Tag Archives: change

The fear of getting it wrong

There once was a man who had no fear, he said, “Bring on change – my mission is clear!” Then one day this changed, doubt reared its ugly head, uncertainty reigned and stagnation was fed.

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dalí

With a change in practice there is always fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the repercussions, fear of getting something wrong. I get it, educators want to do what is best for their students and they want to do it well. Yet this desire for perfection creates apprehension when exploring new procedures and practices. Don’t get me wrong, change can’t just be for the sake of changing. It does need to be well thought out and planned. But even when this happens, the follow through is daunting.

I was (and still am to a degree, although I try to fight it) guilty of this. I want everything I do to be planned perfectly so it will go smoothly and beautifully the first time through. I never want it to seem like I am unsure or uneasy. I think that somehow the process is devalued unless the outcome is exactly as I have predicted it would be.

But the question is, do we give in to this fear? Do we allow worry to get in the way of trying something new? Anxiety about a change is bound to pop-up with a shift in practice no matter how large or small. Yet we ask students every day to jump into new learning, try something different, and not to worry if something doesn’t go as planned. As difficult as it is, this is what we have to do as well.

Each time the fear of doing something wrong creeps in, I would challenge you to remember…Whatever you do, you’ll be better than you were before. Whether the thoughtful change in practice is something that has staying power, or if it will fall by the wayside, it is worth it to go through the learning process. It is worth it to experience the success or failure. It is worth it to share that with your students. It is worth it to show you’re human and admit that things don’t always go as planned.

If we allow the fear of getting something wrong stop us, how will we know if it could be something right?

Just one more thing to consider…

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” – Suzy Kaseem


The status quo worked for me

Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost

Early in my teaching career I was very traditional. This was how I experienced education growing up, what I was taught throughout my teacher preparation program in college, and what I observed educators practicing in their classrooms. My evaluations went well, with very little advice given to me as to how to improve my teaching. Students were to show up to my classroom, receive the information I covered, and learn. The process was sterile and the same almost every day. This was (and still is in many places) the status quo of teaching. It worked for me as it does for many teachers…or does it?

Were my students doing more than playing the game of school? No. Was I growing as a professional? No. Eventually I saw this, but because of what I had been taught, the environment and culture of school systems, and the praise of colleagues and administrators I didn’t find reason to change for some time. I was stuck in the box of traditional teaching. The status quo had sucked me in and the grip was tight.

All it takes is one moment in time, one person, one bit of research, or one student to show the way out of this box. I was lucky that a few of these came together at the same moment to point me in a different direction. I was able to make significant change once I admitted to myself that there was a better way. This idea that something works ‘so well’ makes it difficult for many educators to reach outside the status quo and search for something better. When we are pushed and reinforced to head one direction, it takes a lot of bravery to follow another path.

The status quo in teaching would have us make everyday the same. Homework and assignments would be blanket assigned without regard to student readiness levels. Tests would be the primary, if not only, sources of summative assessment. Classes would consistently be driven by textbooks, lecture, direct instruction, and quiet seat work. The file folder would come out each year with the previous lesson plans and activities to be used over and over again.

I realized the status quo didn’t work for me or my students, and I am thankful. I faced challenges with breaking the mold of teaching, but it was worth it every time. There have been bumps and bruises, paths that deviated from my colleagues, and so many questions along the way. All the while, my students benefited and continue to benefit with the changes. They are recognized as individuals and I am seen as a person, not an unapproachable character with a robotic presence…and it makes all the difference.

What was the moment in time that changed you as an educator? How did you break the mold of the status quo? Please leave your story in the comments.

Fulfilling the promise

I wrote a blog post earlier this year about my promise to start tough conversations in regard to grading reform. I am happy to say that I am working hard to fulfill that promise and help to move others forward. All the while I continue to learn myself about how to make grades a healthy part of the learning process. In my perfect world, grades would disappear, but I live in a reality where letters must be used as a reporting mechanism. As I write this post, I recommit myself to work toward this goal and not be afraid of the difficult dialogues that inevitably occur when approaching this very personal topic for educators.

I have moved into a leadership role of sorts in my new school district. I am an instructional coach who thankfully is not a part of the evaluation process. My district has moved to Standards Based Learning and Grading at the elementary level, and will change over at the middle schools (including mine) next school year. This is a huge transition, and I want to ease it as much as possible throughout the year. I have been welcomed so whole-heartedly into this learning community and am devoted to work with my new colleagues to improve instructional practice.

This week something occurred to me…my journey with healthy grading practices has become our journey. I am not alone in charting this course, yet I know I will carry a piece of the leadership for this initiative. I am so proud of the district and staff for deciding to embark on this voyage, and feel ready to serve in whatever capacity necessary. I have so much respect and admiration for my new colleagues, their commitment to student learning is visible in every nook and cranny of the school.

I bring my experiences, my knowledge, and my resources to share. There is so much power in the words, “I have been there.” I will be able to connect with their successes and failures along the way. I can talk them through problems and concerns. I am able to calm fears and reassure everyone that this is a work in progress and it will change and improve with each year of implementation.

Our motto is “Engage, Inspire, Empower.” The transition to Standards Based Learning and Grading will no doubt challenge us to the core as educators. I find comfort in the fact that I have already seen the strength of the staff and I am confident they are prepared for this undertaking. Grading reform will allow our students to engage more completely, to become inspired to learn for a lifetime, and will empower them to take charge and own their learning. We will be able to communicate learning goals and determine paths to achieve mastery in a clear, concise manner. We will use feedback to let students know what we value most in the classroom. We will accurately report achievement, habits of work, and growth in a meaningful way.

To say I am excited to transform my journey into our journey is an understatement. When I made the promise to promote healthy grading in any way possible, I had no idea I would be given this opportunity in a new district. I have been given an avenue to fulfill my promise, and I will not take it for granted. Here’s to an awesome year of growth, reflection and tough conversations in the name of student learning.

I will continue to post and share about our growth, trials, tribulations, and success along the way!

Oh the places I’ve been

I had the fortunate experience of traveling some this summer and meeting educators from across the United States and beyond. To witness the passion for education that lives throughout our world was awe-inspiring. It was very interesting to talk with others and learn about diverse learning environments and school systems. The more I discover, the more I realize how much I have left to learn and I am intrigued. We sometimes get sheltered in our own school cultures and fail to realize how distinctly different other districts can be. My eyes have opened more fully and I feel more well-rounded heading back to school this fall.

There are of course similarities no matter what school you walk into or which teacher you meet. Student learning and how to ensure it happens in our schools resides in all of our hearts. We have a common ground that links us and guides discussion no matter what context and background we bring to the table. There are times when we disagree about methodology and assessment, culture and grading to name a few. I find these conversations are so important to my learning and growth. I love the challenge of rethinking what I do at school and defending my beliefs. It forces me to arrive at that slightly uncomfortable place where change and risk taking reside. It makes me reflect on my practice and consider new possibilities.

I have been faced with many difficult questions and discussions about what I do in my learning environment over the years. I have gotten the long pauses in my doorway with the begrudging looks. I have been avoided because it is much easier to ignore me than engage in discourse with someone who is so passionate about learning. Then I am faced with a decision. Do I walk away as well, or do I start the conversation?

I have grown more comfortable with this over time (and am still working to improve!). Walking away could leave behind a potential learning opportunity. I try to listen and encourage teachers to divulge problems or issues they are facing before I say anything. I strive to validate their opinions and find common ground before sharing my perspective about the topic or situation. So much is gained through these conversations and I become a better educator after each one.

No matter how you connect with other educators, whether it be via social media, travel, or simple conversations in the hallway, it is an opportunity to expand your horizons and learn. Don’t be afraid to share your story with others and listen to theirs. It will expand your educational world and enlighten you to the vastness that exists within it. Gather the varied viewpoints that create our amazing profession while finding the interwoven thread of student learning that ties us together.

You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!                                                                                                      -Dr. Seuss

Onward and upward…but never forgotten

Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.                                        -Dr. Seuss

This quote helped me close this past school year. I had incredible students who motivated me to learn, challenged me to bring my best each day, and surprised me with their perseverance and positive attitude in regard to learning. I missed them as soon as they walked out the door, and tried to remind myself how fortunate I was to have spent the year with them. I knew I would have another wonderful group enter my classroom in the fall and shifted my thinking to reflection and revisions to be made over the summer. But then this happened…

Little did I know that this quote would mean so much more as the summer progressed. June started as it usually does for me. I coordinate our summer bridge program for the 8th graders becoming freshmen. I had 300 new students grace my presence for three weeks and enjoyed getting to know them. But during the middle of the program, I was made aware of a possible job opportunity. To be honest, this was the first year in the past five when I hadn’t considered looking for a new position. I had decided during the spring that I would focus on other things and find contentment with my current role.

After learning more about the job, I felt that this was a chance I couldn’t pass up. The position was for an instructional coach, something I have wanted to explore for several years. So, I applied, interviewed, and was offered the job! All of the sudden my ‘normal’ summer was turned upside down. I was going to leave my school of fourteen years and embark on a new adventure.

But this change is bittersweet. I have to leave behind my district, school, and colleagues. I have to move out of the place where I honed my skills as an educator. The relationships I have formed over the years will begin a new phase. Most importantly, I will give up having ‘my kids’ each year. With this happening over the summer, I feel like there are unsaid goodbyes, and ends that are still unfinished. I will miss Lockport Township High School and will forever be indebted to the organization.

All this said, there is of course a very bright side to the change. I will make an impact on a much larger number of kids by working with a phenomenal group of teachers at Caruso Middle School in Deerfield, IL. I am walking out of my classroom to walk into so many more. Learning a new culture, meeting new colleagues, and forming new relationships are of utmost importance to me as I begin. I am ready to listen, learn, and dive into the challenges this position brings. I am thrilled to work with a staff committed to growing their instructional practices to ensure they are FOR learning.

So as I transition, I can’t say that there won’t be a few tears. It is the end of an era and I must honor it. But when I walk through the doors of my new school in August, there will be joy. I will smile bringing my experiences forward. So here is another quote that I will keep in mind…

I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy – I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.                                                                                                                                    -Art Williams


Who is stopping you?

The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me. – Ayn Rand

I am a positive deviant and proud of it. I have spent the past few years of my teaching career pushing the envelope, moving outside the box (and throwing the box away for that matter!), and most importantly learning. I learn every day not only to grow as a person and an educator, but also so that I don’t forget what it is like for the students in my classroom. I research and implement new things – sometimes they work beautifully, and others not so much. But the important thing is that I keep moving.

Many times I don’t ask for permission to try new things in my learning environment. Sometimes I wonder if I did, how many new and innovative ideas that have worked would have never come to fruition. People fear the unknown and like to stay in their safe zone. I say we blow the walls off that zone and strive for something better. Sometimes we let ourselves get in the way of greatness. We think that someone has to grant us permission to take a risk and try something new. I would like to challenge that. We are professionals and it is so essential that we model learning for our students. We must model the messy chaos that can end in something amazing, or something that we learn from. That’s the risk you take with learning, and our kids face it everyday.

So who is stopping you from trying something new? Is it the culture of your school? Is it someone who thinks that teaching should be a perfect and scripted entity? Is it yourself?

Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from being great.


What a year it has been…

What an incredible year it has been. I don’t think I have had a time of greater growth and reflection in my teaching career. There are so many people to thank, the list would make this post way too long! I have grown because of my colleagues, my professional learning network, and most importantly my students. Today I’ll take a moment to consider the work I have done and what I look forward to doing next year.

The most important switch that happened in my environment was changing from an emphasis on standards based grading to standards based learning. My passion regarding healthy grading practices FOR learning was still important. However this year, more of my time was spent working to leave grading in the background. I focused on the daily experiences I facilitate for my kids. Formative practice and assessment moved to the forefront of my thinking, planning, and reflecting. I recognized that this piece is most critical for my students and their learning. I was responsive to my students needs with feedback throughout the year, which meant that I threw out lesson plans more often than at any other point in my years of teaching. My students determined the direction and pacing of instruction and practice. We found so much success together.

This year I am much more comfortable defending my teaching, grading, and assessment practices. I had some wonderful conversations with a wide variety of people about what I do and why I do it. Those discussions have reinforced my convictions and beliefs about standards based culture and why it is best for students. I have helped my parents get on board with a system that it not like the classrooms they had, not like the classrooms their children have experienced K-8, and most likely not like the classrooms they will go to through the rest of their high school careers. This is always an uphill battle, but with encouragement, communication, and a little bit of compassion along the way, my parents (and students for that matter) support my charge to make learning accessible and attainable for everyone.

On a more personal note, I have strengthened my own knowledge, understanding, and skills throughout the year. I have read, gone to many conferences, and even presented some of my ideas to others about education. I met and talked with some of my heroes in the educational world and they make me a better teacher. They challenge my thinking and help me reflect on changes I need to make for next year. I chatted with some of the best instructors and administrators across the country about a variety of topics via twitter. Through this many doors have opened to me for additional sharing and collaboration. All of these people push me to new levels and give me confidence to take risks in my classroom for the sake of learning.

Throughout this busy summer I hope to find some time to let my brain relax. It is during those times that I am most creative and productive. I already have some areas I would like to improve upon and update before I welcome the class of 2018 next fall. My standards are always a work in progress. I will revisit them as I do every summer to see what improvements can be made. I started to implement a system this spring to remove student apathy from my classes. I am already thinking about how to refine its implementation beginning day 1. One other item I will consider is how to improve student reflection and self-assessment. I am sure more things will come up as the summer progresses, but I also need to remember that a few well thought out revisions are more powerful than many quick ideas for change.

I am looking forward to writing more often. I feel like the end of the school year has pulled me away from my blog and will enjoy writing more regularly. Writing gives direction to my thoughts and reflection. My blog will turn one next month and I cannot believe how writing has not only changed me as an educator but also pushed me forward.

I second guess myself at different points throughout every school year. I wonder if what I am doing is the absolute best for my kids or if I could be doing a better job. It drives me to learn and keep growing my craft. But sometimes I just need to sit back and remind myself that what I do has an impact and a positive one. I will close with a student reflection that to say the least made me very emotional.

“Mrs. Hillman is a wonderful teacher. This year was very intimidating because I have never learned Spanish before so I was a little nervous. Being in Spanish 1 with Mrs. Hillman has made me feel like nothing is impossible. I feel like I am able to learn things at my own pace and really understand what I am doing. The grading scale is very helpful as well. Mrs. Hillman is always there to help any student when needed. She pushes her students to do their best. She helps me have faith in myself and in my learning. I am glad I got the chance to take part in her classroom and learn things from her. Mrs. Hillman, you are an inspiring person and have encouraged me so much. You are a person I admire and would like to take after when I’m older.”

Here’s to a summer of learning, reflection, discussion, and improvement. I am not the teacher I was five years ago, and I will not be the same five years from now.

I am inspired.