Reflections from the floor….

As I pulled away from the gate last Friday at Logan International, my mind raced as I reflected on my 10 days in Boston. The laughter, serious debates, joyful celebrations, bonding, and reflective learning are just a few things that cross my mind as I look back at our 2017 NEA Representative Assembly.

This year’s RA was like many others in that we were inspired to take action, frustrated by our current realities within our profession and our schools, and challenged by our colleagues to understand perspectives and points of view different than our own. We were reminded of our vulnerability as individuals but our strength as individuals to make a difference together and that in unity we find our greatest strength.

What brings 10,000 educators to one place for long 11-12+ hour days?  Children. Public Education. AND… the Belief that All Children, regardless of race, ethnicity, economic status, beliefs, and abilities should be welcomed at a great public school that is funded to meet ALL their needs!!  Since my first RA in 2003, I have missed just a few annual meetings. This work is so important and is reflective of my core!   At the NEA RA, thousands of other educators share the same passions and are there because they too want to roll up their sleeves and take on the big issues.

Some of the articles I read on the RA were not reflective of our collective work. We brought 159 new business items to the floor and through debating most of them at quite some length, determined the work of the NEA for the coming year.  We also had an in depth conversation and made decision about where we stand on Charter schools to develop a comprehensive policy statement.  Not everyone agreed on all the business at hand and there were times of tension when the vote was so close people asked for a roll call.

Unlike what takes place often in our schools, systems, and profession, as the largest democratic voting body in the United States, I feel the floor always allows for all voices to be heard and ideas/ feelings to be expressed.  As a body, WE make the decisions for what our professional organization, the NEA, will stand for, fight for, and create for our kids and our profession.

That leads me to call you to action with me because our work is never finished at the close of the last business session.  It is just the beginning so here is what you can do:

  1. STOP apologizing for speaking up! YOU are an educated, passionate professional who KNOWS what your students and their families actually need! Don’t allow others- who are NOT in your class- make you feel bad for doing what is right for our kids!
  2. Be the LOUDEST voice and find others who will stand beside you to use their voices! Insist that not only do you need to be heard but your concerns and ideas need to be answered in the best interest of kids.
  3. Engage in your NEA local and state association activities! Systemic change can and will happen when you are part of the transformation.  YOU are the association and the association is only as successful as those willing to engage in the work that needs to be done.

One last thought… as practitioners, we know reflection is important. We also know that action speaks louder than words.  So as you reflect and prepare for your classroom and students this summer/fall, reflect and prepare for your profession too!!  Reach out to your local and state leaders in YOUR association and commit to action as part of your professional growth, commitment to your students, and dedication to education.  Don’t just wish for things to get better, make them better!

 

 

Welcoming the New Year

The new year is like a blank book waiting to be written… each of us our own authors with the hope that this year will be better than the last.  Decisions made last year  will definitely influence 2017, but the plot and the ending doesn’t have to remain the same. How do we ensure that 2017 will be filled with positive changes in our lives and in our profession?

The first step to welcome the new year requires time for reflection on the previous year. What were the defining moments -good or bad- and how did we celebrate success or mourn loss?  How did we evolve as a person,  an educator, and a leader?

Personally, I celebrated a wonderful new love, mourned the loss of my beloved Uncle, and learned to accept myself for who I am as gracefully as I possibly can. I made new friends and reconnected with old. I continue to struggle to find balance in a chaotic world, but  I definitely laughed more, traveled more, and experienced life more fully!

As an educator, I challenged the status quo by taking on professional development and looking beyond the walls of our school for students to experience other cultures and how they as global citizens can change the world. I tried new instructional strategies like jigsaw activities, sentence frames, and learning discovery guides. I cried as a teacher too. As a member of a Cultural Proficiency Cohort, I struggled through personal biases I had about my students and their families that led to assumptions that were unfair. I saw my role as an educator through fresh eyes.

As a leader,  I advocated for the needs of our school system, our students, and our colleagues which included publicly sharing my displeasure with our Board of Supervisors. I mentored and nurtured leadership in colleagues and watched them flourish in turn. I enthusiastically jumped with both feet into a campaign to serve as a NEA Director for Virginia because I care so passionately about education and the work that lies ahead to ensure a better future for our profession and most importantly, our students. I learned that I have a lot of fight left in me and regardless of the outcome of the election, I will continue this work because it matters to our children and those who serve them.

My final reflection is that while 2016 had its ups and down, I grew personally and professionally in ways that I could not have predicted. I welcome 2017 with open arms with all the hope that a new year can bring. However, I mustn’t forget all that I have learned, how I have evolved, and what I must do to continue to move forward in the new year.

Happy New Year to all!  May your reflections lead you to a wonderful year ahead!

Reflections of an Educator

This week has been a rough one, but not for the reasons you might think. I am an educator and my students are what matter most to me; they are nearest and dearest to my heart. And what I’ve seen in my own classroom this week reflects the ugly, awful mess we find ourselves in.

I watched as my students segregated themselves, called each other names and fought like the talking heads they may see on the news, because they have come to believe that voting for the wrong candidate must mean you are either stupid or evil.

I don’t think either candidate could truly understand the emotional impact the campaigns were having on our children. But here we are. Facebook and Twitter are filled with ugly, indecent posts that highlight the real issue we face in America: a lack of empathy. For the past year, the media has treated politics like a wrestling match, fueling the ratings fire — and we all chose sides. For the last year, WE have continued to divide our country and polarize ourselves from one another. So we only have ourselves to blame.

It is natural to want to point fingers — just like our kids do in the classroom. And it is natural to play the “what if” game in our minds. But elections have consequences no matter who wins. The way we conduct ourselves can honor or stain the democratic process – and those choices can make lifelong impressions on the children who will carry that process into the future.

Let me be clear… I am not sad just because Hillary did not win. Instead, I am struggling internally to understand how as adults we have made it okay to publicly isolate, demean, and mock other Americans with different beliefs, different backgrounds – even those who struggle daily with disabilities. How did we as a nation of adults become the very people we are trying to teach our children not to be? That is what hurts…it is a sadness that many educators are trying to work through.

Stop. Reflect. Lead. Our kids need reason and they need to hear OVER and OVER that no matter who we voted for, and no matter who won, we expect them and others to treat one another with kindness and respect. We can’t change the outcome of this election. What we can do is be more mindful of the example we are setting, to keep from transferring the fear, confusion and lack of empathy that been unleashed in this election to our children.

One of my friends posted something that has resonated with me this week… “Our decisions and our actions have consequences. The best of us accept responsibility; the worst look for others to blame.” I refuse to point fingers. I chose love over hate. I chose light over darkness. I chose to stand ready to fight for what is right for our children. However, I am also willing to try work just as hard to try to understand and show empathy to my fellow Americans. We must practice what we preach. Our children are watching as is the rest of the world. Lead. Love. Act.

 

 

 

Many stories matter…

Too often our only lens of a person, a race, or a culture is from a single story.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns, “ the single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.” And, “the consequence of a single story is that it robs people of dignity… emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

Today was day 2 of our Cultural Proficiency Cohort at my school. I continue to be challenged in my thinking and at times overwhelmed by the realization of the inequities that exist in our country and in our schools. Inequities that exist for various reasons that need to be acknowledged. Biases that need to be challenged and many stories that need to be told.  Change that begins from within…

As I reflect, many questions race through my mind.  How do we as educators ensure that our own biases are addressed and our students many stories are understood?  How do we help our students to also recognize and understand the many stories we each possess so that we don’t flatten a person or group of people’s life experiences?

Our training has given me a lot to chew on but the answers are not always obvious and they are definitely not easy.  My biggest take away from this training is that we must first become aware of our own biases… acknowledgement and awareness comes through reflection and discussion of our own stories that form the lens in which we see the world.

Many adults may never see the world through others’ eyes… their lens narrow and focused on the negative stereotypes portrayed in the media.  Yet, I believe more than ever that we must provide our youth opportunities to see the world through various lenses. Children are the hope our world needs desperately.

Therefore, we MUST be intentional in our interactions with our children and their families. Acknowledge differences. We can’t be blind to the things that make each student unique albeit their culture, their abilities, or their personal stories.  Yet we must also be intentional in our lesson planning and instructional delivery to create classrooms and schools that are culturally proficient and celebrate how we are alike as well.

I have a new sense of understanding of cultural and even human awareness but I am far from competent.  If you have not seen Adichie’s TED talk, I highly recommend it if you want to become more aware and understand “The Danger of a Single Story.”

My Story

We all know that each person has their own story of how they have gotten to this exact moment in their life.  I would like to share my story so that you can understand why people, passion, and empowerment are so important to me. And why I am running for an elected position in my professional organization- the National Education Association.

As a child growing up in poverty in WV, I was influenced by the people in my life who instilled in me a passion for education, and empowered me to be the leader I am today. Although my father did not graduate from high school, he was an intelligent man with many talents. However, he struggled to keep a job.  My mother had many health issues and tried to work in between surgeries and hospital stays. These challenges meant that from an early age many responsibilities — like taking care of my younger sister, my mom, and our home — fell on my shoulders.

My Dad was very strict with me when it came to my grades and work ethic. He understood that the only way I would break the cycle of poverty in my family, was for me to make my education a priority and to be the first to attend college. Although I loved learning and still do, school was not easy for me. There wasn’t always time for me to practice my skills, nor was there anyone at home to help me. I was a child caught in a grown up world. This affected my relationships with my peers who bullied me because I wore hand-me-down clothing, was very mature for my age, and let’s face it, my name alone made me a target for many taunts.

Still, I was lucky to have grown-ups who made me feel valued and loved in school. Educators like you. Educators who welcomed me every day with a smile on the bus and would stop the bus when bullies would try to gang up on me. Educators in the cafeteria who made sure I had plenty of food on my tray since they knew my family struggled at times to have much for dinner. Educators who cared enough to ensure our school was safe and clean and that we were never short of hugs.  And it was educators who taught me that learning is about much more than memorizing facts in a book. Educators like you…people who cared and had high expectations for me as my father did, who helped me reach my potential.

I also have been fortunate throughout my career to have many mentors, who have empowered me to lead in many roles. Empowerment begins with a leader who realizes she cannot lead alone. Strength relies on her collective knowledge and shared responsibility with the group she represents.  However, the most important aspect of empowerment is to help others discover the passion and ability they have within. To help them recognize they have an indispensable role to play in building a better future. Unless we tap into that fire that burns in all educators, new and seasoned, we can not build capacity within our organization, no matter how much we try. 

Like so many of you, I thrive by empowering others and there is no greater passion for me than education. I have been a leader in our association since 2004. Yet my many accomplishments and responsibilities do not define who I am or what really makes me a great leader.  What I believe sets me apart is that at my core, I understand that it really is the people who empower us to unleash our passion that make the real difference.  This is why I am running for NEA Director, and I hope that my colleagues will choose me to represent them so that together we can help educators — and ultimately students – overcome their challenges and become the leaders our country needs them to be.

Global Education Begins with Me

After my trip to Peru last year, I had no idea when I would have the opportunity to travel abroad again.  I definitely have the travel bug and I want to continue my love of learning and understanding other cultures.  So you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to attend a wedding of a friend who lives in Germany.  As an American citizen with German and Greek heritage, I have longed to understand where my story begins.

So… what did I learn during my short time in Germany?  It may surprise you but the most memorable lesson learned was not about the country of Germany or even about my heritage. Instead, the realization that global education begins with me and the journey to understanding others. No matter where I explore or travel, it is the people who matter most, and their essential needs are really not that different than mine.

Throughout the wedding of a lifetime (comprised of two services and three receptions!) I had the opportunity to interact with many Germans. But one conversation in particular struck me. I met a couple from Wurzburg who were friends of the bride and groom. Our conversation quickly changed from our connection with the beloved couple to education and then politics. Many people are afraid to discuss politics- especially with those they don’t know. However I find that even with those whose opinions are very different from mine, I can find common ground. We often share some of the same concerns as well as the same hopes and dreams for children, our country, and the world.

Like so many Americans, my new friends in Germany are watching our current election unfold and are concerned about who might be the next American President. Then they shared some of their fears about what is happening in their own country. With so many refugees fleeing into their country, they questioned what would Germany look like in 10-20 years?  They worried that as a country, they might lose their heritage and what they believed makes Germany great in their hearts.  I listened intently and felt their passion and love for their country.  I was learning what it meant to be German through their eyes.

While we are a country of immigrants from all over the world, so many Americans have similar concerns and passion for their country.  Our two countries, so far away geographically, have commonalities that I have never considered. No matter where we live, many people fear change that threatens their current way of life—no matter how good or bad it is.

Growing up in a small town in West Virginia with no diversity, my move to the Washington, DC area was a big, scary change! I had never traveled far from home. The metro area offered encounters with others who were different – they looked different, acted differently, and believed in different religions that guided their way of life than what I had known for almost 30 years. Sixteen years later, I celebrate those differences and challenge myself to see the world through others’ perspectives in order to overcome personal biases.

My travels abroad, however, have taught me even more.  I have learned that while people from different backgrounds may look, sound, and behave differently, we all share a common need. We need and want others to understand who we really are at our core.  Our lives may be drastically different, but as humans, we want to have a sense of place in this world.  We want to matter and we want to be accepted.

My conversation with my new friends helped me understand that they didn’t expect me to fix their problems or even agree with everything they said. Instead, they wanted to be heard and understood as genuine and caring people who loved their country and believed that cultural heritage is important. They realized that I genuinely cared for them and respected their beliefs and struggles. This allowed us to learn from one another and come to respect each other in a short time. I may not have agreed with everything they believed but I didn’t pass judgment on them because it was their truth based on their life story.

While I thought this journey would help me find answers about my heritage, I never imagined that two people who lived so far away would have such an impact on my understanding of my place in our world. Humanity depends on our ability to understand and accept others in the world who appear to be different on the outside, but are like us in so many ways on the inside.  If I am to be a better educator, I must continue to challenge my own biases and truly listen to others from far and near.

So…as I get ready to gear up for a new school year, my mind races knowing that global education begins with me. How I will I continue to help my students understand differing perspectives, be compassionate toward others, and understand their place in the world? Because in the end, global education isn’t just learning about the history of a place or culture. Global education is about seeing the world as it exists through the eyes of others who live in it every day and responding in a way that makes our world a better place.

   

 

 

Why I stay…

Why I stay…

I had an “a-ha” moment this week that I just had to share.  As I was preparing for an interview as a finalist for my county’s Outstanding Teacher Award, I did a lot of reflection and reading. Teachers may be leaving the profession in record numbers and with valid reasons.  However, I believe it is our responsibility as educators to help each other realize why we should stay.  I won’t lie, there have been a few times when I too was ready to pack up and call it a day…  but I haven’t because “it” matters.  Here are just a few reasons why I stay:

It matters to kids.

Kids need adults who are passionate, caring, and love teaching, learning, and leading. Kids need teachers who nurture their natural curiosity and challenge them constantly to be the best version of themselves. Children need acceptance from adults who believe in them no matter where they are from or what color their skin might be. Children need teachers who understand that everyday, we influence the future and we may be the only one in a child’s life that makes them feel valued. I am that compassionate, energetic teacher that children look forward to seeing every week because I set the bar high, accept them as they are, and believe they all can achieve.

It matters to families.

It truly takes a village to shape and nurture the future. Parents more than ever need partners in helping their children not just be productive global leaders of tomorrow but conscious global citizens today!  So many parents are struggling to make ends meet and provide for their children that survival is a priority over homework and school activities. Teachers understand that parents entrust us with the best part of them. We may disagree with a parent on what a child might need to succeed, but it is our commonalities that bridge the gap. Parents and teachers alike want strong, healthy, and happy children!  I am a partner in shaping the future with the parents who teach me about their children.

It matters to my colleagues.

We are a community of learners who are also family. We lift each other up when teaching gets messy and challenge one another to hone our skills and take risks to be the best teachers we can be.  We may disagree on how to best support a child,  deliver instruction, and assess learning, but we collaborate, listen, and problem solve together.  Yet, contrary to popular belief, we are hardworking, dedicated teachers. We need each other to ask tough questions and speak up on issues that matter to kids.  I am part of something bigger than myself.

It matters to me.

Growing up in poverty and in an abusive home, school was my escape.  Caring, loving role models nurtured my love of learning and my creativity.  The adults at school believed in me and challenged me constantly.  My teachers raised the bar so I could have the opportunity to become something amazing and know that I mattered in this world.  At times I didn’t know if I could accomplish what they were asking, but when I did, I was proud and believed in myself. We would celebrate and then they would push me even harder.

I am passionate about education for many reasons.  However, I am a testament of the power of education.  I had many cards stacked against me, but it was education that set me free and helped me break the cycle of poverty. It was my teachers and other adults in my education career that taught me to persevere and believe in myself even though I believed I didn’t matter. Being the adult who makes a difference in a child’s life- whose reflection may remind me of a younger version of me- is why I stay. 

If we continue to leave our profession, who will our children look up to, learn from, and aspire to be? If we turn away because of all the things wrong in education, who is going to set them right again and ensure our children have great public schools? 

Be the Change

Let’s face it… Educators across the country have increasingly felt hopeless and disillusioned over the last decade.  And with good reason.  The punishment of schools under No Child Left Behind, our country’s obsession with testing, and the demoralization of our profession, have prompted teachers to flee our profession in droves.  Our children have suffered the most, losing highly qualified educators, who are passionate and care deeply about them. Children and teachers alike have been treated like widgets and stuffed into tiny little boxes to appease those who hold the purse strings for education funding.

However, we are at a crossroads and we ARE changing the direction of education to bring back the love of learning for all children to experience. Last month Congress finally realized the implications of NCLB and put an end to a decade of punishing our schools and our children. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) refocuses our attention on our nation’s children and their needs– no longer punishing schools in impoverished communities and with diverse populations.  It is the beginning of a course of actions that can create global citizens who explore their curiosity, use their creativity, and solve global issues!

Educators led the charge with the National Education Association supporting them every step of the way…but OUR work is simply NOT done.  I realize the last decade has been a long haul but our kids need us more than ever to continue to speak up, take a stand, and change perceptions about education including our own role in its transformation.  We must lead the tough conversations about what students need. We must take the gloves off and do the messy work of organizing the larger community. WE must be the change that we want to see in education.

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Recently, my superintendent was sharing information about her proposed budget with the teacher advisory group.  While this is only her third year in our county, she has shaved almost half a billion dollars from our school system’s budget the last two years to demonstrate to our Board of Supervisors that she was willing to reduce the budget and focus on just priorities. However, the BOS continued to underfund our schools. This year, my superintendent took off the gloves and presented a budget with NO CUTS!! It has been over a decade since this has happened in my district.   I sat in awe and with hope because she is standing up for us her employees, for our community, and most importantly…OUR STUDENTS!  I was inspired.

For the first time in almost a decade, I felt proud to be a teacher in MY district. She said something that day that continues to resonate with me.   A fellow teacher challenged her decision to make this type of proposal arguing that the county was never going to fund this budget.  My superintendent’s response was simple, “How can we justify to continue doing nothing?”  These few words hit home with me in such a way that I immediately began planning and talking with others at my school and in the county about ways to support this work. How CAN we continue to justify our lack of action? How can we JUSTIFY being silent for even a moment longer?

Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”  Educators for so long felt they had no power. Many allowed themselves to become silent witnesses to the demise of education because we simply felt our voices didn’t matter. Yet we know our voices do matter- consider the difference you make everyday in the lives of your students.  If that is NOT power, I don’t know what is. We have power beyond our wildest imagination to influence policy and funding. We must summon it individually and collectively. We must do something NOW.

So… I CHALLENGE YOU to have the hard conversations with your neighbors, the community, your legislators, and when appropriate with children!   Your leadership and expertise is needed and valuable to the changing tide of education.  Write letters to leaders, write editorials,  host house parties on education, and build relationships with local leaders and the community. Engage in advocacy at a level you are comfortable but engage now!  We must take advantage of the momentum and turn it into a revolution where educators of the nation are transforming the system beyond the classroom because OUR voices should be  the loudest voice in the conversation to advocate for children and public education! What will you do today, to “Be the Change” in education?