Just a few weeks ago I found myself in the North Pole. No, seriously, this nice Jewish girl found herself up in the North Pole because when we say Education Elements supports districts across the country, we mean it. So in the middle of November, I found myself at 101 St. Nicholas Dr., in line to meet Santa and Mrs. Santa* after spending a great day working with Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. I didn’t sit on his lap and ask for anything, but it did get me thinking a little about what I might want this holiday season and a lot about what I want to give others. Because while many of us celebrate different holidays this time of year (and not all focus on giving gifts) I always find myself looking back, looking forward, and focusing on being grateful for what I have while thinking about what more I can give to others.
We all experience the world in different ways. I know that, as a white person, my experiences are different than those of a person of color – in ways both big and small – such as a feeling of belonging and safety, or the knowledge that I am implicitly trusted by others. As a woman, my experiences are different than those of a man; yes, sometimes physical doors are opened for me, but I also know my male friends have metaphorical ones often opened for them. So then when, a few months ago, a teammate shared an article about the pay inequities that often exist for both women and people of color, it gave me an opportunity to reflect, think, and discuss with others how we, at Education Elements, might need to change.
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A few months ago I attended ICLE’s Leadership Academy in Atlanta and heard Dr. Tyrone Howard speak. His talk was a powerful one, addressing the differences between equity and equality, the need to support all students, and a call to action to have difficult conversations, call out bias and microaggressions, and make sure that we see our students, understand and empathize with them, and educate every single one of them. One of the things that stood out the most was the idea of the Pedagogy of Poverty vs Pedagogy of Plenty.
I recently read Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact and was struck by the impact that expressing gratitude and appreciation has on both the receiver of the message, as well as on the giver. According to research, the feel-good benefits of sending or saying a sincere thank you can last up to a month. So as I sit here, outside on a balmy evening on vacation with my family, I recognize how much I have to be grateful for and know that I should write about it more than once a year...for my own benefit as well as for the benefit of others. And as always, my potential list is long but I recognize our average attention span is short and getting shorter, so here it is - just 7 of the many things we are grateful for this season.
For many, being an innovator conjures a vision of being the one out in front, alone, and it can certainly feel that way at times. All at once it seems like a big adventure and a scary proposition with uncertain rewards, but known risks. You may have a lot of questions to ask about your path but worry no one else is on it. It feels like something you kind of want to tell everybody about, but also don’t want anybody to know. The teacher who is trying something new may purposely close his door and not talk about it in case it fails. The school leader who is working on new strategies may keep quiet about them in a meeting with others, in case her peers try to dissuade her. The superintendent who wants to make her district radically different may feel like she is the only one trying to do this big thing or if she isn’t the only one, not know how to find others who think like her. So at a time when the support and ideas of others would help the most, we often are the least likely to receive them.
Let’s just be clear: there is a very short honeymoon period for a new superintendent. From day one, people have expectations of you as the new superintendent. They want you to be exactly the same or completely different than your predecessor. They have their hopes pinned on you bringing new ideas or have their fingers crossed that you won’t. They are wondering how long you will stay and what you will do during your tenure. They both expect you to know everything about the district right away, and yet know that you don’t and are frustrated by it. They have so many things they want to say to you, and yet voice few of them, as if you can read minds.