In response to a challenge by @DCulberhouse, a PLN colleague and blogger, I would like to share with you the journey I have taken to get here, my little corner of the education world.
I was always an average student as a child- never “bad” but never great. I was shy and quiet and never put forth an ounce of effort beyond the basic requirements. However, I loved reading and writing (outside of school!) and knew from the age of about five that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.
In high school I was the kid who raced through the standardized test every year so that I would have time to read my book. And not the book that my English teacher had assigned, along with the list of 100 vocabulary words to memorize, but books I chose to read on my own. I always had a book on hand, just as I always had a journal full of my own writing. As much as I loved learning outside of school, the only place I connected with and enjoyed learning in school was in my Spanish classes. Therefore, when it came time to pick a major in college (at James Madison University in VA) I chose Spanish, with a minor in Education.
I loved college, loved studying abroad for a summer in Salamanca, Spain, and truly loved my education classes. From our first semester we had practicums in local schools so I received tons of on-the-job training. I also began to realize that in every experience I had to determine if what I saw modeled was what I wanted to add to my “replicate that” list or my “do not ever do that” list. These lists make appearances in my mind as I experience PD to this day!
My first job out of college was teaching Spanish and Civics to 8th graders in a middle school where teachers work on interdisciplinary teams. My team, the Apollo team, had three other content area teachers and we all shared the same group of students. We also had a common prep period- I think it was every day and I know it was over an hour at a time. Looking back, knowing what I’ve learned about the value of PLC’s, I realize that we did not team in any way that was effective for students. Ah, to know then what I know now…
After two years teaching in Virginia the sunny weather of San Diego called to me and I packed up and headed west. I found a home in a middle school with a dynamic principal, who became a mentor and a friend. Through her encouragement and shared leadership, I became a better teacher, and a new learner who couldn’t get enough professional books to read or coaching support from various consultants and leaders. This led into my role as Peer Coach/ Staff Developer, which was like a Literacy Coach, where I realized how much instruction varied from room to room and how much I enjoyed working with adults, analyzing lessons, instruction, and student work. I learned from my colleagues every day and became more and more excited about coaching and collaboration. At the same time I worked on my Master’s in Educational Leadership and my administrative credential.
When my mentor got a job at a high school, I followed her. For one year I was the Literacy Administrator, which was a short-lived position in our changing district. I learned a lot that year- about adult learners, about long-term English Learners, about complacency, and about overcoming barriers.
My next role was two years as a middle school vice principal. While the typical job description – lots of student discipline and supervision- was not the vision I had for my career, I was fortunate to work with a principal who valued instructional leadership. Our teamwork and collaboration pushed my thinking about professional development, building consensus, creating and implementing a vision, and giving teachers a voice. After two years I knew I was ready to be a principal.
This transition brought me to another district and another level- elementary school. Some people on my staff were surprised when they learned that I had never taught at the elementary level (outside of my student teaching!). Many people on my staff were surprised when I told them that staff meetings would be about our adult learning, that I would never spend time in a meeting talking at people or sharing what could be shared in my weekly bulletin. Through professional development, which included the introduction of lesson studies, where I often taught demonstration lessons, the staff came to realize the value of instructional leadership and the importance of creating a culture of learning.
I learned so much with and from my staff and colleagues during my years as a principal. In some ways, it was hard to make the next transition and in other ways, I knew it was time to push myself, to challenge myself in a new way. This past January I became the Director of Educational Services for an elementary district, different from the two previous districts where I had spent the last 13 years of my career. I do enjoy change (obviously!) but even I laugh when I think about the fact that I manage to change districts the same time I change positions twice in a row. Anyone who has done either knows that this is like learning a new, often foreign, language!
Everyone’s journey is there own. I have no regrets about any step along the way, as I learned so much with each new role. Now I get to support coaches at all of our schools and I participate in regular collaborative discussions about teaching, learning, and leadership with amazing colleagues. I love my job!
*This post was updated in May 2016 with links to relevant and current blog posts.