Unsolicited Advice for My Education Peeps
From my Instagram post:
Long story short...unsolicited advice.
Short story long...If you give a Kristi a thought...she'll spend days writing about it in her head. And then she'll tell you how she got from there to here and all the zig-zaggy lines in between. Ready? Hold on.
It's planner season. I'm trying a new thing this year--I got a BANDO planner from COCOANDDUCKIE . My Happy Planner is so fun and I've loved them for years...but I wanted something a bit more compact. Maybe a bit more professional. (Sigh on that one.) But it's July and when I was in education that was when I got my new planner(s) and I'd put in all of the dates and info and get them all set and talk to my planner friends about it...it was always such an exciting thing, getting our new planners going!
So, planners and summers past and my education peeps have been on my mind. Then, a few days ago, our superintendent asked me about my consulting--clearly, it's been awhile and I hadn't told him I gave it up and have been out of education for two years. It was a great conversation and I love talking to him, but I walked away feeling melancholy. I've already been working through some of this in the past couple of months, taking time to grieve both what I gave up and what I've lost, career-wise.
A couple days later, I was mowing the yard and thinking about planners and my planner friends and one of them (you go, girl!) is moving out of the classroom into a leadership position. (You're awesome and I have no right to be proud of you but I AM!!!) I was thinking about myself back in 2005 when I was in a similar position, only instead of switching districts I worked with the same girls I'd taught with and several new teachers. I will say I was good at parts of the job right away, but I missed the mark in so many ways for so many years. And I want my girls to be better than me, so I want to tell them alllllll the things I'd do differently. But the first thing I'd tell them? Don't give your teachers unsolicited advice.
Sigh again. But I have a workaround: my new blog series (maybe a podcast, we'll see). #askmehowIknow
See, I can write it all out but it's not advice, it's telling my story. If someone should *choose* to read it and you know, take in some of the non-advice, awesome.
Here’s what I wrote Saturday morning. (DISCLAIMER: I recorded this in Google and am not spending a whole lotta time fixing it, so it’s probably rough. But my goal was to get it ON the site this week, so here we are!)
I was thinking I was mowing the yard this morning…about my new planner and about the years that I was in education how exciting it was every July to get a new planner. I’d share that with friends and we’d talk about what we were going to do differently this year, where we’d grow. That made me think about one of my teachers and fellow planner girls who’s starting a new job as a leader in a new district and it made me think about me all those years ago.
I left the classroom in the summer of 2005. I wasn’t looking to be an administrator or a consultant or really even a mentor --not any of those things. I just ended up there. (That’s another story.) Now of course I see it was a divine detour. Some of those girls that I worked with that first year that first couple of years are moving into their own leadership roles, and I worry that I did them a disservice with my poor leadership those first couple of years. I wish that I could tell them and maybe I can do it by writing this down.
I want to tell you about what I learned when I saw Don Miller speak about StoryBrand in 2016, and how it changed everything that last year I was in education. The lightbulb went off that I wasn’t the hero in the education story I was helping write, I was just the guide. The teachers, the parents, the aides, the principals, the diagnosticians, the counselors, the janitors, the cafeteria ladies…the people who were in the trenches with the kids, they were the heroes. The kids were the heroes. Me? I was just the guide. I didn’t really GET this until my last year in education, which kind of stinks. But it set the stage for what was to come next, for the position I passed on and my transition out of education.
My job was to take my experience and help the teachers by saying, this is what my journey looked like and this is how I applied that lesson. Instead, I fear that for the first few years I was out of the classroom I felt like I needed to constantly justify why I got to be out of the classroom when they were still there. I think I thought that being out of the classroom signified somehow that I was a great teacher, and that’s what qualified me to work with teachers. I see looking back, as is often the case, that it was just that I was willing to leave the classroom. I was at a point in life where I could leave the classroom. I couldn’t be in the classroom anymore really the way that our life was moving and where we were moving. It’s not necessarily that I didn’t earn my way out of the classroom: I would argue that good teaching and good morals and good leadership from within the classroom earned me that spot at the table. (This isn’t the point, but I was mowing the yard and my mind wandered and…)
New leaders, here’s what I would tell you if I were going to give advice. But I’m not, because the very first thing I would tell you is this: DON’T GIVE UNSOLICITED ADVICE.
Be observant. See what the classroom looks like when you walk in (or the office, whatever the case is). If you’re helping do something, put things back where you found them--not where you think they should go.
Spend more time saying, “How would you do this?” rather than always saying, “This is what I did.” We’ve all worked with that guy and we all hated that guy at times. I remember working with a woman who was 20 years out of the classroom (like I am now, it feels!) and no matter what situation was she would say, “Oh, when this happened to me this is what I did!” and talk about how awesome she was, and I remember thinking as a young teacher and a young woman that there was no way she had ever encountered this particular problem… After being in her shoes and probably really truly doing what she did, I understand that sometimes when we’re afraid that we don’t know the answer, we try to fake it till we make it. That means a lot of times popping out our chest and pretending like we know the answer when really a good leader would say, “What do you think?” and then really, truly listen. The answer is usually somewhere in the middle, and if we put our heads together we’re going to come up with a much better answer than if I walk in your classroom and say oh I see that A is happening so B is what you do next and then C will happen. Then I’ll get to go back to my desk and you’re still stuck with a problem, right? I think we really need someone who will come in and sit down so shoulder to shoulder with us and really listen...not just see what we think is happening but listen to you and hear what’s happening here. What’s happening before the problem, during the problem, after the problem, days after the problem… You guys here in the trenches, you’re the only ones who know but a lot of times we walk in as leaders and see a corner of the picture and assume we are seeing the whole frame.
So, that’s something I would do differently: I would listen more. I would talk less.
I would sit more. I would run around less.
I would be there more. I would encourage more.
Be honest more when things are hard so they don’t get worse. And when they did get worse, I would be better about sticking with you until you’re through it.
Friend, if you’re in a new role, on a new journey, I’m praying for you. I’m praying for the people you’re going to work with, that they see in you what we see in you. Your experience and your awesomeness got you a seat at the table. What I learned? The only way to get a spot in those teachers hearts is to be invited in. You do that by listening and by guiding them so they can be the heroes they were created to be in the story. Your job is to make them better than you ever were.
Here’s where I was wrong: as a young leader, I wanted to be the best. You? You surpassed me. You’re became better than I ever was. By that time I was mature enough to cheer you on and think more about you and less about me, it was at the end of our time together.
As one of my favorite professors used to tell us, a million years ago: start as you mean to go on. So, start awesome. Be better than I ever was, friend.
I’ll be here cheering you on. And if you ever need a guide…all you have to do is call.