Monthly Archives: February 2014

No Experience is Ever Wasted

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no experience is everl wastedNo experience is EVER wasted.  In no other profession is this more true than in teaching.  But there are two caveats to that statement.

First, we have to be willing to learn from the experience.  No matter how frustrating or unfair the circumstances seem to be at the time, our challenges will help us grow only if we are willing to learn from them.  Sometimes we learn things we never even wanted to know.  But in every experience there is something to learn.

Second, we have to be willing to share our failures with others.  Why let our personal setbacks teach only a personal lesson?  In no other profession can a setback be such an opportunity for learning. Being a teacher puts you in the perfect setting for helping others as a result of your past challenges.  But you have to be willing to share.  You have to show your students your vulnerabilities.

My experience has taught me that most young people think their parents have never made a mistake. That’s too often what we want them to think.  But we teach our children the most when we allow them to know that we have made mistakes.  We have survived those mistakes.  We have learned from them.

When I taught urban kids, they believed that a teacher knew nothing about real life.  Ha!  I have not lived a charmed life…far from it.   Parts of my life have been embarrassing.  I’ve failed plenty.  I’ve faced challenges and painful experiences that no one would choose.  In fact, my past six weeks would provide material for a dramatic documentary.  No vampires were involved, but this time period has supplied me with just about every other beast of a problem you could imagine.

Here’s my challenge for you for this week.  Help someone who needs it, by sharing one of your failures or painful experiences from your own life.  If you are a teacher, you won’t have to look far.  One of your students is right now walking in shoes you have filled at one time in your life.  Most times they won’t reveal their challenge to you until you have been brave enough to share your own with them.

Mission Possible:  Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to change someone’s life by revealing your own human experience.  (If you are old enough, you will hear the Mission Impossible theme music playing in your head right now.  If I were just a little younger, I could probably figure out a way to insert it into this blog post).  No matter what your age, I hope you are brave enough to accept this challenge.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the authordauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Contact Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

If I Were the Boss

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the bossIf I were the boss of the school, I’d give myself a fancy chair,  It would be tufted, comfy and it would swivel.  Since I’m posting this piece the week of Valentine’s Day, let’s make it red.  It’s my fantasy so I can call the shots.

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I have been through one of the toughest times of my life this past month.  You know what helps me when times get tough?  I like to focus on good things.

So today I’m going to focus on the good qualities and traits of some of my former school administrators.  We all are a sum of our traits, some great and some areas where growth is needed.  Today I’m focusing on some of the best things that principals and other administrators and supervisors in the educational setting have done to encourage me while I was in the classroom.

Sit back in my red swivel chair and relax while you read my true stories.  Maybe you might even want to share it with your boss.

The very last school district in which I taught full-time, I had a superintendent named Kathy.  This district was quite large.  It had 4 early childhood buildings, 10 elementary buildings, 4 junior high buildings, 2 freshman buildings and 2 high schools.  The district had an enrollment of over 16,000 students and I don’t know how many teachers.  This superintendent did not interview me for my job, but knew my name, face, and what I taught from the day I walked in the door on my first day of employment.  Wow.

Whenever she would pass me in a hallway she would greet me by name.  She was upbeat and positive.  Since I taught one of two Teacher Academies in the district I invited her into my classroom to be interviewed by my students who were all future teachers.  She came willingly and answered all their questions fully.  Later a group of Middle Eastern future school administrators were traveling the country and wanted to interview her.  They were astonished a woman could lead a district so large. She asked if this could be done in my classroom so my students could also take advantage of the experience.

Whenever I wrote an article that appeared in an educational magazine she would drop me a note complimenting the piece.  I was in awe of her professionalism and consistent encouragement.  I have to admit, if I were the boss, I could never achieve her ability to know everyone by name and face.  I struggle mightily in that area.

Another boss I had was named Herb.  He was an assistant dean (asst. principal) and my immediate up line supervisor.  Herb always had a smile on his face and he was a master of giving compliments.  Once I wrote an article that appeared in a very small local paper.  Several times that day people would mention that they had seen my written piece and say that they had liked it.  “Great job,” they’d say.  Herb said it this way.  He didn’t just walk past me in the hallway, he had me stop.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Dauna, I read that article in the paper that you wrote.  I liked it so much I cut it out.  I found myself rereading it all day long.  I took it home and read it to my family at the dinner table.   That was a very inspiring article.”

Herb’s comments and the way he delivered them, made his  compliment one I will never forget because of the eye contact, the sincerity and the specific details he included in his compliment.

My very first principal was named Elmer.  He was my principal when I was fresh out of college. I was twenty years old when I walked into a classroom in his building and yet he is one of the best principals I have ever had.  I wish I had known how special he was at the time.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t…not until many years later.

How did he encourage me?  He trusted me.  He gave me many responsibilities within the building and that made me feel competent.  He could feel my passion and ambition for the profession of teaching.  He never stopped challenging me.  While many teachers balk at additional responsibilities, I never did.  When a supervisor didn’t recognize my leadership potential it always made me feel uncomfortable in their building.  It was important for me to excel. Elmer could see that in me.  When I left his building after ten years it was to start a private school.  He had given me so many extra responsibilities, and groomed me so well, he made this giant leap a possibility for me.  He was a true mentor.

And then there was Jon.  Jon remains an enigma to this day.  He was definitely not a touchy-feely kind of a supervisor.  It would take Oprah and Dr. Phil combined  to smooth out some of his people skills. He could pass you in the hallway and be so consumed by his thoughts and current errand that he wouldn’t speak.  He would walk into your classroom and without saying “Good morning” lunge right ahead into some task that was on his mind.  If you approached him with an idea, he would make a snap decision about it, usually opposing your idea.  I think he felt like he might lose some kind of control of the building if he took outside suggestions.  But what I gradually learned about him was that while making a snap negative decision, he would later take your idea and mull it over in private. If it was for the good of the students he was man enough to reverse his opinion.  I respected that.

While Jon was my administrator, my sixteen-year-old daughter died of cancer over one summer break.  When I returned to school in August, the very first time I saw him, he pulled me aside.  He said, “I want to show you something.”  He pulled out an article that appeared in the newspaper about my daughter.  He pulled this article out of his wallet!  He said, “I want you to know that I am carrying this article about Kelsey and that I will never forget her.”

I was stunned and speechless.  This man with the gruff exterior was revealing his compassionate center.  I was touched.

Later in the school year he was being his normal prickly self one time.  When a group of other teachers walked away and no one else was around I said,  “Jon, you can’t fool me anymore.  Underneath that gruff exterior, I know you are just a really decent guy.”  He paused for a few seconds, then finally grinned and said, “Well, don’t tell anyone.”

His gruff exterior was his armor.  But how can you not admire and respect a guy who would admit that he would always remember your daughter?  Impossible.   The comment was made even more poignant because it cost him so much to reveal his vulnerable side.

Cindy was another supervisor who touched me in an extremely positive way.  Cindy always had a positive word of encouragement for everyone around her.  Cindy had the gift of encouraging everyone. It was Cindy’s encouragement that gave me the courage to write my first book.  She read the very first story I wrote for my book even when that story was in its first and very rough draft.  I never would have shown that draft to just anyone.  Cindy was a blue ribbon encourager and one of the people I most admire to this day.

What do all these supervisors have in common?  They are very different people who approach supervision in a variety of ways.  Most of them have never met any of the others.  There are a few who overlap. But they all had a way of making me feel valued.  When we make people feel valued, they can accomplish great things.  When we make a teacher feel valued they learn how they can make students feel valued.  It is the greatest gift any school supervisor can pass along.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the authordauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Book Dauna Easley to speak to your groupdauna@cinci.rr.com

The Heart of the School

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the heart of the schoolIt’s the month of Valentine’s Day so let’s talk about heart.  Yesterday was a personal treat for me.  I had a speaking gig, but a particularly special one.  I was invited back to one of my former school districts to speak to the secretaries.  First, it felt great that they remembered me fondly and invited me back.  Even better, the day felt like a warm reunion.  I was surrounded by so many familiar and friendly faces.  And let’s be honest.  I was happy to see so many people who had tirelessly and willingly helped me while I was a teacher in a new-to-me district struggling to learn the system.

If you have been a teacher for even a week, you’ve already learned how much the school secretary can help you.  Their charms and skills are a treasure trove for a teacher.  They can find a form, explain the software, tweak a copy machine so that it will actually run copies, and encourage a teacher like no other.  The smart teacher recognizes all this and puts them on the pedestal they deserve.

For just a moment let’s talk about teacher turnover.  Here are some sobering statistics from The National Council on Teaching and America’s Future:

  • One third of all new teachers leave within 5 years
  • Forty-six percent are gone within five years.
  • This figure has grown by 50% in the past five years.

These figures are staggering and yet I know that they are true.  I supervise college level student teachers and stay in pretty close contact with the students I taught in a Teacher Academy program.  I’m watching the truth of these numbers unfold day by day.

Forbes Magazine estimates that teacher attrition costs America 7.3 billion dollars a year!

Why?  I can give you lots of reasons, but I will save that entry for another post.  Please be patient with me.

Today I want to focus on what school secretaries and teacher co-workers can do to help stop that stampede away from a profession that is so worthy.

First, think about this.  Who do we turn to when we are struggling in our job? 

Look at this picture.  Study it.

rejection

It illustrates what we do when we are hurting about our job.  Who DON’T we turn to?  Our bosses.  We don’t want them to know how stressed we are.  We don’t want a superior to know how we are struggling.  Our bosses don’t usually figure out the level of our frustration until we are already gone.  Look at this picture again.  When we are hurting, we reach out, but we only reach laterally or downward.  It doesn’t matter our age, culture or profession.  We reach out for help laterally.  We complain and vent to our peers.  We look for their support.  So what can we do to support one another?  Everything.

  • We can listen.  Sometimes that is all a frustrated person needs, just a SAFE place to vent.
  • We can encourage.
  • We can remind each other of our strengths.
  • We can extend a kindness.  Write a note.  Bring in a treat.
  • We can laugh together.
  • We can be approachable.  It is so important to have someone who will welcome questions.

In my experience school secretaries have played all those roles for me.  They have been the glue that made me stick to a job when I wanted to bolt.  They have made me better at my job.  They’ve showed me the ropes when I was floundering.

School secretaries aren’t just the heart of the school, they are most times also the face of the district.  They are the one person most visitors meet.  Most visitors don’t ever see the superintendent or even the principal of the building. I am in and out of schools all the time in my role of a university supervisor of student teachers.  Visitors judge a school district and its climate by their first contact with the school secretary.  School secretaries are the public relations department of the district without the commensurate compensation.  These days they also have become a school district’s front line protection against terrorists.  When I showed this picture yesterday, it got a great laugh.  One secretary said, “Oh, I NEED that picture.”  So I’m reprinting it here.

When Did I Enlist?

When mid I enlist?

The smart teacher who wants to succeed in the profession will recognize the wonderful ally in a great school secretary.

Secretaries are the Heart of the School

The face of the school,

The heart of it too

Secretaries impress us

With all that they do.

They find us the form,

And answer our questions

The skills that we lack

They don’t even mention.

They listen to troubles

And give us a tissue

They fix up our errors

Never making an issue

They explain the new software

Keep our secrets inside

They smile at the visitors

And open arms wide.

They make everything easier

We cannot be fooled

Our secretaries truly

Are the heart of the school.

On a personal note:  My apologies to my readers who have continued to read my blog loyally these past few weeks, even when I have been too sad to write, I thank you.  The statistics on my blog site show me that you have been checking in and waiting for me to heal.  Thank you.  Your loyalty to my words touched me.  I’m feeling better every day and plan to get back into my post on Mondays.  Thank you for your patience.

Also I had a very dear former student named Michelle write to me on my blog site.  I was so happy to hear from her and wrote right back to her.  However, her email address she provided was not current.  Michelle, please contact me again.  I want to communicate with you!  I need your current email address.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Contact Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com