Hello, dear friend, and welcome to another episode of the Artworks for Teachers podcast. I’m Susan Reilly, your host. And at the time of this recording, we are back from Thanksgiving break. I hope that you had a wonderful season of giving and enjoying family and friends if you celebrate, and that you’re getting ready for the holiday season. I know it’s a little crazy right now. So I’m curious, how are you? Are you managing, are you treading water? Are you excited? Are you one of those people who like loves this season and you’re in your jam? I would love to hear and know so feel free to connect with me and let me know how you’re doing. I really do value all of you who are listening, but you in particular. So thank you and I hope that you’re doing well. As I was preparing for this episode
I’ve done a lot of thinking recently. I’ve had some time to do that over break. And I realized that, especially over break, because I was able to meet with a lot of my educator friends who are so busy during the regular week, but they had a little bit of time. And so I was able to have some lunches and dinners and enjoy their company. And what I found was that the general consensus is, it’s still crazy out there, that the decision making from many different levels is hard to understand. And there is a general feeling of lack of support. And I was mulling this over quite a bit because we have actually seen the same thing as we have been working to support teachers, as many of you know when teachers come to us and want to participate in one of our programs, if it’s the accelerator or certification, we have members on our team who will reach out to administrators or the purchasing office or whatever red tape is in your way from achieving those things and working on your behalf. And so I will tell you it is different now than it has ever been and I feel some of the same so much red tape, there’s less support, there’s non-communication, which I think is maybe one of the most frustrating things, like when you ask for something or you ask for clarification or you ask where the status is of something and then just radio silence. It’s enough to drive a person mad. So as I was thinking about that in terms of how that’s impacting you right now in your job and how you’re trying your very best to provide the best educational experience for our children, almost with one hand tied behind your back, right? Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve heard from so many people who are in the field, who are experts in the field of various components, like Michael Linson from about classroom management, and we’ve heard about how strategies that are effective with working with students who are experiencing trauma. And each of these people have provided such wonderful advice for all of us, right? But at the end of the day, when you’re looking at your classroom and you’re wondering, how did I get here? It still feels like you have a hand tied behind your back, right? Like you’re still trying the very best you can, but there’s just something that’s holding you back.
And so when I get to that space, I have to remember why I was doing it in the first place and people who do it well, because we see a lot of people who are not doing it well. And you may be blessed with an administrator who is fantastic. I hope that you are. You may be blessed as an administrator to have a person who is advocating on your behalf in central office and streamlines that process for you so that you can support your teachers. I hope you have that person. You may be the person in central office who gets it done for teachers, no matter what, and I hope you are. No matter what phase or stage you are in, I hope for the best. But what we oftentimes see or hear about are the difficulties, right? The challenges that lie ahead. And so… what happens when we see challenges? There’s the hero’s journey, right? And y’all know about the hero’s journey. We’ve talked about this since we were in high school. I’ve actually been thinking about the hero’s journey quite a bit because my own daughter is a sophomore right now and she’s studying two different plays. So she was studying Death of a Salesman and Fences. And during that time when she was studying those two plays, we were having lots of conversations about the hero’s journey and who in those plays were the actual heroes? And if those people were the actual heroes, who were the antagonists? And do you have to be the hero to be the antagonist? Or can you be the hero and the antagonist at the same time? So many great questions, right? So we’ve been kind of circling around this. And especially the idea around who you think the story is about.
It’s not actually about that person. It’s about how that person impacts the journey of someone else. And this is the point that I wanna make today. So if you’re not familiar with Death of a Salesman or Fences, in both of those cases, Death of a Salesman is about Willie the Salesman, but it’s not really about Willie. It’s really about how Willie’s journey and his difficulties in strife impacts his son. And in Fences, the same thing happens between a husband and a wife. You think it’s about the husband, you think it’s about his story and his difficulties and his challenges, but at the end of the day it’s really about how he impacts his wife and how she ends up turning around or changing because of his journey and his impact on her journey.
This is important when we’re thinking about the challenges that lie ahead of us in education. I literally just got off a call with a member of my team and we were talking about just how do we support educators in this environment? And I keep coming back to the idea that somebody, someone is impacting your journey. So if we’re gonna take a look at the hero’s journey, I would love to look at it from the lens of who is impacting you as the hero on this journey? How are you being influenced? Who is impacting you? And how can you take the core moments of your journey and transform yourself to be the very best version and also be the resilient person that we need right now? That is probably the biggest key here is how do we develop resilience so that we can keep doing what we love, even in the midst of all the challenges. So in this journey, I thought back to three examples in my own journey that I think may be helpful and provide some guidance, but also things to live up to and be thinking about, because I think they’re still relevant now. So I wanna start back when I was a teacher.
And as a teacher, when I first started, I was fortunate enough to begin in a school that was a Title I school, had 950 students in it, and at the same time, one of the most supportive staff members, or staffs in the world. I still have found very few schools that would mimic this particular school that I was able to land at for my very first experience as a teacher.
And what I loved about this school was the support that the teachers offered to each other. I know that that’s rare because when I moved to schools, I spent a year going home crying at the end of the day because no one would reach out to me or invite me to happy hour or sit with me at the lunch table and I felt like an outsider, right? And I learned how to cope with that. And if you’re experiencing that now, I feel you, I do.
And it takes a long time to build some of those relationships, right? And so having gone through that in multiple schools, I know that my first experience is somewhat rare that staff members, no matter who you were, even if you were the very first day on the job, they’re coming to support you, find out what you need to, to be there for you, which was wonderful. And there was one third grade teacher in this experience that taught me so much more than anybody else. And you may think, oh, she was, you know, the person who did all the things, right? She made everything beautiful and she had all of the, you know, fun games and all of the activities and she made Starbucks a thing. Nope, nope, she had maybe one of the most low key classrooms I think I’ve ever seen. But she was incredibly kind. Her students loved her. She was a veteran teacher. And what I learned from her was that you need to live your priorities. See, for her as a third grade teacher, she wasn’t willing to sacrifice her evenings because she had a family. And she wasn’t willing to go all in with her budget and make everything crazy beautiful in her classroom because that was money she was saving for her family and for her ideals and what she wanted to do. And when it came to PD, sometimes if it was something really wonderful that she wanted to participate in, she might pay out of pocket. But for the most part, she went back to our school and invited them to invest in her. She had a set of priorities that allowed her to enjoy her life outside of teaching and enjoy teaching. And she had a rough day, she was able to close the door and leave it there. And that was such a huge lesson for me. Now this didn’t mean that she wasn’t a part of our school community. She was very much a part of our school community. In fact, when I would have our winter concert or our spring arts show.
She was there. She was spending that time with us. She was supporting our students. She was out at bus duty. She was in the cafeteria doing lunch duty. Yes, she was participating in our school community as a valuable member and someone who wanted to be there and who prioritized her time there. But when that time was over, she very much left it be. She would sometimes leave grade B, she would decide very carefully what actually needed to be graded and what didn’t. And so so that she could live into her priorities. We hear a lot of people talking about boundaries right now, right? You have to have boundaries. I think there’s a difference between priorities and boundaries, right? Boundaries feels restrictive and it feels like you almost like you’re guilty if you put up boundaries and I’m going to stick by my boundaries.
Instead, if you think about what are your priorities, this teacher was very clear on what her priorities were. For her, her priorities were faith, family, and then work. And she put them and kept them in that order. And it didn’t mean she gave any less, but she did remind me, and I will never forget this, she did remind me that as a human, you only have to do one thing to stay alive, breathe. That’s really it. I mean, yeah, you need to eat, yeah, you need water. There are all those things, you know, that are supplemental that we need. But really, in any given moment, the only thing you need to do to survive is to breathe. And so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop, take a breath. Consider what are your priorities and what you’re doing right now in alignment with your priorities. And if it’s not, it’s okay to let that go for a little bit. It’ll come back. It’ll come back after a little bit of time when you’re ready to handle it. But it’s okay to leave a little bit of grading to decide what needs to be graded and what doesn’t. It’s okay to not put everything up in the classroom or to put on all of the activities all of the time. It’s okay to select one thing that you want to do
It’s okay that if you decide I want to prioritize using some arts integration or some arts enhancement strategies and nobody else is, I’m going to prioritize doing that because I believe in it. And if nobody else does, that’s okay. But because I believe in it and it’s priority for me, I’m going to do it. So the first part of our hero’s journey is considering how are you living into your priorities? Okay. How are you living into your priorities?
Do you have priorities? Let’s start there. And then how are you gonna live into them? That was the first lesson on the hero’s journey for me that I felt was really important, especially for right now. Now, next up is the most fantastic principle that I ever had. Had a lot of principles in my life. And I will say, I’ve been very fortunate to have lots of different principles who approach administration in very different ways. I’ve had very low-key principals, I’ve had principals who are very strict, and I’ve had everything in between. This particular principal was a gem because she did what I call, she put her money where her mouth was. She would ask our teachers to do a lot of different things.
Like we had a lot of initiatives going on in this building at this given time, but nobody felt overwhelmed. And when I look back, I realize why no one really felt overwhelmed. And if they did, it was very momentary. And then, um, it was easily resolved. So what’s this magic pill? It’s because this particular principal would co-teach with those teachers once a week she made it a priority in her schedule to ensure that she was working in every teacher’s classroom at least once a week for one period at least. She was co-planning with them, co-teaching with them so that she could see what was going on in the classroom, so that she could understand where are these behaviors coming from, so that when those children had to go up to the principal’s office, right, because of behavior problems that were going on, she understood because she had been in that classroom. She didn’t anticipate that the teacher had a poor classroom management problem. She didn’t think that this was just a one-time incident. She is in those classrooms noticing these things. And everything that she asked the teachers to do, she was willing to do herself. So even though our school had probably five different initiatives going on at that time, which is a lot, it’s not as many as some people that I know who are doing nine at any given moment, but five I feel like is quite a bit on the plate. But people didn’t feel overwhelmed because they knew that their boss is in the trenches with them. Their boss is right there beside them working with them. And now keep in mind this was not a small staff friends. We had maybe 40 teachers on our staff, so she was out of her office more than she was in it.
She had a wonderful AP who also supported this mission. The two of them would actually go out into the neighborhood during holiday seasons to provide care and cheer and all of those things, because again, we were a Title I school. But she would also, if there were issues in the neighborhood, if she knew that there was this particular group of children were having an issue, she would go with the assistant principal and go work that with the parents and work in community with them. She would listen quite often and it was not easy. I watched her very carefully. There were times that it was very difficult for her parents who were belligerent, people who came in that didn’t agree with her approach, but I will tell you she was the most supportive administrator I think I’ve ever seen of teachers and those teachers were
In terms of your hero’s journey, think about who is someone who puts their money where their mouth is. If it’s your administrator, go thank them. Go thank them. Seriously, people don’t say thank you out loud enough, I don’t think. And this is the season, if ever there was one, to go out and celebrate and say thank you and show your appreciation for the little things that people do that support you. If it’s not your administrator, but it’s somebody else around you.
If it’s a spouse, if it’s a peer, if it’s a colleague, somebody who will stand in the trenches with you to help you feel a little less overwhelmed, that’s the person who puts their money where their mouth is, celebrate that person, because that person can help lift us up, right? That person is the person who helps us know that we’re not alone and that we can do this together. And my friend, if you can’t think of anyone else who in your world who will do that, I will be that person for you. Because we are in this together. So we’ve got two pieces right now on our hero’s journey that are going to impact us and how we can be the change that we want to be in our classrooms, right? Living out our priorities, knowing what they are and living our priorities and putting our money where our mouth is, knowing who those people are in our lives and helping them be a priority and in our lives as well.
Now the third person actually just we just came across this person this week and I got to give her a shout out. She is a director of visual and performing arts at a central office. I’m not going to give any more information than that. But we actually ran into an S snag where there was a lot of red tape going on in central office to get a program that she wanted for her teachers. And you know, we’d been working on this for maybe two months, almost three at this point. And it came down to, she was ready to go and she was ready to purchase it and ready to get it in the hands of her educators. And somebody told her, nope, nope, nope, you gotta get all of these signatures by the end of the day to day in order to get it approved by the Board of Education at the next meeting. Otherwise, it’s not gonna happen. Now.
Anybody else that I know in central office because I’ve lived in central office my friend I know what this looks like Would have probably sat there and been oh, it’s just not gonna happen and it’s gonna be so frustrating and upsetting Not this woman. This woman put on her hero cape stood up and went to every single person whose signature was needed in That office in order to get it done in time in order to get it ready for board approval so that we could cut that red tape. What this reminded me of was the idea that there are people in our lives who will work around the status quo, who won’t just accept things for what they are, but will look for a solution no matter what. And these people are exceptional. These are the people who get things done. These are the ones you want on your side, right? When we go back to the hackier bureaucracy episode, um, when we’re looking at people that we can support and look for for help, this is a person you want on your side. You want that heroes cape that’s gonna get up and work around the red tape for you because it’s what’s best for you and it’s what’s best for the students who are in your classroom. And so I want you to think about, is there a person in your world who can work around the status quo, who is willing to maybe be a little uncomfortable, maybe feel a little flustered, but is willing to do it because it’s what’s best for you and for the students who are sitting in your classroom. Again, think about who they are, celebrate them, and cultivate your relationship with them because all three of these people, the people who help you identify and live out your priorities, the people who put their money where their mouth is and stand with you shoulder to shoulder and the people who are willing to work around the red tape to find the solution. They are the ones that are gonna lift you up and help keep you on this journey as an educator. And at the end of the day, when you turn around and when we finally get through this craziness that has been around for the last couple of years, we turn around and we look back. We’re gonna notice those three people on our journey and how they have changed us and impacted us. I think about the musical Wicked and the song For Good and the idea that I have been changed for good because I knew you. During this holiday season, which can be very difficult for many people, when you’re facing challenges and difficulties and you feel like, oh, I don’t know that this is worth it and oh, I don’t know if I can continue, I want you to think about your own journey and people who have changed you for good. And just take a minute to appreciate them for who they are and to thank them for being on your path. And then I want you to think about those three key areas, living your priority. Take the time to identify your priorities and live those out. Think about who’s willing to stand with you shoulder to shoulder, and then be that person for someone else. And then think about the person who’s willing to work around whatever’s put in their way and find a solution. Be that person for yourself. Don’t accept the status quo. Figure out a way because there is a way, I promise you. So I hope that those three examples give you a little bit of hope during this tough time.
Next week, I’m gonna be joined by a new guest. I’m excited for you to hear from him. And then the week after that, I’m gonna give you some ideas for activities and arts components that you can use during the holiday season to make the time fly by so that you can enjoy your break. I hope that this week was helpful for you. Please know that I am always in your corner and no matter what, we’re on this journey together. That’s it for today. I look forward to seeing you again next week.