Owning the Difficult Decisions

It’s been quite a while since I reflected here. I had been trying to write once a week, and when winter break came, I found myself exhausted, frustrated, and ready for rest. After break, upon returning to work, I started with a positive attitude, and a new direction in mind. This was quickly depleted after a week of grading Interim Comprehensive Assessments that our students took before break, and having my calendar changed several times by others who were “dictating” to me what my priorities are and how I should attend to them.

I found myself trying once again to follow the dictates given to me, get everything done, and tell myself I was supporting teachers in doing so. Instead, I found myself angry; angry that I couldn’t do what I know to be important in creating strong learning communities in our elementary classrooms, and angry that I couldn’t do what I was originally told my job description was, to support mathematics learning in our elementary schools.

I had a discussion with my immediate supervisor and our director, was told I couldn’t possibly support all our sites and teachers, and we can’t always hear what we want to hear. I then attended a training session for principals on a math support software program our district purchased and heard the principals being told that I was going to be the support for implementation and learning. I found myself feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place, and starting to have conversations about whether or not I was really effective where I was, or if I should be doing something else. I have tried to balance my work and life, and found myself having to skip the things that mean so much to me and have a large part in my becoming the teacher I am, my twitter chats, because I can’t possibly do everything that I have been told are my priorities during the day. Because of meetings, workshops, and other things I am required to attend, I have limited time to actually support sites, plan for math lead meetings (another post), and currently, observe classrooms at sites to complete a criteria for success rubric required because of our new math adoption.

I had reached a point where I was leaning toward moving back into a classroom next year, for no other reason than I knew I would feel successful there. I know that I affect learning for students in a positive way when I am in direct contact with students. I am not at all sure that I affect student learning in a positive way when I am not in direct contact with them at this time, and this is something that I am going to be required to show in some manner with artifacts and student outcomes. This is obviously something that is important to me, and something I have been striving to do, but is currently causing me a lot of stress.

I reached a point where I knew I had no control over any of this. I had to let it go, and just focus on what was right in front of me. This past week I found myself on three different sites, for different reasons. In my interaction with the administrator at the first site, after our discussion when I stood up to go, she came around her desk and said, “I need to give you a hug. Thank you so much for being the wealth of information you are.” I almost cried right there. I did walk out with a little spring in my step that hadn’t been there for quite a while. At the next site, after classroom observations and a discussion with several principals and other personnel, the principal stopped me as we were all leaving. We had a short conversation and her parting words to me were, “Thank you for doing the work you are doing. You are fighting the right fight, and you need to continue to do this.” Again, I was nearly in tears, and walked away with many thoughts and reflections from that. The last interaction was simple. I was at a site to meet with a group of teachers, and before we started the principal leaned into the room and said, “Thank you for being here, and for being the great source of information you are.” Deep breath, we’re about to have a meeting.

I’m not a fighter. I am someone who cares for others deeply, does all they can to build them up, and encourage them to be all they can be. When I have to confront others, my heart races, my palms get sweaty, and I have to constantly remind myself why I am confronting them and standing for the things I do. I like to encourage, support, and build. I don’t like to have to speak to others using strong words. A co-worker said to me Friday, “maybe that’s why you’re here.” Hmmmmm. OK, I’ll bite.

My focus is students. Their learning, their success, their emotional well being. Pure and simple. If I have to fight for that, I guess that’s what I need to do, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me, no matter how often I tear up and how much my heart races. Even if I say stupid things in my anxiety, make mistakes about how I speak to others, and forget things I wanted to say because I get hurt or angry in the interactions. I am still learning, and in the end, it’s about the kids. They are worth anything I might have to experience.

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Non Verbal Messages

For a number of years I was a constant fixture at Al Anon meetings. If you are not familiar with this, it is a 12 step program for friends and family of people who have addiction issues. I found that I also have an addiction issue. I have an addiction to helping people. This may not seem like a problem to a lot of you, however, for me it is. I care so much about people that I will do anything, give anything, and give up anything for the people around me, to the detriment of both them and myself.

I took a WPI last year for work. All of our leadership take this. It helps us to see where our strengths and weaknesses are as leaders, not so that we know if we should be leaders, but to help us identify things that we can use and things that we can improve upon in our leadership. One of my greatest weaknesses once again, I care too much.

I learned a lot about myself and social interaction in Al Anon. I learned about the messages I give to people, not with my words, but by my actions. I learned that if I continue to answer the phone, answer messages, get up and take care of things until late in the night, people will continue to expect me to do that. I learned that if I take care of financial, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs consistently for people, they will continue to expect me to do that. I learned that if I allow people to change my schedule, determine what will and won’t work for me, and redirect my path, they will continue to expect me to do that. I learned that if I give my quiet time, my exercise time, my rest time, my reading time, my TV time, my walk time, or any other time that I have set aside for me to others, they will continue to expect me to do that.

I learned how to take care of my self in Al Anon, and still love the people around me, which is extremely important to me as one who cares a lot about people.

Last year I began a new position in leadership at our district. It was a tumultuous year, as I was feeling out the boundaries of my position, learning about the people around and above me in this new arena, and learning about the expectations for me. The year ended very busy, and started this way again this year. I did not have a lot of time in the summer to relax and refresh, as the busyness continued in attempting to take care of the needs of the teachers. I learned a lot last year and began this year feeling very excited about what I could possibly accomplish. I attended our first meetings in which the expectations and design of the year seemed to indicate that my objectives and the district objectives were on the same track. I have more confidence this year, as I made a lot of connections to the teachers and administrators in my arena last year. Most of all, I had a plan for this year, which I did not have last year.

I used the techniques I learned in Al Anon to help me. I scheduled myself for time to work and reflect, time to visit the 19 sites I deal with, time for the multitude of meetings that I am required to attend, and made sure that I was covering the bases for my position and the district objectives. I was feeling pretty good about where I was heading. My schedule was full, and I knew I was going to be busy, but I was ready for it. Frankly, I’d rather be busy than not.

Things changed. I’m adaptable, I’m ok with this. I made adjustments, worked hard to follow through, had many things added to my plate that were taken off other plates, made more adjustments, committed to my teachers and administrators and prioritized, and reprioritized, and reprioritized. We have just finished the third week of our school year, and I am feeling overwhelmed. I attempted to speak with my immediate supervisor and heard things like, “you shouldn’t be doing that”, “you need to organize your time better”, “the meetings are a priority”, “you have to get to sites” and some other things that made me feel like a petulant child. I went home very angry.

I spent yesterday doing some things around my house, taking care of my husband’s immediate needs as he was having a difficult day, ignoring emails that streamed in non stop, and thinking about what I do and don’t have control over. Basically, I reverted back to my 12 step program, and began at the top. I had allowed people, circumstances, and my fear of failure to once again dictate what I should and should not be doing. Once again, I need to prioritize and remember my right to say “NO” when things do not work for me, and determine what things are important for me.

Most of all, I need to take care of me, my time, and my needs. I learned long ago that no one else is going to take care of me, I need to do that, and let people know by my actions what is and is not acceptable in their actions toward me.

I need to lead by example. I’m going to the gym.

Second Grade Interaction

This morning I spent some time at one of our elementary schools, in a second grade classroom. I am working with this teacher during math time. She and another teacher are exchanging students to give more leveled instruction, and this teacher has taken the kids who are struggling the most with math topics. Currently, she is working hard on strengthening their math fact fluency, adding and subtracting within 20.

The lesson started with a number of the day, adding and subtracting 1 and 10 from the number, and have students discuss how they did this and what patterns they were noticing. They were able to use fingers, number lines and 100s charts. She did a great job working with the entire group, there are several SpED kids in this group, three that I could identify with hyperactive issues. She spoke in a low voice, very peacefully and most of the kids were engaged for a majority of the time. The next step was to work on several problems adding and subtracting 2 from different numbers, and identifying patterns while they did this work. Again, the students were asked to share what they did and how they thought about the problems. The teacher used several different statements in asking the kids to subtract: “What is six minus two? What is two less than five? If we start with seven, and remove two, what is left?” The kids didn’t bat an eye when she changed the way she was asking the question. It was great to see them learning and responding to different ways of hearing and seeing the same thing.

For the last 15 minutes I worked with four of the students in a small group, the three hyperactive and one other. The teacher was working with the large group on subtracting two-digit numbers using the algorithm, and she told me I could do whatever I felt would be useful with my group. Not knowing the kids, I started with some blocks, subtracting some of them and asking them to identify how many were left, how they knew it, and writing an equation to match the math we were doing.

After a couple of those, which they followed very well, I put the blocks away and asked them to write an equation on their papers that I gave to them, then use a 100s chart to solve the problems, and explain how they did this. One girl immediately was able to “jump back” an appropriate number on the 100s chart and show me this by counting backward from the original number. The other three really struggled with this. Some of the issues: inability to focus long enough to understand the question I was asking, too busy writing on someone else’s paper to write down what they needed, just not interested.

I am challenging myself to figure out something to try with these kids. It’s hard to step into a classroom and work with the hardest group immediately and feel successful, so I’m not kicking myself for this. I’m just wondering what would be good to try, and how to interact with these kids at a better level of engagement. Now that I know exactly what she is working on in the classroom, and have a better idea of the needs of these kids, I’m really going to work on creating something to try with them. I’m loving the challenge of thinking about how to engage and stretch these kids to a new level. This is the group of kids I enjoyed working with at the high school level, second grade is definitely a different challenge.

After class, the kids went to lunch and the teacher and I chatted about the class. She discussed her desires for these kids, and told me she spoke with one of the third grade teachers to figure out where to put the focus and what to leave out, so she could best prepare the kids. I love how reflective she was about the kids, their “real life” issues and how it affects their learning, and working on ways to meet their needs and prepare them the best she could. We talked about some possibilities we could try in future lessons, and I am looking forward to collaborating and reflecting more with her as we walk this challenge together.

What a great experience and opportunity for me to grow even more this year.

Sentimentality

I’m watching a movie, “The Memory Book”. It’s really a nice story, and I’m enjoying it. I’ve tried to avoid sentimentality over the years, I’ve made some regretful choices and suffered quite a bit of heartache over the years. I know we can’t expect to live a life without pain, but looking back sometimes causes me to beat myself up over bad choices. This movie is telling my story, and facing decisions I’ve made is difficult.

It’s not all bad. I’ve often realized that the experiences I’ve had allow me to talk with students and other young people honestly, with a heart of caring. Because of the things I’ve walked through, I can speak from the heart to them, and hear them from my heart. It often means I cry for them after they leave, but I really love being able to communicate with them. I think it’s why I chose to teach high school, and often laugh when people ask me if teaching high school is like my previous occupation as an RN in the emergency department. In many ways it is, I never knew what was coming through the door both in the ED and in my classroom, emotions can run high in both places, and emergencies come in all sizes and shapes.

In reality, our lives build, one experience is the training ground for the next. We can plan all we care to, but there are no guarantees in life, only people, places, situations, and discussions that cause us to respond, react, and grow. Pain is a part of growing, and if we are willing to walk through it there is often a meaningful learning experience that occurs. After reading this blog post by Barbara Madden, I started thinking about many of the experiences I have had. By rights, I have many reasons to be mad at the world, and have acted that way at times. I have also cut myself off from friends and family because of the experiences I have had, believing that would keep me safe and far from any more painful experiences. It doesn’t work that way, and often in cutting ourselves off from the pain, we cut ourselves off from the joy that could be experienced.

Barbara said something that really hit home for me. “Grace prevailed”. At this point in my life, I am becoming wiser, thank goodness. I am beginning to realize that I can think I am creating my experiences or planning my life, but the reality is, there is a power greater than myself who is in charge and is steering the ship.

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I believe that God has a plan for my life, and that there is no way I could design a better plan on my own. So, as we begin a new year, I’m focusing on paying more attention to the people, places, and events around me, and I will be looking for ways that “grace can prevail”.  I’m grateful for grace in my life. On my own, I’m not very graceful or dignified, God gives me the ability to respond rather than react, when I choose to listen.

I will be praying that my ears remain open.