Advice for Starting a New Journey From a Serial Risk-Taker
It's odd to be revisiting this post several years after my initial decision to leave the classroom full-time in 2016.
Years later now, I'd be lying if I said there weren't days that I longed for the classroom and the deep connection I had with students and the direct purpose of why we do this important work. There is nothing more important that what a teacher does every day in service of student learning, which is part of what coaxed me out the classroom to begin with.
The tantalizing idea that as an instructional coach or as a leader, I'd be able to reach more teachers and therefore more students on a regular basis if I left the classroom.
Being in my current role allows me to work closely with teachers and teacher teams in the areas I'm most passionate about and most able to support - assessment design and practices which spills into many facets of a regular school day.
Since that initial decision to leave, I went from the classroom to a hybrid role (instructional coaching and teaching) to a district-wide curriculum director leadership role, to a consulting role with a side of publishing, to where I am now as the Chief Operating Officer for Mastery Portfolio.
It is never easy to leave a job that you have enjoyed in a school community you feel deeply engrained in, but each of us makes decisions that help us move forward in our careers. Below is the original post from 2016 when I left the classroom - some of it has been revised with current learning.
As many may know I've toiled with leaving the classroom for a long time now and after much back and forth an opportunity arose that is setting me on a new journey that I'm excited to share.
In the fall, I will no longer be teaching a full course load of English and journalism, but instead will be working with teachers in a resource center.
Fortunately, I will still have the opportunity to teach one class which will keep my pedagogy sound and my heart open to what I fell in love with when I started teaching. (I actually ended up teaching three classes and running the center, but that is a story for another time).
So I wanted to take the time to take some advice I'd give someone else in my own position (of course, it's not always easy to do what we'd suggest to someone else!) and share some things I've learned over the last 21 years:
Change is hard, but it is always worthwhile as it is an opportunity for growth and new challenges. Teaching at WJPS for nine years was a wonderful experience. I was tested in many ways but most importantly, it is because of that job that I'm even writing on this blog now. Much of my outside growth can be attributed to my time at WJPS. I'm very lucky to have had a job that afforded me so much freedom and opportunity to grow.
Always keep an open mind. Although I've been teaching for a while, there is so much more to learn and in each new position, it's like I'm starting from scratch. Working with teachers will be different and every time we take on new leadership positions, we need to be open to what comes with that choice. This is the epitome of the growth mindset and we must walk the walk as we talk the talk.
Develop meaningful working relationships. Although I'm certain I will gravitate toward people, it is essential to get to know as many folks as possible to best know how to contribute to the school community. Since I won't have "a group" of my own when I get to where I'm going, I'm eager to get involved to see where I fit. How exciting to be able to meet new people and develop new working relationships. (Of course, as an introvert, this is also a bit terrifying, but also rewarding when I push past my own discomforts.)
Trust that you know. I've always felt like a fraud. Despite my exhaustive studies and growth, I never feel like I live up to what others see in me. There are moments when I feel confident, but most of the time I realize I have so much to learn and I don't want to disappoint anyone. Continuing to push on, I will trust that I am the competent worker everyone else sees and I will own that understanding. (This struggle continues to be real.)
Know when to ask for help. The above being said, having a growth mindset means that I must be open to knowing when help is needed. As I get to know my new surroundings, I must acknowledge when I know and what I don't know and then go to the appropriate person for help. This is NOT a sign of weakness, but rather a testament to my want to grow as a person and leader. (And in my current position as a COO I literally learn something new almost every day. I wasn't a business person when I started this position.)
Listen to others when they speak. To truly be a good leader and support others, I need to know what they want and need. To do that, I will need to truly hear what they are saying. Making eye contact and helping others create goals that will make them successful is possibly what I'm most excited about in my new position. So I plan on listening carefully to everyone.
Remember what it is all about. My new job is about supporting teachers and to be able to do that, I need to know them well, listen to and help support them in ways that work for them, NOT ways that only work for me. I'm eager to share what I know but am really hoping for a reciprocal relationship where we grow together and the students benefit from it.
Be patient. Although I may know what I need to do or know who to ask when I need something, I won't be perfect. It will likely take time for me to really develop the skills I need to be great and no one expects me to be the best on day one. Patience is a hard lesson for me, but I'm always looking to practice it more.
Although I'm sad about leaving the place I've called home for so long, I'm certain I've made the right decision. The programs I've created will go on and everyone will exist just fine without me. Eagerly I'll poke in from time to time to see how my friends, colleagues, and students are doing and applaud them quietly from the side as it will no longer be my place to intervene. I'm quite proud of my time at WJPS, but it's time to move on.
Leaving opportunities that were entered into with excitement and that have grown into more is always hard. Since the original post was written I've had the honor of being a part of several new families, growing as an educator and a person, and taking each new experience that has made me uniquely qualified for where I am now. You can get there too.
What advice do you have for someone starting a new journey? Please share
This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in June of 2016.