As the school year comes to a close, I think about what I have learned this year in my travels. From amazing people come lessons, with experiences I gain wisdom and from the places I visit, I grow as a person. This twenty-five blog will be my last for a few weeks as I take a bit of a break for family and friends and a beautiful summer in eastern Canada. So, for now… here are a few lessons from the school improvement road.
Lesson #1: When schools struggle to be successful with students, no one is happy- especially not the teachers or administrators. If for one minute you think that they don’t really care, in other words, this is just a job to them, think again. I was reminded over and over again this year that educators go to work every day wanting the very best for their students. They just might not have all of the resources, expertise and know how of what to do next but, for the most part, they sure want to do better. They might be overwhelmed by the needs of the students and the work to be done but don’t take that as not wanting to be successful. If the will is there let’s work on the skill. With will and skill we can move mountains.
Lesson #2: Students can get really, really excited when they become better students. I have told you about Willy and some of my other friends in schools who want to talk to me and share their love for learning. You just have to understand how really awesome it is when the students understand that they are responsible for their learning and share in the “what to do next”, the enthusiasm is contagious! The best part of my work is seeing this through the eyes of the students. It doesn’t get any better!
Lesson #3: I still have lots to learn. In this 38th year as an educator (gasp…did I really type that??), I am learning in my schools every single day. Some times the lessons are reminders of things I know but I am not applying anymore and sometimes, it is new learning. I still have to read, study and write to stay current in research and best practices and I know that this journey, for me, is not over. The needs are real and I feel so blessed to be able to help. I just know that I can not get stagnant in my own thinking and look for solutions to make a difference with each and every school. If I can continue to work with integrity and honor the expertise in the schools, I know that I will have an impact.
Lesson #4: It is fun, challenging, tough, exhausting, exciting, hard, interesting and crazy being a road warrior! Staying in hotels every night, living out of a suitcase, flying on tons of flights, doing your shopping in airports and trying to find your way around new places in a rental car over and over again… well, it isn’t all glamorous. I am learning, every year, to make the very best of every adventure. The highlights for me are the little things, the violin that I listened to in the Minneapolis airport one day that brought me to tears because the music was so beautiful and it reminded me of my family when I was growing up, running in to my dear friend Terri Klemm in Starbucks in South Dakota, seeing the exhausted Delta staff after Atlanta airport was basically shut down doing all they could for all of us with smiles on their faces, knowing actually where to buy fun souvenirs in the Detroit airport, having one meal this year with Lissa (maybe it was two, Lissa but I think we only saw each other once, sadly!), sharing crawfish with educators in Lafayette, Louisanna, seeing the Carole King musical, “Beautiful” with my good friend Jeanne in Fresno, California and keeping my head up and eyes wide open in airports in case I would run in to another road warrior (right Angela? It happened in the Little Rock airport!!!) Mostly, it was about meeting people who I can continue to learn from (Kathy, you taught me a ton about literacy) and just being with people who energize me.
So, in the wise (but maybe a little over used) words of Dr. Seuss, from “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”: “All Alone! Whether you like it or not, Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot. And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on. But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though your enemies prowl. On you will go though the Hakken-Kraks howl. Onward un many frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. On and on you will hike. And I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are.”
I am not sure if Dr. Seuss was writing about school improvement and the journey of continuous hard work that it takes to stay focused but I can say this… the educators who I work with hike on and on and face the problems head on. This is the way to stay true to improving schools and it has been an honor to be on the road with you this year. And to my friends, the other road warriors, I think Dr. Seuss knew about us too when he wrote this! See you all in August!