When I was a young learner I was told I wasn’t a strong reader. “Lauren is a nice girl, but struggles with comprehension” are words that would follow me into almost every grade level and were written on every report card I would see. In the book Choice Words, Peter Johnston shared, “The language that teachers (and their students) use in the classroom is a big deal.” Words can be heavy. Words can be impressionable. Words matter. And since I first heard them, those particular words shaped my perception of myself. Since those words were spoken, they have managed to stick to my head and heart. Looking back, I realize that reading was presented as a one size fits all experience. My memories of reading in grade school are opening a basal reader, turning to page 117 and reading the same story as my other classmates. After reading, I’d answer canned questions and then wait in line for my teacher to check the answers with a familiar double sided red and blue pen. I’d receive a blue check mark if the low level thinking questions were correct and a red X if I needed to go back to my seat and revise the answer that could be located right in the textbook. I don’t recall a strong consideration for my interests, my zone of proximal development, being asked questions to push my thinking, or being taught specific strategies that would strengthen my comprehension and build my confidence as a reader. I am not faulting my teachers, I truly believe that I am a reflection of the educational landscape and approaches from that particular time period.
From that moment on, I hated reading. There, I said it. In my young mind, I knew this was totally unacceptable since my Dad was an English teacher and my Mom a special educator and reading teacher. So, how could this be? Well, since I was told I wasn’t a great reader, I abandoned it all together. But, there was one exception, I would read the occasional teen magazine that I begged my Mom to purchase for me especially if Patrick Swayze or a member from The New Kids on the Block graced the covers. Yes, in the 80s that was motivation enough for me to read! It wasn’t until my 20s when I picked up the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer recommended by a convincing friend, that I rediscovered the magic of what it meant to be lost in a good book. During the time of me reading this series, those around me knew they would literally have to rip these books out of my hands if they wanted me to give them any sort of focus or attention.
Opportunity Lives in Obstacles
You see, opportunity lives inside our obstacles. What I have come to learn over a slow period of time is that it is not always the obstacles we face that are hard, but it is how we see the very obstacles we are living. Facing those obstacles can open new paths, eventually showing us where to go. I’m currently reading Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. In his book he shared, “What impedes us can empower us.” So, I ask you, How have you overcome obstacles when you were told you couldn’t do something well?
Let Your Own Story Captivate You
Sometimes, I will allow my own story to captivate me. And somehow I’ve realized that it has provided hope for myself and others. How could a child who “hated” reading embrace the roles of classroom teacher, reading specialist, instructional coach, assistant principal, and now the director of literacy?
Throughout my career I have been tested with obstacles. Haven’t we all? After my 2nd year of teaching I sat in my principal’s office, the same place I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to have a classroom of my own, except now I was 9 months pregnant with my first child, “Lauren, you are an amazing teacher, but we aren’t going to have the budget for your position next year.” A few months later, I went back to work with a two month old baby at home and set up a whole classroom in a new building with one day’s notice. “Lauren, we want you to be in our school, but you will have to clean out a room that’s storing 50 boxes from a retired teacher and you only have today to do it.” When I realized I wanted to hone my craft and teach kids how to read, I jumped at an opportunity to take a leave replacement as a reading specialist in a district close to home. “Lauren, you are doing a great job, but you will have to wait a little longer for this position to become probationary.” A little later in my career I was told that my instructional coaching role would be dissolved so that the funds could be used towards a new program. “Lauren, you are a talented educator, but ……” I think you see where I am going.
While living the obstacles mentioned above, the feelings of disappointment and uninvited challenges were hard and at times, hurtful. Each of those experiences brought me back to the words “Lauren, is a nice girl, but struggles with comprehension.” However, it is now clear to me that adversity can turn into advantage when you let it. Ryan Holiday brilliantly states, “When you have a goal, obstacles are actually teaching you how to get where you want to go-carving you a path.” Throughout my journey, I have turned obstacles into opportunities. Here are suggestions I have authentically embraced for turning obstacles into new paths:
5 Suggestions for Turning Obstacles Into New Paths
1. Create your own opportunities – Don’t wait for the right opportunities to find you, go find them. You can and you will. You are capable. Believe in yourself.
2. Don’t let others define your worth – There will be many times you will hear the words “no” or “but”. Have faith in yourself. Your gifts are meant to be shared at the right time, at the right place, with the right people. That “no” will eventually turn into “yes” and that “but” will turn into “and”.
3. Let disruptors in your path serve as lessons – There will be unexpected things that will happen as you try to reach your goals and ultimate destination. Learn from them and capitalize on those experiences to accelerate your growth.
4. Be the narrative you want to create – As Toni Morrison says, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” You are in the driver’s seat of your story. Don’t let anyone else tell it, it’s yours to create and share.
5. Let go of people and things that no longer serve you – There are people who will come, go, and stay with you. Let go of those who no longer elevate you, but be grateful for the impact they once made on your path. Hold onto those memories; they are markers for the person you are becoming.
Adversity Turned Into Advantage
Just as every other obstacle became a new path, the year my instructional coaching role was eliminated was the year I went back into the classroom to serve as a reading specialist. During one of the hardest years in educational history, I took everything I learned from all of the roles I served in, closed my classroom door and figured out how to reimagine the magic of the workshop model in physical and virtual spaces simultaneously. During that time a mentor who saw my potential as an educator and writer asked me if I’d like to publish this work in an educational journal titled Designing Effective Distance and Blended Learning Environments K-12. This work led me to recently standing in front of a crowded room waiting to present at the #NCTE22 (The National Council of Teachers of English) national conference. While I was waiting to bring to life what I had learned with my students about Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model, the year I went back into the classroom, I thought about the obstacles that led me to that moment.
When I looked in the mirror that morning, I saw the little girl in front of me who was told she wasn’t a strong reader. She had made it to a place she and others perceived wasn’t possible. Setbacks are a part of the course of life. You can see obstacles as blockades or you can choose to push through them. The barriers that were once in the way can become a new path. “…obstacles are actually opportunities to test ourselves, to try new things, and ultimately, to triumph. The obstacle is the way.” – Ryan Holiday