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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When Two Worlds Collide

At École Sage Creek School, both the French Immersion and the English programs are colliding, something that’s happened only once before in our division. When I applied for a teaching job in this dual track school, my friends who previously worked in one had many comments to share with me, some positive, and others not. But deep down, I knew this would be a different situation. I felt it would be different. ÉSCS would be a teaching and learning opportunity like none other I had ever experienced. When I thought of these two worlds colliding, I can’t deny that at first, I wondered how challenging it would be to maintain the integrity of the French Immersion program in a dual track school. I constantly worried about interactions in the staff room or learning commons and how I didn’t want to upset, insult or exclude anyone. I worried about my students having to learn a second or third language in an environment that didn’t allow them to be fully immersed. I worried about how all of our expertise and big ideas would fit into one building. How could all of our voices be heard? Thinking of having these two programs colliding led me to an old clip from Seinfeld. I haven’t always been a fan of the show, in fact at first I couldn’t stand to watch it, but when I met my husband – 15 years ago now –  we used to watch it early on in our relationship as teens (before life happened and we had kids). Low and behold, the oneliners and characters quickly grew on me and seeing how much my husband enjoyed watching the show, I couldn’t help but watch it with him. Even now, as he reads my post and watches the clip, his laugh still gets me! In this episode, George’s “two worlds” are colliding (his friends and his girlfriend) and he’s devastated. Nothing great can come out of his two worlds colliding. See SlapstickGuru2’s YouTube video below.

When I think of our two worlds colliding at ÉSCS, I know we won’t combust, we will strive to work as one unit. The staff has only met a handful of times and in the few interactions we’ve had (only four to be exact), it’s clear to me that we are all focussed on building one learning community and one school culture. One where learning will take flight and we’ll lead by innovation and collaboration. This was evident in our first meetings when a teacher I had met once before took the time to share the division’s reading and writing continuums with me so I could better be prepared as we planned in our respective teams. It was also confirmed when we toured our building for the very first time last week. What a masterpiece!

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After our walk through the school, teachers had the rare opportunity to decide where their second home would be (as all the classrooms are different in size and in function). As neighbourhood teams, we’ve also been emailing back and forth constantly, sharing materials and creating resources, offering suggestions, providing feedback, voicing our opinions and knowing how to dance – when to push, when to pull.  The same is true with same grade levels in both programs when it came to idea sharing, placing classroom orders and creating our supply lists. It was incredible how we were communicating through email, text and phone calls to get our lists completed over the weekend. It was a daunting and overwhealming task but this collaboration piece was critical to ensure we’ll be well equiped when our doors open this fall. As individuals, I sense that we are all open and excited to trying new ideas and firm on continuing what works best in each of our classrooms. Collaborating takes time. An awful lot of time, but I firmly believe that we were able to reflect a little deeper and make decisions that were clearer while we get to know who we are and who we are working with. Although there is still so much work to be done, we are well on our way towards making incredible cohesive learning spaces come together.

As I walked though the learning commons and our classrooms to get a feel of what our space will look like and feel like, I imagined our students using these spaces together to develop their 21st century skills along with their soft skills. I could see them collaborating, discovering, trying, failing and finding solutions. I could almost hear the buzz of students questionning, negotiating, celebrating and tinkering. The feeling I had when I walked through those doors is one I won’t soon forget and I just can’t wait to witness the students’ reactions as they walk into their learning spaces this September.

Unlike the Seinfeld video, I assure you that if I start using your lingo, it’s because I love your creativity and I am inspired by you. When I’m in the staff room and you’re looking for a place to sit, I will pull up a chair for you to join. If you offer me to join you at lunch to grab a bite to eat, I will take you up on it. If I come to school dressed in a puffy white pirate shirt (if you’ve watched Seinfeld, you’ll understand), please note that I am so inspired by Dave Burgess and that I am not impersonating Jerry Seinfeld (I mean, I LOVE the show, but I don’t love it THAT much!). When we give ideas and people a chance- we may surprise ourselves- just like me learning to love this sitcom. And lastly, even though the West Wing is forbidden in Beauty and the Beast, ÉSCS’s West Wing is open to all :).

We’ve been told time and time again that this process wouldn’t be easy but it would be worth it. That statement couldn’t be more true. Although there will be some courageous conversations to be had and difficult decisions to be made, the result of having these two worlds collide will be out of this world!

Comfort Zone Quotes - A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but n