Buckle up!

cc Gary Burke via flickr

When I was little and growing up in Ottawa, I desperately wanted to ride a roller coaster.  I would watch the commercials for Canada’s Wonderland and my heart would race at the thought of dropping, twirling, zooming, and (gasp) loop-dee-looping, all at what seemed like the speed of light!  I was horribly jealous of any of my friends who took trips with their families to the big amusement parks.  I even wrote a long and detailed (fictional) account of a wild summer of traveling to different amusement parks to ride the roller coasters for the proverbial “Write what you did over the summer” assignment.  I got an A from my teacher and a stern talking-to from my mother about the importance of telling the truth.  I had to make do with Ottawa’s annual National Capital Exhibition visits every August, and even though I had fun, it tamed when compared to my extravangant fantasies about roller coasters.

It wasn’t until I was an adult with two children that my mother-in-law lent us her timeshare condo in Collingwood, Ontario, about an hour’s drive from Toronto, home of Canada’s Wonderland.  We arranged to visit the amusement park, and even at 30 years old, I was as giddy as a my kids.  By the end of the day, my fantasies had come true and I was hooked!

I told that story so that I could tell you this one: last week I had a day at work where I had never felt so stressed, so defeated, so ineffective and so inexperienced that I went home and curled up on my couch with my head in my husband’s lap and cried.  I’m not embarrassed to admit it – it was a very low point for me professionally and I genuinely questioned my role and my choice to become not only an administrator, but a teacher.  I could rhyme off the list of Murphy’s Law moments that made up the day, from no occasional teacher for a staff member, to student issues, to missing a highly anticipated intern session, but it was a meeting that I attempted to facilitate between a teacher and a parent that I felt shone a spotlight on my “greenness”.  I wasn’t able to be at the meeting when it started, and when I came in it already seemed tense.  From there emotions became raw and the conversation became defensive.  I realized right away what was happening, and I (cue the superhero music) thought I could save the day.  So I desperately tried to salvage a meeting that was quickly going downhill, and really what I was doing was grabbing a shovel and digging us furiously deeper.  The teacher was left feeling unsupported and that her professionalism and integrity were being questioned, and the parent was left feeling unheard.  As I debriefed with my principal, I shared that I knew that I should have gently ended the meeting with a promise to review the information that had been shared with the commitment to coming back together at another time to work out next steps.  I shared my feelings of guilt and how I felt that I had let down both the teacher and the parent.  I won’t be shaking this feeling anytime soon, but the small silver lining was that I learned something from the experience.

Fast forward to yesterday.  An awesome day.  I supported students all day in the classrooms.  I was invited into a classroom by a teacher who was beginning the blogging journey with her students – they had grouped together to plan a name, a purpose and how the would invite comments from others, if any.  Student involvement and ownership was evident and the excitement was barely contained.  They asked good questions, and it was obvious that there was much thought and planning going into the project.  I can’t wait to see what they develop, and I know that if they have questions for me to which I don’t know the answers, I have a fabulous PLN to help.  At the end of the day, I could barely refrain from laughing out loud in the car on the drive home I felt so energized and uplifted.  I didn’t question at all my decision to become a teacher and administrator – I felt validated and that I am exactly where I want to be.

So I don’t live near an amusement park and I don’t ride an actual roller coaster whenever I want.  But I have something better.  I have the stomach-dropping moments of realizing when you’ve made a misstep with an esteemed colleague and a valued parent.  I have the dizzying, twirling loop-dee-looping that comes from questioning, reflecting and learning about yourself. I have the weightless-bum-out-of-your-seat moments when working with the wonder and enthusiasm of students.  I have my roller coaster.  Keep your hands and feet inside at all times!

2 thoughts on “Buckle up!

  1. Erin,

    I love this post. We are all going to have those days when all heck breaks loose and nothing seems to go well. I have them and sometimes I know when they are going to happen and sometimes they jump out and grab me by surprise. I think that it is so important to keep them in perspective too – take time to reflect, figure out what we might have done differently, etc….

    The roller coaster feeling is somewhat inevitable. I know, for instance, that the rest of the year is going to be a blur for me – the timelines for organizing the school, staffing, hiring, timetabling, etc… are coming fast and furious. Of course, for you and I this is on top of our teaching assignments, too. Staying in touch with the kids and being present for staff who need support is number one, but it can so easily get buried underneath the other ‘stuff’.

    One of the most important skills I work on is staying in the moment and being aware of the roller coaster. If we can’t press the ‘stop’ button sometimes, the ups and downs will wear us out. Even the ups are exhausting, strangely.

    Anyhow, I really appreciate this post. It is very timely for me and reminds me that I need to ‘buckle up’ and prepare to be on my toes at this time of year. Give yourself some room to have a bad day from time to time and know that you are making a tremendous difference in the lives of hundreds of kiddos, not to mention the adults with whom you work.

    Shannon

  2. Thanks Shannon. I’m still acclimatizing myself to the demands of the role. And you’re right – it’s the ones that come and grab me by surprise that can throw me off – like that meeting. I underestimated the emotions that were running underneath for both my teacher and the parent so the reactions were unsettling. But like I said – challenging days push you to learn and that day I was pushed so hard I got whiplash! But the awesome days cushion the blow greatly and keep driving me forward.

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