Monday, October 15, 2018

These Flats Were Made for Climbin

I was the first in my family to go to college. I worked two jobs and along with a student loan, paid my way through college. It took five years to get my undergraduate degree. I floundered a bit, not really knowing what path to choose, and honestly, felt a little bit like a fish out of water. But I did it. In December of 2000, I walked across the stage in a black cap and gown, and became a college graduate.

I did well in high school, but only because I wanted to. I had parents that expected good grades and good behavior at school, but it was more of a “do what I say, not as I do” scenario. As the  only child of parents who most often worked 6 days a week, I flew a solo mission all through my K-12 experience. When I graduated from college, it was also because I wanted to. I paid my way, paid my own bills, and worked more hours in any given day than anyone should.

Applying to and attending college was a bit of a blur, honestly. It probably took about a year and a half until I really felt like I knew what I was doing. By that point, I had found a major, seen an academic adviser, and set my sights on graduating as some point or another. Having been involved in the arts most of my life, thanks to the opportunities afforded by school-based programs,I entered college thinking that maybe I'd stay on that path and explore theater. Then it hit me--like a freight train--when I eventually graduated from college, I was going to need a career.

At 20-years-old, I spiraled into an existential crisis. How could I be the first to go to college and graduate with no career plans? I came from a family that struggled financially, how could I go into student debt and not have a stable job as a result? This is when I decided the arts had to be a passion and a hobby, but that was it. With the naivety of youth at my back, I decided what I was going to be when I grew up: a lawyer. I would study English as an undergraduate and then go to law school because being a lawyer was a good career, and I would make money. Good, it was settled. I would have a career as a lawyer.

But then, something magical happened. I started taking upper-level English classes, and loved them. I took a semester long class just on J.D. Salinger, and we didn't justy read The Catcher in the Rye. I loved the discussion, the inquiry, the philosophy, the way literature was metaphoric, symbolic, inspiring, and real. Insert existential crisis #2. I loved English, and law school wasn’t literature. Insert change of major---Secondary Education, concentration on comprehensive English. I would have a career as a teacher.

Twelve days before my 25th birthday, I graduated with a college degree. I January of 2001, I started my career as an English teacher. Blinded by the possibilities of living life as a career woman, I felt like I have really made it. I had broken the cycle of hourly wages and no job advancement. The sky was the limit and the ladder was propped up right in front of me.

What I know now, that I did not know then, was that beating the odds, both personally and financially, to attend college and secure that career, was only the equivalent to taking one step on a ladder whose top rung was out of sight. I was proud to have earned a degree, and I was proud to be a teacher, but $25,000 a year was not going to set me up for life.

I have sacrificed blood, sweat, tears, and most importantly, time away from my family, to be the type of teacher that makes an impact on the lives of kids. From day one, I was all in. Yes, I’ll teach early bird. Yes, I’ll advise the after school drama club. Yes, whatever it is, yes. I paid no mind to the physical exhaustion that came with teaching. I paid no mind to the overwhelming reality of having 150+ kids looking to me to educate them. I was a teacher and I was proud. The view from my ladder was great.

Fast forward to today. Today, where I have taught for 18 years, been a department chair, served on a variety of school and district committees. Today, where I gave graduated from the Teacher Leadership Initiative, the Teacher Leader Academy, graduate school, and  a public policy cohort. Today, where I have institutionalized programs at the school level, served a year as a U.S. Department of Education Fellow, and currently serve as the Teacher Leader in Residence at the Nevada Department of Education. With all of this shaping not only my career goals, but my personal philosophy of education, I feel like I have taken only about two or three steps on that proverbial ladder. I’m still proud to be an educator, but I am at the same time a bit dismayed that graduating from college, not once, but twice, and giving my heart and soul to public education has only allowed me to remain on the bottom of the ladder, sometimes even boosting others up and over me.

Instead feeling like I’ve been dealt a bad hand, I am at the point in my life and  in my career where I am focused on being proactive. Not to say I never spent any time being reactive--I felt at one point like I had made bad life choices. Chose the wrong major, picked the wrong career.  But, looking back on those decisions, they were the right ones, the right ones at the time. Taking one class at a time, often on a rotating schedule, my husband and I both went back to school. By the time I graduated with my master’s we had two children. It was challenging, but it was the right choice at the time. We furthered our education, both earned salary advancement, and I was able to feel the inner pride of having graduated yet again.

About four years ago, I started thinking that it was time to try something new. Maybe work at a college or university, maybe try my hand in non-profit work, maybe become an educational advocate. What I quickly learned was that fifteen years of classroom experience and two degrees, didn’t translate to many as experience enough to do anything more than teach in the K-12 classroom. Challenge accepted.

Bound and determined to gain a rung or two or five on that ladder, I started researching and applying for opportunities to expand my skill set, grow my resume, and hopefully, just hopefully, shoot me up the ladder a bit. I’m happy to report that these opportunities do exist. I hustled and applied and got rejected and applied some more until I found the people and places that transformed me.

Ironically, though, despite experience in D.C., a portfolio of successful projects, and hours of learning and doing, I’m still working on finding the next step on the career ladder. I’m facing the harrowing reality that I might have to go back to school again. I am currently relentlessly trying to convince a graduate school, any graduate school for that matter, that I would make an outstanding addition to their program, with one exception… I need a scholarship. Not a small or medium one, a full ride. I’m at that juncture in my life where putting my 15-year-old through college in 3 years has to take precedence over mom getting her 3rd degree.

So, here’s another first in a long line---Will I be the first in my family to earn a second master’s or a Ph.D? We’ll see.


Friday, October 5, 2018

You've Got a Friend in Me

Image may contain: 1 person, night, bridge, sky and outdoor

Just over a week ago, I sat with two elementary school teachers all day on a Saturday and half a day on Sunday as we worked on an action plan to revamp the culture of their current school. The work was hard. It was emotional work, visceral and exhausting. Change is not just difficult, sometimes it darn near impossible. They knew it wouldn’t be easy, but they were ready.

These were two very passionate and creative teachers who, even if they had to go it alone, were focused on seeing some changes. They were tired of their students facing, sometimes daily, negative reinforcement. They shared how their school uses a digital tool that flashes a giant red circle across the screen to indicate that the child has failed an assessment. They frustratingly brainstormed how to create ways to showcase what their students were doing well to counteract the struggles they faced with language acquisition and skill building.

They wanted to do something about the blank, white walls of the school. There were few, if any bulletin boards. The kids were measured mostly on their performance on assessments. Their opportunity to share and celebrate their other abilities, the ones that can’t be measured by an online assessment, were few and far between.

There are over twenty different languages being spoken at this particular school. There is a high refugee population, and many, if not all of the students, live in impoverished conditions. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, “These students bring their unique individual cultures and backgrounds while bearing some of the challenges and stresses of the refugee experience”. This is a school that housed many levels of trauma, and somehow, someone thought that blank white walls, stern rules, and flashing red dots were going to be effective methods of encouraging these children to succeed. The teachers I spent the weekend with disagreed.

Saturday started, as many think tank sessions do, with us just throwing a million ideas against the wall. There were laughs, stories, tears, outbursts. The emotional roller coaster had three large drops and five triple loops. You see, I was not there because I was from their school or even their state--I was serving as their Critical Friend. My role was to provide objective feedback, collaborate with them, ask tough questions, urge them to focus on an action plan that was realistic and viable. When our day started with breakfast and introductions, my teammates were friendly and excited. Heads held high, smiles on faces, they were ready to tackle the impossible. They knew it wouldn’t be easy, but they were ready.

By lunchtime, shoulders were hunched, tears had been shed, and defeat was mounting. They may as well have had a giant red circle flashing before them. However, we still had a long ride until we would get off the roller coaster. Not only was there no action plan, they still needed to uncover the root of the issue that they were trying to solve. As much as they would have liked to pull the plug on the assessment software with the evil red dots, that wasn’t their decision to make. They needed to refocus and think of how they could return home with a way to change the culture of the school and the mindsets of the educators within.

It took a few hours, but finally it surfaced. They figured out what they could do to make a small, but meaningful shift in the existing culture that would ultimately give their students an environment that they could not only feel safe in but proud of. They needed to be the catalysts for shaping their school into a place of visible learning.

Easy enough, right? Not so much. Honestly, it probably would have been easier to change the assessment model than people’s ways of thinking. They knew it wouldn’t be easy, but they were ready.

A plan emerged thanks to the coaching, tools and support of Teach to Lead, Teach Plus, and ASCD, as well as those serving as critical friends and of course, the work of these dedicated educators. My new friends returned to their home state on Sunday, ready to introduce their plan to their school on Monday morning. Will it work? Maybe, maybe not, but I applaud them for taking the leap. They were not going to sit back any longer and watch students get caught in the cross-fire of negative culture and poor decision making. They came to San Jose to not only form a plan, but I believe, to sharpen their voices and find their inner advocates.

The kids at their school are lucky to have them and hopefully, the kids will begin to see their potential and embrace their ability to learn one decorated wall at a time. They have warriors on their side--teachers who are willing to sacrifice their time, money, and much more, to show them that they are smart, and capable, and loved. Just in case you forgot, that’s what great teachers do.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Times They Are A Changin'

Time Flies---

In August of 2000, I was a student teacher at Greenspun Jr. High, and was embarking on 9 months of a new identity. To those 150 6th graders, I was their teacher. To everyone else, I was probably just an idealistic 24-year-old who believed she could make a difference in the world. Yet, for 18 more Augusts, I started a new school year, almost always as an idealist who believed she could change the world. It’s hard to believe that my first day as a teacher was that many years and over 3,000 students ago.

However, last April, I left school on a Thursday and didn’t return. My exit was not an act of resistance or civil disobedience, but an opportunity. Now, as I start year 19 as an educator, I am sitting in an office instead of at a teacher’s desk, ever the idealist. I have high hopes that I will make a difference this year, even if it is behind the scenes versus in front of a classroom.

After all those years and all those students, I never thought that I would leave the classroom, but here I am.

The Here and Now---

This past Monday, I dropped my 14 year-old off at her first day of 9th grade, and I dropped my 10-year-old off at her first day of 5th grade. I was able to do this, for the first time since they started going to school, because I am no longer a classroom teacher. I got to be the mom of two wonderful kids starting their first day of school. It made the fact that I wasn’t about greet my own students for the first time worth it. Kind of an interesting paradigm shift for someone who meticulously decorated her classroom, wrote long-term lesson plans before school even started, and was ALWAYS thinking “how could I use this in class?”

Let your Life be a Counter-Friction---

I had many great years in the classroom, and for a long while I could see myself teaching until I was old and grey.

I taught high school English for 17 years, and the literature I selected for my classroom was meant to inspire thinking and to inspire action.  I gave great thought to what I shared with my students, as I felt that they deserved to read pieces that spoke to them morally, viscerally, emotionally, or civically.  As any teacher should admit, sometimes I picked pieces that my students hated, yet with time and experience, I curated readings and activities that I felt not only built the needed college and career readiness skills, but in some small way made my students better thinkers, better communicators, and better humans.

In 1849, a young idealist Named Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine/ For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever…” Every time we read those words in class, I knew that they were trying to tell me something. You see, teaching isn’t the act of delivering information, it’s part of the learning process. I was learning with my students. Though it took years for me to uncover the message especially meant for me in the literature I shared with them, the pieces starting coming together.

In 1965, another writer with ambitious ideals said, “Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” Be it a 19th century philosopher or a modern activist like Malcolm X, I tried to never teach with the intent to assess, but to teach with the intent to learn. As I shared play after poem after novel after essay after film and so on with my students I began to unearth something. I was riveted by the inspirational, raw, and honest words of the writers we studied. I found the language beautiful, the structure masterful. Beyond that, however, I realized that these pieces weren’t just tools or curriculum; they were meant to be ingested and talked about and explored deeply.

The More You Know---

The more I taught, the more I learned. I learned that I didn’t always agree with the system. I learned that I had difficulty lending myself to procedures that were inequitable for students. I learned that I needed to diversify my bookshelf. I learned that I needed to talk less and listen more. I learned that I was angry, and it was time to be the counter-friction.

From within the classroom, my opportunities to lead change were limited. Being a classroom teacher is by nature isolating. Our time to communicate with one another is dictated by bells and contract times. It’s often difficult, if not impossible to have hard conversations—those take time and vulnerability, and trust. All things that are hard to build in 28 minutes one time per week.

So, I looked at ways to enact change, grow as a person and as a professional. I wasn’t ready to leave the classroom, but I couldn’t sit idly by and “cry over my condition.” My colleagues weren’t always ready to embark on the heavy lifting required to enact institutional change. Honestly, I probably wasn’t ready either, but I felt that I would be functioning as a hypocrite each time I facilitated a discussion with my students, and that was something I could no longer do.

Step by Step---

A summer professional development session in the summer of 2014 was this first step. The four weeks I spent with the amazing instructors at the Southern Nevada Writing Project’s Summer Institute pushed me to not only discover but to write about and articulate my hopes and regrets about education.

From there it was the National Writing Project inviting me and educators from around the country to spend a “Day on the Hill” advocating for education. I was hooked.

That led to the not just a step, but a leap. I was still in the classroom, but in 2016 I split my time between teaching English at an art school in Las Vegas and working out of the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. Surreal is an understatement.  It was a challenging, scary, educational, confusing, and amazing year. It went by so fast. In that year I not only learned about Federal Education Policy and the inner working of the Department of Education, I learned I knew little about the inner workings of the state in which I was meant to represent.

After a whirlwind year, I knew that I truly belonged in Nevada and I truly belonged within its education system. Now I just had to convince everyone else.

#VegasStrong/ Home Means Nevada---

The 2017-2018 school year was harder than I thought it would be. I was teeming with ideas, ready to act, frustrated with policies and antiquated procedures. I had knowledge and experience and was ready to make things happen. You know that saying, about a tree falling in a forest? Well, I was the metaphorical tree.

Again I was faced with the isolation of being a teacher. Though I worked in a hybrid-role, allowing me some flexibility with my schedule, I struggled professionally to make the strides I imagined I would make. Working in a hybrid-role was rewarding, as I was able to carry a class load of 140 students across 4 periods, as well as work on arts integration, community involvement, and professional development. The thing about hybrid-roles, however, is that they are few and far between, especially where I was in one. To the teachers at my school I was either a valuable resource, or that person who only “worked” every other day. Though I enjoyed the leadership opportunity, I was still searching for the place where I could continue to cultivate my skills, and start to see tangible results in wanting to change things for the better in the system where I went to school, taught, and now sent my own children.

Half way through the school year, I applied for a job at the state Department of Education. By April, I was packing up and moving into my office at the state Department of Education. Ideally, I would have loved to have stayed until the end of May when the school year concluded, but sometimes the knock of opportunity comes at a time that is not always convenient.

After all those years and all those students, I never thought that I would leave the classroom, but here I am.

Where Do I Go From Here?---

The 2018-2019 school year started 4 days ago. While my former colleagues are kicking off a new school year, I am still trying to change the world, at least the world of education, while also determining exactly where I fit in. I am learning, and growing, and thinking everyday how I can make an impact.

I miss hearing bad jokes from teenagers everyday. I miss being the one who tells them stories about Sylvia Plath and Jason Reynolds. I miss seeing the look on their faces when they realize how Social Darwinism, Intersectionality, and Social Justice are all parts of English class.

It saddens me to think that I had to leave behind what I love to try and better what I love. I still don’t agree with many of the structures of the educational system, but I have moved beyond angry to active. I left so I could make a far-reaching difference. Ironically, I’m only on a 1-year contract, and only have the proverbial 28-minutes, to build institutional change.

I know I won’t move any mountains this year, but I might push the rock enough times that it sticks instead of rolling back down the hill. From there, I will find a stone, and use it to step into the next role that will hopefully move me closer to achieving the goal of being the “counter-friction.”

I’ve said it more times than I care to admit, but I am READY. I am ready to be the change, to speak up, to get things done. I’m ready, and I guess I have to get comfortable accepting the fact that others might not be. 

Ready or not, here I come.

In the words of Thoreau, mixed with a few of my own:

A State [of education] which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State [of education], which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.”

Forever the idealist, always a teacher, never giving up.


Friday, June 8, 2018

Viva Las Vegas

Obviously, I have not always and only been a teacher. Before I started teaching in 2000, I was a student. A college student, a high school student, a middle school student, an elementary school student. 

I went to a few different schools in a few different states. Actually I went to 3rd grade alone in three different states--that's what happens when you are a transient kid. Finally we landed in Las Vegas, the end of 3rd grade. Strangely enough, we stayed. 

Even though we moved around, there was always one constant from school to school to school. I was always involved in music and theatre. The music room or back stage always gave me a place to belong. 

My love of theatre never waned. Not when I dyed my hair and started wearing combat boots. Not when I started spending hours listening to punk rock through my headphones. Not when I was bullied and called a freak. Never. My private retreat from the chaos of adolescence was the soundtrack to musicals. Secretly listening to Les Miserables, knowing all the words to Grease, going out of my way to find weird and interesting plays to read. My love for theatre never waned.

Until my sophomore year of college, I never went to a college or professional sporting event. It just wasn't my thing. Even when I started going to things in college, I was more take it or leave it. Still liked music more.

So, now I'm 42-years-old and a brand new sports fan. A real fan.

Splitting my allegiance was hard. My entire life I have loved musical theatre. I started my affair with it when I was 5-years-old, playing a munchkin in a community rendition of The Wizard of Oz.
Sports are fun to watch. The camaraderie of cheering together, beer, and snacks. I’ve never “rooted” for a team. 

In the meantime, if you offered me tickets to a musical or a football game...musical it is.
After attending the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts and subsequently returning 6 years after graduation to teach, my love grew and my access to amazing art and theatre was a few steps away.

17 years later, I still  LVA, I still theatre, but now...

I frickin’  hockey.

Last night was the 5th game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, right here in Las Vegas. ( A year ago I couldn’t even tell you when the Cup was and the only hockey player I could name was Wayne Gretzky.)

Last night was also the night that the CEO of the Smith Center invited me to be his guest at Hamilton. ( BTW, we had a fancy pants dinner at the Smith Center before the show, and Myron projected the game.)

I could neither afford a ticket to the Stanley Cup, nor a floor ticket to Hamilton, so when one was offered, I went.

Sitting in the 3rd row, my amazing friend Jennifer Rios by my side, I suspended disbelief and nerded out for 3 hours for one of the most amazing musicals I have ever seen.

At intermission, I went to the lobby and discovered that the Knights lost.

Despite the loss, I am, like so many others, a Vegas Golden Knights fan. It’s not about the winning—though that feels damn good— it’s about being able to step outside myself and take a look around Las Vegas and see that we have finally evolved beyond the stereotype of Sin City.

That misnomer that “we have no culture”, needs to be squashed.

We are the home of colleges and universities, UNLV being named the most diverse campus in the nation.

We are home to a 5,800 square foot performing arts center.

We are home to the Golden Misfits, who came out against all odds and showed the world that ice hockey in the desert can be amazing.

We are home to so much more than what people perceive. Vegas is a symbol for all of us who people underestimate, judge on looks alone, or write off before giving us a chance.

I may not be #Vegasborn, but I’m #VegasStrong, and proud that I now, on any given Thursday night, have to choose between Lin Manuel Miranda’s color blind cast rapping and dropping historical knowledge and reminding us that “immigrants, they get the job done” or watching a talented group of athletes, many also immigrants, bring new hope, and new pride to a place that my family and I call home.

I am glad that today's Vegas kids can see their hometown as a place with just not just culture, but diversity, and character. We accept all kinds here. We cater to everyone, whatever way you want to spend your Thursday, or any other night, we probably have it.

My love for theatre has never waned, I've just made room in it for hockey.

After last night I truly believe that the lyrics to Hamilton speak to me and speak to my city, whether it be at a musical or in an arena.

Vegas can say on so many levels,
“Hey yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry.”

We are more than just neon. Viva Las Vegas.


Friday, May 25, 2018

Guest Blog: Kyle's Journey

Thank you to Guest Blogger, Kyle Anderson, for sharing a piece of his journey with us---

Everybody grows up having a dream, proclaiming what they want to be when the
grow up. I was no different. I wanted to be a firefighter. I wanted to be a doctor.
Because it was the 1980s and 1990s, I wanted to go up in the space shuttle as an
astronaut.  It seemed as if I changed my mind every other week. However, you
eventually get to high school and college and have to finalize what you want to focus
your energies on, and some people still struggle, changing their majors several times
before deciding.

I was lucky. I knew by my sophomore year in high school that I wanted to teach.

Maybe it was the great teachers that I had. Maybe it was my love of learning.
Maybe it was my love of being around kids (my mother ran a daycare in our house,
so there were always kids around). Whatever it was, I was set early on that education
was where I wanted to be.  

I was lucky. In college, I didn’t have to change my major several times. I changed it
once. I initially declared Secondary Education/Biology with a Chemistry minor.
But after one semester, I decided that I loved science, but not enough to want to
make a career of it. I decided I wanted to teach history. However, a very smart man
by the name of Dr. Nichols convinced me that a history major was a death sentence
in teaching and that social studies was a much better option. So, in the second half
of my freshman year, I declared Secondary Education/Social Studies with a minor in
Physical Education with a coaching emphasis.  

I was lucky. After 5 years of hard work, I was able to get a job right away. I packed up
my belongings and moved 2,000 miles across the country from Michigan to Nevada.
I knew that I had made the right decision in my career---working with teenagers. They
can be tough at times, moody, defiant, but at the end of the day, they just want to live
life and be successful, and I was there to help make that happen.  

I continue to be lucky. I have worked in education for 13 years, and while there have
been trying times, and even times of thinking that maybe I don’t want to continue, I
always think about those that I have influenced over the years, the amazing educators
that I have worked with, and the new technology and teaching methods that come each
day. I don’t know what the next chapter of my journey is going to be, but that is the fun
of it. I get to write my own chapters and continue to do what I love and what I feel I was
made to do.  

Kyle Anderson is a 13 year veteran of the teaching profession, teaching social studies for 11 years before stints as a technology coach, a school administrator, and a physical education teacher. Kyle has B. A. in Secondary Education/Social Studies, & a Master’s of Education, an Educational Specialist in School Leadership, and is currently working on a Master’s of Science in Special Education. Kyle is married to his wonderful and beautiful wife Mary and has a daughter, Elsa, and a son, Reed.  

Monday, May 7, 2018

Appreciate the Journey

In January of 2001, I started my first full time teaching job. As if being a first year teacher wasn't hard enough, I was a first year teacher who started in 2nd semester after the kids had had a string of substitutes. Oh, I was also at a year-round school and I was teaching from a cart. For all those not familiar with "cart teaching", it means I didn't have a classroom. All my teacher things were neatly piled on a rolling AV cart, and every four weeks I moved to whatever room was empty due to track break. The journey began, literally.

My first few months were rough. My husband started teaching the August prior and told me to stick it out until the start of the new school year. It was hard; I doubted if I was cut out for teaching.

Fast forward a few years...I found my stride. I moved from 6th graders to 9th graders, and finally thought that teaching really was my thing. They say it takes at least three years to start feeling like you know what you're doing. After 3 years of teaching high school, I took on Student Council and moved on to teaching 10th and 11th grades. I was getting there.

Every year was a new adventure: new students, new courses, new experiences. My students made me laugh every day, and going to work was fun. Where else but a school could you line the halls with colorful drawings, make puppets, have dance-offs at lunch, and celebrate it all by wearing pajamas to work? Teacher Life was good.

However, some journeys have unknown destinations. Let's fast forward again--add two children, a Master's Degree, and a hankering to make a more far-reaching difference. With one foot in the classroom and one foot in the world of teacher leadership, I was looking for a way to take both roads at once. Presenting at conferences, writing, and learning from inspirational leaders, led me to the U.S. Department of Education as a 2016-2017 Teaching Ambassador Fellow. This experience introduced me to the inner workings of the educational system. Pause and think about the moment you see behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. Yes, it felt like that.

Equity. Elevating the Profession. Social Justice. Policy. 

The Fellowship was the most amazing, yet surreal experience of my professional life. I came back from Washington ready to take on the world, or maybe just Nevada. This Teacher's Journey has been traveled on an ever winding road, and on Monday, April 30th, I took the fork.

After 17 years in the classroom, on a warm Thursday afternoon, I left. It was difficult and bittersweet, but it was also time. My career as an educator, paired with my own unapologetic ambition, had afforded me opportunities to not only teach creative, smart, wonderful students, but to build a professional learning network of equally amazing educators, leaders, and advocates. This network aided me in finding my leader's voice.

So, here I am. The inaugural Teacher Leader in Residence. If I could have invented a job just for me, this would be it. An chance to organize, to elevate, to advocate, to represent, and to gather--I am honored to be given the opportunity to serve Nevada teachers and to elevate our voices.

If all my years in education have taught me anything, it is that educators are amazing. They sacrifice, they empathize, they work tirelessly. They give so much and ask for so little in return.

I am proud to be a teacher. Whether in the classroom or working on behalf of those who are, I will always be glad that I stuck it out. It hasn't been easy, but it has been worth it. Here I go--I invite you to join me on the next iteration of #thisteachersjourney.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

All The World's A Stage, Or a Clock, Or a Soliloquy

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts..."- William Shakespeare

Shakespeare nailed it when he wrote that in our lives, we play many parts. There is something else, I've discovered, that Shakespeare also knew--we often express our true selves in soliloquy. 

Let's take one of the most iconic tragic heroes for example, Hamlet. In Shakespeare's longest tragedy, the protagonist is quick to insult, drop a pun, or express his discontent, yet most of the time, his commentary is delivered in as few words as possible. He is a man plagued with internal crisis, keeping his ideas tightly locked inside until...

The soliloquies. There are five. During these dramatic outpourings of inner conflict and bottled emotion, Hamlet is all of us. 

As a classroom teacher for the past eighteen years, I have spent more time alone in my room than I have collaborating with colleagues. I have bounced ideas around with myself, doubted myself, congratulated myself--alone. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one to bottle up my ideas and then shout them to a concrete wall with dramatic flair. "To collaborate, or not to collaborate" has never been the root of my existential crisis. I am at my teaching best when I can feed off of the inspiration and professional genius of my colleagues, but truthfully, those moments are few and far between. The biggest barriers to breaking down the silo are time and change. 

TIME: I arrive at school at 6:45am after a 30 minutes commute across town. The bell rings at 6:55am. This slim ten minutes doesn't allow for me to fraternize with my colleagues and create dynamic vertical lessons. Sure, I could get there earlier--which means getting up earlier--which means waking my 9-year-old up earlier--so she can go to morning care even earlier. Not an option. 

I have a prep every other day. Not every day. During the time I have, I make the most of it--however, some of my colleagues don't have the same prep time as me. Such is life. 

After school, I can relish in my free time of 40 minutes, before I race across town to pick up not one, but two carpools, from two different schools. Time, isn't always as flexible as I need it to be. 

This problem of lack of time is shared. Fortunately, we have organized time on campus to meet with one another, and it has made a huge difference. We have dedicated time each Monday for one hour and each Wednesday for 30 minutes. Making sure to clear our schedules of lunch duty, student store, clubs, conferences, and other meetings, has allowed us to sit with each other, during this dedicated time, and ensures that we can communicate beyond email. This gift of time has been truly a gift, but...

CHANGE: Just like me, many of my colleagues have learned to multi-task like champs. Educators would earn gold medals if making copies, while answering emails, while grading papers, while eating a Lean Cuisine was an Olympic sport. We are used to making the most of our time. There is no other way to survive; no other way to scale the mountain of daily duties.

So, you'd think that if given the time to commiserate with colleagues and reinvent the wheel of curriculum, we'd jump for joy and celebrate the opportunity. Not always. Time is such an abstract, yet highly coveted commodity that when we get it, we literally don't know what to do with it. More time for collaboration? What does that even mean? 

The catch-22 is that the change from "here's absolutely no time to do all the things" to "here's some extra time to all the things", doesn't feel much different. Oftentimes, the strategy, intent, or purpose of this new "time" is missing. Educators nearly border being superhuman, but even so, we need guidance and structure. We are the makers of plans. We love plans. We need to plan our time to plan. If not, we spiral into that aforementioned existential crisis and end up soliloquing on the freeway, stuck in mid-day traffic, collaborating with me, myself, and I. Time given; time wasted.

Let us, fellow educators, use the silent soliloquy as a dress rehearsal for when the curtain rises and we are given time to share our talents, our successes, our groundbreaking innovations, and do so in a way which best uses our coveted time and the time of others. 

We need to change the way we think about change and reevaluate the way we use our time. Though it be much easier to close our doors and sink into the silo, we owe it to ourselves and our students, to change. If our ideas happen in silos, their reach is very narrow--when we share our ideas with others, they evolve into tangible entities that can impact the teaching and learning within our schools. 

Yes, having other educators into our rooms and in our lesson plan books may be strange at first. But remember, as our dear Hamlet once said, "this too shall pass."