I am in a few Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram groups for educators and educational leaders. It has been a great professional learning opportunity and a wonderful way to network with others. This year, however, the group is full of stories of the challenges we are each experiencing. We are all short-staffed, our learners have come back to school really dysregulated, and everyone is tired. We spend a lot of time talking about how to help, to recognize and support staff, and put some relief into the system. It weighs heavily on me that people are struggling.
I tend to want to fix things and quickly make them better for others. I have to be conscientious to listen closely and help others find their own solutions without jumping in to solve it for them. I still make way more suggestions than I should and push back often when I’m worried about the direction one of our school leaders is going. I spend a lot of time right now listening to and helping principals problem-solve and doing a lot of thinking and giving permission to slow down, let the students re-adjust to school, and give themselves grace to stick to what we know works even on days it does not feel like it. Getting pulled down by the challenges this year would be very easy.
I also set many goals for myself, many of which I meet and some of which I don’t. In August, I set a goal for myself to pay more attention to what does get done in a day instead of what does not and to pay attention to the bright spots that are there in so many places around me every day. Each day, there is the job I have to do, which includes state and federal reporting, responding to audit questions, preparing for required state and national standardized testing, helping to fill open teaching and support staff positions, finding substitutes…..that list could go on and on. This job does not always let me see the bright spots.
Then there is the job I get to do. Finding joy in the work is what keeps me going no matter what kind of day we are having. We’re always going to have really rough spots. We’re always going to get feedback that we don’t like. We’re always going to face funding issues. As a district with a high mobility rate, we’re always going to welcome new students and families who take a lot of support and resources to acclimate into our schools. That is the reality of the job on some days, but the reality of the job on most days is also watching the magic happen.
The magic is watching moments when learners feel proud of their work and are happy to share it with anyone who walks in the door. The magic is the moment when you get to see teachers and learners connecting to one another and driving standards-based instruction. The magic is the moment when teachers share feeling supported so they can better support their learners. My joy always comes from the moments when I get to see the magic happen with and for our learners and staff. Those are days when I’m doing the job I get to do.
The job I get to do includes holding babies at our outstanding charter school for school-age parents. The school leader fought hard to receive grants to open a childcare center, so it was one less thing a teenage parent has to worry about. Watching those young people get to focus on themselves by taking nutrition classes and yoga and focus on school by having the time each day to learn academic content and create plans for their futures, knowing that their children are cared for is a source of joy.
The job I get to do includes being in classrooms where our learners are problem-solving with each other, learning how to work in teams, and creating relationships with staff and each another. It is when an instructor takes the time to build community and relationships with each and every student. It is getting to watch a class of high school students conduct empathy interviews with each other to learn how to support one another and then hear what they have learned about themselves and others.
The job I get to do is join a panel of experts, including some representatives of the Milwaukee Bucks, while learners pitched their ideas for the Bucks to participate in Giving Tuesday. In their first few weeks of school, three groups of learners stood up on a huge stage and shared how they worked together with a team of forty students to brainstorm, iterate, work through conflict, and iterate until they had just the right idea. The learners had designed logos, made t-shirts, researched local charitable organizations, and worked together to design amazing pitches. They could answer our questions and took our feedback to heart. My favorite part of that day was hearing about what they learned about themselves and how they learned to support each other. Most of them did not know one another just a few weeks prior. Watching them come together around a common goal and figure it out was fantastic.
The job I get to do also includes listening to our leaders and teachers and helping find resources to match their needs. This is often my opportunity to ideate and iterate with a team around just the right solution to a problem. Sometimes this includes professional development plans that help our teachers and leaders shift their practice and learn new skills. Sometimes this means getting creative with staffing or staff support to fill openings. Getting to think about just the right professional development to support our staff doing fantastic work while pushing them to still grow is one of the jobs that brings me tons of joy.
The job I get to do also includes pushing myself. I read a lot, started writing this blog, joined professional networks, and present at conferences when the opportunity arises. These each help me tell the story of the incredible work we do in our district and help me hear from others who may have a resource or a way to support learners and staff that helps us take a next step. I say a phrase at work and in my life all the time, “We make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time.” Once we have new information, we may adjust the plan. A colleague recently challenged me to add to that phrase that the decision we made with the information we had at the time was not wrong. I disagreed. Even well-informed, well-intended decisions can be the wrong ones. I push myself to acknowledge when we get it right and when we miss an opportunity to do so. I love this quote from Nelson Mandela, “I never fail…I either succeed or I learn.”
The job I get to do is incredible and also exhausting on some days, but spending some time each day finding the joy in my work makes the job I have to do doable. It also means that with intention, I will seek to understand our learners, families, and staff so I can be ready to celebrate our successes and help problem-solve the challenging moments.
This year has provided a lot of tough moments and a lot of people honestly trying their best and still feeling defeated. The job I get to do is sometimes just to listen and make space for people to feel what they are feeling while making sure they know they are valued. I get to give a lot of permission to slow down and take things one very small step at a time as the joy may be in that one moment we slow down enough to notice.