Friday, December 9, 2016

From the trenches

This will likely be the most difficult post I've written to date - at least on my edublogs. I started in a new position this September. My reasons for making this change after twenty years in the same district were many and complex, but high on the list was that I had begun to feel stagnant. In the twenty years I worked there, there was little turnover in my department, and I had begun to feel that not only had I reached the peak of what I could learn from the colleagues in my department, but also of what I could meaningfully contribute.  To put it simply, when it's time to go, it's time to go.

I knew my new position would come with new challenges:
  • totally different culture 
  • very involved parents
  • a tremendous need to step up my content game
just to name a few, and I arrived ready to face them head on. Or so I thought. Even after Back to School Night and Parent Conferences all seemed well -- almost curiously well. I was almost disappointed that I wasn't feeling the level of challenge I sought. Apparently appearances can be deceiving.

I now find myself in the midst of a tremendous struggle to maintain even the illusion of confidence. I feel extremely grateful for all of the work and study and reading I have done both independently and with colleagues like Dan Kreiness and Raye Wood on the topic of Growth Mindset, because it is this study, work, and collegial conversation that are getting me through right now. Weekend plans: reread Carol Dweck's book Mindset

Confidence been a lifelong struggle for me, despite what outward appearances may indicate. My first baby steps into leadership were in my regional organization LECNY: Language Educators of Central New York. It's a relatively small organization - membership rarely breaks 100. My entrance into a leadership role was purely accidental. A colleague was president at the time, and was trying to recruit candidates to run in the upcoming elections. She was partially responsible for the conference we both were attending, so she was feeling anxious. I made the blanket offer to help her in any way I could. The next thing I knew, my name was put forth as Second Vice President - a position that had previously not existed. Long story short, the additional position ended up being an excellent long-term decision for the organization, and it pushed me headlong into leadership. At the time I did not know it would be a four year commitment running through Second VP to VP to President to Past President, but that one moment, that one offer, started my leadership ball rolling. Probably just as well, because I may never have found the courage to take that first step on my own.

I include this story to give background for this excerpt from the first President's Message I wrote just over two years later that has been brought to mind in all of this:

I am honored and more than a little bit stunned to be writing this, the first of my President's Messages.  I feel I've been a bit of a late bloomer as a teacher leader, but that makes me want to express to my colleagues who are new to the profession or who might feel hesitant to step up as a presenter, the writer of an article, a board member, or just a volunteer:  I truly mean, with the utmost sincerity, if I can do it, you can do it.  There's nothing wrong with "lurking" as long as it isn't fear keeping you in the shadows.  Think of what we tell our shy speakers in class.

A little glimpse of my own growth mindset before I knew what growth mindset was. And still it is easier to encourage in others than to grow in myself, but upon revisiting my own words and Dweck's first chapter, I'm giving myself a much-needed reality check. From Dweck's first chapter here are some fixed mindset responses to a situation that could be compared to my own:

"I'm a total failure...I feel worthless and dumb."

Almost the exact words I tearfully spoke into the phone to my boyfriend who just had no idea what I was talking about - I mean truly reacted as if I had said 1 + 1 = pineapple. And of course that was the appropriate reaction, because I was totally overreacting, and defaulting to the fixed mindset I grew up with.

As expected, this post has taken several days to compose, but I'm in a much better place now than I was when I began writing it. Part of that is due to Dweck. Part of that is due to my amazing, level-headed boyfriend who has an uncanny way of seeing through my emotional reactions and offering clear, logical suggestions when I am incapable of seeing them. Part of it was reminding myself why I made the move in the first place, and persistently seeking out feedback - no matter how painful and difficult - so I could move forward and make positive changes.

And so with positive momentum, the learning continues. And that's really what it's all about.

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