After joining the PIRATE Revolution, I had never felt so excited to be an educator. I was leading my kids in more ways than I could have imagined and by the end of the year, they were steering the ship. My special crew proved that what I once considered close to impossible was quite possible after all.
Life in the classroom was great. I woke up every morning ready to jump out of bed and run to school (of course with coffee in hand!). Turns out I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t wait. Sneakers skidding down the hallway soon became my most anticipated sound as my students risked getting caught. Every day they raced to Room 202 hoping they would be first to enter the world in which we created together. I remember clearly a smile of satisfaction from the student who came through the door first. Out of breath, but gleaming.
If any group of students was going to inspire me to stay in the classroom, it was this one. If any group of students was going to push me to try something new, it was this one. Together we were passionate about making an impact, using technology and social media to influence and learn from others, and utilizing our strengths and passions. So when I was given a chance to share with other classrooms the opportunities we had grabbed, I took it.
Two years ago, I became the technology integration specialist for kindergarten through third grade, a role I soon realized I would need to define not only for others, but for myself. I quickly learned that when one classroom becomes forty five and teachers and administrators are depending on you, you can’t experiment with new ideas as easily as you once could. I also learned that I wasn’t sure how to lead both students and teachers.
Admittedly, I wasn’t truly aware of my potential in leading colleagues when I was in the classroom. I wish I had been. I was willing to share like crazy and certainly take anything my neighbors offered up. I was often thrilled to find a paper left behind at the copy machine with outstanding lesson ideas and I was happy to leave behind my own! When announcing I was becoming a PIRATE, I even started my own book club. It wasn’t enough. I was so intensely focused on my students and the culture within our own community.
Diving head first into a position where I was now working with over a hundred educators was eye opening to say the least. There were times I brought my ideas on too quickly and because of this, was often misunderstood or even rejected, and maybe even resented. Twenty four kids who not only know you, but seem to love surprises is a different scene. And I couldn’t quite wrap my head around this question: Was I in a leadership position? It was a lateral change, no salary increase, and I was certainly not an administrator. Then what was I?
I was determined to figure it out. I decided to focus on building relationships and soon realized this would be my ticket to molding the kind of technology integration coach I would become. After all, sharing who I was and getting to know my students was always priority. Of course, however, I ran into some roadblocks. If your district is anything like mine, time is always an issue. I felt I couldn’t reach teachers in ways I dreamed, and even worse, I worried they couldn’t reach me.
It’s the PIRATE in me that challenged myself to be resilient and to connect with educators in similar roles who are walking the walk every day. It was when I spoke with Casey Echelmeier, former teacher now technology extraordinaire, that I shifted my perspective. Seeing myself behind what often felt like closed doors wasn’t working for me, so I decided to push them open and run through as fiercely as I had before.
I also became committed to reading the draft of Lead Like a PIRATE. My first reaction for Beth was “This book is insanely good!” I felt a new sense of excitement as I became glued to Beth and Shelley’s stories, tools and strategies they had so brilliantly put into practice, and challenges that forced me to think about my unused potential. Their powerful message for every individual working in education (and in my opinion beyond!) hooked me in right away and kept me reading. I knew it was time to dig deep, tap into my courage, and get creative.
What I once controlled in the classroom I am unable to control for two staffs and 900 students, yet I now believe in the power we hold regardless of our title. It’s real and often times, quite fragile. One must not only unleash it, but take good care of it. It’s with this belief that I was able to write the statements below. My hope is that they not only reflect my change in perspective, but address the challenges we so often face as passionate people who ache to share. In addition, I hope my words show the creativity I pushed myself to use in order to pave my own road to leaderSHIP.
I may not control when I work with our staff, but I LEAD with every part of my being during every minute I get.
I may not control when I work with each class, but I LEAD by filling every second of teaching with empowerment. (and some humor!)
I may not make the BIG decisions, but I LEAD by reaching out to administrators, proving to them I can make a difference with my heart and mind.
I may not create the master schedule, but I LEAD by creating my own in hopes that I inspire 21st century learning in every classroom.
I may not control our school Twitter account, but I LEAD by convincing teachers to take the awesome they’re doing and share it with the world.
I may not have written our mission statement, but I LEAD by putting students on a mission to discover what makes them unique.
I may not be in charge of our school culture, but I LEAD by challenging students and teachers to be a positive contribution.
As a result, BIG things are happening. Our Wellness Department is not only rocking Twitter, but launching a technology driven initiative with all second and third grade classes. They have infused each of their units with BrainPOP Jr., Kahoot, and Quizlet Live. My colleagues are creating their own lessons through Google Classroom daily and although it’s occasional, are starting to contribute to our teacher Classroom. Five third grade classrooms are piloting Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E lessons through Thrively and several are starting Genius Hour for the first time.
A first grade teacher is writing to our administrators with a proposal for a one to one classroom because she’s on fire with 21st century teaching. She has brought more digital tools to her young students than I’ve ever seen before. Right next door, her colleague is teaching her six and seven year olds to be innovators through passion based projects and STEAM . It’s classrooms like theirs that I run to capture learning through pictures, videos, and posts, because they are exploding with moments worth sharing and accomplishments worth celebrating.
I fight tirelessly for professional development time with staff and take advantage of every second I receive. Whether it’s ninety minutes or five, I bring my “why,” and I help teachers leave fueled to create their own. My schedule is busier than ever and staff members feel free to simply add their name in an open block. They trust me to sell an idea, model a lesson, and support them when they take a risk in trying it themselves.
When I don’t receive that precious time, I turn innovation on full blast. During every lesson I model, I show teachers how they can utilize a particular tool and we brainstorm ideas together. Each Thursday morning before school, I hold a “Delicious Demo” with coffee and music. I advertise what I’m selling and every week people show up. I create a “how to” video for those that can’t and throw it in the tech tip for the week. Even if only a few, those that come are inspired to share and we learn from each other. Suddenly, there is hype around a new tool or approach spreading throughout the building and everyone wants a piece.
It’s still not perfect, but what in life is. I have found my own way to lead and being a PIRATE educator has everything to do with it. I can’t thank the PIRATE authors enough for empowering me in their own unique way. With new inspiration from Lead Like a PIRATE (which I can’t wait to read as as an official book!) and Start Right Now (which I have only just begun!), I understand our potential to lead is too important to keep to ourselves and too important to keep within the walls of our classrooms. I’m still on an important journey, one I now consider as a leader who believes every voice should be heard, including her own.
I do hope to read posts from others who felt inspired to take on this motivational #leadlap challenge (and it’s never too late!). Just click here to read Beth’s incredible post! I highly recommend it as I think you will find it just as liberating as I did. Although I’m still paving my own road, I now have a clearer direction. I’m forever grateful to Casey Echelmeier, Jay Billy, and Beth Houf for always pushing me to go for greatness and nothing less.