Hard, Scary Growth

Change is hard.  Change is scary.  Change normally brings growth.  That’s what I’ve learned in my first semester as a coach for BetterLesson.  I think this lesson certainly applies to me, but it is also what so many teachers have expressed this semester as many of them work to make instructional shifts, offer more student choice, and incorporate new technology.  Growing is what I’ve been about all year.  I even have the word on my office wall to remind me that I have a lot to learn.  I have a tendency to be too critical of myself.

Today is my last day of this semester, and I’m reflecting on what I did well and what I still need to work on for next semester.  There have been over 200 face-to-face meetings with teachers so far.  Whoa!!  I’m sure that many of the members of our great team have done many more than my number.  I remember asking Afrika, my cool colleague who was the first to interview me, what a typical day is like.  I’ve learned that, like teaching, there really isn’t a “typical” day.  I meet with teachers.  We brainstorm.  We plan.  We reflect.  But every day is different.  Every teacher is different.  They are in every time zone from Alaska to Canada.  They are in blended schools, Jewish schools, charter schools, public schools. They all have unique goals, challenges, and talents.  They all have a different way in which they want to grow.  Last week, a teacher said to me, “I’ll be really honest.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this BetterLesson PD.  I didn’t know how a teacher in another state could figure out how to support me.  I was so wrong.  It’s one of the best things about this year. Having your support is awesome, and my year would be so different if I didn’t have you to talk to.”  That made me feel like I’m building the types of relationships that make teachers feel valued and empowered.  Another told me, “Next semester, I want to do a better job implementing the things we talk about.  I want you to push me to be more accountable.” That’s a great goal for me moving forward.

While I love to plan things, and I’m such a to-do list girl, I never know exactly what I’ll need to have my best growth.  I already know so many things I’ll change for next year.  And yes, I have a Google doc titled “Ideas for 2018-2019.”  I’m adding to it when I think of things.  Ultimately, I’m so grateful that I decided not to fret much over being the new girl.  I have Natalee to be new with me.  I have Romain to coach me.  I have the whole team who are so responsive to any questions I have or anything I need.  I am amazed at the unique talents of this team and how well they all come together into a really comforting bowl of skill and support.

I think the biggest lesson of all from this semester is that the right people and the right circumstances will always collide to help us with our growth if we are open to change.  Some of those people have been my students who remain in touch with me, and some of those people have been my teacher friends who check in to ask how my year is going.  “Girl, you’re a teacher-teacher.  A never gonna leave teacher.  How are you doing in your new job?”  I miss them so much.  While I don’t see them every day, they too, are a part of my growth.

I made it through a whole semester, and I don’t think I harmed any teachers in the process.  😀

200 plus meetings down.  200 plus more meetings to GROW.

Thanks, friends!



The Reset Button: Attitudes. Lessons. Terry.


September is my favorite month of the school year.  Not August; that comes with the blur of unnecessary tasks that don’t necessarily feel useful.  Not May or June although teachers are about to head into vacation after doing what feels like several months of tasks in only a few weeks’ time.

September is the best.  It’s the newness of it.  The clean and organized room of it.  The established routines of it.  The new dry erase markers of it.  The creating bonds with students of it. It’s the resetting of the year that makes it the best.

Two summers ago, I delivered the back-to-school convocation speech to Mineral Wells school district.  I had my points all planned out, slides and pictures were ready, and I was prepared to hopefully leave them with something motivational for their year.  Typically, I go off script when I speak, and it was an off-script remark that resonated with teachers probably more than anything else I’d planned.  I went away from my original remarks and said that the new school year gives us an opportunity to hit the reset button.  That ended up being what teachers tweeted about and talked to me most about afterward.  The superintendent said that they would adopt that as their mantra. They were energized.  They were fired up.  They were ready to hit the reset button.

I see resetting as three-fold. These three resets almost certainly lead to great school years.

  1. One of the most important resets is our attitudes as educators. Perhaps there are things about last year that make you cringe. Maybe you had to teach in the midst of sickness or other family stresses.  Maybe that affected your enthusiasm for coming to school.  After all, you’re human, and teaching makes us have to be “on” for hours upon hours. Maybe some days you were short with your students and didn’t give them the best you.

But you can reset.  That was last year.  I always had a saying in my class: “Drop it at the door.”  Whatever, it is, drop it at the door and try not to let it creep into your attitude and daily work with students.

Reset.  Smile and reset.

  1. It can be comfortable and practical to get into routines with familiar lessons because teachers really aren’t given the time to keep reinventing the wheel. Last year’s lessons can either be a carbon copy for this year’s lessons, or they can be a great map. Keep the things that clearly work for your students, but look for ways you can put a twist on content and delivery.

Reset.  Teach something in a new way and reset.

  1. One of the most important resets involves our students. One year when I was still new to the profession and not yet sure of myself, a colleague came to me and said, “I heard you’ll have Terry in your class.  (made up name) His whole family is crazy!  We’ve taught the whole family at this school.  Last year, he gave teachers hell.  Don’t smile at him, and let him know up front that you won’t be taking his crap.”  School started and all seemed well.  I didn’t even have Terry.  I felt I’d dodged what could have been a major catastrophe for a new teacher. Whew!  Weeks later, that same colleague came by my class and asked, “Ugh. When did they move Terry to your class?” When I told her I didn’t have him, she pointed to Joseph in the front row who was my helper and always smiled a little when he came into class.  Little did I know, he was Joseph Terry Johnson.  I didn’t know he went by his middle name.  He’d never corrected me when I called him Joseph.  He was quiet and helpful and had even started to participate a bit.  Had I known of his background, I probably would have been waiting for him to make a mistake.  I would’ve given him side-eyes that let him know that I was anticipating misbehavior.  He likely would have lived up to that anticipation.

Although students can sometimes enter the classroom carrying a troubled past that everyone knows about, they deserve the opportunity to reset as well.  Perhaps you are the teacher he or she needs to allow them a clean slate.  Clean slates are liberating.  Students should be allowed to leave the last year in the last year.  (I can write a book about how schools love to deal with a student’s issue of today based on every issue they’ve ever had.)

Reset.  Allow students to wipe last year’s slate clean and reset.

And although this post focused on September resets, the button is functional all year long.  All we have to do is rely on honest self-reflection to know how often to press it.

reset calm

Making the Shift

This has been the summer of in-betweens.  It’s been a summer of finding myself in that strange gap of time that exists between leaving a teaching career that I found rewarding and entering another career in education that will require training, practice, and refinement.  It’s been the summer between pedagogy and andragogy.  It has been a summer between verbs—was and am.  I was a teacher?  I am a teacher?  On Monday, July 31st, I’ll be stepping into a new role as an instructional coach with BetterLesson after 19 years with some of the best students a teacher could hope for. I will miss them every day.

Those who know me know that closing the door to my classroom, room 28, represented a seismic shift.  I felt so much anxiety stepping away from what I’m good at and walking into a role that will bring about a learning curve for me.  I must learn the ways of the organization and even figure out how exactly to use the Macbook that BetterLesson sent me yesterday.  (I’m sure it’s easy, but as my friend just said, “It’s a whole new language.”  I’ve been a PC girl forever.)  I’ve done a good bit of coaching in the background, but now it will be my foreground.  That is a major shift, but I welcome the learning that will come with it.  Reflecting on my summer shift made me think of other educators around the country who are also experiencing summers of in-betweens.  Perhaps it is a shift from the classroom into administration.  Perhaps it’s a new grade level or content area.  Maybe it is a shift to a whole new state or new school.  Maybe you are making some shifts in practice within your same classroom.  And it could be the biggest shift of all which is the shift between being a full-time education student to a full time teacher.  Every educator remembers the stress of that shift.  Every shift requires support, and first year teachers deserve so much.  Shifts are so important that the National Network of State Teachers of the Year NNSTOY devotes a great portion of a professional learning module to the shift.  It is designed for those who are moving from teacher to teacher leader and need to explore the changes that shift will bring.

Since shifts mean that our feet aren’t quite firmly planted in one place yet and that we have learning to do before we can stand with confidence on new ground, support for the shift is vital.  New information shouldn’t be delivered at breakneck speed.  This is what happens to new teachers.  They’re brought into a room and dunked into a tank filled with acronyms, strategies, technology, and how-we-do-things.  Not much of it sticks; it rolls back into the tank, and new teachers are often left feeling as though they are in some way inadequate.  My managing coach with BetterLesson took a different approach.  He said, “I want to support you in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you.  We want you to continue this work with us for a long time.”  That is what every shifter needs, and I am so grateful that I have been able to reach out as needed with questions and that I haven’t been dunked in the tank.  I hope that each of you who is shifting finds that person who can make it less painful.  If you know someone who is shifting and needs support, tell them things such as, “You don’t need to know that just yet.  Let’s focus on this first, and then that will make sense later.”  Help them avoid the dunk tank.  They will be better for it, and you’ll become a valued colleague.  Thank you, BetterLesson team, for allowing me to email, text, and videochat with you although I haven’t officially started.

As I am finishing my last weekend of in-betweens, this is what I realize to be true about shifting.  Knowledge and skills from the first role will inform and strengthen you in the second role.  There is beauty in the carryover.  This blog will be my place to share ideas about education, practical tips for teachers, and to connect with educators around the country.  It is my clipboard.  I hope that those of you who stop by find something useful as well as the validation that you have one of the most important careers in the world.

Here is the carryover from my shift.  My heart is always in the classroom.  My fist is always raised in support of the teacher. I am a coach.  I am a teacher.  I am the teacher behind the teacher.

Welcome to The Coach’s Clipboard.