Tag Archives: courage

Some final thoughts on Courage 2014

On January 1st last year, I chose one word to guide me through 2014. The word I chose was courage. Looking back, I couldn’t have made a better choice. There were six different areas where I challenged myself to show courage…let’s see how I did!

The courage to be autonomous

Going against the grain for the sake of my students was something I became more comfortable with this past year. I gained confidence that I was the professional in the room who could make decisions and revise those whenever necessary. I understood that not only was my autonomy essential, but also the autonomy of my students – theirs maybe even more imperative than mine. I was able to let go more than ever before and allow my kids to own their learning. The students left the school year knowing they could make a difference no matter how large or small.

The courage to treat all kids fairly

Working tirelessly to give students what they need when they need it will never be an easy or perfect venture. But I felt as long as I was working to the best of my ability to get to know them as learners and people, I could support them fairly. My students appreciated this and knew that I was always looking out for them. They also knew their opinions mattered and they had a say in their learning. The mutual respect that developed from treating kids fairly rather than equally had a profound impact.

The courage to try new things

Wow, where to begin on this one…2014 brought a plethora of new experiences for me. I was able to present, work with teachers from around the country, and grow my practice. I took the plunge and did my first webinar – a very intimidating undertaking when you are very used to having a live, interactive audience! When all was said and done, I found a lot of success and look forward to expanding this part of my career in 2015. I also left the classroom this year. What a bittersweet move from classroom teacher to instructional coach that is in the sweet stage now! More on this as I continue…

The courage to help my colleagues

This one took on an entirely different look as I took my new position. I am able to help my colleagues with a variety of different things, from technology to reading strategies, grading practices to differentiation. I am grateful to support while watching as they take ownership of changes to make them work for their kids. It is so rewarding, very similar to how working with my students was for so many years.

The courage to write

Just a quick note on this piece of courage. I have continued to blog for my own reflection and growth. No plans to stop this one as the new year begins!

Finally – the courage to leave an impact

The courage to leave an impact will continue throughout my life. As I quoted John Dewey almost a year ago, I want to continue passing along this thought: “Education is not preparation for life; it is life itself.”

What to choose for my one word in 2015? That post is next on the agenda. I can only hope it will guide and serve me as well as Courage has in the last 12 months.

Searching for camaraderie

It is better to walk alone, than with a crowd going in the wrong direction.  – Diane Grant

I wanted to share a story in this post about a journey with grading reform. Too many educators feel like they are on an island in this push and look anywhere possible for support and guidance. If that’s you, hopefully this will support your mission!

Jason’s story begins several years ago. As a mid-career educator he was fed up with traditional grading practices that took his students’ focus away from the learning that was going on in his classroom. He was sick and tired of the time lost discussing points, grades, and weighting of assignments and assessments. There had to be another answer…

Here arrives standards based learning and grading. After researching the practice throughout a school year, the following summer was spent talking about standards, behavioral grading, motivation and in turn making decisions about implementation – implementation in a traditional setting with limited support. Implementation with one other colleague on board, with the remainder of the 200 staff members maintaining traditional grading practices. It was not necessarily that the majority of co-workers disagreed with the shift (although some continue that mindset to this day), rather most had never reflected on their approach to grading in this manner and didn’t know anything different. To them, the change seemed too daunting to undertake.

This was and continues to be a tough journey. Going it alone takes courage, perseverance, and grit. Jason has transformed his environment into a culture of learning where all students know they can succeed, understand that learning is a messy process, and aren’t afraid to fail along their journey to proficiency. It was an honor to work with him and together we continue to envision how reforming grading practices positively impacts student learning. As he continues to refine his methods, students will benefit for years to come.

Jason is currently a high school social studies teacher. You can connect with him via Twitter, @j_ozbolt.


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.


And the blog turns one!

Today is my blog’s first birthday. It has been such a tremendous way for me to reflect and share my ideas about education. It took a lot of convincing for me to start writing, and as funny as it sounds, I couldn’t imagine being without it now. I was never what you would consider a ‘strong writer’ in school. To be honest, English was not my favorite subject and I took the absolute minimum number of writing classes possible to graduate high school and with my undergraduate degree. So, when I was approached about beginning a blog by colleagues and even my husband, I shrugged the idea off. After quite a bit of nudging and some testimonials from educators I respected on the value of blogging, I reluctantly agreed to get started. I thought that I would use my little blog as a reflective tool, and who knows, maybe I could improve my writing skills a bit at the same time. I had no clue what I was getting into…

I had developed a closed mindset about writing – this is exactly the opposite of what I promote in my classroom. I love innovating, taking some risks for the sake of learning, and pushing myself forward in that manner. Blogging felt like the biggest risk I had taken in a long time. I was going to not only write, but also put it out in a public forum where people could comment, critique, and disagree with me. It was scary. Then I remembered all the frightening things we ask out students to do each day. Fear needed to be overcome, I had to courageously model the behavior I wished to see from my students.

After publishing my first few posts, I calmed down a bit. The writing had been well received and there were a few people who let me know they enjoyed my writing, or that what I said made an impact. Then the steamroller effect started. I actually enjoyed writing, so I wrote more. I got positive comments and others that made me think and reflect. I got a great deal of support from my Professional Learning Network who regularly read and respond to what I write. Inspiration for new posts seemed to pop up everywhere. I have written consistently for a year now, and I am a better educator for it. Blogging has strengthened my writing skills to a point that I have confidence in an area that I previously thought was a weakness. Success breeds success, and the more I write the better I become.

So as my blog heads into its second year, I hope to keep improving my skills and reaching a broader audience. I will continue to promote my passions of healthy grading practices, standards based learning, differentiated instruction, student ownership in the classroom, amongst other things. As I said earlier, I undoubtedly cannot imagine life without writing at this point. It guides me to sharpen and hone my craft of teaching while providing a wonderful space for reflection. Writing forces me to analyze my beliefs and defend them in an articulate manner. With every post I am reminded of the importance of a growth mindset and what a considerable impact just a few words can have on others.