Celebrating Invisible Success in the Classroom
Special thanks to Shanna Peeples for inspiring this post through a conversation about our energy buckets, which helped me piece through something I had been grappling with. Truth: the power of great and thoughtful colleagues can move mountains. This is another post in the Teacher Leader Dementor series.
How do we make success visible when we are out of the classroom?
Success in the classroom comes in many forms. Teaching can be gruelingly hard work. And with the blood, sweat, and tears comes many a sweet victory: student faces lighting up as learning sinks in, a student overcome with joy after finishing her first chapter book, a small group encouraging and high-fiving each other as they discover a new successful method of solving a problem. Through the challenging work of being a teacher are these wonderful, shining moments. And these moments are fuel for our soul. They are the glimmering lights that get us through the darkness or monotony of daily struggles. They make up the energy that fills our buckets in order to come back for another day, because these beautiful souls are depending on us. Success and fulfillment is visible in these tiny moments. This success is why we teach.
But if our leadership journey takes us away from our students, what happens to those visible moments of success? Those moments of success can be masked or hidden. Progress and success can be harder to see.
This question keeps me up at night. There are times of the year in which I really yearn for the classroom, and there are times when I am not feeling successful in my current work. I miss those moments of success; I miss the hugs, I miss the students. As an extreme extrovert, I crave to be around students: They give me my energy which then fills my energy bucket. As an adult learner, I know my motivation: Making people feel successful. Those high fives and smiles in the classroom are my fuel. So what happened when I walked out of Shaw Elementary School for the last time, when I walked away from those visible moments of success in the classroom?
I had to rethink what success looks like, I had to keep it visible, and I had to rethink how I fill my energy bucket.
And I am not alone. This is a dementor we face as educators who choose to leave the classroom. When we are a generation or more removed from those bursts of visible success in the classroom, our energy buckets can get low. And when our energy buckets are running low and we don't feel successful, we can feel lost. We may lose sight of purpose, motivation, and feel like we no longer are making a difference. We can feel like the hamster in the wheel. But we have a tool to fight this dementor.
We must keep our success visible. We must take time to truly think about what progress we are making, what impact we are having, and what goals we are reaching. And for me, those goals are the goals of my adult students. If a teacher is feeling success in his or her work, I am feeling successful in my support of that teacher.
So what does this look like? How do we make those successes visible, when they have a tendency to stay hidden under the generations of impact in our work?
One way I keep it visible is by taking time (and putting it monthly in my calendar) to think and reflect on those successes, then use sticky notes to make them-literally-visible (Really: I should invest in 3M). I give them life in pen and paper. I jot down any tiny or big celebration and post it above my desk. These visible reminders help keep me motivated and feeling purposeful. They help remind me that I am still working hard on my vision to improve education for every child; that I still have my sleeves rolled up to make a difference. It just looks different now.
Dorky, I know. But it is my visible motivation. It fills my energy bucket. It works for me.
How do you fill your energy bucket after leaving the classroom? How do you keep your successes visible? I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
Photo courtesy of Esselsmann