Sunday, February 9, 2014

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” - Andy Warhol

Change is a funny thing, and I am an even funnier conundrum of a creature when it comes to change. You see, I love change and I hate it. I thrive on it and yet, it sometimes discombobulates me completely. I have never been one to shy away from change, but each time I embark on a new adventure I also become pretty nostalgic and emotional about what is being left behind or changing. I wonder if I am making the right choice, even though I have probably spent no less than a month considering all the possibilities and exhausting myself (and my dearest, most patient friends and family members) by thinking through the various options. I can be flexible and perfectly happy to go with the flow, but sometimes even small changes in a plan can throw me for a loop. Then there is the other side of my personality that is constantly looking for the next new challenge, goal, or learning experience. Since a young age I have loved to learn, grow, and be fulfilled in my work. Early on I realized that these kinds of experiences don't always present themselves, so I learned to go after or create them myself.

I have been thinking about, and trying to manage, this part of my personality for the last couple months while evaluating where I am in my life, both personally and professionally, and where I would like to go next. This past year has been a whirlwind of learning and growing that I would not change for anything, but it has also been a year of recognizing the toll being a classroom teacher has taken on my personal life and well-being while also helping me build a stronger and more confident knowledge of myself. It is through acknowledging these things that I made the very difficult decision to pursue an opportunity that unexpectedly presented itself outside the classroom, and on Friday I will be leaving my teaching position to start a new chapter in my journey.

To try to sum up all the emotions and thoughts I have experienced over the last few months would be impossible. Heck, to sum up how I am feeling in this exact moment would be cumbersome. There is a certain level of excitement as I embark on what I believe will be an amazing learning experience and chance to work with some of my favorite people who have really pushed my thinking and supported my growth lately. There is also a bit of fear that I won't live up to the expectations, both the ones I perceive others have of me and more so the ones I set for myself, or that I won't be able to fight the bureaucracy and make the kind of change I want to see in the system. I am incredibly sad to leave my kids, the colleagues who have become my dearest friends, and one of the best teammates I have been privileged to work with. I am not looking forward to walking out of the classroom that has been my home the past couple years, my heart aches to just think about it, but I would be remiss if I didn't also share honestly that one of the overwhelming feelings that continues to wash over me is relief. Relief that this very long couple of months has some clarity and definition. Relief that "planning" and "grading" for 6 subjects 5 days a week will no longer be hanging over me and making a never-ending appearance on my to-do list. Relief that I can regain some focus and head in 1 direction instead of feeling scattered among the 4-5 different roles I've been trying to maintain this year. I am under no impression that my new job will be easy or that suddenly I will be walking out the door after an 8 hour day with all my tasks accomplished. On the contrary, I know this will not be the case and I would not want it that way. But I believe that I will feel more grounded and be able to really dig in on some work I have been dabbling in but haven't had the time or opportunity to completely dive into.

I wanted to share this news tonight, knowing that the week is going to fly by with little reprieve and time for reflection, but as I've pondered what to say I keep coming back to the letter I wrote to my students' families last week. I feel it sums up my thoughts and feelings quite nicely, so I am sharing the text below. It certainly was not written quickly or without tears, but I was glad to have the chance to process some of my thoughts and feelings and put them in writing for my students, their families, and for myself. It also helped provide me with some talking points when I told the kids last Thursday. (Not a favorable experience...that's another post for another day, but I will say it was the worst thing I have had to do in quite a long time. Look at a circle of 9 year olds who you love dearly and try to answer their questions about your leaving while they cry, or downright sob, and tell me it doesn't rip your heart out completely.)


Dear 4th Grade Families,

I am writing to you with a heavy heart to make the bittersweet announcement that I will be leaving the classroom to pursue an opportunity that unexpectedly presented itself as a Personalized Learning Field Manager for the Office of School Reform and Innovation (OSRI) in DPS. OSRI believes in fostering transformational change in education through innovative practices around the district in work like what we have been doing this year with blended and personalized learning. I wholeheartedly believe it is this kind of innovation that will positively impact the education system so that one day every student will have the kind of school experience they deserve. One of the ways they support this work at the school level is with a team of field managers and coaches who work with lab sites like ours, and I will be filling a role that recently came open on that team.

The decision to leave before the school year ends was one of the most difficult I have had to make. In so many ways my heart and soul lives in our classroom within the daily interactions I am privileged to have with each one of your children. I find immense joy in the beauty they bring to my life every single day and I am constantly learning and growing because of the lessons they teach me.

As a class we frequently discuss Kohlberg’s Stages of Morality and encourage each other to “be a stage 6” when making choices motivated by following a personal code of behavior, regardless of how hard that may be at times. Each day I ask the students to take risks, try new things, step out of their comfort zone, and persevere in an effort to learn and grow. We support each other by lending a helping hand, offering encouragement, and sharing our knowledge and beauty with others whenever possible. We work hard to make choices that have a positive impact and inspire others, and I remind the students each day to be a role model for those around us by listening carefully to their heart. I firmly believe that the best way for me to teach students these important life lessons is in not just speaking about them each day, but in leading by example and being a role model myself.

The opportunity to reach multiple schools, teachers, and the students they serve is an opportunity that I cannot in good conscience pass up despite how difficult it is to say goodbye to my beautiful 4th grade babies. With this decision comes the chance for me to learn new things and grow while also helping others, and as scary as it is I know I have to model what I ask of the children each day. They have shown me that the work we’ve done this year in blended and personalized learning is changing not just their education but their lives, and I want to see that kind of learning experience being offered to every student in DPS and beyond. I also see that in order for this work to be successful at a large scale teachers and students need to have their voices heard at the district level and I believe firmly that those voices can change the landscape of education. It is my sincere hope that I will be able to positively impact students, teachers, and our district as a whole by being a champion for the learning experiences each child deserves and representing the voices and lessons your children have shared with me this year.

I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your amazing children with me this year. It has been the utmost privilege to build a classroom community together and to witness the incredible growth and learning that has transformed the way I view education. I hope you and the students will continue to keep me apprised of the wonderful things they are doing and to reach out for anything at all. Every year when I send my class on to the next grade I remind them that leaving our classroom doesn’t change our relationship because I will always be their teacher, and they will always be mine. I am excited to see our students flourish and learn new things through the remainder of the year, and to watch them grow for many years to come.