Teaching Opinion

2017: The Great Metamorphosis

By Starr Sackstein — December 31, 2017 4 min read
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“I will NEVER be an administrator!”

I’ve said this many times in my career and it is still pretty surreal to find myself in a position I literally never thought I’d be in. It isn’t because I didn’t believe I could do this job well, or that no one ever asked me, “why don’t you go into administration?”

“I have no desire to be an administrator,” I told them. “I love the classroom too much.”

“But you could do so much more good in aleadership role, impact more students and still get into classrooms.”

Now after four months as a team leader, I know I made the right choice. I’m not going to lie, I miss the classroom. I miss the kids. I miss the relationships, their candor, and their kindness, but I’m starting to really love working with the teachers.

I love the challenge.

The truth is, I was a pretty good teacher, and I don’t mean to be modest or a braggart here, but it was starting to get stale even with all of the risks I’ve been taking for the last several years. It really was time for me to push myself right out of whatever comfort zone may have still existed.

Ironically, risk-taking seems to be my comfort zone now and learning to temper my need to push forward at warp speeds and really listen to those around me to make appropriate moves and strategic choices are the new challenges. And I’m sure if you spoke to any of my old administrators, they’d tell you I wasn’t always the easiest person to work with because I didn’t always want to hear what they were saying.

Turns out being a team leader is a lot like being a teacher. Adult learners present different challenges because of how much they come to the table knowing, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t similarities.

For example:

  • Relationships are crucial to everything. Developing respectful, collegial relationships are the rock that all else is built on. Our team needs to trust me, and I have to stick to my word so they know I’m about actions. That takes time which is always a balancing act. We want change to happen, but we can’t rush it. This is one of my greatest lessons. Learning to be strategic about how and when to present new ideas; when to push and when to ease up as well as understanding the perspective of those I’m asking to change.
  • Balance, although difficult is something that should always be sought to achieve. Learning at every level takes time and for folks to make changes, there can’t be too much change at once. We need to be intentional and transparent so that it is obvious why things are happening. I keep reminding the teachers I work with that I will always be a teacher in my heart and that I would never ask them to do something I didn’t believe was in the best interest of students. Unfortunately, I know too well what it feels like to have tons of initiatives thrown at you, ready or not for better or for worse and it isn’t respectful.
  • Listening is very important. People need to be heard in order to come to work every day and perform at their best and even in the most uncomfortable and confrontation situations that exist, whether I agree or not, as a leader, I need to listen and not let my opinion be evident. My opinion doesn’t always matter.
  • Culture predates my time here and respecting what came before as a stepping stone to build on rather than a foundation to be destroyed to start over works better, particularly for the folks in my environment. There are so many caring, thoughtful educators here who do their best to serve the needs of our kids that it must be recognized in tangible but meaningful ways.
  • Never be too important to admit you don’t know something or put your money where your mouth is. I always wanted administrators who would demonstrate expectations and rarely got them. In the last four months, I have co-planned lessons with teachers, joined them to roll out the learning in class, helped them assess and followed up with debriefs about how we could do it better. It started with a small group of Spanish teachers in the middle school and then it started to spread. I ended 2017 with a gallery walk of high school juniors displaying their learning from a project I designed and co-taught with their teachers. And I loved every second of it.
  • Model the behaviors you hope to see. I’ve been doing this with my department meetings. In addition to doing walkthroughs and noticings in the buildings, I have been trying to model classroom strategies in the meetings which will help the department collaborate but also experience what the learning is like with the strategy. During one of those meetings, we did different station learning and at one of those stations, PBL was a topic at the request of one of the teachers. From there, I had a social studies teacher who saw something I posted on social media ask me to help her redesign a unit to bring more student voice and choice into the classroom.

Even though I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough, when I put my learning down on paper and reread it to myself, I know I’m in the right place. I have a lot to learn, but that is truly exciting and the longer I’m here, the more the teachers and students are opening up to me. They are taking more risks. They are using social media and other technology. I’m proud to be a part of this team (even though I will always miss MY kids).

So it looks like never came a lot sooner than I expected and it turns out that this really was the right move for me. We’ll see what happens as more time goes on, but I walk forward with an open heart and mind and bravely endeavor to bring awesome learning experiences to us all.

What did you learn about professional self this year? Please share

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