After much thought and consideration, I have picked what I consider the perfect #oneword for my 2018. The word I picked is “renew.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “renew” as “to make like new: to restore freshness, vigor or perfection. One of the reasons I picked the word “renew” is because I am at what I consider to be a weird crossroads in my life between full-time motherhood and an empty nest and at work, I am no longer a new or developing teacher, rather I can clearly see retirement when I look into the future.
Neither one of these things seem like a reason to coast, but rather a reason to start fresh and “renew.” As many of you know the years we spend raising our children are the most rewarding, stressful, and wonderful years. Many times as my children were growing I would wish for a moment to myself and of course, just one good night’s sleep.
Now that they are all venturing into their future education and on to careers, I have plenty of time on my hands. Maybe not the sleep part yet, but who knows, that might come as well.
I have never been an educator satisfied with the status quo. At every stage of my career, I was always seeking a challenge. I was always looking for ways to improve what I do. Just the thought of flipping open a binder of materials I have offered up to my students for the past 10 years makes me feel unmotivated and uninspired. Being in the final stages of my teaching career, as I know it anyway, does not seem to be a reason to coast, rather an opportunity to learn more, share more, collaborate more and grow more.
As I head into 2018, I realize how many things I have to be grateful for and feel inspired to renew many of those things.
Things I plan to renew in 2018:
My relationship with my husband and children.
My visits to the public library.
My gratitude for the life I have.
My time spent with my creative self.
My love of fitness and focused physical challenges.
My bucket list-so many exciting things I still want to do.
My writing self especially on my blog.
My time spent with my parents.
My desire to be outside of the box or maybe take the box down totally.
I am sure I will have the joy of finding other things to renew along my path through 2018. I hope you will join me!
I spend a lot of time each week reflecting on what has gone well and what has gone not so well in our school, as I am sure a lot of you do.
I consider my actions and reactions, thinking about whether or not I need to make changes in my focus in order to support the growth of the school team.
Lately I have noticed a sense of urgency and almost robotic panic in our building seemingly based upon the number of things everyone is juggling. I hate to see people so tired and overwhelmed to the point of not enjoying what they do. One thing I never doubt, not even for one minute, is each member of our team being focused on our students- always.
We can be bombarded with requirements, committees and changes coming at us from various directions outside and inside of the school. It can be a difficult task to balance the expectations and requirements coming at us, with what has to happen in our classrooms, with our students, and in our school, on a daily basis.
I know as an administrator I often feel overwhelmed by the number of things we are expected to balance and complete and spend a lot of time thinking of how to make that easier for teachers. I don’t think we really stand out in the educational crowd with these feelings. I also feel it is something that is not going away anytime soon.
On Thursday of this week, we had the opportunity to have the home town and much-loved, hockey team players from The Estevan Bruins, spend the afternoon in our school. There were 25 of them, spread out, working in every classroom for an hour and we ended the day with a floor hockey game in the gym involving as many students and staff as possible. What a fun way to spend the day!
I am not going to lie, it was a bit of an over the top frenzy for the whole afternoon. The students were so excited and it was nice to just take time to have a whole lot of fun together.
Looking back at that afternoon, I have wonder if that is what we are missing right now. Do we give ourselves permission to shut it all off occasionally and just have fun with each other without feeling guilty about it?
It seems like we can get so caught up with all of the expectations we are balancing we can let those expectations control our actions, rather than us controlling how we will fulfill those expectations. We have many things in our profession that we can’t control. I am always trying to bring our conversations back to the things we can control and reminding myself about those things often to refocus.
For example, we can’t control parental actions and reactions. We can promote, encourage and assist, but in the end we will always have some parents that do not support all of our actions. Should we focus our energy on those few by allowing their negative feedback to control us? Or does it make more sense to focus our energy on forging relationships with all of our supportive, eager to partner, parents and see what we can accomplish?
Now I would never say we should stop reaching out, encouraging and trying, but when they do not reach back, we should try not to take that personally and feel bad about it. Our energy is better spent on ways that we can reach out to the majority and the benefit it will be to all of our students.
Many expectations are put upon schools by different departments at the school division/district level. The intent of all of them is based on best practice, school division/ministry goals and improving the way we do things. The desire to improve our practice is strong, and good intent is there, but it can be overwhelming when there are too many changes. Once again, however, are we concentrating and spending energy by becoming too focused on things we can’t control?
We do need to continue to improve our practice. We do no need to continue to drill down our data. We do need to continue to improve team function so we can meet individual student needs and improve academic achievement. No one can argue that.
At the same time, however, we do not need to lose our individuality in the process.
We can stay true to the good practice and routines we have developed and feel are important in our classrooms and schools. We do not need to change who we are, what we are, or the things we feel are important to our school culture.
Let’s spend more of our energy supporting relationships, reaching out to each other to meet our goals, having fun with our students and families, enjoying reading and the love of learning, meeting in the staff room for a quick chat at recess rather than working alone, letting ourselves walk out at the end of the day and not looking back, rather than dragging home our laptops and book bags for a long night ahead.
The long list of expectations and things to do will keep coming. Where we decide to spend our energy and focus each day is up to us. I have a feeling the expectations will be met much easier if we allow ourselves to be true to who we are and what we stand for.
I started the school year in September kind of beat up and shell-shocked from a very stressful year that ended in June. I had allowed the stress of the year to consume me and it took a toll on my enthusiasm, health and desire to do my job well.
Over the summer I spent my time healing, reflecting and coming up with a plan to approach the stresses of my job in a healthier way that did not consume my life. I had to try not take things personally and concentrate on the things that we could control in our building rather than the negative feedback we were getting from a few parents and students. My mantras for this school year that I try to remember are:
I can’t make everybody happy.
I can’t solve everyone’s problems.
Even though the mantras do not seem very positive, they have allowed me to realize my limits, to allow my, very capable, staff to do things without my control and they have led me to a much happier school and home life, with a lot less stress.
I have mentioned many times , about my awesome, hardworking staff. We have been able to create a team that works together and involves all 25 of us, from our bus driver to our custodians. We started this year with a number of new staff and have learned to work together and appreciate each other’s strengths.
Our team has branched out this fall to not only include our staff and students, but we now have a number of parent volunteers helping us on a daily basis, especially with our school goal to improve our reading scores in the early years. Parents and extended family are a valuable part of our team and when we all work together we truly can accomplish great things for and with our students.
The Christmas break has allowed me time to think about the fall and be grateful for the things we have been able to accomplish as a school team including our parents and community members. Since I have become part of the administration @PDaleSchool I have been amazed at the generosity and support of our community.
January is a time of renewal and goal setting.
There have been many things I have learned this fall, but I have come up with 4 important things I have learned, that I would like to continue to develop and practice.
I have been guilty in the past of jumping to conclusions about situations before I have stopped to listen to what people are really saying to me. I have been trying to keep my mouth closed until I have truly listened and considered the perspectives of others. I have come to realize that although, I may not agree with what someone is saying to me or how they are saying it to me, the perspective of others is important. Many times all I need to do for staff, students and parents is listen and take their concerns seriously.
I hope I can continue to develop my listening skills according to the wise words of Woodrow Wilson,
“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”
2. Don’t judge what I do not know…
I have been frustrated many times as a teacher and principal, when I feel like we are being judged by a moment in time such as a quick walk through or one piece of data.
One quick snapshot rarely tells a story.
One of my teachers reminded me of this early in the fall. I realized that what I see as I am wandering around the building and spending time in classrooms are also snapshots and do not tell the whole story. When I am having quick conversations with parents or I am privy to only one small part of family situations, I should not be judging on these snapshots. Jumping to conclusions is never fair.
3. Lack of time is not an excuse…
I do not need to explain to anyone who is a teacher or who has spent time with a teacher the intense business and commitment that the job requires. It is easy to be negative about change and growth, using lack of time as an excuse not to buy in. I have realized the necessity of reflecting on how I am spending my time and whether or not it is really being used in the ways that will benefit, me, my family, my students and my staff. If I do not have time for important things like people, professional growth, students needs, etc. then perhaps it is up to me to re-evaluate how I am spending my time.
I need my teachers to be proud of the things they are doing every day with our students.
I need our parents to know what is happening every day with their children so they can be confident and assured we are helping them learn and grow on a daily basis.
I need my superintendent and other school division leaders to know that we are working hard to do what is right for our students and to support the school division goals.
I need our community to know that what we are doing so they will continue to give us their support.
As we start on the journey of the gift of another year, I hope that I can listen more, judge less, accept challenges without the excuses and continue to tell our positive school story, because it is worth telling.