First, I want to assure anyone still interested in the writing by design posts that the fourth installment will be posted sometime this summer. S and J are in summer mode, and I have class, but I promise we’ll get the last post up soon-ish.
This has been a year of even more change than I could have anticipated. Just over a year ago I announced my transition from the first high school I had ever taught at to another one across town in order to stretch myself as an educator. I had no way of knowing how much that decision would begin a domino effect that has shaped a career path I could not have predicted. While every year has its ups and downs, this was a year of blessings in many regards as well as one of great personal challenges.
A quick look back…
While I agree with those who espouse the mantra of ‘you cannot live in the past,’ I believe it important to always reflect on it. I spent this year professionally taking on the task of being both a teacher and a position of leadership as an academy lead. If the position sounds foreign to you, you’re not alone. The position was new as of this year in my district. Five schools were tasked with transitioning to what we call an academy model. Simply defined the academy model is meant to support students’ academic, career, and personal interests using project-based learning (PBL) as a cornerstone of instruction. If you’ve followed my blog long enough, then you know I have a history with PBL, which is a big reason for my transitioning into my role this past year. I had a chance to use my experience in PBL to help lead other teachers and students into using its methods. These methods produce some of the most authentic learning experiences I’ve witnessed as an educator, but the process of using PBL for many new to it is rife with challenges and misconceptions. While PBL is a powerful instructional method, it is not THE instructional method. I’ve realized over the course of the last four years that many misinterpret this truth, which causes people to either sell-out for PBL (sometimes at the risk of burning out) or straight out rejecting it. Part of my job this past year was helping teachers find some middle ground.
I really enjoyed my time as an academy lead. I had no choice but to figure out if I could lead anyone who was older than a teenager. I realized that adults, particularly educators, come with unique challenges. I laughed with my wife many times concerning how similar our jobs are when it comes to managing people. She works in the corporate arena. The complexity my fellow educators bring to the table is part of what makes them great. At times there is some untapped or latent talent that can be teased out; however, I also worried about my beleaguered colleagues–so tired and crestfallen from years of transition and top-down reforms that their minds were already halfway out the schoolhouse before even entering it. Being a teacher is hard. Being a teacher-leader is really hard. I am coordinating with not just colleagues but friends as well; and unlike many corporate offices, the schoolhouse has a hard time separating those friendships from the business of running an effective school. The pseudo-politics of leading your peers is at times daunting, but I found it ultimately rewarding when my team of teachers successfully executed the work we were asked to do. There in lies this past year’s problem, though. We were building the plane as we were flying it so our communication suffered, and we regularly faced situations where unforeseen fires needed to put out. How’s that for a mixed metaphor? We were building a plane while on fire cruising at a precarious altitude in hopes of landing safely.
I was personally challenged by doctoral studies, discussions with cohort peers, and the culture of my new school. I came from a school that had spent years developing and implementing consistent processes, which I’ve discovered are the secret gold to building school climate and culture. My current school is the epitome of potential, but it is potential we’re struggling to meet. We are still shaping out identity (literally the school’s initiatives have changed every year since its opening five years ago), and we’re still building quality processes. My doctoral studies have pushed me to constantly reflect on my practice as well as begin examining my colleagues more closely. For better or worse, I’ve come to terms that I believe I can help teachers in my building improve processes for ourselves and more importantly for students. I am starting to find a teacher-leader voice. One that I honed this year by both leading an academy and mentoring a first-year teacher unexpectedly. I remember being almost fearful of taking on my new role last year, but my work this year has instilled in me that my only fear should be of not helping my school improve every way I can.
Finally, a big personal success this year was earning the Clendenin Scholarship at Kennesaw State and being selected as the Outstanding Scholar in Secondary Education for my specialist degree. Both were humbling and electrifying. I cannot begin to fathom the opportunities I’ll be afforded through the Clendenin, but I’ve promised myself to be ready and in most cases willing.
Alright, a brief look ahead (more brief than above, promise!)…
This upcoming year my journey to stretch myself as professional takes yet another step. While in the works for awhile, my good friend, protege, and mentor Brittany Haddock is moving onto an assistant principal position. Her transition is allowing me to transition to hear role as an Academy Coach this upcoming school year. This is a big deal for me. I never thought I’d start creeping my way out of the classroom setting, but the coach position requires I coordinate the entire school’s academy and PBL efforts. That being said, I am not–I repeat I am not–leaving the classroom entirely. My course load, however, will diminish to make way for my new responsibilities. While I certainly have some nerves going into this new role, I am cautiously emboldened by my time in leadership this past year and the wonderful people I work with. I believe I can move us forward; I hope I can get the school’s stakeholders to believe that as well. Maybe more than anything, I want to remain a good teacher to the students I will have this year.
I am also looking forward to presenting two different sessions at NCTE in November this year! I’ve been participating in a doctoral roundtable sponsored by CEE the last few years, but this year I also get to speak on a small panel on student generated media (zines anyone?!).
Finally, this is a big year in doctoral studies as I wrap up classwork this summer and move into my dissertation focus for the next year. I apparently don’t know how to go through just one change at a time; I tend to like to pile it on, but I am at peace with my choices and opportunities.
Here is to another year of triumphs and challenges–and growing–always growing.