How great when our lives lead us to the most interesting and unique experiences if we least expect them? As I work in schools with principals and teachers, I often have to remind myself to really notice the experiences that happen around me. Sometimes this means being a better listener, being really present and absolutely and intentionally noticing the small things. I arrived home on Thursday from a two-week road trip. I worked in several schools, in four states and spent the middle weekend with my daughter. I can honestly say I arrived home tired.  However, the experiences of these past two weeks kept me energized. I saw amazing examples of students wanting to learn, teachers understanding the work needed to see student learning grow and leaders committed to  doing “whatever it takes”.  And, I worked with two amazing school improvement consultants who provided me with rich experiences that I will never forget. Here are the stories…

As a school improvement coach, it is critically important that I can quickly assess the needs of the school.  Whether it is visiting for the first time or having the privilege of working with a school on a regular basis, I always have to be aware of the work already being done by the staff and the next steps needed for continuous improvement.  As I have written about often in this blog, many times this has to start with the culture of the school. Organization, collective commitments, building common understanding of the “why” of the work,  relationships, communication, etc. are examples of places that we start with in many schools to create a positive climate for learning. fullsizeoutput_ecdSchool improvement is about figuring out how to ride the bike, where you want to go and when to stop to enjoy and celebrate the experiences and, then, re-examine your route.

The bottom line is that I am there to improve student learning.  Seeing students reach their maximum potential, being able to successfully master grade level expectations and be ready for the next chapter of their lives is the “why” of school improvement.  And, in most of the schools that I work in, that means ensuring that the basics of reading, writing and mathematics are being addressed.  Schools are data rich but they can be “information poor.” In other words, they have lots of assessment data and tons of student work to look at but clarifying what it all means can be an overwhelming task for educators.  One of my roles is to help principals and teachers really understand their current reality.  What are the reasons reading scores are so low? How can they decided the individual needs of each and every student? What instructional practices can we implement to meet those needs right away? What support is needed for both educators and students to make this happen? And on this past road trip, I had the great fortune of working with two school improvement coaches who really know how to answer these questions. Meet Tammy Miller and Terri Thomas Klemm…

Tammy is a coach who knows how to dig in to the data immediately and has a proven track record of getting results. She has been known to show schools many ways to improve reading through effective programs and instruction. Teachers and principals appreciate her.  I already knew this but what I was reminded of by Tammy was that students notice our work too.  After a very long day of work, Tammy told me about a recent experience of hers when she returned to a school and a student ran up to her to hug her and thank her for “helping her teacher help her learn to read”. Tammy wasn’t bragging.  She was just saying, this is “why we do what we do”. We talked about how this kind of unexpected, unplanned experience is what can keep us fueled to stay busy and on the road. And I was so thankful that she told me about this school because it made me feel so grateful to be part of this work.

Terri is the same type of lady.  Everyone who has had the joy of working with Terri would tell you that she is hands-on and just doesn’t give up on teachers and students.  We finished a contract at a school together this past week and it was bittersweet. We don’t know when our paths will cross again (professionally) and I learned so much about strong literacy instruction from Terri. But, we know the school is able to move on without us.  As we were leaving, we gathered with the teachers to say good-bye and as Terri was thanking them, a young teacher turned to me and said, “That woman changed my life as a teacher. I am a better teacher because of Terri.” I am used to seeing students and staff warmly greet Terri when we are in schools and I wasn’t surprised by what the teacher said. I was just so glad that I experience this with her.  Again, it is what keeps me focused. As we like to say, one student, one teacher, one principal at a time….

As school begins for the 2018-2019 school year, it is important that everyone in schools can find the time to pause, appreciate the small wins and recognize the daily positive experiences that surround them  Setting short-term goals will help educators see their impact. If we wait for the end of the year and “hope” that we are successful, it sure is going to feel like a very long year. There are Tammys and Terris in every school-adults making a difference in the lives of students by recognizing their needs.

I cannot end a blog titled, “Experiences” without mentioning my weekend in the middle of this work.  My daughter and I experienced being overstimulated; musically, visually and in conversation. We saw two amazing concerts (Keith Urban and Taylor Swift). We witnessed, first-hand, the joy that people share when they love music and feel free to dance and sing and show love.  We talked to strangers who shared great stories. We both dug deep for the energy to keep up with each other and knew that this weekend was very special. I know that this has little to do with school improvement but it speaks to the way that we have to work with each other. Enjoying the moments, working hard and supporting one another when we need to do just that.  Here is to a great week with amazing experiences. See you next Saturday.

2 thoughts on “Experiences

  1. This is an amazing blog! I love how you capture the real work of school improvement with real experiences and people that exemplify the why we do this. Thank you, Karen. I am so fortunate to work with you.


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