Teacher to Leader

by | 02.23.16

Crystal Morey is a math teacher in Enumclaw, WA and a Teaching Channel Laureate.

Before I became a teacher, I worked in marketing. Most days were spent at a cubicle, talking over half-walls, developing ads and press releases. I felt disengaged with my local community and wanted to be able to see the impact my work was having in the lives of others. Thus, I decided to follow in my mother’s footsteps and return to school to become a teacher.

As I graduated and entered into my first year teaching, I was filled with unrealistic expectations. I had great confidence that when faced with any challenge, I could have an in-the-moment instructional move that would dramatically improve the learning and lives of my students.

However, almost instantly, there were moments that didn’t match my expectations. Quickly, I began to understand the ebb and flow of the profession. Though many days were filled with laughter and “ah-ha” moments, there was an equal number of days that didn’t go as planned, students I was challenged to connect with and personal struggles as I tried to manage the stressors of teaching. The swing of this pendulum felt incredibly trying and I wondered if it was natural.

In response, I started to research. I looked online for resources, lessons and theories from fellow educators that would positively benefit my classroom. I recognized the need to learn from others. Desperately I searched for solutions to each of my struggles.

Thankfully I had an administrator who engaged our building in collegial learning (an opportunity to observe a fellow in-building educator in an area I wished to develop). During this process, I was able to begin seeing that sharing our practice could answer questions and in turn, positively influence my implementation of instructional strategies. This process spurred my quest to continue to look for solutions beyond my classroom walls.

After nearly 10 years in the teaching profession, I had become pretty accustomed to the process of reflection. I would identify a personal challenge, research solutions and seek feedback once implemented. Yet this reflection was still a personal experience, happening inside my head and not publically shared.

Last school year, I was asked to be a part of a filming series for the digital library. I was shocked—me? I certainly didn’t perceive myself as film-worthy. I was imperfect as an educator.

Excited but also concerned about if I was “fit” for the position, I struggled to make a decision. Eventually I decided to take the opportunity in order to show an authentic classroom. I wanted to articulate the real struggles encountered when you introduce challenging math tasks to students. I hoped to show that my class was investigative by nature and that students were left to themselves to make sense of the math as I probed with questions. I wanted to celebrate a culture built on learning through struggle.

From this opportunity, I was approached by the Teaching Channel to be one of their Laureates. The Laureates are a diverse group of educators spanning subjects, locations, perspectives and age. As a Laureate, I would get to design projects that would help myself and other educators get better together.

After accepting this position, I was able to publicly share my areas of growth and in response, real life strategies I was implementing to improve those areas. The response was incredible. Educators valued authenticity. I felt very safe as I engaged in critical conversations. The more open and vulnerable I became, the more my audience responded. Sincerity was valued over staged performances.

Now, I get to open my imperfect classroom in order to help others celebrate how we all can make instructional changes to improve our practice.

Through showcasing my challenges and learning moments inside the classroom, I have begun to celebrate the culture of vulnerability. I continue to receive various “I have the same issue…” emails, thank-yous and exceptional forward driving feedback. I now know that the pendulum swing I experienced early in my career was absolutely natural and even imperative to where I stand now. In fact, at various times the pendulum will naturally swing again as I continue to go through a model or plan, teach, gather data and reflect to adjust future lessons.

It is my belief that the sustainability of my career is dependent upon the community of educators and networks I am a part of. As I engage in conversations around my videos or ideas, the community responds with such tenderness and respect that I am often able to rethink my instruction and improve it, thus increasing my teacher efficacy.

Sharing practice, thoughts and opinions is critical to connect with others and build trusting relationships. By using a snapshot of my classroom as the entry point into rich conversations, I am helping others to connect and reflect on their practices as well.

4 ways teachers can engage with high-leverage conversations and demonstrate vulnerability:

1. Share the story of a lesson that didn’t turn out as planned:

Sharing moments of perceived failure allow us to bond through these common experiences. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect and process through laughter. In addition, we can collaborate on possible solutions for upcoming lessons.

2. Share a teaching strategy you used but have now let go of.

When I think back to how my classroom has transformed in the past five years, I am incredibly proud. However, this also means admitting to the use of practices that I no longer find value using. Celebrating growth in your instructional skills demonstrates evolution as a teacher and encourages the growth of others as well.

3. Share the story of a student you were challenged to connect with and the strategies you attempted to use.

Our stories are housed in the individual students we have taught. Admitting that sometimes it is challenging to connect with students but continuously sharing ideas, struggles and successes focuses our energy on building relationships with students and one another.

4. Share a personal struggle you have had while being a teacher.

Teaching is labor of love and devotion. We give every bit of who we are as individuals. Talking to one another about our personal struggles helps us verbally process the challenges we face as compassionate educators. We are often “on” so much of the day that we need to decompress. We are there for each other as sounding boards, counselors and cheerleaders.

Connect with Crystal on Twitter @themathdancer. View her Teaching Channel work and visit her website at teachingtomyownbeat.com.

About the Author

Crystal Morey
Crystal Morey

Crystal Morey is a math teacher in Enumclaw, WA and a Teaching Channel Laureate. Connect with Crystal on Twitter @themathdancer. Visit her website at teachingtomyownbeat.com.

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