Reflections After the Hardest Year

Reflections After the Hardest Year

Colleagues,

Do you feel like this year has been your toughest year in education? If you do, then you are not alone. I have too many days to count this year wondering what has made this year even harder than the last.

As this school year is quickly coming to an end, I have been reflecting on my career, the educational system as a whole, and where children are academically, socially, and emotionally. Each of these components to my work weigh heavily on my heart. In my role as an Assistant Principal, I make decisions that will drive my career forward as a life long learner, make decisions that have the potential to impact thousands of students, and have interactions with dozens of students a week where I see where they are in all areas of learning and growing as young adults. Some days, the job can feel overwhelming due to our current climate, so here are my takeaways as I begin planning for the next school year.

Passion Drives Progress

I recently spoke with a fellow educator and he asked me what is something about me that he would not find on a piece of paper? I thought about this for a minute, all of my accomplishments or ideas you can easily find on documents that I have worked on in the last 10 years. What I decided to share was my passion for education. It is hard to put into words when you are truly passionate about something. When that passion is what you think about first thing in the morning, gets you through the tough days, and occasionally keeps you up at night thinking about how you can do better.

This is how I feel about education. It is my driving passion. I obviously love my children and my husband and they are also a huge reason I do what I do. But outside of my family, what personally motivates me is my passion for education. This includes wanting to find the best ways to nurture the developing minds of children, creating a positive and healthy work environment, and brining in innovative ways to further teaching in the 21st century. I spend my days reading and day dreaming about what more can we do for education in America. Although some days I feel discouraged, more often than not, I feel inspired and ready to face another day.

Trusting Work Places

My husband started his first year in education and I have to be honest, there have been many nights that I have had a smug look on my face when he comes home utterly exhausted and has nothing else to give for that day. I may have said a time or two “Glad you know what I have been talking about for the last 10 years… teaching is exhausting!” We always say that when you come to work you have to leave your baggage at the door and be ready with a smile on your face for your students and coworkers.

This is very emotionally and physically draining and that it is essential that you have a trusting work place, one that has coworkers who are there for you when you are having a rough day to help lift you up. A trusting place that when you need a minute to talk through the hard things, that you can leave knowing you have spoken in confidence. A trusting place that you know that the people around you are there to support you and help you grow as an educator.

There are plenty of negative comments circulating in the news and on social media about teachers and education. Education is under a microscope right now — what books are in the library, what standards are being taught, what curriculum is being used, what is the districts stand on these hot topics… I am hopeful that things will be easier next year, but this job is hard enough. We must support one another and create a safe and trusting environment so that educators have the mental and physical energy to give students their absolute best.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I knew Maslow was on to something with his hierarchy of needs, but it has become abundantly clear in the last two years that without basic needs, safety, and belonging being met for not only students but teachers, then personal growth and learning cannot take place. Teacher burnout and student discipline are both at an all time high, instead of putting more on teachers and students plates, we need to start with the basics.

What I have seen these past two years is that schools had to pivot within the matter of days from in person teaching to remote teaching. This was unavoidable and a part of being in a global pandemic. What schools would have implemented slowly over the course of years was implemented in days. Since then, we have been adding more and more to teachers with blended learning and constantly changing policies and procedures.

I keep hearing “we have to go back to how things were before COVID” but this is just not a realistic statement. The pandemic changed how we do education, so instead of trying to go back we need to start with the basics in this new style of education— are basic needs being met, are there structures in place that ensure safety and security for all, and does everyone have a sense of belonging and know their role and how to perform it on a day to day basis? Once we can answer those questions, then we can move forward with growth and learning.

Change Takes Time

Ultimately, things are changing in education. Some for the better and some for the worst. I have heard podcast and read blogs saying that education in America is going to have to crash and burn before it gets better. I really hope that is not the case, because there is an entire generation that may not be able to recover if that happens, including my children. Give the process time and continue to push for what is best for students. You can never go wrong if you view your work through the lens of “Is this best for my students?”

Failure- It’s a Good Thing?

Failure- It’s a Good Thing?

I recently reflected and blogged on my first few weeks as an administrator and one of my key points was the fact that I will make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but each person has the choice to let the mistake/failure define who they are or to learn and grow from the experience.

I had the opportunity to participate in a breakout session at the AAEA summer conference and Dr. Gotcher asked the audience to share what failure meant to them. One person shared “Failure is only the next opportunity to succeed.”

This really hit home for me. As we go through this school year, trying to navigate COVID-19, I know there will be moments of failure. I want to choose to view each of those moments as just creating opportunities for success.

Now, saying that you will take your failures and turn them into opportunities is easier said that done. At least that is my personal experience. For this school year I am going to do these follow steps to try and make failures opportunities for success.

Community

Going at this career alone is never a good idea. Find your person that you can process through hard times and help keep perspective on the bigger picture.

Student Focused Vision

When you experience a failure, determine if what you were trying to do would be best for students. If it failed because it ultimately wasn’t what was best for students then walk away. If you still believe it is what is best for students then keep trying and reach out to those around you that can support your vision. As long as we keep our focus on what is best for students we can always turn opportunities into success.

Grace

I have to be willing to give myself grace. I have heard over and over the phrase “Grace before Grades”, but I think we can just say “Grace first”. Everyone will be going through a challenging time whether it is a student juggling school, with remote learning with siblings, while working a full time job to support their family; or parents who are staying up late at night after working all day to try and help their students with homework because their child is having a hard time adjusting to school again; or teachers who are so excited to see and love on their students but are also scared about their health and the health of their families. Grace must come into play for all parts of education this year.

I believe if I filter all of my experiences and reflections through these three steps then I will be able to take my failures and turn them into successes.


First Days on the Job

First Days on the Job

On May 14, 2020, I was hired by the school board of Siloam Springs School District as the new Assistant Principal at the high school. This is a dream job with one of the best administration teams I have had the privilege of knowing.

On July 13, 2020, I started my first official day in my new role. It has been a rollercoaster with many highs and lows in the past three weeks. We are put in impossible situations and have to choose what is best for students and staff- sometimes those do not line up and it makes our job even more challenging.

Over the past three works I have learned so much and wanted to get my thoughts down on paper (blog) to reflect back in years to come.

I am not trying to win a popularity contest.

A few days ago I made the comment, “I don’t think that teacher is going to like me much, but what I am suggesting is best for the students.” My mentor looked at me and said “Brittany, you are not trying to win a popularity contest. You got this job because we trust you and know you will do what is best for students.”

I have to be adaptable.

I also made the comment that I feel like I will be a first year administrator all over again next year when **hopefully** COVID-19 is gone or at least more manageable. The vice principal kindly chuckled and said “It will be something else, that is the job. There will always be something that you are dealing with, you just have to be able to roll with it.”

I will make mistakes.

I made a phone call today, no big deal, just a quick chat. I went and told my boss about it and he said “I would have said that this way… but you already talked to him.” My heart sunk. I felt like I had failed miserably and I was only 14 days into the job. I played it off like no big deal but I have been thinking about it all day. I am writing this hoping I can actually take it to heart- I will make mistakes, and THAT IS OKAY. I have to own them, accept them, learn from them, and move forward.

I need to listen and ask questions.

Clearly these are unprecedented times, so not only am I learning, but so is everyone else. No one has the perfect solution for how to open schools right now. It is times like these that we all need to be able to truly listen to concerns, seek out ideas, and ask questions that get everyone heading in a positive direction.

I know I will learn much more as the years go on, after all, we are all life long learners; but for now I am going to look forward to this next journey and celebrate the start to a new school year.

Three Promises I Make to My Children

Three Promises I Make to My Children

Parenting is tough, like really tough. I had no idea what I was signing up for 12 years ago when my son came into this world. I have made more mistakes than I care to share, but I have also experienced more joy than I thought possible. As time has gone on, I have been able to define my personal goals as a parent.

I tell my children regularly that their are three things that I must do. Every decision that I make can be traced back to these three jobs or promises that I have made to them.

As I look at my role as an educator I can apply these same promises to my students no matter the capacity to which I serve them.

For the sake of clarification- throughout the rest of this blog when I say “my children” or “children” I mean both my biological and students at school.

1. My promise to LOVE and show you love.

Keep in mind, these three promises are in no particular order, they are all equally important.

This first promise is to make sure my children grow up to know what love is, feeling loved, and learn how to appropriately love others.

Choose Love is a popular Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum that is being used around the country. The title says it all, choose love. I want to model this with my children that in all situations you have a choice and I hope they choose love. There will be times when we mess up and that is okay. It does not mean you are a bad person, but you need to own it, learn from it, and do better by choosing love the next time.

2. My promise to PROTECT you.

My daughter is a little dare devil. Throughout her life I cannot tell you how many times I have told her she cannot do something. The conversations goes like this;

“Why not mom? I want to.”

“I know you want to, but you cannot. It’s not safe because…”

As children get older the conversations will change from “you can’t run with scissors, its not safe” to “let’s talk about why you should not vape and how dangerous it is for you.”

Protecting children in a school setting can look different. It can be protecting students physically, such as having crisis plans in place to ensure the safety of all students. But protecting a child is no only from physical harm, but emotional, social, and mental harm as well. Just a few examples are cyber bullying, dealing with struggles of life in and outside of school, and equipping students with the skills needed to survive and thrive after school.

Letting children learn from mistakes is a part of growing up; therefore, make sure you can clearly identify what you are protecting them from and why this is not a good learning opportunity. If you cannot identify those, then you may actually be keeping a child from growing.

Continually reflect.

3. My promise to TEACH you how to be a GOOD HUMAN.

My husband and I say this often to our children- just be a good human. Be kind, be accepting, be generous, be selfless… the list go on.

If you notice, none of those attributes are political. I do not have to impose my beliefs on children to communicate how to be good. If anyone disagrees and thinks that being a good human needs to be addressed cautiously in the classroom, please feel free to write to me so we can start a dialogue.

Every day when I leave for work I tell my children at home “be a good human today.” I have said the same thing to my children at school as well. I hope when children see me they are able learn from my example of what it means to be a good human.

I also recognize that leading by example is not enough. The promise is not “to SHOW you how to be a good human.” It is to “TEACH how to be a good human.” Teaching how to be a good human must be intertwined with the daily learning at school.

Imagine an entire school where every person lived by that phrase- be a good human.


Yes, people make mistakes, but that is the beauty of school. Children get to learn and have loving adults in their lives to help guide them.

One of these promises alone will not do. I have to live by all three when I am parenting at home and as educator at school. If one fails, the overall well-being of the child is at risk.

The Power of a Positive Phone Call

The Power of a Positive Phone Call

March 16, 2020 is a day that I will always remember in my educational career. This day would be the first day of remote learning across the state of Arkansas which would last the entire 4th quarter. 9 weeks later, I am wrapping up the school year and taking a minute to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly.

As I try to identify the positives that I will carry with me one comes to mind first; the power of a positive phone call. As an educator I have had to make my fair share of phone calls, but I have not always made the time to start each year with a positive one for every student.

During this global pandemic I decided that I would not contact a single one of my ESL families about school work until I had a chance to just visit with them and see how they were doing. I wanted them to know I was here first and foremost for the well-being of their child. We could worry about academics after I knew the child was doing well. I have never had such positive reaction and strong parental involvement as I have had this quarter.

Now, I understand that parents had to be involved as their child was now doing school from home, but these phone calls really set the tone for the last 9 weeks. Each family understood I was there to come alongside them to help and not to just let them know all the areas they were lacking.

After this year I will make it a priority to always make that positive contact first. I recently accepted a job as an assistant principal and I believe I can continue this in my new role and hopefully encourage my team to join me in this quest!

Check out this graphic on tips for making positive phone calls.


A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Managing Stress Edition

A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Managing Stress Edition

Today hit me hard.

I woke up, worked out, made my cup of coffee, got the kids up, made our breakfast, got dressed, and then walked 15 steps to my desk.

Real talk, as I sat there waiting for my computer to start up, I felt like crying.

I am an extrovert. Enneagram, I am a 7- the Adventurer. I love being an educator because I get my energy being with people and my passion is inspiring the next generation of movers and shakers of the world. Social distancing and isolation is a nightmare to me, but I am doing it. I know this is what is needed to help flatten the curve and to literally save lives.

As I started getting into my groove working I thought about the fact I have 30+ years of life experiences to prepare me for this; and yet, I am struggling big time! So how on earth are my 11-15 year old students handling life right now?!

Today led me to writing the next edition in “A Student Guide to Learning from Home- Managing Stress”. I want to give students tools to not only be successful academically during this time, but also stay emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy as well.

Please feel free to share any of the graphics I create and you can find my personal email on my contact page if you have questions or ideas. We are all in this together!


A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Communicating with Your Teacher Edition

A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Communicating with Your Teacher Edition

I have been getting lots of great feedback and requests for new editions and the top requested one was an example of how students can correctly email their teachers. I remembered back in my Keyboarding class we were taught how to make envelope labels and format a letter, but now we need students to know how to creat a subject line and write a short and concise email to their teachers. This is my motivation for “Communicating with Your Teacher Edition” of A Student Guide to Learning from Home.

This graphic is a two part edition. The first is an infographic with important information to help format your email and the second is an example.


A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Work Space Edition

A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Work Space Edition

This is possibly one of the trickier ones, as people are limited with what they already have in their home. So look the latest infographic from the series “A Student Guide to Learning from Home” and do the best you can. It will make all the difference in the world when you have “your” space for working/learning.


A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Email Edition

A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Email Edition

I had a slight panic attack when I looked at the thousands of unread emails in my 6th grade son’s inbox. He had asked for my help looking for an assignment from his teacher and surprisingly – insert eye roll – couldn’t find it. I realized that organizing and managing emails was not a skill he had yet, understandably so. Therefore, today infographic in my series is- Email Edition.


A Student Guide to Learning From Home: Routine Edition

A Student Guide to Learning From Home: Routine Edition

Today’s infographic is about creating a routine for your day of learning from home. Key components:

  • Make a clear separation from when you wake up and when you start working/learning
  • Take breaks- you are no good if you cannot focus anymore
  • Schedule time for physical activity/movement each day
  • Set realistic goals and chunk your assignments
  • Set a time to walk away from school/work at the end of the day and stick to it
  • Make your schedule your own! There is not a perfect routine that works for everyone, find what works for you!