Don’t Be Defined by Disappointments

disappointments

Over the last year, I have worked diligently to reach newer heights. I added to my consulting business portfolio by becoming a National Trainer through the Center for Teacher Effectiveness (CTE). I also became inundated with the task of perfecting a professional development session focused on teacher efficacy, student engagement, and motivation. Keep in mind, I have led professional development sessions locally, but had not yet taken on the challenge of presenting at the state level. That all changed this last year. I was both honored and privileged to have my presentation/proposal accepted at four state teacher/administrator conferences! I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly, but now here I was preparing to present at four very established state conferences.

Have you ever prepared for something for so long that everything just seemed to fall right into place? I mean, the presentation looks great, it sounds great, and in your mind, you envision everything running smooth as pudding? This has been my experience and has led to an exceptionally eye-opening year to say the least! The opportunity to share my knowledge at the state level has the potential to finally boost my business to the next level. The mere conception of reaching districts beyond my locality has become intoxicating! I instantly become inspired by the expansive impact I would be able to make within neighboring states and communities. Needless to say, however, what was to be an exhilarating experience evolved into an overwhelmingly stressful, anxiety laden test that would become a lesson lying in wait.

I’ve been wanting to write for the longest, but for some reason, working to build the public speaking portion of my business left my voice silenced, ironically enough. The emphasis on making sure just the right slides were included, that each annotation was accurate, and each objective was being met loomed over me.  It may be difficult to understand, but while I was organizing and reorganizing slides, I began to feel a great deal of pressure. It was really all I thought about in my spare time and I became almost obsessive about the entire presentation. There was a lot of research and great detail placed into making certain the session was just right. It needed to be perfect! 

However, in my reflection of this past year, I finally have something to share with all of you, and that is this… disappointments can only define us, if we allow them! Think about that statement, then, think about the many successes you have achieved. Should one disappointment negate all of those?

Last summer, around this time, I created a professional development presentation focused on teacher efficacy, student engagement and motivation. My proposal was accepted for the very first time to present in October (2017) in Columbus, Ohio at the Fall Title I Conference. I was incredibly excited, yet, also nervous. Not about the content I was sharing, but more about how it would be received. I presented by myself, as I typically do, and I began to feel a tremendous amount of apprehension. The presentation went pretty well, but I sensed that I was not reaching some of the participants, particularly those that were administrators. My target audience had been teachers up to this point and teachers have been extremely receptive of the material. I found that I was a much harsher critic of myself than those I presented to because feedback and evaluation ratings from them were high. Very high! It was a confidence booster that I did not realize I needed! I became even more elated when as a direct result of this presentation, I was invited to speak at the spring Title I Conference in May! I thought to myself, I have finally created a platform for myself to reach educators across the state!

While I was looking forward to May 2018 and the future presentation I would deliver, I still had to present in February 2018 at the conference for Teachers of English Language Arts. This conference was very involved and my presentation was even more well received. There was standing room only and participants were extremely engaged! I was able to share a couple of strategies, but the discussion was so interesting, we not only lost track of time, but also ran out of time! A Board member spoke so highly of the session that she suggested more time for me next year! Great! I will be there! I am feeling very confident about the direction my business is heading after this conference. I should have known that disappointment was lingering nearby just waiting to pounce on me and wear down the high level of efficacy I have worked hard to build.

By the time I get back to the Title I conference in May, something was feeling off. I was distressed, but I am not sure why. Perhaps it was from the stress of the school year wearing on my spirit; the desolate feeling I had being at this conference and every conference prior; or perhaps it’s the sudden inadequacy I was feeling as a lone presenter or regarding my presentation itself, as the case may be. I cannot pinpoint exactly what brought on this unsettling mood, but there is definitely something happening. Although it wasn’t the best, I believe I was still able to meet the basic objective of the presentation. Participants seemed to leave with a basic understanding of student engagement and motivation, as well as a couple of strategies to share, but something just did not feel right. I was definitely disappointed at the end of it, feeling that I had not given my best me. I immediately take participant feedback to revise the session to make it even better for the next presentation opportunity.

June 2018…my fourth and final presentation of the school year.  This conference was with Elementary School Administrators and leaders. My biggest challenge yet. I felt good about it going in, but once I got there, the feeling of trepidation enshrouded my being. Perhaps it is because I am presenting to a new audience or because, in the back of my mind, I knew I was not fully prepared for this particular audience. In hindsight, I recognized there were steps missed to meet the capacity of this group. I talk myself down, thinking, “Things have been GREAT up to this point. You’re overreacting!” Oh, but, my gut was very aware of what was about to happen. The very first thing that happened was, I lost my voice just before the presentation began! Literally, lost my voice. It was awful!! It had to be a sign! Then, I began to sweat and watch the walls come tumbling down, figuratively speaking. I presented to the most difficult room I have had up to this point. Participants were in fact NOT engaged and the more I tried, the less they listened. There were more administrators in the room this time and the words coming out of my mouth did not seem to spark any wick of interest at all. I wanted to stop immediately, but I pressed on, thinking the entire time, “What is happening?” Disappointment had shown its face! I was so disappointed in myself. I was saddened that participants left unfed and disengaged; distressed that I was unable to shift the presentation enough to gain attention; and frustrated that even though I saw it coming, what I did to prepare for it just wasn’t enough.

I immediately begin to reflect. In fact, I have been reflecting for the last month over what I consider a “major” disappointment in my career. I reached out to my mentors for feedback about what I experienced.  Receiving criticism, admitting defeat, accepting this “set back” as an opportunity for a come back was hard, but the fact of the matter is, disappointments are a normal part of life! While they are painful, for sure, they are necessary for growth. It is my belief that when you hold yourself to the same expectations day after day, week after week, disappointments are bound to make their way into your space, because one becomes complacent with what they are tasked to do. Think about this… if your expectations are the same day in and day out, they are bound to misalign with the needs of someone else. The implication of this is not that the end result will be different, however it does imply that the route you use to reach the goal may be (and, in fact, should be) different than the route you took before. Understand that this takes time, efficiency, and precision to ensure that each specific objective is met for the needs of the identified audience. Otherwise, disappointment is surely inevitable.

As a result of these personal learning opportunities, I have come to realize that my expectations were set to meet MY own needs and not the needs of those to whom I was speaking. The feeling of disappointment sensed that fragility in my session and pounced right at the perfect time. Now, what I thought were great experiences, became growth opportunities for me. Lessons in planning, public speaking, recognizing the needs of the audience, and lessons about myself as a growing entrepreneur, passionate about what I am creating and preparing. Rather than receiving these experiences as a lesson, I took them as progressive failures and personal attacks on my ability to teach and advocate for change. I was at an all time low and had allowed disappointment to define who I was as an educator and advocate.

No more! I refuse to allow disappointment to run my life and hinder my successes. I have come too far and accomplished too many positive things in this field to allow that to happen. So, I say to you, although it is often difficult to receive, let us welcome disappointments and use them as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Disappointments compel you to redefine who you are in order to maintain engagement and relevance and it does so frequently. It can and it will define you and ruin you, but only if you allow it. Disappointments always linger in wait. When they come for you, listen, learn, change your route, then move onward and upward toward success.

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A Special Thanks from Transitions

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A year ago TODAY, I launched this educational blog. Twenty-eight posts later (24 of which were written exclusively by me), I continue to transparently share my educational experiences and life lessons. It remains my incessant hope that through my sharing, I will incite other educators to reflect upon their own instructional practices and, in turn, result in a change or modification of those current practices as well.

I have grown a great deal through writing this blog. Opening myself has not been easy, however, it has helped me to learn more about myself as an educator and as a person. It has helped me to look at my instructional practices differently. It’s helped me become a stronger educator without a doubt.

So, today, on this one year anniversary, I want to say thank you on behalf of Transitions Educational Consulting. Thank you for engaging with me through my blog. Thank you for following and offering comments of support and encouragement. Thank you for sharing my experiences with others. Thank you for helping me grow and opening yourselves to new opportunities for growth as well.

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Your support is very much appreciated! Keep reading, keep following, keep sharing. Thank you again.
#Transitions #ExpectGreatness

 

Transitions

From Deliberate Ignorance to Intentional Awareness

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The bottom line is that most U.S. schools have no plan to provide the sorts of classroom instruction that at-risk kindergartners need. Neither high-quality, extensive professional development for kindergarten teachers nor expert tutorial instruction for at-risk kindergartners is on the agenda at this point. This means that most schools deliberately create a pool of students who will become struggling readers. I say deliberately because, unfortunately, that’s just what it is— deliberate ignorance of what we should do to address the problems of at-risk kindergartners. (Allington, 2011)

In a recent staff meeting, we read the article “What At-Risk Readers Need” by Richard Allington. The above quote stuck with me and elicited some great discussion among a group of us during the meeting. The article discussed the lack of instruction at-risk readers receive within the classroom. Allington asserts that children leaving kindergarten not knowing their letters and letter sounds will more than likely become struggling readers. In fact, at the time of this research, he stated that 66% of students were reading below grade level. Take a moment just to consider that. That means, two out of every three students in your classroom, are reading below grade level! Astounded by this realization, I had to stop and consider my own students and actually found the statement to be consistent with what is happening in my classroom!

My thoughts cling to these two words, “deliberate ignorance”. Who, in their right mind, would practice ignorance, on purpose?! Well, according to Allington, many of us tend to fall prey to this particular form of ignorance. You see, when we know that we don’t know a particular instructional process or strategy, we choose to deal with our ignorance by purposely overlooking those struggling students and focusing on those we know we can help instead. Why? Because it’s the easiest thing to do! It’s just as compelling as it is true, isn’t it? It was for me and, after some thought, I found, and consequently owned the fact that I, myself, have apparently been practicing this “deliberate ignorance” for much of the year!

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Okay, so, what exactly does this “deliberate ignorance” look like? I’ll explain by sharing my personal experience and perception of what it looks like in my own classroom. Earlier in the year, I acknowledged my fear of literacy instruction and development. I mean, I have enough knowledge of how to teach reading and comprehension skills to get by, but, when it comes to grammar, spelling patterns and conventions, this is a struggle for me. It has been for some time now, and although I continue to seek help and guidance, the mere thought of being responsible for the facilitation of my students’ literacy development, scares me to no end. If I fail, they fail, right? Well, with deliberate ignorance, that is exactly what I have already done…failed my struggling readers by providing surface level intervention.

Additionally, when it comes to guided reading groups, although I know and agree with the differentiation of instruction, the actual process of implementing 3-5 small reading groups a week, AND attending to my most bottom three readers, five times a week, during a separate intervention time during the day, along with collecting weekly data for all, has proven to be very overwhelming for me. Because of my overpowering insecurity, rather than attacking the issue, rather than researching, watching, and working to implement a new process, a new strategy, a new routine that would benefit my students…I did what benefited ME instead…and deliberately ignored the developmental needs of my lowest reading students. Listen, ignoring it was a lot easier than addressing it, so, I did what was comfortable. I KNOW I’m not alone in this, so I’m okay with this public admission. In fact, for me, this public realization and disclosure signifies my personal commitment to transform my deliberate ignorance into intentional awareness.

For me, choosing to become intentionally aware is a resolute, determined, uncompromising shift in paradigmatic thinking which will help me truly attend to the individual needs of my students. That means being intentionally aware of how students acquire and develop language, being intentionally aware of how students construct the meaning of vocabulary and being intentionally aware of how students construct meaning from what they are reading rather than simply labeling this with a quantified number or test score. It means tackling the areas of my practice that I fear so much with confidence and purpose. It means getting beyond the surface of my students learning and putting their needs ahead of my own, even when it feels uncomfortable. As I sit and reflect on my students and this year, I believe that becoming intentionally aware will do nothing less than further align my passion with my purpose. My students deserve nothing less than my all, especially when they so often feel that no one else will.

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Well, there you have it. That’s my take on deliberate ignorance. What about you? Is there an area in your practice that you can admit to being deliberately ignorant? If so, turn it around, become intentionally aware instead, and further align your passion with your purpose. Two-thirds of our students depend on it!

Be Attentive, Be Supportive

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In the now 14 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve never been told I was unsupportive and unavailable…that is…until this week. OUCH!!! It hurt me to the core! But, being the reflective person that I am, I had to take what I was given and respond to it. I had already been thinking that I’d dropped the ball; that I didn’t do everything I could have or SHOULD have, but I still found comfort in the fact that I had NEVER heard those words spoken to describe ME…until this week.

I am a leader in my school and in my district, I serve on several committees (all voluntarily), I am the identified grade level chair for my team, and I am a resident educator mentor. Quite a bit to handle in a year, but I thought I could handle it all. In fact, I needed every single one of those things to continue to build my leadership skills and in doing so; I probably neglected the most important responsibility of the year, the development of another educator. The exact place that holds my inner most passion at this particular moment in my life, I have fallen short. I came to the sudden realization that I may have taken on too much. I bit off more than I could chew. My plate is full. My cup runneth over! Well, you get the point. Nonetheless, I’ve been given this bit of information and now I need to do something with it!

I am not sure really, where this suddenly came from, but it didn’t matter at this point. All I knew was that I had to respond to it. It’s apparent that none of us is perfect. We wouldn’t be human if we were, right? But, I honestly believe that a sign of a great educator is to acknowledge his or her shortcomings when presented with them and then doing whatever is necessary to change them. When someone else points out a flaw in your leadership and/or your practice, if education is your true passion, it behooves you to correct that flaw. Assess yourself. What have you done well? What needs personal and/or professional attention? Did you contribute enough? Did you contribute too much? Did you ask enough questions? Did you ask questions at all? What will you do differently next time? In answering these many questions, maybe you will find that it means looking at your list of responsibilities and re-prioritizing them. Maybe it means clearing your plate. Maybe it means searching out professional development opportunities. Or, maybe it simply means being attentive and supportive…for someone else other than yourself.

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SLO NO!! Now What?

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I have been staring at this data for TWO days! CRAP!! What happened?? I am looking at my SLO data (student learning objectives) which were written by me as long-term, measurable academic growth targets for each of my students. I wrote two goals this year that made up my SLOs. Both written in the area of English Language Arts, more specifically in guided reading and writing, and admittedly my weakest areas of practice by far. I’ll take math over ANYTHING any day!! However, I digress…

Let me preface all of this by first explaining what SLOs are and how they have come to fruition. Student Learning Objectives are one of two components used to make up the new Ohio teacher evaluation system (OTES). The other component is the teacher’s performance, as determined by a written professional growth plan, formal observations, and administrative walkthroughs to name a few. Each component is weighted at 50% (50% for teacher performance and 50% for student academic growth), together, making up a final summative rating for the teacher at the end of the school year (Ohio Department of Education, 2014).

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Now, while there are a few different ways to obtain student growth measures, there were only two options that really applied to me. They were shared attribution and SLOs. Different from the individually developed SLO, the Ohio Department of Education (2014) defines shared attribution as “an optional local student growth measure that can be attributed to a group of teachers. It encourages collaborative goals and may be used as data in the student growth component of teacher and principal evaluations”. Essentially, what this means, if I understand correctly, is that a school or district could decide, collaboratively, to base their SLO on, say, the success or value added measures of their fourth grade students’ state assessment results. If those fourth graders meet the state’s performance index and/or value added measures, the ENTIRE STAFF meets their student-learning objective for that year! Of course, in order for the shared attribution measure to be successful, you would need a completely invested staff that believes wholly in the mission and vision of the school and trusts one another without any doubt. To be frank, the staff would need to be fully acceptant of that old Three Musketeer mantra, “all for one and one for all”! Apparently, several surrounding districts do. I absolutely understand the reservation regarding putting your trust in someone else’s practice and progress. It is definitely a risk especially when your name is attached to your students’ scores. However, it is vitally important for teachers’ actions to support their spoken beliefs. Saying you understand the importance of vertical curriculum alignment and the effects each grade level has on the next, then closing your door to others, your mind to new knowledge, and losing all hope for the success of our students is a misalignment of practice. It just does not make sense! Shared attribution would not benefit a staff such as this.

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Maybe there were others as confused as I was regarding the two. I have to admit that at the time of its roll out, this portion of the evaluation process was muddy/murky for me. I had some other things clouding my mind and impeding my ability, or better yet, my willingness to even try to comprehend any of this at all. I put it all on the back burner to attend to at a later date and time. Oh, but how quickly things have become very clear.

As stated earlier, I wrote two SLOs for English Language Arts. There were several reasons for doing this. The first reason is that part of the district’s improvement plan is a focus on writing. The other goal, established by our staff, focused on guided reading levels. In creating my goals, my team and I put a lot of thought into our student growth targets. We created them collaboratively in order to support each other and ensure consistency in our instructional practices. Using the SMART goal characteristics (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) to create my goals, I developed the following learning objectives for my students:

1) For guided reading, each student will be expected to demonstrate at least one-year’s growth minus one level based on the Fountas and Pinnell text gradient chart.

This essentially meant my students would increase their reading by 2 levels (0r 0ne year’s growth) by mid-March. As I said earlier, my focus was not on SLO development, so I may have made an error in the targets I set. Even still, an increase in two levels did not seem overly ambitious to me…at the time.

2) For writing, each student will be expected to demonstrate a 4-point, or 40%, growth over their original baseline data gathered in September using the district-adopted STOP rubric. For example, if a student scored 2 out of ten in September, he/she is expected to have 6 out of ten points on the rubric by March.

Now, as student scores increased, the growth target decreased. So, students that scored a 7 as a baseline only needed to demonstrate a 3-point growth over their original baseline and so on. Again, this target did not appear to be unattainable for my students over a 6-8 month period.

I have high expectations for my students, for which I am very proud. I will never change nor deviate from the expectations upheld for my students. For that, I may learn a potentially unfortunate lesson. Even though student growth is what schools, districts, and states desire to see over a year’s time, as with value added measures; and although many of my students made growth in both areas, the only student growth that mattered were those that either met or exceeded the student growth target I set for them. Those that made minute amounts of progress were not taken into consideration at all. Because of the high expectations and the ambitious hopes and dreams I have for my students, there is now a great possibility that I will be rated this year as a DEVELOPING teacher! That’s “developing”, as in one-step above ineffective and one step below proficient. “Developing” defined as undergoing development, growing, or evolving. My thought process eludes me. Let me get this straight. I am a teacher with 10 years of experience, a doctorate degree in education, a budding business, and the determination of becoming a premier leader in school improvement and educational reform. Yet, according to my student growth data, I could possibly be rated as a developing teacher!!! I am suddenly bothered, extremely annoyed, and incredibly disappointed.

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Since I am undoubtedly aware of and acknowledge my areas of strength and weakness, I realize that there is always and will always be an opportunity to learn and grow. No way am I perfect, nor do I want to be. A developing expert in my field, perhaps? Yes, absolutely, but even experts continue to research and learn within their area of expertise. Identifying gaps in my practice is clearly not the issue. As I continue to sit and go over the lessons I’ve done, small groups I’ve facilitated, strategies I’ve taught, or even the things I didn’t quite do as effectively as I could have, I identify the real basis of my irritation.

My data clearly shows a gap in my instruction. It is true data. It communicates the areas of practice that need attention as data is intended to do. But, the longer I sit and stare, the more I begin to think about the ways in which this data will affect my future as an educator and any goals I have beyond the classroom. How could I possibly turn this data in as it is? This does not look good at all! I stop right there and shake off those thoughts as the leader within me emerges. It seems to me that the purpose of this process is to help teachers become more effective in their practice, right. However, the first thing I contemplated was falsifying my data to meet the needs of whom…MYSELF!! Immediately, I cast aside the needs of my students. I wonder how many teachers have had or will have the same thoughts if/when they see that their data is not up to par. I wonder how many will change their data to meet their own needs. It makes sense to me because none of us wants to receive a low summative rating. That is just human nature. We would all like to be rated as knowledgeable educators who understand their practice and are able to help every single one of their students grow every single year. No extraneous factors will ever get in the way. Our targets will always be set perfectly every year and our students will never fall short. That’s how we all want to be viewed. But, the reality is, the state of education is forever changing in practice and pedagogy. Therefore, those of us on the front line will fall short at some point because of the inevitable rate in which these changes occur. However, in this process, as it is right now, teachers will always benefit because we will all make certain that our rating will reflect proficient and accomplished performance. In the end, the students will be the ones that suffer because their instruction will not be at the top of our priority list. Meeting our SLO targets will. Now, that’s what I call fair! Um, not so much…

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Needless to say, I could not and did not change my data. The moment I thought about doing that, the evaluation process lost is intended purpose. For me, the process no longer focused on instructing students, but rather on me making certain that I received the rating I needed to maintain my job. Now, the process was not promoting growth in effective instructional practices, but instead, effectiveness in falsifying documents and perfecting the practice of lying. The proverbial dog and pony show, more commonly known as the scheduled evaluation observation (we ALL put our best foot forward during those), along with the lowered expectation bar, which will soon convincingly be identified as the rigor I will claim to provide in my classroom, has the great potential of guiding my future in this field. How does that even make sense? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of this whole process? Thankfully, I would never shortchange my students by lowering my expectations for them. It just does not align with my personal or professional morals. They need to be challenged, want to be challenged, and should be challenged. However, in the meantime, there is clearly a flaw. In my opinion, whether student learning objectives or shared attributions, the process is ambiguous, inequitable, unreliable, and holds no validity in regards to teacher accountability. In fact, it only evokes this simple question; NOW what??