Sunday, May 14, 2017

Saint Nora: A Mother's Day Tribute

On a day set aside to honor all mothers, I must take a moment to commemorate the matriarch of our family, Nora Franks.

In 3rd grade we made Mother's Day cards.
My folded piece of card stock read, "To the BEST Nora on The Planet!"
I didn't have a mom. Instead, I had a Nora.
She rocked us and read to us.
Pulling my hair into pigtails, she'd look at my reflection in the mirror while I sat on the edge of the sink.
And she'd remind me I was special and smart and worthy.
On Saturdays, we'd traipse across town, visiting garage sale after garage sale.
Two dollars felt like a million bucks, and she always encouraged me to buy books instead of toys.
Today, the bookshelves in my apartment overflow because of her influence.
My Nora has raised multiple generations of children.
Just the other day we had a one of our marathon phone conversations.
She expressed fear about the challenges my nephews will face in this uncertain world.
I told her as long as they have her, everything would be okay.
She builds a rock solid foundation in the lives of babies, children, and teenagers.
Her gift of nurturing is unparalleled.
Mental illness and addiction afflicted my biological mom, leaving behind emotional scars.
But Nora was always there to mend the wounds and stand in the gap.
She came to every ball game, every school play, and every award ceremony.
She cooked us lots of Hamburger Helper, did endless loads of laundry, and spoiled us rotten.
I am the woman I am today because of her, and I couldn't have asked for a better mom.
She taught us there was nothing we could ever do to make her love us less.
Our value was never dependent on performance.
She's lovely and beautiful and good.
Our Nora is a saint.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

One Month Milestone: Context Kicks Into High Gear

Exactly one month ago, I stepped out of a 4th grade classroom into the world of instructional leadership. Transitioning from a campus to an educational service center has been a seismic shift, and I recently told a friend I feel like I was dropped off on an unknown planet called ESC 11. Slowly, but surely, I'm starting to feel less like an alien, and although discomfort has been my daily companion, I keep putting one foot in front of another. 

Several colleagues have inquired as to why I chose to apply for this job, and if I am honest, I'm still trying to figure out the answer. For the last few years, I've felt restless and hungry for a new challenge. After multiple failed attempts at convincing leaders in my former district to launch some type of hybrid teaching role in which I could keep one foot firmly planted in the classroom and simultaneously hone my leadership skills, I temporarily let go of my long term career goals and decided to risk a new professional adventure. The timing of my departure has caused intense angst, and although I continue to wrestle with perception control, I get to practice one of my favorite mantras, "What other people think about me is none of my business." 

The deeply held belief that nothing happens in this world by mistake keeps me on the prowl for purpose, and after four weeks on the job, I'm starting to understand the immeasurable value breadth and depth of experience bring. Yesterday, during a conversation with one of our digital learning team leaders, I discovered how everyone's path to education looks different, and these varied journeys have the power to reshape and revolutionize education. This particular individual had started his career as a marine, became a corporate trainer for engineers, and after failing to effect change as a school board member, decided to go back to college later in life to become a teacher. He spent a few years in an insanely innovative 4th grade classroom and eventually landed at the service center.  

In contrast, I've spent the last 16 years doing the same thing—teaching 4th grade. Sure, I've switched campuses multiple times, limped through a brief year as an instructional coach/interventionist, and served on a plethora of campus and district committees. But ultimately, my experiences are limited. I know how to be a 4th grade teacher, and although my administration nurtured my leadership abilities and I raced after research and professional development with abandon, I'm beginning to realize the narrowed lens I've viewed the world through. Similar to when I graduated from high school and left my tiny town of five hundred people for the big city, my perspective is broadening, and it's scary as hell. I'm trying to remind myself my path has been different, not less. 

Thanks to the
wisdom of Brené Brown, I know comparison steals joy, and my intent is not to draw unhelpful parallels. Instead, my top strength of context is kicking in, and I am trying to make sense of where of I've been so I can better understanding where I'm going. I'm grappling with enormous change, and part of my process always includes a deep desire to answer the elusive question, Why? I do not want to minimize the value of my time in the classroom, because there is nothing more important that serving students from the front lines. Now that I am no longer living in the trenches daily, I struggle with guilt and I feel like a sell-out. I wonder if army grunts who eventually move up in rank experience a similar emotional tug-of-war?

As I continue to walk this unsteady path, I feel certain more will be revealed. Amidst these fears, the future feels bright and promising, and I am enjoying the variety and unexpected surprises I discover in each new day. With a shaky voice and rattled confidence, I'll keep showing up for this new role. Experience is the best teacher, and as my professional world view broadens, I will hold on tight as the winds of change blow and perspective slowly emerges. 

This afternoon, with my husband as my wingman, I will join a group of new colleagues at a local brewery. We will laugh, connect, and expand our circles. Chris has been instrumental in helping me spread my wings and fly, and his risk taking nature makes me feel braver than I actually am. I appreciate his patience during these trying times of uncertainty, and without his support and influence, I might have stayed a safety girl my whole life. He's my rock, and I am grateful. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Missing the Boat: Confessions of a Slice of Life Flunky

I am a Slice of Life flunky. I had grand intentions of joining the party for the fifth year in a row, but I missed the boat. The last three weeks has been a whirlwind of change, and although I had grand aspirations to use my blog as a place to process all the ups and downs of switching jobs, I failed to carve out the necessary time required to write each day.

Writing requires headspace, and my mental computer is currently in defragging mode. I looked up the definition of defragment in the dictionary and this is what I found.

Basically, my brain is decluttering itself. When I owned a Windows laptop and I would start the defragging process, my PC would often creep, crawl, and limp along while the clean-up occurred in the background. In my impatience, I'd open multiple tabs at once, and sometimes this would crash the entire system, causing me to have to restart the process. In order to prevent this from happening in my life, I've had to close a few tabs in my brain and allow the defragging to unfold without interruption. I'm slowly learning to let go of my constant need for speed, and if this means embracing my inner dropout, so be it.

Obviously, if I am posting this blog, I haven't fully accepted my flunky status. Writing beckons, and I acquiesce. As this laborious defragging process continues, I may pop on my blog from time to time to let my complicated, meandering thoughts bleed onto the screen. I'm grateful for this community, and I'm hopeful you will continue to wrap your arms around this Slice of Life Flunky. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Fabulous First Day: Trading a Classroom for a Cubicle

My first day at ESC Region 11 turned out well. One of my new colleagues placed heart shaped window clings outside my cubicle to make me feel welcomed, and my supervisor gave me a grand tour of the place, introducing me to tons of friendly faces. With each new alcove, I met educators full of spunk, brilliance, and passion. The former ELAR consultant left a treasure trove of professional resources for me to sort through, and a group invited me out to lunch for Mexican food. I spent the afternoon organizing office supplies, filling out paperwork for HR, and setting up online accounts. Overall, I consider day one a success.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

My "Last Day of School" A Few Months Too Soon . . .

I stumbled across this simple, yet profound poem today. The final line encapsulates the essence of how I feel. Tomorrow I will tell my precious students goodbye. I promised them we would finish my all time favorite read-aloud, A Line in the Sand. After lunch, we will make Valentine's Day foldables with our first-grade buddies. I'll fuss at children in the car-tag lane one final time, and I'll pack up a few boxes of books. My "last day of school' has arrived a few months too soon this year, and I'm feeling fragile, insecure, and contemplative. 

After all my colleagues vacated the building today, I sat in an empty, quiet classroom reflecting on the joys and struggles of teaching. These anchor chart-filled walls have been my home for the last five years, and it's almost impossible for me to imagine trading a classroom for a cubicle. So many memories, outbursts, and celebrations have occurred here, and I will miss this cozy space and the caring community my students have created. 

Tomorrow I will get to practice being brave. I will act my way into right thinking as I try to remind myself that change is good for me. And as I turn the final page on this chapter of my career, I will look ahead with a deep sense of gratitude and open heart. 

My new supervisor sent out a weekly memo on Wednesday which included the following bit of wisdom. 

Hope is a powerful force and innovation is the antidote for complacency. I will give myself permission to grieve for a moment, and once the wave of sadness passes, I will step into the arena and boldly embrace the endless possibilities of the future. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Blossoming Again . . .

Almost ten years ago, a handsome man dressed in a pinstriped suit showed up at my classroom door with a vase full of partially bloomed roses and a life changing quote. He'd swept me off my feet during a whirlwind romance, and as our relationship grew more serious, trepidation and fear threatened to choke the life out of hope. In his signature, all-caps handwriting, Chris penned the words of the famous French writer, Anaïs Nin.

This powerful phrase swirled and danced and echoed deep inside my soul. In time, I allowed love to bubble, build, and bloom. Just a few months later, he asked me to marry him and we tied the knot on a California beach littered with rose petals. The last decade has been full of exhilarating twists and turns, and I've experienced moments of sheer joy I never dreamed possible. 

As the flowers of life continue to unfold, I'm faced again with another risky venture. Six weeks ago, I whimsically applied for a new job as an ELAR consultant at Region XI. They called me for an interview over Christmas break, and all the sudden I found myself on the edge of precarious possibility. After intense second-round interviews, they offered me the position, and once again apprehension left me feeling fragile and uncertain. Lousy timing mixed with crippling concerns about leaving a class of students mid-year caused anxiety to soar. 

You see, I'm a safety girl. I crave stability like an addict craves his next fix. After fifteen years in public education, I know how to run a classroom. Established routines and procedures are like a thread-bare security blanket. Stepping out of my comfort zone feels dicey and dangerous. Yet, underneath all these fears a quiet voice whispers, "Tenille, it's time. You're ready to bloom again." 

After breaking the news to my super supportive team and tearfully telling my students goodbye, I must now step out into the great unknown. Although remaining tight in the bud still seems like an attractive option, I will spend the next five days turning over the reigns to an eager young educator full of promise. To borrow a phrase from my sweet friend Marly, I'm braced for lots of FEELS this week. 

My oh-so-sarcastic team bought me a cookie cake that said, "I hope your new job sucks!" We all had a good laugh.

The journey ahead will be unpredictable, and I know there will be days I wrestle with change, but I'm hopeful this blooming process will bring with it treasures untold. I'm looking forward to serving teachers and students from all over North Texas, and I'm especially excited about having a chance to partner with rural school districts. I plan to sprinkle my passion for curriculum, literacy, and book evangelism around like confetti, and perhaps I can inspire others in the same way staff developers have nourished me during the last decade. Let the unfolding begin . . .

Saturday, December 31, 2016

One Word 2017

My One Word for 2017 found me a few weeks ago after wrestling with a fact I'm not too proud to admit. Cognitively I embrace a growth mindset, but when I get honest with myself, I realize there continues to be a gap between my aspirational values and my practiced values. I claim to believe that all good things arise from commitment, dedication, and deliberate effort, but I despise novice status. I desire to be good at something the first time I try, like salsa dancing, meditation, or yoga. Unfortunately, these ventures require ongoing practice, and often times, I give up much too soon. The underlying issue is my constant need to do everything perfectly. 

During the next twelve months, I want to engage in healthy practices that settle my mind, improve my health, and soothe my spirit. The goal is not to be perfect. Instead, like the quote above, I want to engage in practices designed to reduce the imperfections holding me back from realizing my dreams. I want to mitigate things like insecurity, fear, and anxiety. I want to learn the power of phrases like, "Just begin again . . ." and "Progress, not perfection . . .".

Like doctors, lawyers, and counselors, each day I practice my craft of teaching. After fifteen years in the classroom, I have honed my skills and slowly become an experienced educator. It didn't happen overnight and the journey has been long, arduous, and rewarding. Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule certainly applies. He reminds us, “Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.”

This year, I am choosing to PRACTICE—even when it's hard. If training is the essence of transformation, then I guess I need to develop routines and habits that reflect my beliefs. Nicholas Chamfort has said, "A man begins every stage of his life as a novice," and my hope for 2017 is that with each new endeavor I embark upon, I will remember it takes time, patience, and practice to improve.