Leaning Into New and Hard Times

Feelings of New and Hard

Starting something new can be hard; so hard that thinking about the experience itself feels heavy, daunting, exhausting, complicated. I’m not just talking about the big things that life may bring your way, but it could be small things too. Sometimes, the feeling of “new” is so uncomfortable that before you even make the attempt to take action on an unfamiliar idea, it is difficult not to recognize the intense feelings that are pressing against your heart and mind.  And if you are a person who constantly seeks growth and is consistently ready for a challenge, that unsettling feeling never goes away; it endlessly lives within you. -Lauren

Living in the Unknown

Uncertain. Inspired. Scared. Supported. Pressure. Loved. Uncomfortable. Grateful. As we experience these new and hard events created by the COVID-19 pandemic, I have felt an array of emotions on a regular basis, all at the exact same time. These emotions have raised so many questions. Many of which are still unanswered. We are simply figuring out how to live in a state of so many unknowns.

Life experience has taught me that there is no way to avoid the discomfort that comes from change. We just have to push through! But….

How do we PUSH through this?

How do we SUPPORT our families through this?

How do we LEAD students/staff/community through this?

Personally, I feel better if I can identify an explanation, a reason, or better understand the difficult time I’m experiencing. When this happens, I immediately turn to learning. I will grab a book, listen to a podcast, find a YouTube video, a TED Talk, or just google it! As I tried to get to the bottom of what was happening and make sense of this new situation we find ourselves in, I discovered that Brené Brown started a podcast, Unlocking Us.  It was at that very moment that I put on my sneakers, started to run, and hit play. -Sari

A Push For Reinforcement

As the events of the COVID-19 pandemic started to unfold, the feeling of “new” and “hard” felt more different than ever before. That familiar unsettling feeling suddenly became more difficult to manage on my own. I asked myself, who could I turn to help me regulate the feelings that were whipping around within? Where could I reach for extra strength and reinforcement? These hard moments pushed me to seek out the people I can lean into for perspective, support, guidance, and hope. Just when I was deeply experiencing one of the “new” and “hard” moments I have never felt before, a text message from Sari magically appeared on my phone. Sari is someone I have known for less than a year, but our connection was magnetic. I quickly discovered that we had so much in common; she is insanely passionate about learning, personal and professional growth, believing in the power of a strong PLN, and being a connected educator. And even though our friendship was “new”, it has never been “hard”! It’s always been easy to share advice and have honest conversations together.  She gets it.  She gets me. When I picked up my phone, I saw this text and image: -Lauren

unlocking us 1 

text message 2

Catching My Breath

I was still trying to catch my breath when I took out my phone. I couldn’t wait to unpack all that I just heard with someone in my PLN (professional learning network), my confidant, my friend, Lauren. Not only do I need to find a way to make sense of something that does not make sense…I also need my people! Becoming a connected educator and joining a PLN has been one of the best parts of my journey. My PLN is a constant source of inspiration, support, and motivation. David Weinberger (and Ed Kemnitzer) said it best, “The smartest person in the room, is the room.” I am so lucky to stand in that room with Lauren. I can’t remember the exact day she and I met, but it feels like Lauren has always been there. Lauren leads by example and models what it truly means to actually be there for others through her supportive, empathetic ways. It is an honor to learn with and from Lauren. -Sari

Wait, There’s a Name for This?

The next morning, I immediately downloaded Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast and listened to it during my morning workout. And, WOW. There it was. She actually had an AMAZING name for the experience I was living in (that we are all living in)! FFT!!! You must listen to the podcast for the meaning since this is a G-rated blog post! For now, we will use the kid-friendly version, TFT (Terrible First Time)!! I actually felt less insane than I had felt the moment before Brené Brown put a name to my awkward blend of new and hard feelings! At that moment, I actually felt like Brené was wrapping her arms around me and telling me that everything is going to be okay. Why? It’s because it’s a TERRIBLE FIRST TIME and it is expected that I struggle, feel a sense of pain, shock, and confusion. And, as Brené says, if we can’t take ownership of those feelings, they will just eat you alive! It was then that I realized that I didn’t have to cruise through COVID-19 relying on my own strength. This was certainly not an event where I could draw on history or experience to cope with something I have never lived through before. So, I made the decision not to give up on myself, especially because I had the support of people like Sari. It was the reliable, genuine relationships that were going to get me through the new and hard “Terrible First Times”. -Lauren

Put the TFT in Perspective

Oh wait….so this doesn’t mean I’m terrible at everything? NO! This is how a TFT is supposed to feel! In fact, during this time, we are living through so many new and hard experiences, simultaneously. Parenting TFT, work TFT, and a world pandemic TFT just to name a few. Sometimes I need to remind myself that it is ok if I don’t nail it. Really? How is that ok? People rely on me. This new and hard experience has been humbling. It has been a reminder of the learning process. You have to ‘Maslow’ before you can ‘Bloom.’ We have to meet our students where they are. We need to ensure that their basic needs are met before academic learning can be embraced. March is traditionally filled with the budget, staffing, New York State assessments, and much more, but as we began this TFT, everything became clear. March quickly became about maintaining and strengthening relationships. -Sari

Unpacking the TFT 

As I continued to listen to Brené Brown’s podcast, my thoughts traveled to a place where I was able to grasp the idea that life as we knew it, was changing; relationships were changing; the landscape of education was changing, my access to people was changing, communication was changing. And knowing that I had absolutely no control over the outcomes, I needed to normalize and embrace a new reality in order to understand where I fit into a new world. I needed to put all of the unknowns into perspective and reimagine how life is going to be. Suddenly, I was feeling determined to pour my energy into what I could control. What I could control was connecting with people who make me happy. What I could control was using this time to hone my own skills, and improve on myself so I can support others. What I could control was making sure that I stay connected to the people who elevate me, make me laugh, and check-in with me. What I could control was learning how to reality check my expectations as the new and hard things continuously soar into my soul. More than ever, I know now that starting something new will be hard in different ways than it felt before; but knowing that I have people in my life like Sari who ground me, offer an idea, a book, a podcast, words of advice, or a virtual hug to help me through it, makes the “terrible first times” worth it. -Lauren

Unlocking Significant Moments in Time

Manifesting Significant Moments

Have you ever experienced significant moments in time that have transformed your perspectives and altered the path you were walking on?  These significant moments often engender a multitude of feelings and encourage us to make choices that impact the direction we choose to take. These are the moments that are difficult to see in real-time because you are so consumed with the experience itself. These are the moments that unlock our potential and catapult us to stand in our power and continuously evolve.  Very often these moments are revealed with the various people we encounter throughout our lives. And whether these interactions are perceived to be productive or unfavorable, they empower us to reflect on who we are, who we want to be, and expose our true purpose in life.  

Getting Personal and Authentic

As I read Thomas C. Murray’s book, Personal and Authentic: Designing Learning Experiences That Impact a Lifetime, I was immediately captivated by the first chapter where he passionately states, “A life-changing moment happens in a blink. It’s that moment where faith overcomes fear.  It’s the first step towards a new reality, a step that permanently alters your dreams and changes the way you think about your life-forever.” Tom shared a powerful personal story in Chapter 1 of his book and most recently on the George Couros Innovator’s Mindset podcast: Personal & Authentic During Coronavirus- A convo with Tom Murray about how his relationship with his mentor shaped the legacy he would want to leave with his students and colleagues. It was his mentor who created compelling significant moments that were focused on the quality of relationships, leading with empathy, and loving and caring about kids. It was his mentor who supported him and helped him understand that although being an educator is hard work, it is crucial to have patience throughout the journey and own the experience. It was this mentor/mentee relationship that influenced the educator he was going to be and helped define and create his path to success.  It is because of this relationship that Tom has been able to unlock the potential in others and inspire educators around the world with dynamic, influential stories from within.

The Spark that Ignites a Fire 

The stories in the book Personal and Authentic encouraged me to think a lot about the relationship I had with my own mentor when I was just a brand new teacher at P.S. 65, in Ozone Park, Queens.  My mentor was one of the people who helped me step toward a new reality and pushed me to manifest my own dreams. And, although it is sometimes hard to recall every detail about our significant moments together; I am certain that she created a spark that still ignites a fire in my relentless spirit. It is because of my positive experience with my own mentor, that makes the pairing of Mentors and Mentees in my own school district so important and special. These significant relationships are built on trust, hope, and promise; the promise to provide opportunities that will empower the next generation of teachers leaders to thrive.  It has been wonderful to observe the evolution and strength of these partnerships. For this reason, I am happy to highlight my experience with MY mentor and a few of the Mentors and Mentees in the Long Beach Public School’s Mentor Program. They were happy to share some of their significant moments together!

Barbara                                 laurenpicture2

Barbara Herman (Mentor)         Lauren Kaufman (Mentee)

As I began working with Lauren I soon realized that she was a natural for the teaching profession. She was not only bright, but compassionate, organized, willing to learn, and accepting of advice, as well as, (I hope) constructive criticism. I loved the way she spoke with her students, making each one feel special. You could see them glow after a conversation, even if she was correcting a behavior. Lauren also developed a great rapport with her colleagues. She was my first mentee after many, many years in the classroom. As the relationship grew we both benefitted. I imparted to Lauren what I had learned throughout my career and Lauren brought to me a fresh perspective and enthusiasm. I suppose you could say this is collaboration at its best. This is what the mentor/mentee program is all about. -Barbara

When I was a first-year teacher, Barbara gave me the confidence I craved as I journeyed through my first year teaching successes, challenges, and failures. Some of the qualities that Barbara possessed were her genuine kindness, patience, and content knowledge.  She was extremely approachable and gave me the confidence and advice I needed to navigate relationships, protocols, and teaching and learning practices. One day, I vividly remember standing in front of the overhead projector (remember those?) “ready” to teach a writing lesson. After all, I had it written in my planbook, the learning objective was clearly written on a sentence strip, and was posted on the chalkboard, “Students will be able to write a good beginning of their story by hooking the reader.” I looked around the room, stated the learning objective (that’s what we called it at the time), and then…I completely froze.  My inner voice said, “I know how to write, but how do I TEACH writing?” I pretended to look completely cool; I turned off the overhead projector and called Barbara.  I whispered into the phone, “Barbara, how do you teach writing?” She laughed in the most supportive way possible, “I’ll be right there, don’t worry!” she responded. –Lauren

Long Beach Public Schools Mentor/Mentee Relationships

Stacey                                    Christina

Stacey Mason (Mentor)                  Christina Gardrvits (Mentee)

Being a teacher is one of the most rewarding careers to have, but helping other teachers hone their craft and improve their practice is almost equally as rewarding. Signing up to be a mentor for the third time was a little daunting because my two previous experiences were picture-perfect; both of my former mentees are very close friends of mine to this day! As soon as I was paired with Christina, I knew that this time would be no different. She is an eager and motivated sponge, soaking up all there is to learn and know about teaching middle school while navigating the challenges of being a permanent substitute teacher. This includes following other teachers’ lesson plans and procedures, while still making the classroom environment her own each time she walks into a new classroom. This is not an easy task and in many ways, is way more difficult than being a typical first-year teacher! Her drive and desire to grow professionally is evident. This is all while she takes on new challenges, commitments, and certifications! She also volunteers her time and shares her expertise around the building… and still, she (somehow!) finds time to be an amazing mom to two young daughters. On top of all of that, she has become my friend and one that I know will become lifelong, just like my other two mentees. Three for three!! I am so proud of all that Christina has accomplished so far and can’t wait to see what her professional future holds! -Stacey

Most of us can think back and remember a teacher who made a difference in their lives.  You don’t remember exactly what they taught you but how they made you feel.  That is exactly how I would describe my experience this year having Stacey as my mentor. On my first day, I came into the classroom that I was teaching in and found a gift bag from her waiting on the desk filled with fancy post its, a beautiful notebook, and other teacher essentials with a card that couldn’t be more encouraging. The part that was even more important to mention was that I am a permanent substitute in the building so she had to track down which teacher I would be covering for. That is just one example of what I have learned from her this year. She made me feel like I mattered, that she cared and that’s exactly how she makes her students feel.  

The support and encouragement that Stacey has given me are what I will carry over to my students one day. I want them to feel that they matter, that I am rooting for them, and I have their back. I have learned that relationships are the backbone of the school community; if you can establish them from the beginning, then learning comes naturally.  With our mentor coordinator, Lauren, creating such a strong bond with all of the mentors/mentees, we always know that we never have to do it alone! I really feel like I found my fellow educator soulmate.  I couldn’t have asked or needed a better person.  She doesn’t preach her expertise but instead gives me the confidence to try myself and is there when I need her.  We need to model the behavior we want to see in our students and I have been lucky enough to be one of her ‘students.’  It doesn’t hurt either that she is also an extremely talented reading teacher! -Christina

Brianna                            Ashley

Brianna Carnevale (Mentor)               Ashley Garry  (Mentee)

As the committee prepared for another round of interviews, Ashley Garry entered the room beaming with passion, enthusiasm, and a high level of professionalism. As she spoke about her teaching experiences and her expertise in the field of ENL, I remember thinking WOW!! Long Beach High School would be the perfect home for Ashley. Since day one, being Ashley’s mentor has been such a rewarding experience because of the bond that we share. Not only do we get to plan lessons together and engage in professional learning opportunities like presenting, but I truly consider Ashley to be a lifelong friend. She has helped me to grow so much by bringing in new ideas with technology and innovative teaching practices that would never have crossed my mind without our dedication to working as a team. I value her strong work ethic and how compassionate she is when working with our ENL students.  We build each other up and support one another each day; even during the most stressful times. We laugh together, we vent together, we call each other; but more importantly, we have taken on a journey that I am forever grateful for. -Brianna

The first day I walked into Long Beach High School for my interview, I felt a sense of belonging. There was something about the culture and climate of the school, the friendly faces, and the warm welcome from anyone I passed. The first person I spoke to was Brianna Carnevale, as she and I were both early (no surprise there). Brianna’s enthusiasm and love for LBHS shone through her bright personality; her confidence and professionalism was something I truly admired. Fast forward to the days before school, where we spent time on the phone, exchanging emails, and lesson planning, sometimes by the beach. I felt confident and secure knowing that my journey at Long Beach would be an incredible one, having Brianna supporting me from day one. Brianna has not only been a phenomenal mentor, but she has truly become one of my lifelong friends. She pushes me to do my best work, day in and day out and is always there for me, whether it’s been the best day or a hard one. I can’t imagine my journey without her and am forever grateful for her knowledge and friendship. -Ashley

Arlyne                                Nicolette

Arlyne Skolnik (Mentor)              Nicolette Samardich (Mentee)

I wondered and hoped as I awaited meeting my mentee. Would she be receptive to support? Flexible? Enthusiastic? A team player?  Now that I’ve had the pleasure of working with Nicolette over the past year, she is all of those things and more. Nicolette is the full package! Spending time with my mentee continues to be a very rewarding experience and especially in our “new normal” world; we are each other’s support with all the new challenges that COVID-19 has presented to us as educators. I love that she’s enthusiastic to try anything new to engage her young first-grade distance learners. I adore that she explores every avenue and leaves no stone unturned. I also love when our roles switch and Nicolette mentors me when I have a technological glitch! Like a spring flower, Nicolette continues to blossom into a truly fine, caring teacher. She is among our newest shining stars at West School!  We are so fortunate to have her and I am proud to call her my colleague! -Arlyne

As I approach the end of my first year, I think back to how much my Mentor meant to me. At first, I thought: A reading teacher and a classroom teacher? How will she be able to answer all the questions I have?  Boy was I wrong. Arlyne is a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and positive energy. She knows the answers to everything I have asked, and if she didn’t, she always pointed me in the direction of someone who would. Arlyne is so cordial and helped me to feel comfortable the day I walked into school. She gave me the confidence and support each and every day to help drive my relationships with colleagues, students, and families. She consistently supports my growth as an educator by sharing new practices, resources, and applications with me. Arlyne pushes me on a daily basis to be the best teacher I can be and constantly applauds my achievements. Best of all, each morning she walks by my classroom, pops her head in with a bright smile, and says good morning; always starting my day off on a happy note. -Nicolette

No Interaction is too small

#AuthenticEDU Callouts

Swimming in a Sea of Change

Revolving Doors

Education is a perpetual revolving door of change. Every time the door rotates, new learners walkthrough, discoveries loom, fresh learning tools/platforms emerge, and technological advances burst into our worlds. We are continuously swimming in a boundless sea of eternal possibilities. As we tread in the water, we find ourselves looking around, grasping for the right answers, and searching for the people who will hold out a life vest and swim with us. These are the people who have faith in our ability to believe in ourselves; they lift us up, empower us to take the lead on decision making, and let us spread our wings by sharing with others. And while the doors endlessly turn and transformation ensues, we recognize that education begins with people; not protocols, not a curriculum, not instruction, not technology, not evaluations, and certainly not assessments. We need to ask ourselves, what can we learn today that will strengthen our ability to amplify the social, emotional, and academic capacity of our students? Who will support our efforts and give us permission to sink in the ocean and then push ourselves up for air so we can swim again? 

A Commitment to Transformation

When you become an educator, you are committing to a journey of lifelong leadership, learning, and growth that stretches far beyond the required traditional years of schooling. It is a mindset and professional obligation to push yourself down a path of innovation, creativity, risk-taking, and reflection. How can we work to create professional learning communities that value collaboration, open dialogue, reciprocity, and a willingness to share instructional practices with one another? Becoming a part of professional learning communities will ultimately transform your practices and propel you forward so that you positively influence your colleagues and students. You see, you can’t wait for growth to come to you; if you want to make an immediate impact, you have to be willing to proactively seek it out!

Finding My Life Vest

When I stumbled upon the book, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros, I knew I had found my life vest.  I felt as if George was speaking right to my core.  As I read his book, my whole educational journey flashed before my eyes.  I became deeply reflective about my own successes, challenges, and failures.  I thought about what I could have done differently to positively impact my students and colleagues and wished I could go back in time to make adjustments to some of the choices I made. I thought about the present and the future and how I can use my learning to elevate others in intentional, meaningful, and relevant ways. His philosophy and mindset are what every educator and person who comes in contact with learners should hear. Every time I read another line in the book, I would write it down in my journal and share it with whoever would listen. In my heart, I knew this book could be a key driver in moving teaching and learning practices forward in my school district.  After all, the district vision statement supports innovation, risk-taking, collaboration, and creativity; I wanted to help bring this vision to life.  

Living the Innovator’s Mindset

When I became the Mentor Coordinator in my school district, one of my goals was to use the book The Innovator’s Mindset to inspire and empower new teachers and their mentors to be lead learners, share their special gifts with others, and not be afraid of success! These are the educators who consistently model professionalism, have strong interpersonal skills, value collaboration, are empathetic, compassionate, reflective, and responsive to ALL learners’ needs. These are the educators who will ultimately become the hub and driving force behind the development of powerful professional learning communities. With them by your side, you will build social and professional capital, strengthen collective efficacy, and empower educators to improve the learning outcomes for ALL students. To me, these educators will be able to embrace the 8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset; they will become connected and networked educators while making a positive impact on school culture, their colleagues, and the students and community we serve.

innovators    IMG_5451

Long Beach Public Schools Mentors                 LBPS Mentors and Mentees  

Finding the Courage

I am so grateful to have connected with George Couros.  He has the natural ability to rally people together, lead with empathy, empower educators to fail forward, be resilient, encourage risk-taking, and challenge people to create new and better things. One of my favorite quotes from Couros is, “Change is the opportunity to do something amazing!”  He truly does inspire me to embody the change I want to see.  When you are open to inviting new perspectives that stretch beyond the walls of your classroom and school district, you ARE embracing innovation.  Finding the courage to believe in yourself while motivating and inspiring others, showing bravery and strength in your convictions, and creating collaborative learning communities are the heart of continuous personal and professional growth.  And, as the perpetual revolving door of change keeps spinning in the education world, we manage to keep ourselves afloat in the boundless sea filled with eternal possibilities; Suddenly, we realize that the door of transformation has always been open. Sometimes it just takes the inspiration and optimism from the right people to help you recognize that you are your our own life vest and are READY to swim!

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George Couros, Lauren Kaufman, and

Sari Goldberg McKeown at an

Eastern Suffolk Boces Conference.     

Disrupting the Disruptor Within

Recognizing the Need for Personal Disruption

I have to admit that there have been moments in my career where I have felt alone. It’s not the kind of alone where you feel like you have been abandoned on a deserted island.  I’ve always been fortunate to have colleagues to laugh with, talk about family, friends, and personal adventures with; it’s the kind of a feeling where you are yearning for more perspective and professional conversations that stretch far beyond your classroom, school building, and district walls. Perhaps it’s because I previously worked in another field outside of education or that I have been employed in other school districts.  I have encountered different styles of leadership, various types of school cultures, student populations, and collaboration styles. I guess there is something about being in the same space that can become too routine, stagnant, and mundane (if you let it). Why was I always finding myself trying to push down the walls in order to find the disruptors of conventional teaching and learning practices? Growth is something that festers within. You can feel the ideas churning in the pit of your stomach; you can see the big picture clearly; you attempt to design roadmaps that will guide you to a continuously evolving destination.  Yet, you are longing for thinking partners who have that same type of stirring feeling inside. These are the people who are insanely passionate about what they do; they dream, they wonder, they develop visions, and challenge the status quo. And, sometimes when you least expect it, they magically appear and disrupt your world. You can feel yourself gravitating toward their innate desire to experience growth with you amidst a habitual sea of tradition. -Lauren

So many of us have been there… that point where you feel like the world is going on without you or maybe you are not even aware that there is a world beyond your immediate one. We don’t always recognize it; as our connections are strong with those around us. The fact of the matter is, it isn’t them, it is us. The disruptor in us that needs to be reenergized and pushed against.  The internal conflict that we thrive on turns nonexistent and in place of it is a comfort and form of consistency that equates stagnancy to us. Then it starts to happen, something gnaws at your heart and spirit… something is saying that where you are just isn’t enough.   There may even be a point of resentment that you can’t identify with because it doesn’t pertain to any one person, it really is just yours to claim. That moment you do feel lifeless without opportunity because somewhere along the journey you forgot that your voice not only mattered but that it is also your own responsibility to use for growth.  That mundane moment may turn into unlimited time (if you let it). -Kristen

Disruption is an Open Invitation to Oneself

And then it happened…I remember learning about Twitter from a colleague.  “Lauren, just check it out.  There are SO many educators sharing ideas, and the instant access to authors and literacy leaders…AMAZING.”  Full transparency, I didn’t take the Twitter plunge right away. In fact, in 2014, I reluctantly downloaded the app to my Smartphone only to discover that I had already set up an account in 2012.  I noticed that the username I created wasn’t reflective of the educator in me (@Lau7210), but it commemorated my first AOL email account, “Lau” (all my close friends call me that) and my birthday (7210). I didn’t put much thought into changing my Twitter handle; instead I was more anxious to explore this digital arena of promise.  At the time, I had two followers, (my sister-in-law and a random person) and had never sent out a tweet. I immediately started searching for and following literacy gurus and expert educators like Nancie Atwell, Lucy Calkins, Fountas and Pinnell, Jennifer Serravallo and Dr. Mary Howard. And oh my goodness, that feeling when another educator followed me back was so exciting!  I know that sounds really nerdy and perhaps odd, but it made me happy. I became a total Twitter voyeur. It’s like I was standing at the end of the bridge admiring the intellectual wonderland that was filled with collaborative conversation, professional discourse, and fresh ideas from educators across the globe. How could I have been sheltered from this accessible learning frenzy for so long? I watched, I read, I observed, and followed various Twitter chats frequently.  One Thursday night, I stumbled upon the Twitter chat, #G2Great; a chat that revolved around meaningful and relevant literacy topics. At the time, it was facilitated by Dr. Mary Howard, Jenn Hayhurst, and Amy Brennan. I don’t remember the topic of the chat, but I vividly recall the feeling of fascination as I watched tweets flood into my Twitter feed, and rush right into my heart and soul. I marveled at the educators who had the courage to “tweet away”, share their philosophical beliefs, and contribute authentic examples of how innovative ideas were put into practice in their own classrooms/school districts. I gradually began raising my foot onto the bridge instead of standing at the edge. I crafted tweets in my head, pressed the “tweet” button, typed the words, revised them to meet the Twitter character limit, to only abruptly step off the bridge.  Why would experts and other lead learners want to read my thoughts and ideas about the education field? Nevertheless, just a few weeks later, and with one eye open, I leaped onto that bridge and began walking across it….and then, I tweeted! Sending that first tweet in the Twitter chat transformed the trajectory of my career. I shared my spirit, my voice, my practice. As I crossed the bridge that evening, the responses began pouring in. I was moving toward a golden pot of endless professional learning opportunities that were waiting for me on the other side. It felt as if educators I had never known before were waving me in and giving me an open invitation to their professional party. There was a seat at the table just for me, to network, to connect, to collaborate. It was then that I realized that there was a disruptor within me. -Lauren

Disrupting the status quo may never come in a pretty little invite with your name spelled boldy across the middle, but it will come in open and honest conversations with others and yourself.  You will feel that sense of urgency to shake things up if you take the time to place yourself around other experiences. On the other hand, you may even be at a point that you feel worn down and actually consider not showing up or regretfully declining the offer, but it will weigh on you. You will find yourself questioning the what if?  

What if I had said yes? 

What if I had just been myself and added my thoughts to the conversation? 

What if I tried that?

What if I had just become more connected?

What if I had shown up for the professional party? 

Those open invites will always be there because we know that change is inevitable.  We can either show up and join in, or not show up at all. The disruptor in us will not be satisfied if we don’t at least try to attend.  But that will not be enough for us. The disruptor inside of us will be the one tapping to the beat of the music while sitting around the table thinking what other are not willing to entertain… Why isn’t anyone else dancing?  And then it will happen, because you just won’t be able to contain yourself anymore.  

You will disrupt the conversation.

You will stand up.

and YOU will dance! -Kristen

Lauren Kaufman is an elementary Instructional Coach for the Long Beach Public Schools in Long Island, NY. She is a lifelong learner who is passionate about sharing best literacy practices with colleagues and wholeheartedly believes in job-embedded professional learning for professional growth.

Connected and Networked

 

Two weeks ago was just like any other ordinary week for me. My connection to the world was strong and in full force.  I was looking over the color-coded excel spreadsheet my husband made that meticulously listed my children’s upcoming sports practices and game schedules.  There were so many things running through my head. I sat there trying to figure out how to be in two places at once. Who would I need to connect with to make it all happen? How could my networking help balance the perpetual to-do list?  I knew I needed to start by making the necessary carpool plans. Then my mind shifted to visiting my Outlook calendar to check for upcoming meetings. I was excited to squeeze in time with my team to collect more raffle donations from local businesses in preparation for EdCampLI After Dark.  I thought about the hundreds of new books I had to inventory and distribute to teachers’ classrooms and the shared level libraries within the buildings I work in. I needed to make this happen so that all students could have immediate access to them. On top of all of this, I was also feeling a bit stressed, but extremely enthusiastic about gathering all of the materials and revisiting the research around the topic I was going to share and present at the Lilac/Nassau Reading Council 2020 annual conference.

The Puzzle 

While all of these responsibilities were stacked in piles in my mind, like puzzle pieces are thrown together in a box, I could visualize the big picture clearly. Each time I connected those pieces, I could feel the tension slowly release. You know the feeling you get when you put the last piece of the puzzle in the picture?  You breathe that sigh of relief and feel incredibly accomplished for the hard work that was put in to commemorate that moment. I COULD make this happen and I WOULD!

Professional Playground

At the same time, I found myself insanely dedicated to listening to the messages in the #AllinEDU Voxer Book Study (Voxer: an online walkie-talkie app) group I am currently participating in.  Passionate educators from across the country are making time to share their thoughts and perspectives about the book All In: Taking a Gamble in Education by Kristen Nan and Jacie Maslyk, all while engaging in various other topics in education.  It is important for me to put myself out there and continue to grow so that I can be the best I can be in my position as an Instructional Coach.  A major focus of my job is to stay on top of the latest research and instructional practices, continuously build relationships, connect, network, collaborate, be reflective, stretch teachers’  thinking about the impact that they can have on the social, emotional, and academic growth of their students, not to mention inspire and motivate them to push the envelope in order to be the best versions of themselves.  For me, these Voxer groups have been my way to escape to a professional playground that invites nerdy conversations, allows me to share my voice freely, and has also challenged me to think differently about the organizations we work in including our colleagues, the students, and community we serve.  I actually yearn for these networks, crave these intellectual discussions, and thrive on developing relationships and expanding my PLN (professional learning network) with other passionate educators from around the country.

And then”We interrupt this regularly scheduled program to bring you this message…”

Collaborative Efforts

It was Friday, March 13th, 2020, a day I will never forget. This day looked very different Monday-Thursday of that very same week. It was a day of the unknown, as new information about the COVID-19 pandemic was trickling in on a moment to moment basis. That morning, my instructional coach team and I felt this incredible sense of urgency,  as we were about to help facilitate and create “At Home Learning Plans” for our elementary schools. We were enthusiastic about taking on the challenge, but knew that we had limited time to complete an unbelievable amount of important work due to a half-day schedule. The information had to be disseminated to families and students that same day; yet we walked into the administration building of my school district calmly, focused, and ready to support the endeavor.  Our collaborative efforts with our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and a dedicated team of educators from across the school district were about to go into action.

A Network of Trust

As educators, we tend to like a sense of control and like to know what to expect (for the most part).  On this day, we were walking into the unknown and were navigating the uncharted waters of at-home learning. It was the most organized, peaceful chaos you have ever seen.  The waters were a bit rough as we took over the Curriculum and Instruction office and administration conference room, ready to WORK; printing, organizing, debating, sharing all while the clock was ticking. It was a half-day of school and we needed to get these materials out, and collectively, we trusted… YES, TRUSTED each other!! At times it felt like we were building an airplane while we were flying it…but we did it and magic certainly happened all while keeping the students at the core of the work!

Productive Distraction

Moments later, we rushed to the print shop and as my fellow coaches and I waited for the “Home Learning Plans” to be printed, we turned to our #ALLinEDU Voxer chat for the most productive distraction we could count on!  Professional growth is a part of who we are, so it was natural for us to reach out to our PLN for comfort. We discussed the book, we voxed, we laughed, we discussed our need to get all of the essential necessities if school closure was imminent, and even managed to take a picture to commemorate this moment in history.

A Promise

As we walked to our cars that day, we made a promise to stay connected, to check in on one another and continue to push each other to share information and maintain our love of learning together.  And, if this would be the last memory we would have collaborating in person as an Instructional Coach team, (my school district is eliminating the role due to budget constraints), I would be unbelievably proud of our collaborative efforts that day…in fact, it would be a day I’d never forget.

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Christine LaMarca, Lauren Kaufman, and Natasha Nurse
The Long Beach Public Schools Coach Team

Lauren Kaufman is an elementary Instructional Coach for the Long Beach Public Schools in Long Island, NY. She is a lifelong learner who is passionate about sharing best literacy practices with colleagues and wholeheartedly believes in job-embedded professional learning for professional growth.

Reflections of a First Year Literacy Coach

How did I get here? Literacy Coach. Coach. Reading Teacher. Classroom Teacher. Mentor. Learner. Colleague. Friend… For as long as I could remember, I loved performing, presenting, being a listener, learner and lover of all things literary and in the arts. When I was in 3rd grade, my “How To” presentation was all about how to apply makeup. I took my audience through the step-by-step process, explaining and clarifying every detail. I painted a face on a canvas so my audience had a visual of what I was doing. I was always aware of different learning styles. I know that I am very much a visual and Kinesthetic learner. I remember making a mistake during my presentation, and thinking to myself that the show must go on. So I reflected on how I could make my presentation better for my learners. What would I do differently? How could I communicate my message in a clear and concise way without sounding like “the expert,” but someone who has information to impart. After all, delivery is extremely important when teaching others. It is the way we are spoken to that determines how well we receive information.

4th grade was the year I knew I wanted to be an educator… I used to sit at my desk and gaze at my beautiful teacher who carried around Nancie Atwell’s book, In the Middle. Before every reading and writing lesson, Mrs. Roth referred to her coffee stained, highlighted, annotated text. I used to wonder, what was special about this book? Why would my teacher take the time to refer back to this text every time she taught a reading and writing lesson? I longed for access to this book and begged my parents to buy it for me. When it was finally in my hands, I began reading it… I am not sure that I understood everything in it, since it was probably way above my independent reading level; but I do remember that I was extremely curious, interested and determined to take something away from Atwell’s words. Just a few years ago, I was able to tell Nancie Attwell this story…it was like a dream come true. She had been the literacy guru and celebrity I had always wanted to emulate.

I am passionate about everything I do. When I commit to something, I give it my all. I have to say that I was a bit nervous to take on the role of Literacy Coach… After all, I am NOT the expert in everything nor do I have all the answers. I am just an educator who is always in a constant state of learning. The difference now was that I would be sharing my philosophy with my colleagues. I was worried about how they would perceive me. I was worried about working with adults, people who already have their pre-conceived notions, beliefs, values and perspectives on pedagogy. They have had many experiences in life and in the education field. Adults are more self-directed and set in their ways, whereas children tend to be more open to learning new things and perhaps can be convinced to shift their mindset more easily. I was worried that my colleagues would not trust me… TRUST, that takes time to build, but I am patient and will continue to be.

This was a learning year, I got to work with an incredible team, delved deeply into curriculum writing and helped make decisions for the teachers and students in my district. It was an honor to assist the teachers in creating goals for themselves and their students by using a variety of formative assessments, and by providing job-embedded professional learning opportunities around best practices and the Balanced Literacy philosophy. It was stimulating to have powerful conversations with administrators, teachers and students that pushed my thinking, and helped support the teachers with resources for their classrooms. After all, how can we ask teachers to support their students without having access to a strong curriculum with the means and support? I valued every single formal and informal conversation and viewed them all as professional learning opportunities. To be completely honest, there were times when the conversations did not go as I would have planned, but I still appreciated each and every one of them.

This year, I took the Twitter plunge and broadened my Professional Learning Network or PLN. A year ago, I knew very little about Twitter, but I watched, observed and slowly became a participant in a few chats where I was able to interact with some of the most passionate, savvy educators from across the country. I even got to meet many in person. Building these relationships through social media has made me a better person, educator, mother, wife and friend. Twitter really does break down those walls of communication- you feel supported and get to chat with like-minded people. My views on various topics have been expanded and I have been able to transform my own belief system with newly acquired information.

I think that I am very lucky… why? Because I met my literacy soulmate this year. She is my partner and the other Literacy Coach. Positive energy is contagious and she has it…we motivate each other, finish one another’s sentences, laugh, cry and love what we do together. Everyone needs a Literacy Soulmate with whom to grow. I have also felt extremely supported by my direct boss, central administrators, principals and colleagues. It is powerful to have people surrounding you that make you feel incredibly valued, and who also motivate you to become better at your craft. These are the people who plant the seeds because they want to nurture your development as a person and educator.

Learning and life is messy…. there are many paths to learning; taking the wrong turns is where much of the thinking happens. Success does not come easy…. there are always going to be bumps in those paths, but it is the way we respond to those bumps, that reveal who we truly are. So, how did I get here? Literacy Coach. Coach. Reading Teacher, Classroom Teacher, Mentor, Learner. Colleague. Friend. The journey continues and I look forward to another year of learning with my colleagues, after all, we are all here for the same reason, to help the children grow into lifelong, independent learners…yes, it’s all about the children. That’s why I am here…