Leading or Leaving?

We’ve all heard the stats before-next to half of all teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching. Of course this statistic varies from province, state or country but regardless, the numbers are high. When I applied for my very first teaching job in 2009 fresh out of the Faculty,  I asked my future employers during my interview, “What’s your advice for new teachers as they embark on their career full of hope, energy and purpose? What advice do you have for me to make sure I don’t become part of this statistic?”. Their answer, “Find balance”, which is ironic because most scales in this profession are tipping (and I’m not talking about our salary scale, although that’s up for debate!). We are over achievers and set high standards. We care so deeply that we put the needs of the people we serve before our own and our own families. We sacrifice so much of ourselves for others. Educators are a special kind of creature.

I was hired last year to be part of the amazing staff that opened École Sage Creek School in the Louis Riel School Division in Winnipeg, Canada. An experience not every educator has the opportunity to take part in. This group of determined and driven innovative educators were hired because they are forward thinking and prove it. At École Sage Creek School, big ideas are brought to fruition and the students own the stage. The students’ storyline is spectacular as they lead front and center. They put on a great show, but no one sees or even understands what’s really happening behind the scenes.

The time. The mornings, the lunch hours, the “prep” times, the evenings. The weekends. The emails. The decisions. The brainstorming. The research. The meetings before, the meetings during, the meetings after school hours. The meetings to make meetings. The cars parked in front of the school on weekends. The stress. The skipped lunches. The EA’s running marathons. The planning. The connecting. The networking. The worrying. The communicating. The back and forth. The non stop hustle and bustle. It never ends. We tell ourselves it will be better after report cards, of after the winter concert or after the month of February (oh the month of February! – Valentine’s, I love to read month, Olympics, Festival du Voyageur, Hundredth day of School, Report cards anyone and may I mention all in 19 teaching days!!), but it’s just a line we use to trick our brains that things will get easier. Truth is, it does not. I believe we are numb and get used to the constant demands from students, parents, colleagues, school initiatives, divisional priorities and policies because that’s what we do. It’s what we have to do. To be an educator who has a meaningful impact on the lives of the of learners they teach, it does not get easier. Each calculated decision has a meaning, a value, a purpose. Some years are harder. Some years seem shorter. Some years are smarter. But the job is not getting easier. We’re fools to believe it does. Maybe it’s just me and my personality because I can’t accept mediocrity and I continuously want to better myself. I work hard. Others may say, work smarter, not harder…. I just secretly chuckle to myself as I politely nod and smile. They have no idea.

I’ve worked in two other schools and this one is completely different. The stakes are high, the pressure is on and we are all feeling it.

So how do we find balance as teachers/leaders?

It’s next to impossible for me. I realized I can’t be a great wife, mom and teacher all at the same time. Last month, I decided (not by choice, but for the sake of my mental and physical health) that I would put my Master’s on hold. I am so incredibly close to completing it- in the final stages – and I temporarily (key word) gave up my personal goal to better balance my home life and work life. This is never seen before footage from me, just ask my husband.  Never have I ever not met a goal I set for myself. Never have I ever not been able to juggle all parts of my life, until this year. SO when I actually dropped it, my husband knew it was serious. I have even considered becoming a full time substitute teacher to be more present for my own family. To raise my own kids. Yes it’s a significant salary drop, but not really, when you break down my teacher salary into an hourly wage and consider the evenings, weekends, and weeks of summer spent planning, prepping, creating and reflecting. I’d be the awesome wife I once was, a way better mom who witnessed those milestones and a teacher in different ways. It does seem pretty inviting. After discussing it with someone who I admire more than words can express and who has shaped me into the teacher I am today, he said “Nycol, I support you in whatever decision you make, but you wouldn’t have the same impact you have if you left the classroom”. And, he’s right. This man is always right. He reminded me of my purpose. It’s sometimes hard to remember your purpose when you have all of these extras and to do lists you need to attend to. We need to remember to open our eyes and see what’s in front of us day in and day out- our very students. They are our purpose. The struggle is, that I have three of my own along with the 22 others I play a part in raising.

In order to make it as a teacher, collaboration is key. We can’t work in isolation. George Couros says it himself, “Isolation is now a choice educators make.” Personally, I’d rather get in the canoe and paddle together up this “creek” because doing it alone is not an option. It’s actually impossible.

This morning, I came across these illustrations on social media by DestinyBlue. I feel they capture my feelings perfectly, when I think of how fortunate I am to work alongside a team of people who consistently strive for success and offer help when they too are in need of help. The staff at École Sage Creek School is a true team who “work smarter” in the good times and the hard times.

The picture above illustrates exactly how it feels when you have no choice but to do it alone. You feel trapped, stuck, powerless, worthless, inferior.

This second illustration by DestinyBlue portrays exactly what happens when you and your colleagues work as a team. They pick you up, give you wings, they offer help, and see your worth. They do not let you fall through the cracks. What I also love about this illustration is that it can also be compared to the relationship between a student and their teacher. The teacher reminds their students of their sense of purpose and their worth. Inspires them to take flight and discover what the world has to offer. It can also be viewed as the relationship between two friends, helping one another, because we all know students are teachers too.

Bottom line, it all comes down to relationships-having someone you can count on when you are feeling defeated, empty, alone, worthless, tired and uninspired. Having that someone who sees your strengths, who believes in you, who values you, who cares about you, who understands you and who will stand by you no matter what. We all need those relationships, adults, children, educators and students alike. So if you’ve lost your sense of purpose or feel as though your efforts aren’t worth it, know that you are not alone. But before you consider leaving the profession – really think of what you are leaving behind. You’re leaving your mark on those you serve everyday. You’re making a difference. What are you leaving?

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2018: The Year of Self Love for Life – Advice From a Sweet Grandma

New year, new me. Or should I say new year, better me? I don’t feel I need to change anything in particular, because I’m quite accepting of who I am and constantly strive to become a better version of myself, but my personal goal is to love myself as the ones who surround me and care about me do. There is one person in particular who always made me feel confident, and that is my Grandma.

I’ve been thinking a lot during the past few days. The new year is a time to reflect on our goals, center ourselves and find truth, seek greatness and be grateful of the past. To start the year off right, my husband and I took a vacation to Florida this passed week to spend some quality time unplugged with our three kiddos and get away from the everyday stressors and struggle to find a happy work/life balance. It was not the time away we had planned considering we were looking for heat and found cold. Luckily we had our tuques tucked away in our luggage! I’m not even kidding. Don’t even get me started on the two and a half hour process to get into Disney, and let’s not forget the phone call that changed my trip. My grandma passed away on Day 3 of our travel plans. As I’m sitting here in an airport, by myself, leaving my husband and kids with dad of the year in Florida (I recognize it’s only January 5th but this guy earned it and will take the trophy home on December 31st), I think of her. Like I do regularly, daily.

She was wonder woman. A kind hearted, open minded, selfless ray of sunshine. She was the only grandparent I ever got to know and the one I could share my secrets with. She was accepting and found joy in other people’s happiness. I spent my summers with her on the farm, watching her bake bread, tending to her garden that could feed the entire community. She helped others at all times of the day. I remember calling her the night before a gala to alter a dress I purchased the same evening (I’m a last minute shopper, what can I say?!). Needless to say, it was ready at 6 am the next morning and fit like a glove. I could ask her to come help me paint my house when I was redecorating and there she was with her step ladder and paint clothes on (they didn’t have a speck of paint on them- cause she was that good).

When I spent time with my Mémère I would always seek her life lessons and words to live by. When I asked her what her secret to living a full life was (Mémère, c’est quoi le secret de la vie?) she said this : It’s loving and being loved (C’est d’aimer et être aimé). Being loved implies you need to love yourself first to accept the love of others. As I’ll think of her daily, she will forever remind me to love myself, accept love and love others. Even though my grandma only had the chance to get to grade 9 before she had to stop her education to help raise her younger siblings, she is by far my favourite teacher.

I always find it funny how life sends you signals and secret messages. The day we found out she was gone to a better place than when she exited this lifetime, we were on our way to Kennedy Space Center. What did I walk up to but this quote. I’m sure it’s a sign from her. It was her time.

My advice to myself and to others is to love yourself and tell the ones you love that you do. You can’t hear those words enough. Even those who don’t believe it themselves will start to.

Tu me manques, Mémère. Je t’aime jusqu’au ciel.

I SEE YOU

I see you blog post

This post in dedicated to all teachers who are good enough, even more than enough, but often feel like they don’t measure up to the standards they set for themselves. 

I see you, pulling long hours, spending so much of your you time away from your own family, trying to give the best possible learning experiences to your students.

I see you skipping your lunch, so you can attend to your students’ needs and cater to their family’s needs.

I hear you, speaking to others to find solutions for those hard to reach and hard to teach students.

I see you get to your students’ level to let them know you are both equal parts that make a whole.

I see you, being so hard on yourself, because in ordinary circumstances your students would have mastered routines and your centers would be in full swing by this time of the year.

I see you asking your spouse to stay late to catch up on emails or make plans to have your students connect with a global audience.

I see you, greeting your students at the door by name because they are what matter most.

I see your lesson plans and your big ideas. How they are carefully thought out and everything is aligned, but with given circumstances, they are sometimes put off to a later date and time; because learning to live together and celebrating differences is your priority.

I feel your passion. It exudes from you heart and your soul.

I see your tears, for this is one of the hardest and most validating jobs in the world.

I see you there, staring back at me in the mirror.

Do you see yourself in the same one?
If so, let me remind you that you are more than enough. Be kind to yourself, for I see you there too, doing the best you possibly can.

 

Consuming With The Intention to Create

I recently took a short (but still way longer than I wanted) break from blogging and here I am now, writing away because I just watched Tara Martin in action for the #IMMOOC episode and she made me want to get back into it. To be honest, I like blogging- it makes me reflect on what I am doing, what I am learning, and it allows me to connect the scattered dots inside my head. It gives me something to show for the never ending ideas and thoughts that run marathons inside my head. I do it for myself as it makes me feel as thought I’ve accomplished something that is meaningful to me.

Blogging is one of those things that, for me, take time. It’s no secret to my friends, family and new colleagues that I am Type A ( side note – my admin calls me 4A – you can imagine why!) and so for me, writing a post takes more time than it should (just ask Annick, co-writing blog posts with me is painful!). When I write, I over analyse and question, then edit and again and again until it’s early in the morning and I finally realize I’m doing this for myself – so I  hit publish. In light of Tara Martin being R.E.A.L. tonight and always, I’m allowing myself to be R.E.A.L. with this post because in the past few months, I’ve been feeling extreme guilt for several reasons:

  • #1– Signing up for #IMMOOC knowing far too well that I wouldn’t be able to participate as much as I would like. I keep reminding myself that something is better than nothing. One tweet is better than none.
  • #2 – Putting work first, family second and myself last. This is nothing new, but my work/life balance has hit an all-time low. Being hired in a a new school that opened this September, I want things to be just right (remember my 4A moniker). And it’s not even like I’m the sole leader in my classroom. I wholeheartedly believe that students should be doing the bulk of their learning so they have a sense of pride, ownership and feel they are contributing to their person, their school and their community. But since only three of my students knew each other from their previous schools, my priority is pouring a solid foundation for the learning that will take place and building relationships as a group so my students feel they can lead successfully in an environment where they feel safe and encouraged to take risks. I also feel the need to prove to others that I deserve the golden ticket that was handed to me when I was hired. That in itself is stressful because I am not even close to where I would usually be and nowhere near where I  thought we would currently be. That being said, I constantly remind myself that things that matter take time.
  • #3 – For the very first time in my life, I have not met one of my own deadlines which was finishing my Master’s degree in Inclusive Education before the start of this new school year. I know it sounds ridiculous. How lucky am I to have everything I’ve ever wanted and for this to be what’s eating me inside? But if you knew me, you would know how excruciating it is for me to have failed myself even though I still have plenty of time left in my program. I completed my  10 course load in two years, working full time, while having baby number 3, surviving appendicitis, a first born’s broken foot, a second born’s ENT surgery, and applying for my dream job (which I got!).  But I had planned on finishing  my final paper in the twelve months that followed. Needless to say,  I’ve recently had to push my deadline one last time which is disappointing to me because had I finished in my given timeline, this would have relieved so much pressure and stress from my body especially as I started this new teaching position. Wherever I go and whatever I do, this final project is an incredible weight I carry with me at all times similar to those commercials you see on tv about debt – watch here. On top of that, in order to finish, I need to hand some of my responsibilities over to my amazing husband and give up some playing time with my kids to get it done. My entire family is sacrificing themselves while I pursue this goal. I feel selfish for compromising so much of their time. I long for the freedom I thought I would have had at this point and time of the year to reinvest in myself, my family and my classroom.

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But this post isn’t really about guilt, is it. It’s about what I am going to do now that plan A wasn’t realistic for me in the past year. It’s about unexpected twists and turns in life and how we deal with change. It’s about how I accept my new timelines and see my perceived failure as a way to showcase my resilience and grit. It’s about proving to myself that I am not less of a learner because I didn’t reach my set goal in the time frame I gave myself. It’s about making a plan B to make it work. I bring this example up because in my mind, it relates exactly to the message that was said tonight between Tara and Katie Martin. It’s ok to consume content, but if your talents are never unleashed, and your ideas never shared or tested, what good are they?  In regards to my final M.Ed. paper, my Type A-ness feels that I need to read all to understand all because I’ll never be able to sum up the subject in its entirety without reading everything I can get my hands on. I could read and read and read scientific articles until I die. There will always be new content coming out. Reality is, my paper will never “feel” complete and I have to be ok with that. My M.Ed. adviser told me just this when we met for our goal setting meeting this past Thursday, “Nycol, there is no end. At some point, you have to stop researching and write.”  You can imagine how meaningful tonight’s message was for me. At some point, you have to allow yourself some time to stop consuming to create. What you contribute will have a greater impact.img_5027

Special thanks to :
– My neighborhood colleagues who remind me we are in this together.
– My PLF (as Tara would say), who I believe are the Duracell batteries to my bunny.
– My M.Ed. adviser, Sylvie, who sees me as I should see myself. Thanks for sending me motivational quotes when I need them most.
– Nicole, my text reminder who’s been through it herself!
– My husband and kids who are my constant cheerleaders and heart fillers. They remind me what is REAL.

 

 

I’m In Love With Your Knowledge

This blog post was co-written by Nycol Didcote and Annick Rauch, best friends who always support, push and encourage one another. We are so lucky to be working together again this September at École Sage Creek School, a new school opening up in the Louis Riel School Division in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Last April, Annick and I headed to Connect 2017, Canada’s Learning & Technology Conference, in beautiful Niagara Falls. There, we met and connected with many amazing educators who were not only incredible leaders in education, but fundamentally incredible people, too. They all seemed to have an amazing work/life balance and also took time to have fun. One of these educators was Brian Aspinall. Shortly after leaving Niagara, I noticed he took vlogging to a new level with his “EDU Carpool Karaoke” which made my day. Remembering all the amazing and fun educators who took risks at the Niagara Ignite event, hosted by Fair Chance Learning, I decided to take a risk and give the EDU Karaoke a go myself. Shortly after, Annick was challenged and a few others jumped on the bandwagon. Brian later stepped up his game by introducing a golf-cart edition of edu karaoke-genius!

Then, one morning in May, I (Annick) was driving to work and Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You came on the radio, as it often does, but this time, with EDU Carpool Karaoke fresh in my mind, inspiration hit me. I couldn’t help but think how this amazingly catchy song would make a great EDU style song. Ideas were flowing, but I couldn’t pull off such a thing alone. A few quick texts later, Nycol was on board with yet another one of my crazy ideas, and we hit the ground running! Yes, it is now the end of August and we just finally finished up this project, but after we started in May, report card time hit, then we wrapped up the school year, packed our boxes, and we’ve both had busy summers. Although it took longer than we had hoped, we are here now, and hope you enjoy our creation!

A few notes before you watch:

  • We both love singing and know that we are not great singers (but we don’t care, it’s all about our message and having fun!!) You may want to turn your volume down juuusssst a tad! 😉
  • We are always talking about risk taking and modelling in education – this is what this video is all about. We put ourselves out there and this is something that we will be able to show our students as an example of a risk we took.
  • We know the importance of being a lifelong learner and the power that being a connected educator can have on our learning. This is how our song was born, placing the emphasis on thanking our amazing PLC and encouraging others to join and get connected.

So thank you to all those (past, present, and future) who shape us into who we are as teachers everyday. From our in person PLC to our online PLC, you are all amazing and we appreciate each and every one of you!

So, here it is, Brian! With this, we are one upping your Carpool Karaoke AND your golf-cart edition of edu karaoke!

Deep breath, here goes nothing…. 🙂