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…