Am I the Obstacle?

We had two more winter weather days this week (ice – yuck!) so more days off from school. However, it gave me a chance to catch up on some professional reading. I was reading some recent research on whether formative data or summative data is more beneficial to improve individual performance. Multiple research studies agree that formatives provide better actionable data than summatives (check out Viktor Nordmark at the Hubert Blog for the inspiration for this post). In other words, collecting data, analyzing it, and acting on it in very short cycles – 2 to 4 weeks at most – gives you better information to act on and improve – in real time – than waiting until the end of something and reflecting when it’s too late to improve anything. Makes sense and most teachers and coaches know this almost instinctively, relying on observations, hard data, and experience to constantly update their “read” on where their students are in relation to attaining their goals. I love it when research supports what our gut already told us was true!

As I read through the rest of the article, all the data pointed to the conclusion that the best kinds of formatives ask simple questions, get to the heart of the matter, and give us clear, actionable information. One of the oldies but goodies that jumped out at me was this 3 question formative:

  • What should I start doing?
  • What should I stop doing?
  • What should I continue doing?

Wow. Three very simple questions but the thought process they trigger is powerful.   I love that this works for just about any context – teaching, coaching, training, life goals, leading – you name it, these questions help you get there. And if you put these questions on a consistent schedule or cycle of “pulse checking” your progress, you’ve got a pretty sturdy rudder helping to steer you to your ultimate destination.

Of course, I started thinking about my own contexts and reflecting on these questions in relation to them. I found I could come up with a lot of “start doing” items, but I began to falter when I tried to come up with “stop doing” things. As I kept thinking about it, it occurred to me: what if I am the obstacle to the solutions I’m looking for? What if the things I can’t bring myself to do (or stop doing) are the very things that are getting in the way of further progress? What if I’m getting in my own way, or getting in the way of someone else’s progress? Hmm. Now that’s got a ring of truth to it. Bad word.

So I’m going to give this formative a go in my own life. My plan for the next two weeks is to “start” listening more to those around me; “stop” getting in the way of progress because I’m too committed to doing it my own way; and “continue” supporting the work of those around me any way I am able.   I’ll let you know what I discover in two weeks. Action research – I love it!

Have you done a similar cycle with yourself?  What have you discovered?  I’d love to hear what you learned!

Detours Don’t Equal Disaster

When I started this blog last summer, everything was on track and going great.  I was on a terrific leadership team, I had a work plan all figured out for the coming year, and I had a manageable schedule for fitness.  My personal life was rockin’ and I was ready to take on some new horizons in the personal growth department – enter this blog.  Everything was awesome!

Then I went back to work.  The district restructured the Instructional Coach assignment / work format effective immediately.  Oh no.

Like a Kansas twister moving across the land, everything we were used to was blown apart in a few intense moments, and when the dust settled, not much was left that looked as it had before.  Major detour.  Now what?

It looked like a disaster.  Those first days and weeks were painful and stressful as we worked to figure out what our new normal was to be.  We mourned what was, and we weren’t always sure how best to rebuild, but rebuilding and moving forward was always the plan.  We finally decided to gather together what was left, including the team, and go to work figuring out how to get back to the road we were on before the detour.

And there’s the fulcrum point between detour or disaster – our attitude towards the unexpected new reality.  When circumstances drop in on us like uninvited company, the decision to see it as a life-stopping disaster or an unplanned detour with possibilities lies within each of us.  The decision we make will not only determine how we proceed, but will  define us in the end.  It’s how we choose to respond in the midst of struggle, confusion, and uncertainty that shapes our character and our future, one decision and one event at a time.

The bottom line – the detour gave us a required opportunity to grow, and grow we have.  So how will you respond to your detour?  I encourage you to embrace the unappealing challenge in front of you.  You just might be surprised what rewards you’ll find along that path.

Coming soon – things learned as a result of detouring.

The Practical Researcher – Part 1

Data.  Research.  Math.  Science.  Probability.  Statistics, trend lines, standard deviation, correlations – oh, be still my heart!! I look on those words with the same kind of intense interest that equals the drooling lust I bestow upon Corvettes.  Yeah, I know.  I’m not normal in that regard.  However, those same words don’t need to conjure up feelings of revulsion or fear, either.  For data and research to be so much a part of our lives and our work these days, it’s kind of odd how truly paralyzed professional, degree-holding people get about this topic.  I know I can’t convert everyone to my love affair with data and research, but I can try!  So let’s demystify this a bit and see if I can at least help you not want to run screaming in the opposite direction when the subject comes up.  This month I’m focusing on all things data so we can all feel empowered to use it to drive our professional decisions.  This week’s focus starts with demystifying some vocabulary.
Data – it sounds so ominous, clinical, and mathematical.  It can be all of those things, but at its core it’s just information.  It’s facts that are simply indicators of reality at certain points in time.  Data is clinical in that it’s objective and plays no favorites; it just IS.  You can use math to collect or analyze it, but you don’t have to.  Data is anything that can be collected in some way, like observations, tests, tally marks, rubrics, conversations, measurements, or frequency.  If you capture, collect, or compile it in some way, then it’s data.  As a teacher, leader, or coach you do this dozens of times a day, officially and unofficially.  You’re probably a real pro at this already (and you just don’t know it)!
Science – applying the scientific method (remember that from your youth?) is just being methodical and thoughtful about what you want to know, how you want to gather evidence, and determining how you will look at it so that some facts emerge.  When you apply a little science to your process, you’re probably trying to eliminate your own biases, preferences, or opinions on the subject so that you’re not just going with your gut or your knee-jerk reaction.  You want some objective information.  Don’t get me wrong here – both your gut and your reflexes are powerful guides and guardians.  Good researchers pay attention to both to guide their work.  Sometimes, they end up being right on the money and both your instincts and the evidence point to the same conclusion.  But sometimes, those outcomes are different – and that’s powerful knowledge, too.  Either way, you know more than you did when you began, so that’s a good thing.
Math – Math didn’t start out being my best friend.  Yes, there’s a separate story there and I’ll share it with you in a future post.  Suffice it to say that we made up over the years, and I learned that Math, like Professor Snape in Harry Potter, just looks menacing but is really a good guy.  Math can be practical and straight-forward or very deep and complex, but all of it is in support of illuminating the truth and helping, in some cases, point to possible outcomes.  Math just wants to be friends; he can’t help it that some people find him scary.  In the end, Math is just a humble servant trying to help us organize our information to come up with a solution that makes sense.
Research – that sounds scientific, hard, and destined to make your brain do the equivalent of advanced yoga poses.  In reality, research is nothing more than wondering something and posing a question you’d like to know the answer to.  It mimics the scientific process.  You conduct some sort of activity and collect the results (data) to shed light on what’s going on.  You gather all your data and look at it all together (analyze) to see what story it’s telling you.  You might do some math to clarify or help organize the data so that it’s easier to see connections.  You add all that to your own knowledge and expertise and you draw a conclusion.  From there, you take some kind of action based on what you learned.  Simple, right?  Again, I bet you do this often and you didn’t even realize you were doing research.
And finally, there’s Probability.  When you do the research, maybe apply the scientific method, collect some data, and perhaps even do a little math, the process begins to paint a picture.  Probability is then seeing where the weight of the evidence points.  Probability is the strong likelihood of something happening – or not.  Of course, you have to be careful of garbage in, garbage out, too.  The better, more reliable your data, the more confident you can be about the likelihood of the outcome the data is suggesting.  There are ways to quantify this likelihood by turning it into Math’s language, taking it to a whole other level of certainty and verification of facts.  However, most of the work we do doesn’t really require this level of scrutiny of the details.  We all are pretty capable of putting information together and seeing where it’s leading, and that’s all that’s needed most of the time.

Put these terms together and – Voila!  You have the foundation you need to get started doing some action research on your students’ progress to help them – and you – reach those goals you both want to reach.  So maybe give it a try?  Take it out for a coffee and see what develops?  You might just find that you both have a lot to say to each other.

Building Relationships: The Rules of the Game

I love games.  I especially like the beginning of games, when the whole adventure is about to begin.  You’re not sure how it will all turn out, but you’re looking forward to the brilliant moves, shocking turns, and brain aerobics needed to solve frustrating conundrums.  However, most folks don’t approach building new relationships with quite the same feeling of glee.  Frankly, many people feel the same way about building new relationships as they do . . . say . . . cleaning out the cat box or going to the dentist – not a barrel of laughs but necessary none the less.  But whether we’re talking games or cat boxes, there are always some guidelines to follow so the outcome is hopefully positive and beneficial for all involved.
There are so many helpful and insightful books, articles, and blog posts out there about what these guidelines, habits, and rules are to help us build meaningful relationships.  They all have something to teach us.  And yet, at the end of all this advice, I find that most of it boils down to a few key pieces.  I call it the Law of Relationships.  My law states:
For a healthy, positive relationship to exist between 2 or more people, respect, trust, and caring must be present first.
Just like scientific laws act as the rules of the game of our existence, the law of relationships acts as the underlying principle that underpins all of the other actions we take when we build and maintain our relationships.  When I look at all my varied relationships across the span of my life so far, I see they generally fall into two categories – good and not so much.  Within the “not so much” category, usually respect, trust, and caring are all on the slim side.  Bottom line – If the other person has proven themselves to be untrustworthy, not respectful of me or others (and therefore not earning my respect), and does not inspire me to care about them on a personal level, all the advice and techniques in the world will not turn that relationship into a solid foundation upon which we can build a future.  There’s the rub.
So how do these rules of the game help us, even in these situations?  Particularly when the way is challenging, I think of these relationship rules as the Minecraft approach to relationship building.  In Minecraft, you develop a vision of what you want to create and then you build and create it – resource, by block, by crafting formula – within a controlled environment.  Although you have endless options in what you create, the building blocks and rules of how to use them are finite and set.  When it comes to building relationships, especially new or challenging ones, most of the advice takes the Minecraft approach.  You mine for information, collect personal details, use your tools to intentionally craft a relationship for a specific purpose.  It’s very practical and helpful when you’re not sure how to start. However, like the Law of Relationships states, at some point you need to actually respect and care for someone if you want a real relationship to develop.  Those are the rules of the game.
So let’s be honest – respect usually comes as a result of watching someone’s actions to see if what they say and do are in sync.  Do they do what they say when they think no one is watching or when their effort won’t gain them anything?  You come to respect their judgment and coupled with their consistency of action, it begins to build trust.  Once you have those two things, caring usually comes along because you are now invested in each other and you want to help sustain them.  Before you know it, you’ve got a real relationship growing.  That formula needs to work both ways, however.  Are you a person whose actions and words are in sync?  Do you do the right thing even when it isn’t going to be noticed or the effort won’t gain you a thing personally?  Do your actions inspire trust and respect? And there’s the first step in building a quality relationship – be a person with whom you would want to build a relationship.  Start with yourself, be genuine in your care and assistance of others, and you’ll find yourself on your way to establishing new relationships with those around you and with those whom you support.
But for all of this to be true, and for our relationships to be real, it really can’t be a game.  It has to be sincere.  Ironic, isn’t it?

And there’s the adventure in our game called real life.   We might have rules and guidelines, and we might intentionally work on ourselves to be our best selves, but it’s all very real; it’s not a game.  The brilliant moves, shocking turns, and brain aerobics needed to solve frustrating conundrums takes on a new level of intensity when “the game” is actually real life – your life.  So use the advice and the techniques to craft your own vision of good relationships as you strive to keep it real in a world that wants you to believe it’s all just a game.   

First Encounters

 

 We’re heading back into the regular school year rhythm and there are quite a few folks facing some first day jitters – students, staff, and even school leaders.  Those first moments – and what happens in them – have ripples beyond the immediate moment.  Let me share a few of my own examples with you.
It was 1971, and I stood at the door to my new nursery school room wondering if anyone would want to talk to me, eat lunch with me, or even play with me.  The teachers took me to a group of girls who were laughing and playing together, obviously great friends.  Introductions were made and the teacher left, but I didn’t look quite as cute or act quite as perky as the other girls and they quickly excluded me from their game.  Confused and sad, I stood there wondering what to do.  A little boy at the next table looked over at me and smiled.  He was finger painting with the old stand by of liquid starch and tempura paint on butcher paper.
“Want to finger paint with me?” he asked, looking friendly.
“Sure!” I smiled back gratefully as I pulled up a chair next to him.  He nodded toward the paper and paint.
“Grab some paper and stick your fingers in the paint,” he explained.  “I’m trying to draw my dog, but I’m not very good.  Kinda looks like a pig,” he said as he frowned critically at his picture.
I was inclined to agree with his assessment, but I grabbed some butcher paper and said instead, “It looks just like a dog to me,” and sat down next to him at the table.
We remained friends through junior high until he moved away.
Fast-forward to second grade and it was my first day of ballet class.  The teacher looked like the epitome of the ethereal ballet dancer and the other girls looked like beautiful wisps of grace.  I didn’t know anyone and by contrast I looked more athletic than willowy (I think it’s those sturdy Irish genes).  As I looked around, wondering what I’d gotten myself into, I noticed a girl coming towards me with a smile that lit up her whole face and an energy that just radiated enthusiasm and pizzazz.
“Hi! Are you new too?” she gushed in her dramatic yet charming way.
I nodded shyly, smiling hopefully.
“Great! I’m new too!  Let’s stand at the barre together.  That way, if we mess up, at least we’ll be together!” she laughed with gusto as she grabbed my hand and pulled me along with her.
She is still my oldest friend.
Fast-forward to two years ago when I joined my new school district after spending eleven years in my previous one.  It was my first professional development with my new colleagues, and I paused as I walked into that big room alone.  Although I’m quite a ways from my childhood, those old familiar jitters floated to the surface like the ghosts of first encounters past.  Will anyone want to talk to me?  Will I make new friends?  Will I find my place in this new community?  I put on my cheerful, brave face and was prepared to go it alone, at first, when I saw a kind, smiling face wave me over to her table.
“Hi!  Come sit here with us.  I’m Becky.  Are you new?” she asked kindly.
“Yes – thank you.  I’m one of the new elementary instructional coaches.  I’m new to the district – this is my first day!” I shared in what I hoped was a confident and cheerful voice (because my insides felt a lot like they were in a blender).
“Great!  I’m an elementary coach too!  Don’t worry about a thing – we’ll get you all squared away.  Welcome to our district!”
And just like that, I felt like a weight had been lifted off and the day was just a little less scary.  With a few kind words, I felt like I was a welcomed member of a team and maybe I’d found a new home.  Thanks, Becky!
So what do all these stories have in common?  They’re all about how a smile, a kind word, a coming alongside, can make scary or anxious moments feel a little less so.  And the more experiences we have where we are on the receiving end of those actions, the more compelled we feel to pay it forward and provide those moments for someone else.  Never underestimate the power of those small acts of kindness or those few words of camaraderie – they are powerful beyond measure and can echo over decades.  Those moments – giving and receiving – change who we are, how we see the world, and how we see ourselves.  They help us define ourselves and our place in the world.

As we start this new season, I encourage you to keep an eye out for those opportunities to be that ray of sunlight, that voice of kindness, that breath of relief and hope to those you serve and with whom you work.  Though the seed is small, the tendrils that extend out from it can and will reach far beyond that single moment.  So when you see one of those moments this season, smile . . . be friendly . . . and see what blooms – for both of you.

My First Lessons in Leadership came from STAR TREK

My earliest and fondest memories include watching #STAR TREK with my mom.  I remember being riveted by how the crew would manage to solve an episode’s challenges, and as I grew, fascinated by the subtle interpersonal relationships that formed the foundation for just about every decision they made. Through the stories of the USS Enterprise, the crew presented solid lessons in teamwork and leadership.  That melding of personal connection, teamwork, and leadership is what makes STAR TREK’s crew such a unique study in how to be leaders. Let me share what the crew has taught me over the years.


  • When the way forward is uncertain, the Captain goes first.
The Captain never asks others to do the hard, dangerous, or potentially career-ending work for him. Instead, he goes first and takes on the uncertainty to secure a way forward for his team and the mission.


  • When safety is compromised, the Captain goes last.
The Captain makes sure everyone else is safe or getting out of harm’s way before he works to save himself.  The crew’s safety is his top priority.


  • Duty first.
Every member of the crew – from the Captain on down – always does their best to do their duty under all circumstances, whether they personally feel it’s a great idea or not.  Their commitment to follow-through on the principles, beliefs, and missions of the Federation allow the Captain to trust in their mutual loyalty and determination to see it through when it comes time to give an order and set a course of action for them all.


  • Never give up – fight to the end.
Although there are times when the crew has to take a passive mien in order to gain a tactical advantage, the intention is always to go down fighting in order to triumph in the end.  When one of the members of the leadership team knows something is not right, they battle on to set it right, no matter what the obstacle or personal cost.  Never give up, never surrender to make it easier on yourself.


  • Your team is the most important thing.
When the crew has to do battle, they make sure they fight for their team, with their team, as a team.  The team knows they are stronger together and the odds of success are much higher when they each use their unique abilities to work together to win the day for others, as well as themselves.


  • Keep your composure – always.
When all hell is breaking loose around them and the situation is grim at best, the crew keeps their composure and remains steady in the face of chaos.  They keep thinking and moving their way through it – to the last person, the last resource, the last second if need be – until they bring the situation under control.  There is no room for panic, indecision, or weakness; they just stay calm and lead on.


  • Keep it personal.
Although the work they do might be “just business”, the reason they do it is very personal.  If they have any success at all, it is because of the personal connections they have with each other that sustain and back them along the way.  When the crisis is over, the crew always reconnects on a personal level.  It’s in those moments of recovery that they not only make sense of what happened, but they strengthen their bonds and commitments to each other.  Celebrating success and acknowledging everyone’s contributions to that success is what recements everyone’s commitment to make it happen again when faced with the next challenge.  And there will always be another challenge.


Although I have learned many things about leadership over the years and even earned a doctorate in educational leadership, there’s always more to learn and experience.  And yet – if STAR TREK’s crew had been my only reference point for how to be a leader, it wouldn’t have been the worst teacher on the subject.


As we head out to our continuing missions, to seek out new people and new frontiers, we will boldly go where no one has gone before . . . because the crew of the Enterprise showed us the way.
Gallery

Gear Up for a New Season

As the summer “pause” button approaches “play” again, my thoughts begin to turn towards getting organized for another season’s goals, plans, challenges, and triumphs.  So where to start?  How do you know how to move forward?  A great place to start is always with a reflection on the results of last season’s work, and a review of the data and evidence that points to what is working – and what’s not.  I’ve got 5 steps for getting myself ready for the starting line. I thought I’d share them with you, and I hope it gives you some ideas that help you get to your starting line this season, too.


Step 1:  Where did I leave off?
I start by looking at the goals and targets I set for myself last season.
Did I meet them?
If not, were they realistic to begin with? Too big or off target?
What worked that I need to keep doing this season?
What didn’t work that I need to rethink?


As I reflect back on last season, I see I met all my goals but two.  One I need to continue focusing on is finding ways to better utilize and integrate technology into my work and the work of my teachers.  I see I set the goal, but I didn’t quantify it nor did I put it in my schedule / work plan so I’d make time to actually do it consistently.  There’s a piece to add to this season’s goals and targets.  The other goal that didn’t quite get met was improving communication with my teachers when I wasn’t physically with them.  Although I tried several things, nothing got me where I wanted to be.  The things I tried were too static and not interactive enough.  There’s another piece to add.  Overall, I ended the season on an upward trend.  Now the challenge will be to sustain and improve on it this season.  There’s another one to add.

 

Step 2: Where do I want to go?

This is where I dream and aspire – and scare myself a little with those visions.  On a personal level, I try to set one goal for myself that takes me out of my comfort zone and will undoubtedly be personally challenging to achieve.  A few years ago, it was earning my doctorate.  This year it’s getting this blog going.  As I looked at last season’s goals, this goal was still sitting there, patiently waiting for me to put my courage to the sticking place and jump in.  So I decided to do just that.  Already I’m seeing how this new adventure is taking me to new places – personally AND professionally – and giving me fresh ideas to bring to my coaching. I’m still not in my comfort zone, but I’m loving learning new things, so that balances it out a little.


Other professional goals include wanting to digitize my coaching binder / log to make my work more efficient and hopefully more effective as well.  I also want to sustain and improve my default schedule, for those times when I suddenly find myself with an unexpected hour-long hole in my day.


So what might you take on this year?  Is there something you’ve wanted to try for a while but felt hesitant about starting?  Maybe this is the year to plunge in!

 

Step 3:  Let’s write a plan!

I usually post my goals and targets somewhere in my work space so I see them everyday and then long-term plan things like Professional Development (PD), Professional Learning Community (PLC) topics to explore, synchronizing dates and hard deadlines in my calendar, and setting goals and targets with my teachers.  But somehow there were still professional activities important to me that still either weren’t getting addressed consistently or as effectively as I’d like.


As a running coach, I always start the new season with a plan.  I take into account the goals we’re trying to achieve by the end of the season, strengths the runners have I want to sustain and weaknesses we need to address through training and conditioning.  Balancing all that over a specific period of time is what makes up the plan.  I make similar plans for my own training and use it as a benchmark to assess how my training is progressing – or not – as I implement it.  It’s a great tool.   And then LIGHTBULB!  Why not adapt what I do for running to my work as an instructional coach?  (Ok – apparently CPT Obvious hadn’t visited me before now.)


As I start developing this new kind of plan, I need to consider making time for planning quality, relevant PD each week, engaging in professional reading to stay current, learning new technology and trying it out, scheduling communicating with teachers when I’m not with them, and setting time aside to review the week’s work in order to set targets for the following week and build that into my schedule and coaching plans.  Merging that with my usual duties, weekly tasks, and the long term objectives set by my district is where my thinking is currently in progress.


What system do you use to plan out your work?  How might you develop your own plan to intentionally capture all those important things that sometimes fall through the cracks?

 

Step 4:  Get organized.
I admit – I’m a school supply nerd.  I LOVE back to school time!  Brand new Crayola markers, colored pencils and crayons, fresh notebooks, sticky notes, tabs, folders, writing pens – oh, I’m in heaven.  But all that can become a finger-wagging school teacher to you as you see it still sitting there on your desk collecting dust a month later.  Whatever organizational system you choose to use, my advice is to keep it simple – easy to setup and easy to maintain.


Generally I color-code my schedule and files for quick identification and filing, whether it’s digitally or old school traditional.  Things I need all the time I keep nearby and easily accessible.  Work in progress goes into a prioritized pipeline on the long counter next to my desk using a 4 Quadrant priority system inspired by Dr. Stephen Covey (author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).  From there, those tasks and projects translate onto the whiteboard on the wall so I can see at a glance what’s critical, what’s looming, and how to manage my time and tasks.  This then drifts into my weekly and daily schedule so I stay in control of all the shiny objects I juggle.

Do you have an organizational system?  If so, is it still working for you?

Step 5:  Run it!

Put the plan and tools in place, gear up, and start implementing your plan.


Hope this gets your head in the zone!
 Melissa

Teach, Lead, Coach – Oh my!

So it’s summer vacation time in Teacher-Leader-Coach world, and that means I throw myself into a frenzy of projects I’ve been waiting all school year to do, like get the train running in my train garden, get the t-shirt quilts finished (all 12!!) and hopefully out of my craft room, and get myself back in shape.  Of course, I try to do all those things on the same day for about three days in a row until I’m sunburned, half blind, and sore.  Then I need to rest for a day – and that leads to reflection.  If you’re like me, we teachers never really “turn it off” – we’re always thinking.

I have a hard time doing nothing (just ask my fabulous leadership team), and getting this blog going (and sticking to it) is another goal on my professional list.  So as long as I’m “resting” today, I thought it would be a good time to get going.  My thoughts today have turned to the title of this blog – what brought me here?  Why does it matter to me?  Why might it matter to you?

I’ve always loved learning.  I’ve found over the years that it’s the first ingredient when making a great teacher, leader, or coach – or even just making an interesting person.  I’ve always been fascinated by the process of learning – going from not knowing a thing (and let’s face it – looking like an idiot) to understanding and maybe being able to do it pretty well yourself.  From the perspective of others, it looks like some mystical, alchemical magic straight out of Harry Potter.  From the perspective of the one learning it (me), it just looks like a lot of sweat, swearing, and tears … and maybe some injuries … and a LOT of coffee … and maybe some wine.  But in the end, even I have to admit that the process seems a bit magical when you look back at where you started vs. where you are now.  How did I get here, I wonder.  When did that happen?  Reference that sweat and swearing part.  

So how did I become a teacher? I was playing “school” with Barbie when I was 4, played “school” with the neighborhood kids when I was 10, and was taking myself to “school” when I was 15.  Oddly, I wondered what I was going to be when I grew up.  My grandmother wanted me to be a lawyer, my mom wanted me to get a job that pays, and my dad wanted me to do something that made me happy.  Marriage to an Army officer and two sons detoured me through cow pastures in VT, ruins in Germany, battlefields in VA, snow in WI, and traffic and trees in WA, where through it all I hiked the unmarked trail called “parenting” for seven years.  Eventually, the trail led us to Kansas, where the kids picked up their own educational trails, and I finally embarked on what I’d done for fun when I was 4 – teach.  

Teaching led me to coaching – establishing a Running Club for 5th and 6th graders (and eventually the addition of a second club for 7th and 8th graders) and then, after a decade in the classroom, becoming an instructional coach to teachers.  Like teaching, I love to see folks setting goals, working through the struggles, and achieving a level of success they didn’t really know they could reach.  Unlike teaching, however, I can’t just tell people how to do things; it’s a collaborative process.  Like the learning process itself, it’s an intangible but living thing between coach and client.  Trust, honesty, support, and a lot of emotion goes into creating this new and improved person … and the improvement happens on both sides of the equation.  The best teachers and coaches are the ones who are open to learning from their students and the process of teaching and coaching.  I have yet to walk away from any coaching experience where I didn’t learn something new about myself, coaching in general, AND my client.  That same joy of accomplishment I get from teaching I also get from coaching.  That’s really my payoff – that look on their face when they succeed, and knowing I had some small part in helping them get there.  It’s a powerful rush.

And coaching has led me to leadership.  I got a doctorate in Educational Leadership, and at the end of that learning process (reference that swearing, tears, wine thing again), I discovered that Leadership was really just trying to do the best thing for the organization or group and being willing to take it upon yourself – the good and the bad – to make it happen and get everyone there safely. It means you’re calling the plays and the training – like a coach – and making sure everyone is able to proficiently do what’s being asked of them – like a teacher – in order to win the proverbial game.  Leaders have to be willing to step out in front, model the learning, determination, dedication, or any other -tion out there, that keeps the mission moving forward. You’re still a teacher and a coach – your stage is just bigger, and usually you’re out there by yourself.  (That swearing and wine thing might apply here, too!)

So in the blogs to come, I’m going to take on different topics that spark my interest and suggest how they teach us something about our own work, whether that be in teacher, coach, or leader mode – or if you’re like me, all three at once.  If you find some inspiration, motivation, or just diversion from the daily grind, then mission accomplished for me.  I’m looking forward to the journey!

Until next time …. happy summer project doing!