New Job, New Uniform

When I got my first job when I was about 14 or 15, I wore a uniform. I worked as a car-hop at the local drive-in. Not a movie drive-in, but a restaurant where customers ordered food from their car and we brought it out on trays which hung on their car windows (thankfully for me, not on rollerskates). Each day when I went to work, I wore a polo shirt with the restaurant logo on it and either jeans or shorts, depending on the day’s weather. Easy enough.

I haven’t worn a uniform for a job since then. I’ve worn many things over the years and my teaching wardrobe varied a great deal over the years. When I took my current job, I thought a lot about what I wanted to wear to work. I wanted to look professional but still be able to be mobile around the building. My students wear uniforms, so I felt like I needed to make sure my look wasn’t too casual.

More than 20 years after my time at the drive-in, I find myself wearing a uniform again. No, I’m not moonlighting in fast food. I’ve simply narrowed down my wardrobe to the point that I wear almost the exact same thing every day. To be honest, it sort of happened by accident. I’ve read before about how important people like Steve Jobs and Barack Obama wore the same clothes every day, with very little variation.  Some of them say it has to do with the fact that they make so many important decisions each day that something simple like their wardrobe shouldn’t be one of them.

I don’t pretend to think I’m as important as either of those two, but I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to spend time and brain power selecting my clothing for the day. If you’d have asked me even last year, I’d have said that a “uniform” wasn’t for me. I liked clothes and variety in my wardrobe far too much.

So what do I wear? Nothing too fancy or complicated. My uniform consists of black trousers, a button down Oxford shirt, a school jacket, and my Dansko clogs to save my feet. I do have multiples of everything so I don’t have to do laundry every day, and I have shirts in both blue and white. I purposely bought 3 different school jackets this fall because I’m proud of where I work and I like being able to show school spirit every day.

If you’re considering trying a work uniform, you might wonder if people will notice that you are wearing the same thing every day. What I can say so far is that if anyone at my school notices, they don’t say anything. In fairness, I think having two different colors of shirts and three different jackets means I don’t have to wear exactly the same thing each day.

Will I wear the same uniform all year? Maybe. As the weather changes, I may need to adjust the pieces I’m wearing since a shirt and a jacket might be too warm. But seeing that winter in Minnesota lasts forever, I should be set for awhile.

Have you adopted a work “uniform”? Would you consider it or is it too restricting for you?

I’ve been a bit MIA…

For those of you who follow this blog (thank you, by the way), you may have noticed that I’ve been a bit absent. I wrote one blog post during the entire 2017-2018 school year; in fact, I’ve only written six posts in the entire two years I’ve worked at my current school. Not only have I not been blogging, but I’ve kind of stepped away from professional social media in general.

In the summer of 2016, I stepped into a new type of role. I was no longer a teacher in a classroom or a TOSA (teacher on special assignment). I was considered an administrator. No matter how much time I’d spent in the classroom before that, I was seen differently now. It wasn’t that I didn’t have things to write about, but I felt as though I couldn’t.

Writing for me is a form of therapy.  I enjoy it and in my most frustrating moments, it’s where I often go to “let it all out.” Sometimes, the posts get deleted after they’re written because they’ve served their purpose by just being written. Other times, if they’re not too “rant-y,” they make it here.

The 17-18 school year was one of my most difficult yet, both personally and professionally. On top of that, I was in grad school (yes, again) going for my administrator license. I spent the summer of 2017 working 50-60 hours every week and then rolled right into the school year and didn’t really slow down.

One of the downsides of working in a small school is that a lot of things fall onto your plate that wouldn’t in a larger school because there’s no infrastructure to take care of it. I’ve often joked that my job description should just read “all the things,” but it’s not far from the truth. In any given week, I might be tackling curriculum adoption, state reporting, student assessment, managing iPads, creating student tech accounts, supervising MN Reading Corps tutors, facilitating committees and PLC teams, overseeing QComp, creating promotional materials for the school, social media posts, website updates, and planning professional development for my staff.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the variety and I’m never bored. But it can lead to some pretty busy weeks. It’s also difficult because many people I work with have no idea about all the things my hands are on behind the scenes. Most teachers, myself formerly included, have no idea what it takes to keep a school running. I don’t say that to shout my own praises by any means, but it sometimes seems like everyone thinks they are the “busiest” and everyone else must just be sitting around.

So, I’ve been MIA because I’ve just been darn busy! But it’s not all doom and gloom. I passed my final interview for grad school last week and am now ready to send in my paperwork to get my K-12 Principal license. I’ve been on two trips already this summer (read a bit about them here: NYC and Florida-coming soon!) and I’ve really been sticking with working my actual scheduled hours. I’ve read three books already this summer (P.S. My Husband’s Wife and The Hate U Give were both fantastic!). I’ve been working out more. I’ve read superhero books to my son and watched him play soccer and t-ball (like herding cats, I tell you). I’ve sat by the pool and just relaxed.

I may have had a slight panic attack on August 1st because that’s when it all gets real and summer feels as though it’s ending real quick. I go back full time on Monday and my to-do list is still miles long. So while lots of other teachers are enjoying the last few weeks of their summer (if they haven’t started already), I’m going back to work so everything can run smoothly when teachers return.

One final note: up until now, this blog has been predominantly focused on educational topics. I plan for that to continue, but I also plan to sprinkle in thoughts about other things that are important to me, such as travel and budgeting. If that causes you to click unfollow, I understand. I will try to tag my posts appropriately so you can decide if you want to read or not. I hope you decide to stay!

Support: What’s Your Definition?

My head has been spinning lately. I’m approaching the end of my admin licensure program and I’m in year two of a new position at my school. Year one was easy: make some simple changes and get big results. Year two is a different story. A very different story.

I’ll spare you all the details that have made this year a challenging one, but one thing that has come up over and over in the past few months is the idea that administrators need to support teachers. I don’t disagree. Everyone wants to be supported in their work, particularly teachers because teaching is hard.

But I’m starting to wonder if perhaps teachers and administrators are working off of different definitions of the word support. The dictionary says that support means “to bear or hold up, to sustain or withstand without givingway, to undergo or endure, to sustain, to maintain.” For what it’s worth, it also lists some synonyms for support: to suffer, bear, stand, or stomach. I’ve worked with some colleagues over the years where I’m sure my principal felt like those words were more applicable in dealing with them. 🙂

I posted a question about this on my Facebook profile a couple of months ago. The responses were not identical, but there were definitely some trends. Most of the answers centered around the things that principals can do to make their teachers feel warm and fuzzy: writing them notes, asking about their weekend, being visible in classrooms, etc. Some also talked about their administrator defending them to parents or other stakeholders.

One concern I hear a lot from teachers is that they don’t get much feedback in their day to day. For me, once I achieved tenure in the district, I got observed (and thus got formal feedback) once every three years. If you ballpark that each school year runs about 180 days, that means my principal saw me teach and gave me feedback on approximately 0.2 percent of the time. Not even one percent! In fairness, this was the system we were expected to work in and my principal was actually in my classroom more than once every three years. Many of my non-teacher friends get evaluated annually; people who stock shelves in a retail store get feedback once a year but people educating our kids don’t? (No offense to retail folks! My point is that teachers need more feedback.)

So, if a teacher definition of support means connecting with them and telling them they did a good job, is that it? And does that work for everyone? And if a principal does those things, does that still allow them to have hard conversations when necessary and give critical feedback as well? Are there other necessary elements of the teacher-principal relationship that are missing.

What else do you need from your administrator?

Wise Words from the Wayward Son

Those of you who know me personally, know my musical tastes are very eclectic. My favorite time to listen to music is in the morning while I’m getting ready. In any given week, you could hear anything from “Piano Man” to Pitbull coming through the door. Earlier this week, my Spotify mix featured the classic tune “Carry on My Wayward Son” by Kansas (I’ll pause while you get that one stuck in your head).

I’ve listened to that song hundreds of times before and I know most of the lyrics, but for some reason I heard a new line this time. In the second verse, the line goes, “And if I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don’t know.” This struck me because of everything I’ve been reading, thinking about, and working through the past few weeks.

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Stone Mountain, Georgia (home of 30 Rock‘s Kenneth Parcell), for a training dealing with building capacity in teachers. The biggest priority for these trainers was building awareness and reflective ability on the part of the teacher. They described four stages that the reflective practitioner goes through as they develop.

We begin as unaware teachers, practitioners who are doing the best we can with what we currently know. We aren’t aware that there are more efficient ways to do things, better ways to get our kids to learn. As we progress through the next stages, we (hopefully) ultimately end at the refinement stage. This is the “sweet spot” of teaching and learning. Refinement teachers are responsive to their students and their curriculum and can pivot on a dime to adapt to their needs right then in the moment. Every child gets what s/he needs when they need it.

As you can imagine, this takes time and practice to get to this point. It’s important to note, however, that the four stages of reflective practice don’t exactly correlate to years in the profession. I’ve worked with first year teachers who are closer to refinement than some twenty year veterans. It really comes down to how intentional we are in the classroom.

So, back to my bathroom jam. What struck me the most about the lyric was that it reminded me of so many teachers I’ve worked with over the years. The teachers who we view as “experts” often doubt their own expertise. They are constantly growing, learning, changing despite getting better results than many of their colleagues. On the other hand, the teachers that self-identify as experts, or perhaps more accurately, see expertise as an “arrival point” rather than a state of mind, often have much more work to do.

Nobody’s perfect, especially teachers who are fighting an uphill battle to educate children despite difficult home lives, unreliable political climates, and full moon/lunar eclipses/barometric pressure changes. Every year is a new battle with new players and new challenges. None of us can afford to get complacent and think what we’re doing is “good enough.”

I challenge you to find an area, no matter how small, where your teaching could improve and take some solid steps to go there. Not sure where to start? Find a coach, a principal, a colleague who you can process with. Have them watch you teach and give feedback. Pay extra attention to your students and see what needs you discover.

And then go listen to some sweet tunes and dance in your bathroom…