Sunday, October 4, 2015

Staying Transparent

The last week has been an absolute whirlwind of emotion and activity, because a little over a week ago, this happened.

This picture was taken at our state's Teacher of the Year banquet.  See the guy on the left?  He teachesfifth grade math in East Tennessee, where he gets double digit TVAAS gains out of kids in a classroom where 90% qualify for free or reduced lunch.  He organizes a Math Olympiad every year in which hundreds of kids participate.  He also has leadership experience to spare, and is a super nice guy to boot.

And the guy on the right?  He teaches algebra II in Middle Tennessee.  While working on his doctorate.  And writing about the Japanese Study Model for professional development.  He is kind and funny and incredibly smart, and we also work together on the Governor's Teachers Cabinet.

I'm in the middle.  

So what happened is this.  We three were selected, out of a group of 9 absolutely phenomenal teachers from across the state, as the grand division finalists for Tennessee Teacher of the Year!  Which means not only are we incredibly honored (I mean, these are 9 incredible teachers!), but we get to work together for two years on the Teacher Advisory Council, which collaborates to help teachers share their voices and feedback with the Commissioner's office.

Sidenote:  I am determined to get at least one shot of us in a Charlie's Angels pose before that time is up.  

Out of the three of us, one was selected as Tennessee Teacher of the Year, and it took a few seconds for it to sink in that they'd actually said my name when the announcement was made.  

It looked a whole lot like this.

So, it's been a crazy, exciting week.  I'm thrilled about a lot of things.  I can't wait to meet again with the Teacher Advisory Council; it's not every day that you get to work with top teachers from across your state.  We are already making plans to host roundtable discussions with teachers in our regions, and I am excited to meet with teachers, hear their thoughts, find out what fantastic things are going on in their classrooms, and share their voices.  I am looking forward to talking with anyone who'll listen about the importance of early literacy and what we can do to make sure kids leave the third grade ready to read critically.  I want to use this time to work together to make a real difference in education and in our students' lives.

But there's one thing I want to encourage us all to do, and that's to stay transparent.  It's vital that we all remember that no one's classroom is perfect.  It may seem perfect.  I mean, we live in an age of Pinterest, where every container is color coordinated and every label is printed in the cutest fonts and every student is smiling at the book they're holding.

Listen to me.  No one's classroom is full of rainbows and unicorns and Skittles.  It just doesn't happen.  Teaching is a calling - and a noble one at that - but it can also be messy and uncomfortable and frustrating and it can make you cry.  When we are open and transparent with one another, though, when we share the imperfection and the struggle, we do two things.  First, we let everyone know that imperfect is okay.  Actually, it's more than okay.  It's awesome, because when we learn most when we try and fail and then try again.  Second, we open the doors for some incredible communication, because when I know that you're not perfect, then I'm not afraid to come to you with a problem.  I know that your classroom is just as imperfect as mine, so I'm not worried about being judged or feeling dumb or that you'll talk about what a wreck my teaching is.  I'll know that we're just two teachers, struggling to get it right, knowing that it will never be perfect but that the journey forward is what makes us great.

Case in point.  Some teacher, we'll call her Teacher C, may or may not have discovered before the banquet that her shoes were a tad too big.  Said teacher may or may not have been terribly worried that she was going to fall (not an uncommon occurrence) in front of everyone, and in a desperate attempt to remedy the situation, stuffed toilet paper in the toes of her shoes.  Same teacher may or may not have been praying, with every step to the stage, "Please, please, please do not let me come out of these shoes and let toilet paper go all over the place and let these people see that I don't even have it together enough to get shoes that fit."

See?  Don't you feel better about going to Teacher C with a problem or an idea?  I mean, she's obviously seriously flawed.  Don't you feel more comfortable talking with her?

So, stay transparent.  It can be uncomfortable, and it can feel really vulnerable, but I promise you will become a better teacher for it.

Have a great week!

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