Opinion
Professional Development Opinion

Who Are You Grateful for in Your Professional Learning Network?

By Starr Sackstein — November 21, 2018 3 min read
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When perfectionism is an addiction you possess, finding mastery in the work you do brings a calm that is hard to describe.

However, when learning is also a craving of your growth mindset, pushing through the perfectionism toward growth can be an uncomfortable struggle.

As a classroom teacher, I experienced mastery at a level that I was quite proud of. The relationships I developed with students kept me completely connected to pushing harder and wanting to do better all of the time. The risks were calculated and effective, even as I struggled to create systems that didn’t yet exist.

In the last year and a half, I have switched gears, switched roles, and have sought that level of comfort and connection daily. There are moments I am quite proud of since I started being a team leader, but others that have had me craving quick answers (which I know don’t exist), or the comfort of my students’ connections to at least buffer the challenges of approaching standards and building a new level of efficacy around different skills.

Recently, I was lucky enough to spend some concentrated time with a dear friend and knowledgeable leader. When I share my frustrations with her, she listens patiently and reminds me of the realities of learning. Connie and I have been friends now for a few years, and she never ceases to amaze me in terms of the wealth of practical knowledge she can share in an honest and constructive way.

Since she understands me well and knows I want to be as great as a leader as I was a teacher, she can say things to me that I might have a harder time hearing from other people. Rather than shut me down or correct me, she opens a dialogue, shares her own experiences, and then reminds me that learning takes time, building relationships take time, and that if I push too fast or expect too much, I can potentially make things take longer.

One major difference I recognize working with adults rather than students is that when we are in the classroom, rapport must be built quickly as we have only a year together to achieve the goals of learning. When we lead a group of adult learners, we are building rapport that will last for years, and depending on the individual and collective experiences of those we work with, getting to that trust can take much more time.

Hearing Connie’s advice and her insistence that I can’t be so hard on myself helped put things back in perspective, so much so I was able to share that same advice with a teacher colleague on my team, for whom I’m also grateful. Something I worry about as a relatively new leader is the appearance of favorites on our team. Although there are people who I’ve connected with differently, there are no favorites. However, there are people with whom outside of this context, we’d be friends. Connie has helped keep this in perspective, too.

In my first year of leadership, I was so lonely. Finding my tribe in my district was hard, and I had my own trust issues to overcome. Although I’m still working through my trust with members of my team, I have been fortunate enough to connect with a few of them and let them see the real me ... the vulnerable, but driven and eternally optimistic me.

The frustrations I feel come from a place of longing to connect with my whole team and the larger community I work with. Each person has something so valuable to share that none of them should be or can be overlooked. For this reality, I’m very grateful as well. People are inherently generous and good in my opinion, and in these times of Thanksgiving, I’d like to keep reminding myself of that.

Aside from my day-to-day work in the district, the professional network I’m a part of in terms of my passion work with assessment continues to humble me and fuel the fire of my excitement for change in this area. As more people read Hacking Assessment and more people start to question their assessment practices, the more hopeful I feel for the future of educational systems.

We all have a part to play in the changes that must occur and whether they are on a larger scale or on the local one, we all must contribute to the shift that pushes for learner-centered educational spaces. I acknowledge that real change on the systemic scale is slow, but if we keep doing things the way we always have, that change will never come.

So in that, I’m grateful for those risk takers who push against the norm and do what is best for kids, especially when it is not popular and also not necessarily understood yet. We all must work together to help our colleagues find their own ways, and this way, students can keep getting what they need.

Who are you grateful for this holiday season and why? Please share

*Photo created using Pablo

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