Don’t call me baby

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Something has been on my mind lately has been the perception of others when it comes to my physical appearance in comparison to the trajectory of my career. You see, I am younger, but not overly young. I do; however, have a youthful appearance. I am on the short side, and have long hair with nary a grey in sight (thank you genetics!). I typically always dress professionally; and avoid wearing a hoodie at work even if it is a spirit day of some sort (as it makes me look like I’m closer in age to our 10th graders than my colleagues). But what’s been troubling me a lot lately is this: even if I am younger than expected for my role, even if I look youthful on any given day…it actually bugs the heck out of me to have others comment on it.

“You’re a baby,” is a common phrase I hear when discussing historical elements of education, or even things occurred 5 years ago. “You were probably still in high school then!” is another favourite. Even if I was, it doesn’t mean its okay to comment on my age. I don’t go around calling my colleagues with grey hair geriatrics, so the double standard is somewhat perplexing. I am more than my age, certainly more than my appearance. While it does happen occasionally; I know that typically my male counterparts don’t need to constantly defend themselves to colleagues or peers when it comes to their youth and/or appearance–despite the fact we are actually close in age.

Some context…

Before I go on, I just want to be clear: I am incredible proud of my successes. My path to my current role was anything but a straight line; and if I’m honest with myself, some of the challenges along the way were related to my age and, in part–my gender vs. the hours of time I put into broadening my “district profile”. I think that one crucial choice I made to get to where I am now was to move on–and find opportunities outside of my comfort zone. While it was difficult to make the transition, recognizing the toxicity of waiting to be seen vs. the benefit of a fresh start has been absolutely key.

That doesn’t mean that some elements of those challenges hasn’t followed me. In a lot of the situations or conversations I’ve been in where my age or youthful appearance has become a topic of conversation, I’ve laughed along with the joke. I shouldn’t have to laugh at my own expense, or in some cases be unfairly judged for being a younger leader.

Here’s the thing though; someone, or in my case, a lovely group of someones recognized that my education, skills, abilities, personality and experience was a fit for my position. I wasn’t arbitrarily placed, I was vetted through processes and then selected. This means something, it means that my age wasn’t a factor. My appearance wasn’t a factor. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I still have much to learn, and I love that about my career. It has so many opportunities for growth and mentorship; however, I shouldn’t have to work harder to prove myself as being just as worthy as peers that “look the part.” I shouldn’t have to self-deprecate when it comes to my youth–and neither should anyone else who have put in the time and work to get to a place of leadership.

So, please don’t call me a baby. Please treat me as you would anyone else in a leadership position. Judge me by my work ethic, my compassion and my enthusiasm for education.

*This post is not directed at anyone specifically; and is a culmination of events and conversations that I’ve been a part of for the last 5 years. While there are times that are appropriate to discuss age and appearance, it shouldn’t be the default joke. The best part of being so young is that I know I have a long career ahead of me, and lots of time to achieve all of my professional goals.

The Year I Quit

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During recent months, as life in the education sector has changed dramatically, I have found myself reflecting upon my job; my career, as a whole.  I’ve been an educator since about 2008–and an administrator since mid-2017.  Some days, working with teenagers and youth are thankless; exhausting, annoying.  Other days as filled with kindness, hope and cheer.  I’ve come to understand that this job will always have an abundance of highs and lows; but I didn’t always understand or accept that.

In the spring of 2011 I made the decision that teaching wasn’t necessarily for me.  I’d been in the same school for 2 years, taught Computer Science and Math–had multiple “preps” per course (Programming 11/12, Marketing 11/12, etc.) and I was done.  I had also been surplussed and laid off the year before (and had gotten back my full job before the start of the new school year) and I knew that the coming deadline for staffing would likely mean another surplus and lay-off.  I didn’t feel supported, I didn’t feel that I was “in love” with teaching.  So I did my research, and I took a leave for the next school year.  My administrator at the time wasn’t surprised when I broke the news; he knew that while I did a good job teaching my courses and promoted our computer science program, I was burnt out.  Physically, emotionally and mentally.  I packed up my office, stored my resources and instead of surpluses, my school absorbed my FTE (job).

I was free.  Free to look for other options, to move out to the city.  And so I did.  I worked as a freelance graphic designer, I volunteered.  I interviewed for non-profit jobs that suited my interests…but didn’t commit to a new position.  By winter, my finances began to dry out and a administrator friend at my fiancees’ school joked about having me in to TOC (substitute) for him; and that is how I ended up returning pseudo early from my leave to TOC for the last 4 months of the school year.  Let me tell you; being a TOC when you are used to being full-time in the classroom can be completely gratifying.  It is humbling when it comes to classroom management but gratifying when it comes to just being in a school, conversing with young people and other educators. I moved school to school, had the chance to meet other educators and students in a variety of grades.  It gave me some time to enjoy being in and around the education system, it allowed me perspective.  Unscheduled, open time with students and the classroom refuelled me in a way that professional development hadn’t in the past.  It gave me the inspiration to recommit to my career, and to make plans going forward to complete my Masters’ in Educational Leadership to achieve my original goal of administration and human resources.

Don’t be afraid if you lose your passion.  Either you are going to be a teacher, or you aren’t.  Maybe you’ll find your way back to the classroom; or maybe you won’t.  You’ll find your passion again, or maybe a new one will rise to the surface.  Is it hard to “give up” a full time position?  Absolutely.  But it will be infinitely more difficult to stick to a job for 30+ years when there are so many options available.   Maybe it means looking for another teaching position, or moving grades (even from senior secondary down to primary!).   I wanted to share this story because I know that it is hard to quit or take a break from something you thought was where you were supposed be.  I also know that I was lucky to have had the chance to realize that despite its ups and downs, education is where I want to be; and I know without a doubt that if I hadn’t had the chance to take time away from it all, I wouldn’t be who and where I am today.

 

 

Status quo, or status no?

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“It’s always been done this way.”

This sentiment is one of the biggest “icebergs” that I’ve encountered in my career as an educator–for such a small little statement, sometimes underneath it is laden with deep emotions–happiness, complacency, pride, disengagement, frustration, nostalgia…the list could go on.  Sometimes the status quo is an essential tool to school culture, but determining when to change the way things are done is a lesson that I think all school leaders are constantly trying to learn. One important factor to consider when addressing status quo is whether something is just an unwritten rule or if it is a deeply entrenched tradition.  Obviously, some basic research and sleuthing may be needed to determine as such. There are three big questions that leaders could look to ask when it comes to the status quo  before entertaining a change to the status quo or reworking a tradition.

  1.  Is it habit, policy or tradition?  Oftentimes, we mistake habit for tradition.  Just because something is done regularly doesn’t necessarily make it a tradition.  Habits, or what we might refer to as routines in education, certainly can turn into traditions but there are important factors that need to be in place for them to do so.  These factors include people, motivation and time.  If these factors aren’t present, then either something isn’t really a TRUE tradition, or it isn’t one that is likely to be sustained much longer.   What if you encounter something that hasn’t been around long enough to be considered a tradition, BUT it has certainly become a well-developed routine or habit (status quo)? If that is the case, then you have to ask whether it has the potential to be a positive and perpetuated tradition, or if it might be better changed and/or modified.
  2. Who and how?  This is actually very important when it comes to the longevity and sustainability of traditions.  Who perpetuates the tradition and how they do it is very important to whether a tradition continues.  Traditions only “live” if there are people to continue them, and that requires meaningful sharing and passing on to all who are meant to participate.  For example, if a tradition began with a staff in the early 1990s, and that staff continued it forward until the mid-2000s but did not see fit to bring newer staff members into the tradition, then as the original staff left or retired the tradition would cease.  Alternatively, if that same staff shared the tradition with each new staff member as they arrived, there would be a higher likelihood of the tradition surviving.   The way in which the tradition is shared is also important for buy-in.  Simply stating, “this is how its done” won’t foster motivation from newer staff who are meant to take up and continue a tradition–there has to be some semblance of mentorship involved, time dedicated for the sharing and then active participation in a tradition.  This is where I feel a lot of traditions in schools especially fall short as those who are engrained with traditional are often loath to let others “take up the torch,” for fear of losing out on some unsaid power.  Depending on the who and how, some traditions naturally see their end; however, expediting that end might be an option depending on the ratio of willing participants to casual observers.
  3. When and why?  As previously discussed, traditions often begin out of habit (routine) or policy.  When looking at whether a tradition has run its course, it is important to learn not only about how deeply embedded a tradition is amongst current staff (and students) but also how and why it came into being.  Traditions do have a way of outliving their usefulness, depending on why they began in the first place; however, if the “who” and “how” of a tradition is alive and well, that may not matter.  A staff survey regarding their knowledge and feelings about certain traditions might be a good start in order to determine whether a new option or “retirement” will be well received.

Changing traditions or letting them go isn’t for the faint of heart nor is it something that should be taken lightly.  The status quo is some instances is the very glue that is holding everything together; whereas in other cases it has staled culture and created divides.  Finding a way to balance change while respecting true tradition is the juggling act that a leader must learn to take part in, and unfortunately there isn’t a manual for how to do it successfully–every organization, every group of people, and every instance of status quo or tradition will vary.

If there was one tradition or unwritten piece of “status quo” in your organization that you could change, what would it be?  

Gifting time, not technology

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It is the time of year where kids are asking Santa for legos and dolls, bikes and boardgames–but also new cell phones, and gaming systems too.  In a world where technology has woven itself into most aspects of our lives, there shouldn’t be any surprises when your 6 year old asks for an iPhone X, or your 4 year old wants a Playstation.  Take care when choosing technology for your kids–be they 7 or 17, as the gift of more technology is really a gift of stolen time.

When it comes to teens, technology contributing to “stolen time” has gone too far.

45% of teens, especially aged 13-18, spend more time online (social media, video-streaming, etc.) almost constantly. 44% of teams talk about being online several times a day–for a total of 89% of teens being online on a regular basis.  When teens are online, they are doing everything from Snapchatting with friends to posting/reading on Reddit, watching videos on YouTube and online gaming.  When they are in the midst of these activities, they aren’t:

  • Engaging with friends or family (meals, conversations, activities)
  • Being active (sports, walks, outdoor pursuits)
  • Practicing self-care (eating, sleeping, hygiene, cleaning)
  • Learning (listening in class, doing homework, reading, participating)

Teens are losing out on life.  They send pictures of smiles instead of actually smiling.  They are playing games virtually instead of together.  Have they come up with some amazing stuff? Absolutely!  But at what cost?

In the past, teens spend approximately 2-2.5 hours per day watching TV.  With the advent of portable technology, that number has increased to about 6 hours (as of 2016).  According to a recent study by the Pew Research Centre, teens have admitted to worry about their usage levels.  In secondary schools, the concept of “cell phone addiction” is an everyday reality.  In my own building, observing the stress levels and anxiety from a cell phone confiscation is nothing less than alarming (almost as much as a student who has had their vaping device taken).

So, when hitting the mall–think twice about what your teen wants, and ponder instead what they really need.  A $800 cell phone could translate into a course at university, a trip at Spring break.  A new game for the XBOX could be swimming lessons…Not all technology is bad, but shouldn’t those opportunities that arise beyond the screen are the ones we want to get for our kids?

So, think twice before getting the latest and greatest tech, and about having those importance conversations and limits in place surrounding technology.  Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/
https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/screen-time-nih-study-60-minutes?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2

 

 

The Importance of Resilience

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We’ve all experienced those kids that are likeable, that strive to be successful even from a young age.  Those kids who have their eyes on the prize, who easily (or seemingly so) find success at anything and everything.  It just comes “naturally.”  These kids have goals and plans, and the fortitude to do what it takes to achieve them.  But more often than not, we see kids who want to be successful but struggle.  Maybe they have learning barriers, maybe they are easily distracted (squirrel!).  These kids either overcome those obstacles to achieve or, they just stop trying.  They disengage.

I was one of those kids who wasn’t an instant all-star.  I struggled to be liked and I was always a little different than my peers.  I mean, I wanted to be a park ranger when I grew up, which is definitely not typical for adolescent girls.  One thing I can say for sure, is that achievement sometimes is difficult for those who don’t fit the mold.  Even though I had a well-rounded set of talents, being that they weren’t typical, I still struggled to be seen as someone with potential.  That’s why I feel that I was seriously lucky to find my passion early in secondary school, in the way of technology and digital arts.  Finding a connection and fit was how I learned to be who I was, to further develop my strengthens rather than focussing on what I thought I needed to be.  Having a teacher look at me like there was a future, who embraced my differences and pushed me to try harder made such a difference in how I interacted with peers, how I approached problems.  It was like being given a map and told I could go anywhere.

It’s not the same for kids anymore.  They have so many more outlets for their peers to give feedback, all thanks to technology.  Finding satisfaction in just being themselves is becoming more unattainable as their world of peers broadens.  Technology has also opened up what seems like unlimited competition. There used to be just one or two kids you had to compare a success to but now its infinite.  We compare ourselves on the world stage, against celebrities, sport stars, professionals.  What good is your best strength when there’s a thousand other people hash-tagging the same thing, every second of the day?  It’s no wonder kids struggle with resilience and don’t like taking risks that might lead to failure.  Everything you do, good or bad, has the potential to be broadcast to the world and archived indefinitely.

I asked one of my top students about having the world as a critic, and she said “you can just be the best person you know how to be, and it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  You can’t give up because what does that say about you?”  She’s an exception in a lot of ways, as it’s so easy for many students to give up.  They are lacking resilience and perseverance–some of the most important tools we need in life.  They get us back up on the horse, help us find another fish in the sea.  Resilience and perseverance work together to get us out of tight spaces.  We as educators should be helping prepare our students for life’s ups and downs.  We need to provide opportunities and organize experiences that allow our students to develop perseverance and grow resilience.  But kids are smart.  They’ve learned all about the path of least resistance—it’s easier, its faster.  It usually doesn’t result in failure.  Unfortunately, it also doesn’t lead to adventure, or greatness, or world-changing ideas.  If quitting, or not even trying means zero negative outcomes, that is what is now seen as the better choice vs. trying and the possibility of failure.  Kids are missing out.

We have to push back against that mindset.  Kids are scared to take chances on themselves.  They compare themselves to every hashtag or snapchat story they see.  We have to change that by giving them opportunities to be brave.   I used to do this project in computers where I removed myself as a resource—I remember one of my quietest, back-of-the-room seat-warmers stand up and walk across the room to a peer he had never spoken to before to ask for help.  I can tell you, for him, that took serious courage.  What that kid wasn’t my top student?  No.  But he was talented (when he tried), and he had a great sense of humour.  It took four years to really get to know him and know the best way to push him outside his comfort zone.  I had to learn the best place to “start a fire” with him.

We really do need students to be brave, so they take risks.  We are lost as a society if risk taking becomes a faux-pas.  Technology is interfering with people trying new things—we can always find someone who did it better online.  I can’t even bake a cupcake without comparing it to the thousands of others posted on Pinterest or Instagram.  If I struggle with that comparison as an adult—undoubtedly most kids are struggling too.  I learned about risk-taking essentially in the dark ages.  Unless someone loaded their camera with a fresh roll of film—most of my risks went undocumented.  I remember doing silly things, like cartwheels during gym class and wacky halloween costumes.  No way are some kids doing that now, as they don’t want to go viral.

Technology doesn’t have to be all bad though!  We get to be connected to anyone and everyone we want to showcase our stuff to, be it cooking or biking or whatever.  We have the opportunity to be You Tube stars, to write and blog and share our wonderful creations to the world!  But, we still need courage, resilience, perseverance to be ourselves, to rise above the negative comments, the broadcasted failures.  The vlogging, blogging, hashtags, boomeranging will to continue to be an essential influence on our kids.  We need to equip them with the compass they’ll need to navigate the virtual world, so they can use it to their advantage.

We need to encourage adventure, risk-taking and the pursuit of excellence so resilience and perseverance make a comeback.   This is what is going to equip the next generation to take on the world, to get back up when they fall, and try, try again BUT most importantly, be successful.