Success is not an embarrassment…

In Southern, Protestant culture, there is a genuine fear of pride.  “Pride cometh before a fall.”  Sometimes it’s hard to separate confidence from pride, at least for me.  Enter my post title: “Success is not an embarrassment.”

This may seem like common sense to you.  You may be thinking, who in the world would be embarrassed by success?  Let me just say this.  When recognition of your supposed accomplishments pushes people away from you, rather than connects them with you, it causes a problem.  At least it does internally.

Today, I was at a conference on how to be an effective instructional coach.  We thought about the differences between goals and intentions and set some of each.  My professional intention is as follows: “I will not shy away from leadership opportunities.  I will be confident in my abilities.”  That’s hard for me.  Some people may not understand why that is hard, and that’s okay, but it is hard.

I want to connect with people.  Like the famous YouTube video says, “Children don’t learn from people they don’t like,” and neither do adults.  What adult wants someone they do not like coming into their classroom and trying to “help” them?  I firmly believe that instructional coaches need to connect with those around them in the school in order to be effective.  How can I be effective if I am not confident?  How can I be confident if I’m embarrassed by success?

My principal is very supportive of my teaching efforts.  Sometimes, it seems he has more confidence in my abilities than I do.  I tend to focus on the negative: the things I missed, the things I didn’t do, the students I didn’t reach.  I know I have skills.  I know I can do things.  How can I feel okay with others seeing what I’m good at, too?

I have to “unlearn” that success is embarrassing.  Somewhere along the way, I picked that up.  Instead of helping me to remain humble, it’s causing me great consternation, fear, and anxiety.  I want to be alleviated from this issue!  I also want to focus on my strengths so that I can further develop them.

I say all of this to come to this point: success is personal.  It’s individualized.  It means different things to different people.  For me, it means that I am comfortable with who I am, what I can do, and what I’m good at doing.  It means that I wouldn’t be embarrassed by compliments or recognition.  I shouldn’t hold myself back so that others don’t feel like they need to compete.  And I can model this behavior by celebrating with others who succeed.

I will be intentional about celebrating my own successes by sharing with others who will celebrate with me, rather than compete with me.  I will be honored by opportunities, rather than be embarrassed by them.  I will demonstrate confidence in my competence.

What about you?

For when you’re uninspired

I haven’t written this week.  I was waiting to be inspired.  I kept thinking something would come along, some thought or connection, and I would immediately come up with the right words.  Nothing came along.  So I remained uninspired.  Until that inspired me.

Every day, we ask students to be creative, collaborative, and communicative, whether they feel like it or not.  What if they aren’t inspired?  What if they’re tired?  What if they have nothing to say?  What if the assignment is boring and it leaves them unmotivated to complete it?

We expect them to do it anyway.  We expect them to perform, regardless of motivation or inspiration, whether they feel like it or not.

There are days when I don’t feel like I have it all together.  There are days when my ducks are not even in the same pond, let alone a row, and I’m expected to still be interesting and engaging.  There are days when there are things going on outside of school and my mind is on those things instead.  What then?  What do you do when you’re uninspired?

You do it anyway.  You model perseverance.  Resilience.  Faith and hope. You admit that today is difficult.  You don’t fight the feelings you have–those can’t be helped.  Instead, you spend your energy moving forward and overcoming, rather than fighting the feelings.  Acknowledge the feelings; give yourself some grace.  And move on.

When you’re uninspired, it doesn’t have to stop you.  Use it as your springboard.  You just might find some inspiration where you least expect it.


What a Child Believes

I’m sitting outside, watching my child play, and reveling in the simple joy a water table can bring in 90+ degree heat. As I have been watching and interacting with him, something has been reverberating within my spirit and I decided to share.

Children believe what they are told. My son is three and believes what I tell him, and although I know that this belief can dissipate as children age, for the most part it’s true.

Children who are told that they will succeed, or that they are important, will believe it. And the same is, unfortunately, true for the opposite approach: children who are told that they will not amount to anything will believe it.

What kind of voice are you giving to the children in your life? If you speak negatively of a child in front of him, he will internalize what you say. When you think they can’t hear, or don’t understand, they can at least recognize the tone.

I’ve heard teachers gossip about students–about children–as they stand in the hallway or as they eat lunch. What are they teaching the children who overhear? What are the children believing because of those words?

There is life and death in the tongue.  I’ve seen the power of words. Think about how often the mere 140 characters on Twitter has encouraged you, inspired you, or incensed you. How can we, as teachers, underestimate words, having experienced their power? How can we deny that we have the power to speak life and death to a child, to make a difference, whether positive or negative?

We shouldn’t deny it. We should reflect upon this power. Take it seriously and use it in a positive way. Whether we realize it or not, we are influencing children with our words.

We say a lot of words in the course of a school day and school year. What words do we want them to remember?

A Tribute to Vulnerability

There’s a relief and release associated with vulnerability and transparency that cannot be properly explained with words.  It can be cathartic, sometimes even addicting.  (Just like in “Fight Club” when he goes around confessing in all these different help groups.)  But there’s a real purpose for it.  It helps you connect to others.

Somewhere along the way, students have had it ingrained within them that the teacher is the “expert.”  I don’t want this title.  I don’t want to be considered an expert at anything.  Expert level means there’s no room for growth, no room to learn anything new.  I want to have a growth mindset.

I haven’t always had a growth mindset.  As a matter of fact, I used to believe that intelligence and ability were static, unyielding entities.  Either you had it in you, or you simply didn’t.  But watching the seemingly miraculous work my mother accomplished with exceptional children in her 32 year career changed my outlook.  Seeing my own students–students who began as unmotivated, disconnected individuals–finish the year as connected, engaged learners showed me I was wrong.  The teacher and the environment can make the difference.

I do not know everything.  As a matter of fact, I’m okay with that because, as the old adage states, I don’t want to be a “sage on the stage,” but a “guide by the side.”  I want my students to be okay with not knowing–that’s how you grow.  That’s how you learn.  My entire academic career, I thought you had to be an expert to teach Social Studies–you had to know Jeopardy! type trivia and be able to answer every DOK 1 question with ease.  But that’s not my goal as a teacher.  I want the students to be at the center–not me.

And everyone CAN learn.  It’s not relegated to the few.  It’s there for anyone.  Are you modeling this mindset for your students?  I hope I am.  I’ve had some great models.

*Inspired by Joy Kirr, who recently tagged me in a blog post she wrote on vulnerability*

Why would anyone care what I think?

I learned a lot from a Twitter Chat tonight with Joy Kirr, the author of Shift This.  I used to view blogging as something that required an audience…but it’s not for the readers.  It’s for the writer.

I need a space to reflect, and maybe, just maybe, someone will learn from my reflections.  If not, that’s okay, too.  Reflection should be part of every educator’s routine.  Are things improving?  Why or why not?

I need this.  We’ll see where it goes.

Why I Tech

There has been a lot of buzz over the questions, “Why do you teach?” and “Why use technology in the classroom?”  Here’s my answer:

I teach to impact the future generation.  I tech to prepare the future generation.

In my class this year, students will have their own spaces for blogging about their experiences in 8th grade Social Studies.  We will also have a classroom Twitter account.

I am really excited about this journey and I hope you’ll follow along with us!