Knowing what you know now about our field, if you had the opportunity to begin your career all over again, would you still get into education?
I've pondered that question several times during my time in this profession. As I approach the 25th anniversary of accepting my very first teaching position (a 4th grade classroom at Cascade Elementary School in Elyria, Ohio), I find myself thinking about it once again. So much has changed in the field since I began my career. I've watched movements come and go, and big ideas see their days and then all but vanish. I've watched us blame all of our ills on parents, teachers, administrators, curriculum, tests, and of course students themselves. I've seen both great and not-so-great concepts result in recommendations, guidelines, procedures, policies, and laws. Despite (and because of) all I've seen and experienced, I can answer my original question with an unequivocal and enthusiastic yes!
I started teaching to make a difference in the lives of children. With every job I've had in education, I've been able to connect the dots between my specific work and that purpose. For those of us in the field who share that thinking, I urge you to pause and take the time to connect your own dots.
When I was a teacher, it was easy to make those connections. I was right there in the classroom creating learning opportunities that challenged my students and hopefully gave them a passion for learning.
As an assistant principal, I had the opportunity to nurture and support an environment that was conducive to learning for all students. As a principal, I saw my job as supporting the collective learning of my staff, securing the allocating the necessary resources (people, time, and money) to do what was needed for our students, and making sure every child was given an opportunity to excel.
As the director of a program that trained aspiring principals in Chicago, it was my responsibility to make sure every school leader saw the connections between the work of the building principal and student learning.
At the Wallace Foundation, I was able to take everything the foundation had learned about leadership and help states and districts develop and support principals who focused their efforts on being instructional leaders and supporters of both teacher and student learning.
Finally, at Learning Forward, I find myself in an organization that recognizes that effective teaching and leading at scale doesn't happen by accident. In fact, we know that it requires a thoughtful focus on developing and supporting a standards-based system of professional learning for both teachers and leaders so they are well prepared to meet the learning needs of their students.
So whenever you are feeling either empowered or overwhelmed by all that has changed in this field and wonder if you've made the right professional choices, I suggest you reflect on why you got into education in the first place and find a way to reconnect with those original passions. Take the time identify the links between your specific work and the benefits for students; if the dots can't be easily connected, then it may be time to determine if you've lost touch with your original reasons for getting into education. And instead of waiting for the next big idea or movement in education, follow Gandhi's advice and "be the change you want to see."
Director of Strategy and Development, Learning Forward