Sunday, September 24, 2017

Breaking in Your New Teaching Shoes

As a fresh school year approached in July, I purchased a snazzy new pair of black ballet flats- a staple in any female educator's wardrobe. 

My old pair, even though comfortable, had treads that were long since weathered smooth, and their inner support had been squashed by endless miles of pacing my classroom, running to the copier, and supervising the hallway.

They were my go-to out of habit and necessity, even though other people could probably tell they were outdated and should be replaced.

Along with the soles of my shoes, my own soul was worn down from more than decade of being a public education champion. Writing grants for basic needs, going the extra mile with extra students, and wearing my heart on my sleeve took its toll. The soft place to land and support I needed as a professional had waned, and my path became harder as I tread along. 

In order to cope with the difficulty of the job, I had learned to put my personal well-being first. That was definitely a big "step" in the right direction. 

Couldn't help myself on that one... 

I digress. 

Shortly after buying those new shoes, I was offered a last-minute position at an independent school. The promise of a better education for my 6th grade son and an abundance of opportunities for advancing my career finalized my decision to leave my old classroom, students and colleagues behind. 

During pre-planning, I wore my black flats to break them in, but they started to blister my ankles and pinch my forefoot. I broke out my desk drawer supply of band-aids to ease the pain, but I just wasn't accustomed to their fit and shape. Even their arch support, which was long gone from my old pair, pressed in the bottom of my foot in an irksome, foreign way. 

Aside from my bandaged feet, I found my formerly competent, professional self having to ask an endless stream of questions; I experienced an unrelenting rub on my ego as I had to rely on others for even the most basic information. 

I wondered if the new staff in which I had immersed myself knew if I was skilled or passionate, and my emotions were chafed raw as I received email after email from former students lamenting my decision to move to another school. I hadn't said goodbye, and who would teach them now?

My feet hurt.

My heart hurt. 

I simply wanted to put on my old shoes, and go back to my old classroom. Why had I done this to myself when I had become comfortable?

Side note: if you wear high heels in your classroom,
you have my undying respect.

The day before school started, however, I suppressed my feelings of longing for the past. Resolute, I prepped my first lesson plan for my new students and turned on the projector to test the slides. 

To my horror, the projector wasn't working.

I looked at my watch. It was 5 pm, and it seemed as though everyone had gone home.  

In an emotionally-exhausted realization that I wasn't ready for the first day of school, I sat at my desk and began to cry. 

I didn't just shed a tear or two, but I wholeheartedly unloaded all my guilt, unsurety, and tiredness. 

I ugly-cried. A lot.

Teaching had never made me weep before, but this was about more than a lesson plan: this was about a life change.

I submitted a work order to the technology department, and prayed that all would be made well the next morning. Surprisingly, my classroom phone rang almost instantly. 

An IT employee was on the other line!

Within minutes, I greeted him with a red, puffy face and I suddenly knew why I had put on my proverbial new teaching shoes. I had help. 

I had never had assistance like this before. The genuine desire to nurture my growth and ensure my needs are met has been unwavering. My department head, mentor, and peers are nothing less than amazing. 

Now, more than a month later, I have gotten comfortable in my new work surroundings and ballet flats. Moving to Woodward has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. 

Change is uncomfortable, newness pinches, and blisters arise. But, if you find yourself walking in new teaching shoes this year, I hope you can find peace and settle into comfort and support as I have.



Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Power of Altering a Single Word

"I have to go back to work tomorrow. Ugh."

If you follow other teachers on social media, I'm sure you scrolled past similar derivations of this statement as July ended and the freedom of summer break drew to a close. Perhaps you even penned a similar post yourself.

Teaching is hard, and breaks are a beautiful and much-needed reprieve. Believe me, I get it. 

But, the nuances of how we phrase our thoughts and words can be life-changing. A blog post I read last year on the topic catalyzed a paradigm shift in the way I speak to myself and others. 

It's simple: turn phrases that begin with "I have to" into "I get to."

Do you believe you make a difference in the lives of children? Is being an educator meaningful to you and the future of our world? 


You get to go to back to work tomorrow.

Imagine how that simple change in self-talk frames your experiences and how others perceive your attitude.

This doesn't just apply at school, rather, it has pervaded all areas of my life. 

I have to give Charlie a bath.
I get to watch Charlie giggle in the bathtub.

I have to stop and get gas.
I get to refuel the vehicle that takes me where I want to go.

I have to grade these papers.
I get to provide feedback for the work my students completed.

I have to go to the gym.
I get to exercise my body so I can stay healthy.

I have to go to bus duty.
I get to be the smiling face that sends students home.

I have to go to the grocery store.
I get to visit a miraculous repository of items and purchase what I need.

I have to do the laundry.
I get to toss my clothes into a machine that cleans them.

Okay, maybe I am still struggling with that last one... 

Alas, the buzzer on the dryer has just beckoned me, so I will take my own advice.

I get to go put the masses of clothes I own in the closets that store them. 

But before I end, let's be honest with each other- our have-to's usually involve privileges that most of the world will never experience. 

Can you imagine the excitement from someone in a developing country if they were to switch lives with you for a day? Cars, homes, schools, and stores... what luxuries! 

Fortunately, you're the one that gets to be in your shoes. So, I pray that your next steps find you in a new mindset. 

As I have since 2015, I would like to dedicate this school year to my sister, Brittany, who never got to be a educator. While working on her undergrad with aspirations of becoming an elementary teacher, she passed away after an asthma attack. 

Brittany (top left) with her last Pre-K class. Her passion was truly #teachergoals

Every year, I get to walk into my classroom and live her dream. 

Happy school year, teacher friends.



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Are You Stuck on the High Dive of Life?

Please allow me to introduce you to my new friend, Bev.

We met two weeks ago at Breathe For Change in San Fransisco, a mindfulness and yoga training programs designed especially for educators. In one of our first workshop sessions we discussed mindful listening, made partners, and shared with one another "what holds you back?"

The picture she had journaled resonated with me, and I was captivated by the accompanying story.

The ladder of the familiar, a "Pool of Dreams" and jumping in the unknown.

When Bev was 8 years old, she took swimming lessons at the local YMCA. Even though a few decades have passed, she still vividly remembers the day she climbed the ladder to the high dive, became paralyzed with fear, and couldn't bring herself to jump. Later she found the courage, but not in that moment. Instead, she chose to descend the stairs back to the safety rather than facing the foreboding water.

She realized that the pattern of rising to new heights with the support of family, friends and self-discipline can result in getting stuck on a high dive in life; our "pool of dreams" awaits below, but we would rather find our way back down to the comforting concrete of what we've grown accustomed to instead of finding ourselves in unknown waters.

As she spoke, my heart sank like a diver gracefully plunging toward the bottom of that pool. I immediately felt a connection to her story, and her wisdom washed over me as I held back the tears welling in my eyes waiting to wash down my face. 

You see, the day before I flew across the country to Breathe for Change, I had just taken my dream job, a truly once-in-a-lifetime position- increased diversity, smaller classes, a wellness program, graduate school assistance, more instructional time- you name it. After a decade of teaching, I was finally prioritizing self-care and finding a better work/home balance. I was ready for a change.

Practicing diver's pose with a beautiful group of teachers who are ready to change the world!

Before accepting the job, I now realize I had become stuck on a diving board in my career. I whole-heartedly fought my way up the same professional ladder many teachers face: I kept long hours and struggled for resources, and in spite of obstacles my students exceeded. 

But, once I had gotten to the highest rung, there was nowhere else to go.  Sure, the view was nice and safe, but when the possibility of a new position in a more supportive environment was made available to me, I knew I had to jump. If I didn't, I might find myself retreating with a descent of indifference, burn-out, and bitterness. 

The retreat to the comfort of the ground below is all too common with current teacher attrition rates in the United States.

That would not be my destiny. 

I held my nose, closed my eyes and leaped the platform that had held me up, but also held me stagnant. 

Even though I am still in a mid-air free fall until school starts in August, I cannot wait to make a splash and explore my own pool of dreams in a school full of diversity and means for sustaining my continued growth as an educator. 

Breathe for Change has reawakened the awareness of keeping my growth a priority. Not only did I get my Yoga Alliance 200-hour certification and attain skills for maintaining mindfulness and social justice in my classroom, I made lifelong friends. 

Breathe for Change Community Circle Yoga Poses Session. It's amazing what you can do with support!

Many conversations during the last 16 days, including the life-changing one with Bev, have helped me to more fully celebrate the diversity of others while giving me courage and a renewed hope for the future of education. 

Whatever diving board you find yourself on- whether it be the need to find a new teaching position, start graduate school, move into an administrative role, or beginning the journey of putting your needs first- I invite you to close your eyes and jump rather than withdraw back to the familiar.

Who knows what awaits in your pool of dreams?

Cheers and Namaste,

Special thanks to the Svadhyaya sisters - my small mentorship group during the Breathe for Change training and it's leader, Robin (in front).