance, or seeing them give fists to five, complete Google Forms to let teachers know how they’re feeling, and my favorite, discuss “weirdest breakfast ever,” it’s clear that student voice must remain at the heart of what we do. Seeing kids through an online platform is certainly not the same and never could be. We can’t read body language as we normally do, give fist bumps to start the day, look into faces instead of cameras, and so much more. Yet my colleagues demonstrate every day that the interaction we offer students, even in a virtual space, matters.
Turning Glitches into Gold
My classroom roommate was frustrated and at the same time determined to connect with her students. Her laptop kept freezing. After hours of research, she identified the issue and was able to not only help herself but become instrumental in assisting the district. Along with so many others trouble shooting and offering suggestions daily, she taught me that even glitches can turn into gold. And if we pay close attention, we can see that the real gold is in relationships. My “roommate” and I were texting multiple times a day when this began. Even though I was unable to help her, and even without a room to share, we’re even closer now.
Jackson’s teacher lost her audio during the first Google Meet and immediately after, we were on a video call, my husband joined us, and the conversation was full of support and even laughter. In a recent Classroom Chat, a 5th grade teacher was unable to open an item in Google Classroom. Suddenly her students were turning their mics on so they could unleash words of encouragement. It was a beautiful moment I was lucky enough to witness. Stress is unavoidable and things won’t always go well especially when we are using an enormous amount of technology. Yet allowing technical challenges to bring us closer as people is worth holding onto.
Bringing Who We are and Nothing Less
We all have titles and job descriptions and for those of us in education right now, they are changing rapidly. I feel like every week, I am trying to figure out how I can best do my job while re-crafting what it looks like. I’m continuing to connect with my teammates daily as well as offer trainings on digital tools. Yet the best thing that’s happening, and I know how powerful it’s already been with my colleagues and their students, is office hours.
Although it’s through a screen, there is nothing in the world like face to face conversations that allow us to be human. I have met so many people over the past few weeks and have been unafraid to give what I have beyond tech support. My biggest passion is empowering people to see how awesome they are. It’s what made me run to school every morning. If my colleagues walk away more confident and with the knowledge that I care about them, it drives me to keep doing what I’m doing. Remembering my why and staying true to who I am helps me continue to passion up even if it doesn’t look exactly the same.
I want to give a quick shout out to all of our incredible paraprofessionals who I’ve seen in the spotlight teamming up with teachers, co-running Classroom Chats, as well as leading them. Below is one of our inspiring paras teaching students and staff how to make bunny pancakes! Whatever role you’re in, I hope you are embracing all that you have to give, your strengths and your passions. You never know how much people need them.
Taking Care of Ourselves and Each Other
We are wrapped up in emotion daily as we read about lives that have been lost, empathize with families who are struggling, and worry about the health of our own families and communities. Balancing our drive as educators to give all we have with the weight of our current situation, which looks different for everyone, deserves attention. Jordan Hoffman, Principal at Johnson Elementary School, calls three staff members every time she does laundry or takes a walk just to see how they’re doing. That is something I am sure her staff members will never ever forget and will impact relationships long past this time.
Teresa Carney, Principal at Wilson, ended a recent email with these simple but powerful lines, holding trusted words she backs up daily; You’re all doing great work and I’m so proud of you. Please know that I care about all of you and I’m here for you. Sending Google Forms to staff and families has been of tremendous importance and I remember immediately being inspired by Allyson Apsey when she first wrote about hers. The inspiration only continued in conversations with Beth Houf and Jay Billy about the forms they used. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to complete one from Teresa and my assistant principals. I was suddenly sharing with them what I hadn’t yet given myself time to think about. It felt good.
Theses are examples among several modeling how our leaders are showing us they care about our well being. When we hear this message so loudly and clearly, it’s a reminder that not only is it okay to stop and take a breath, but it’s necessary. Personally, I have learned to chill out. I went from making sure Tess and Jackson had enough to do to simply making sure they’re happy. Whether it’s walking, Zumba, or warm yoga with a space heater, I am also intentionally making time to take care of myself. Because of this, I am able to put in all I have during the time I give colleagues and students. I’m grateful for this time as it’s given me faith in our journey together.
I was lucky enough to be able to share my gratitude in a conversation with Tara Martin last week. And by the way, I’m starting to be okay with awkward images of me talking. In fact my new favorite quote by Brené Brown is, “Be Brave. Be Awkward. Be Kind” and I hope to live up to it.
Inspired by Opportunities for Learning and Leading in a Virtual Space, an excellent webinar led by George Couros, Katie Novak, and AJ Juliani, I look forward to sharing new discoveries as we dive into Phase Two of remote learning.