Recently I stopped by a classroom of a former colleague that I hadn’t seen in awhile. We chatted about our new positions and our passion for education. Then as our conversation came to a close he said something that made me pause, “Tisha, you’ve changed. You’re not the same timid, nice person that you used to be.” I wasn’t sure how to take his comment at first. However, I knew what he meant. I felt it too. I wasn’t the same. Hopefully I am still "nice", but I definitely am no longer the timid Tisha that was once fearful of sharing my voice. I am more courageous, passionate, and confident. I have become an empowered educator. Still, something about what he said continued to perplex me, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly. Throughout the week the words of my colleague continued to swirl around in my head. Then one night as I was watching The Voice finale, a line from one of my favorite songs from The Greatest Showman, This is Me, made my swirling thoughts fly into formation.
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
-excerpt from lyrics, This is Me
Songwriters: Justin Paul / Benj Pasek
This Is Me lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
As I let the lyrics resonate, I realized what had me perplexed. Was it really that I had changed or had I become more of who I was meant to be, more fully me?
Courage. Passion. Confidence.
Those three words are powerful, but when combined become explosive dynamite that empowers. When I reflect on the song lyrics I think about my journey. With each leap I’ve taken to create a better learning experience for my students, I’ve become more courageous. Every magical moment in my classroom has ignited my passion. Each person who has believed in me has given me confidence. That doesn’t mean, however, that I am not bruised. It’s been challenging and I’ve fallen at times. In fact, I’ve fallen more times than I can count and have bruises to prove it. Though, each bruise is proof of my relentless pursuit to infuse joy and passion into teaching and learning and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom. It no longer matters to me if people approve, or think I’m crazy. I believe with every ounce of my being that magic happens when joy enters a classroom. I have seen firsthand what happens when students become immersed and empowered learners. I am not perfect. My classroom is not always magical. I don’t have all the answers. But, I have experienced what magic feels like, and I want to share it. No, actually I don’t want to share it... I have to share it.
Too many students leave school each day without experiencing the magic of learning. Too many teachers leave school each day so tired and stressed that they have run out of pixie dust and don't know where to find more. I am not scared to be seen, I make no apologies for what I believe. I am passionate about making learning magical for all students. I want to help empower my students with courage, passion, and confidence so they can become more fully who they were meant to be. Education needs my voice. Education needs your voice. Have I changed? I don’t know that I’ve fully answered that yet, but I do know I am more fully me.
In my recent interactions with educators virtually and face to face, three “D” words have come up way too often.
DEFEAT . DISCOURAGEMENT . DOUBT
These words cross all grade levels and subject areas, afflicting new and veteran teachers. In this amazing world of being connected we have a waterfall of ideas cascading down on us continuously. The possibilities for creating amazing learning experiences in our classroom are endless. However, too often those possibilities paralyze rather than free us. Instead of feeling invigorated by all that we could do, inadequacy overcomes us and we get flooded with defeat, discouragement, and doubt. We see the "picture perfect" classrooms rather than the messy, real learning that actually takes place. We begin to think that making learning magical is only possible for the “”Mary Poppins” teachers, those that are practically perfect in every way.
I hate to break it to you all, but I’m far from perfect. Learning IS messy. I may take pretty pictures of my students’ food and the magic moments that happen, but the truth is there are a lot of misfires that lead up to them. There are days when I feel inadequate too as I look at all of the amazing educators out there in the world. But this is what I have learned. I have a choice every day to create an environment where my students are immersed and empowered. It may not be perfect, I may fail, it may be messy, I may not be ready to try the new innovative strategy or digital tool that my friend across the United States or hall is integrating, but I’m going to bring my own magic.
You, my friends, have a magic all your own. Don’t compare yourself to the teacher across the hall, country, or globe. They have found a magic that works for them, but I bet there is a lot of mess behind their magic too. They are human just like you and I are. Next time you are scrolling social media or chatting in the teacher workroom, don’t let yourself be overcome with inadequacy, but instead allow yourself to appreciate the uniqueness of the educators you encounter. Something extraordinary happens when you stop peering in the “picture perfect” windows that we scroll or walk past, and actually start engaging in conversations with the educators that created them. Before long we realize that they face the same struggles as us and are real people too. We learn more about their story and the road they have taken to get there. As we get to know these educators that we admire (or envy) as people, our feelings of inadequacy shift and we become inspired to make incremental changes in our own practice. Don't allow discouragement, doubt, and defeat to creep in. Instead, file away the ideas you want to try and leave the ones you don’t. With your own special flair, introduce new ideas as you are ready and little by little your classroom will begin to transform into a space that holds a special magic unique to you and your students.
It’s also important to realize that what may seem ordinary or obvious in our own practice may be amazing to someone else. The teaching strategies that we put into practice day after day, become routine and we forget that our "obvious" may be a groundbreaking idea or pivotal shift in someone else’s practice. When we begin opening up our doors and start sharing our classroom experiences we can make a positive impact on someone else’s journey. As others start to engage with us, they will also realize that there is lots of “real” in our story that is far from perfect. One of my favorite videos to share is "Obvious to you. Amazing to Others" by Derek Sivers. (I've attached it below.)
So next time you walk past the “Mary Poppins” classroom or scroll past the “picture perfect” idea, kick the doubt, discouragement, and defeat to the curb and remember….you hold the magic. Go make it happen!
It was my birthday. November 7, 2014 and I was spending it alone (so I thought) in Miami, Florida at a conference called Miami Device (rebranded as, Shift in EDU). I was on the brink of walking away from education. Only four short months prior I was ready to throw in the towel. I was tired, burnt out, and frustrated. At the height of my despair, I was awarded a grant for a classroom set of ipads and some professional development to go along with it. What some may have considered a reason for celebration, I felt trepidation. I had never used ipads in my class before, and I had no idea where to start. However, a series of serendipitous encounters including ipadpalooza in Austin, Texas (now rebranded as LearnFest) and this “Twitter EDUworld” I had discovered, began to shift my "Eeyore" mentality from one of gloom to hope.
This was only the 2nd edtech conference I had been to, and I really was in a state of shock. I hadn’t ever experienced education like this before. So many amazing sessions, presenters, and hello...it was Miami! I remember I had just begun to listen to a podcast series called EDUallstars on my morning runs when I spotted one of the show hosts’, Todd Nesloney, at the conference and I was a bit starstruck. I remember feeling in awe of the experience, but alone. All of these amazing educators in one place, where did I fit into this mix of EDUawesomeness?
An introvert by nature, I am not one that is super comfortable mingling or striking up conversations with people I don’t know so I stood on the sidelines taking it all in, wondering if I looked as awkward as I felt. I must have looked like a fish out of water, because just as I was ready to retreat back to my hotel room to hide, someone I had met the previous day came up to me and said, “What are you doing standing there by yourself? Come with me, I have some people for you to meet?” He whisked me off to be introduced to person after person making me feel like I truly belonged there. If it hadn’t been for that act of intentional kindness, I may have gone home from that conference feeling as disconnected as I did when I came. Instead, I ended up spending my birthday with an amazing group of educators that I now call friends. Most of us have stayed connected via Voxer and Twitter, and the kind man, Rodney Turner, is part of a Voxer group that I am in conversation with daily. We share our ups, downs, triumphs, and challenges. We’ve cried and laughed and encouraged each other through many of life’s obstacles. These people that I very rarely have a chance to see face to face, I consider some of dearest friends.
I’ve shared the “Rodney” story frequently over the years in various forms, because it was pivotal for me as an educator. I left the palm trees, balmy air, and Key Lime pie knowing that my life as an educator had changed. My days of despair were over and I was beginning to feel less like Eeyore, and a bit more like Tigger. I’ve pondered many times where I would be if it hadn’t been for that intentional act of kindness by someone who understood the power of being connected and have made it my mission to pass on this kindness by reaching out and helping others get connected too. Thank you, Rodney, for making a difference in my EDUjourney!
This past week I attended the ACTE Careertech Vision conference in San Antonio. It was amazing, and I will share more in another post. However, it was a new conference for me with educators that I was not connected with and those feelings of awkwardness that I had felt 4 years ago at Miami Device came flooding back. I looked in on groups of educators walking to sessions, sharing, and laughing and wished I was connected too. Fortunately I am in a different place now and am much more courageous than I used to be, pushing myself out of my comfort zone to connect with new people. I left San Antonio, with an expanded PLN of amazing Career and Technical and Family and Consumer educators, but also keenly aware of how important it is to not only be connected, but to be a connector.
In this season of giving and gratitude, give a shout-out to those who have been pivotal in your EDUjourney. I would also encourage you to pay attention to those around you who are on the fringes, longing to be connected. If you are at a conference and see someone standing alone, introduce yourself and to others in your group. Help them feel a sense of belonging and show them how valuable it is to be connected. If you are in a Twitter chat and realize someone is just joining in for the first time, help them feel welcome.
If you are not connected and feel like a fish out of water in this connected EDUworld, reach out! I will introduce you to some amazing peeps and communities! We need each other!
Check out Twitter 101 for EDUs by @TaraMartinEDU to learn Twitter essentials and get connected! It's an incredible resource!
Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and author of Make Learning Magical. I'm passionate about finding innovative ways to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom.