Sunday, November 20, 2016

Seeing the Light!

   I hung up the phone and heaved a sigh of relief while simultaneously plopping into a comfortable chair and taking a deep breath. Parent conferences completed- check. Follow-up phone calls made, and emails answered- check. Report sent to the office- check. Lesson plans made- not yet. For the moment, I just wanted to sit in silence and catch my breath. I closed my eyes trying to relax, but it was almost a futile attempt. The “to-do list” in my head kept getting longer. I was exhausted! I needed to get to work, but my body wouldn’t move...not yet. And so I closed my eyes, took some deep breaths, and tried to visualize my next steps.
   Now, I’m not saying that you can dream your life away, but visualization is powerful. The neurons in our brain that transmit information interpret imagery as real life action. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Believe it to achieve it.” Performers, athletes, and many successful people have used visualization to increase the likelihood of realizing their dreams. Mentally preparing a lesson, presentation, or using visualization to break down and see the detailed action steps required to achieve one of my goals is something that I’ve always done. If I could see it, I knew that I could overcome any barrier to achieve a goal.
   But what happens when you set a goal, like furthering your education, because you feel compelled to do it not because you can “see it” actualized? This has been my challenge.
   I couldn’t see it. I’d close my eyes and try to envision myself as a principal leading a school. It just didn’t happen. Faded snapshots of being a building leader quickly came and disappeared. I couldn’t hold onto the images. Whenever anyone would make a comment to me about how I should be a principal, I’d smile and joke about why I’d never “move to the dark side.” (We shouldn’t view leadership in that manner by the way.) My calling was in the classroom! So without any real motivation to ever become an administrator, I started down the path thinking that it was a way to further my education. Other options for leadership didn’t seem to exist.
   The last couple of years have been a journey. While others in my cohort spoke and wrote about their excitement of being a school leader, I often asked myself, “Why? Why would I ever want to leave the classroom to be a principal?” My dream job of somehow having one foot in the classroom and one foot with more leadership responsibilities wasn’t available. Friends often said, “Keep going, Sandy. Once you’re in a school around kids, you’ll love it!” And so I grabbed onto that tidbit of hope and stayed somewhat reluctantly in the program.
   Fast forward a couple of years. I’m now finishing up my internship, and all of the course requirements will be completed by the end of January (hopefully). And...I can honestly say that I found a new passion! I can see the light!
   One day while making several classroom visits to help teachers integrate technology into their lessons, I experienced an epiphany. I knew that I was in my “element” as Sir Ken Robinson describes, serving students, teachers, and the broader school community. At that moment, I realized that I had gifts and talents that needed to be shared with more than the students in my classroom. I knew that I could have a larger impact on education. I can’t say that I knew that I’d be a principal some day, but I knew that I was ready to serve kids in a different capacity. I knew that I was ready for the next step. And my heart would always be in the classroom.
   My fixed mindset about what a school leader had to be has changed quite a bit. I envisioned a principal as being hardly anything more than a manager who dealt with upset parents and misbehaved children all day. I have learned a lot over the past couple of years from the LED program, the books that I’ve read, the webinars and classes I attended, and from my students and colleagues. But with all sincerity, I learned more from my PLN about leading and leadership than from any other source.
   An important lesson I learned was that there are many types of leaders and leadership styles. (I’ve always known that, but I’d never made a personal connection.) Although I have many weaknesses, I also have strengths as a leader. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not to lead a school. I don’t have to fit a mold. I can be true to myself. There is a light within me, and I need to let it shine. I can’t let fear stop me from reaching my potential. Although the negative self-talk critic on my shoulder has a pretty loud voice, I have a quiet confidence that I can be a school leader. There’s no denying that I have a lot to learn! But I also know that my strengths of being a people person, of having an insatiable appetite for learning, a love for kids, and a passion for excellent instruction in the classroom will benefit teachers and students. I know that I can help others discover their strengths and light within themselves too. 
   Now when I close my eyes, I smile because I can see myself as a lead learner. The images are clear and in full color! I’m surrounded by other great educators who are student-focused and working with me as a team. We have a shared mission and vision.
I can hear our enthusiasm!
I can see us collaborating!
This will be no ordinary school!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Time to Listen

I’d seen her many times traveling down the road in her electric wheelchair. Wisps of gray hair poking out from beneath her bright orange beanie along with her Levi jacket and wooden staff across her lap combined to make her a curious site to the passerby. I always wondered who she was and about her story. As I was leaving the grocery store the other day, I saw her. Part of me wanted to introduce myself; the other part told me that I was too busy to stop. I almost passed her. Almost. I stopped and introduced myself.
For the next 20 minutes, I listened intently as her story unfolded. At 80 years old, she made the nearly 4-mile trek to the grocery store and other places because she was fiercely independent. She did have a son and some grandchildren, but they were an hour’s drive away from where she lived. (Their pictures were taped to her staff.) Lynn, originally from Tennessee, was a former teacher. She first taught fourth grade and then moved to the high school. Afterward, she spent most of her career teaching at a boys’ correctional facility in California. She was an obvious tough cookie packaged in a small frame.
As we continued to talk, we found that we had a lot in common like our birthdays being only a day a part. We talked about our love of kids and education. We talked about our passion for science, history and trying to make a difference in the world. It’s funny how I thought that by stopping and introducing myself that I could offer to help her in some way. Instead, she helped me. Her wisdom, experiences, and insight uplifted my soul and gave me strength. I will be forever grateful that I stopped and took the time to hear her story.
Meeting Lynn makes me think about how many times we don’t take enough time to get to know the people we work with on a daily basis and how much our lives would be enriched if we took more time to have face to face conversations. Everyone has a story. How many stories are going untold because we’re too busy to listen to each other? How many lessons are going unlearned? How many people, like Lynn, have so much to offer but no way of giving back and feel of little worth and value?
Now, more than ever, our country needs to show kindness to others. Taking the time to listen is the first step.