Shoes on the Wrong Feet

As days go by, the 2020-2021 school year continues to challenge, exhaust and even thrive despite the pandemic. It may not look like what we thought improving schools would be this year and it may not feel as positive and rewarding as other years. Some schools have been open with mostly face to face learning since fall, others are a blend of virtual and in person learning and some are still 100% virtual. We all know that none of this is perfect or what educators want for their school year. In this week’s blog, I want to share some stories from my week of leadership coaching and bring a smile to your face…

Let’s start with first-year teachers. WOW. I mean really WOW. So this is the year you start your career? This is the first experience you have as a teacher? I want to let you in on a little secret. If you are new to our profession…. please hang in there with us. It isn’t always this messy, difficult or exhausting (well, maybe exhausting). I have to say that I love the energy and positivity that these brand new teachers bring to our schools. Despite a global pandemic, they are so eager to grow as professionals. I have had so many great conversations with them this year.

One I loved in particular was with Brittany. She is a born leader and doing an amazing job of leading her collaborative team through the PLC process at Rivercrest Elementary School. Imagine the trust and confidence shown by her principal by asking this young, new teacher to be a team lead. We want to share ownership and leadership of the work of improving schools. And, this energetic, young teacher is hard at! She understands her role and is able to focus her team on deep discussions about student learning. If she can do this with all the distractors a pandemic brings, what will she accomplish when even more attention can be focused on learning?

The other conversation that made my heart warm was with a very accomplished principal, Sarah Stobaugh, who leads her school with passion, commitment and all the heart and soul that you can pour in to your job. When I was talking to her this week, she was sharing how hard it was to stay connected to everyone in her building this year. Because of COVID restrictions, they cannot meet together often and they also have such a limited number of substitute teachers that it is very hard to release teachers for professional learning or leadership opportunities. She gets that this year is different but she misses what they cannot do-both for the adults and the students. At one point in the conversation, she said, “Some days, I am not sure if my shoes are even on the right feet.” That was her sweet, southern way of saying, there are times, things are a bit much… even for her.

My week ended with an opportunity to talk with her leadership team. We focused on what they are accomplishing, identified challenges and we ended with suggested immediate actions. It was a “so what, now what” conversation. What are you going to do to help address the challenges that you identified? Most importantly, the ones that you can control. Their list included celebrate more student successes; taking time to acknowledge the small wins. They know that it is a year that we really need to notice the positives and they are committed to doing more of that with their students. They also addressed the emotional well-being of their students and know that it is time that they, collectively, consider how increase this aspect of their culture. As with all my conversations with this group of teachers, their care and concern for their students is evident. They have an unwavering desire to meet the needs of each student in their school. They are evidence-driven and are working extremely hard to grow their students. Honestly, they could have signed on with me and complained about how so many things are different and difficult this year but they didn’t. No excuses made. It is about continuously working through their challenges and digging deep to collectively have the energy needed for this difficult work. They know that to continuously improve their school, they have to tirelessly move learning forward- whatever it takes. Even the days their shoes are on the wrong feet.

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