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

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