So much can happen from one Saturday to the next. For example, last week when I wrote my blog, I was feeling tired, a little overwhelmed from the three week road trip that I was on and the work that was ahead of me this past week. Today, as I write this blog in the early morning hours, I feel at peace and grateful for my life. I had impact this week and others greatly impacted me. Sometimes, the connections just happen and you know that you are in a good place. That was how this entire week felt. Let’s see why…
In two different states, Texas and Alabama, I had the pleasure of working with educators and district leaders who want and are taking action to make sure their schools improve. I want to share some of the conversations and professional development that I observed and participated in that would tell me that both districts (Huntsville ISD in Texas and Tuscaloosa City Schools in Alabama) are improving and will continue to improve…
Time is being taken to build shared understanding of the purpose, the why, of the work. In Tuscaloosa City Schools for example, they are having consistent professional development that is aligned to their beliefs and the culture of high expectations that is their vision. Part of my work this week with them was in support of deepening their focus on being evidence-based in their practices and not relying just on opinion to decide what was going to happen next for students. Leadership teams gathered together their artifacts from collaborative teams and shared these with each others. Schools had an opportunity to learn from their peers and to continue to build their common understanding of the necessary work to improve their schools. It was similar to an old fashion “show and tell” that I remember as a young girl growing up. It included a celebratory feeling and a time to really learn from each other.
In Huntsville ISD we spent great time defining what cultural expectations should become the vision of the district. What is the culture of learning that can be created? What actions will get us there? The district leadership team is thoughtful and reflective and so invested in what their students need to improve. They know that there is still a great deal of hard work ahead of them and their schools and they are being continuous learners while at the same time, they are leading the work. All schools are building shared leadership teams and they are focusing more and more on ensuring a guaranteed and viable curriculum, collecting strong evidence of student learning that will help them decide what to do next for their students. And these schools are not working in isolation, being well supported by a district team of literacy and math coaches. As we continue to build shared ownership there, I am confident that their students will benefit from so much adult commitment.
In both districts they are expecting consistent practices through district “tight” expectations and they are willing to examine and adjust this as needed. They are not shying away from difficult conversations when educators or leaders are struggling with the direction of change. And they are opening their minds and hearts to accepting that the status quo will not be the best thing for students. They are learning better ways and taking action to get them there. You just have to love your job when you get to work with so many dedicated and wonderful people.
The most touching story that has happened to me for a long time happened this week. I hope Shelley, in Alabama doesn’t mind the share. She was part of a group of educators working with me on Thursday. I asked them all to self -reflect on their “why”. Why did they become an educator? What is keeping them in the profession. A few brave souls were willing to share with the entire group and one of them was Shelley.
She told us that her dad had grown up in poverty in a family with no education but, that teachers and education changed his life -getting him out of generational poverty. She knows the value of education for many reasons but the most impactful one is that her dad was a constant reminder of why... there are students like her dad in all of our classrooms. The only chance that they might have to be successful in getting out of a cycle of poverty is by being well educated. Shelley touched our hearts with her honest, emotional story. Her why should be the why in every classroom and school and district.
Thank you to the educators and leaders of Huntsville and Tuscaloosa for giving me such a great week. Thank you for reminding me of the why of our work and having a chance to renew my own commitment to improving schools. It was a great way to end this road trip and to feel that I can continue to make a difference.
Have a wonderful week and to my American friends, a lovely Thanksgiving.