On the eight hundred and seventeenth day, I did not catch any fish. I did apply to the Master of Arts in Teaching program at George Fox University though.
As part of the application process, I had to write a 1,000 word essay on how my personal values might impact my approach to education. I thought it was pretty good, and would make for a good blog post. So here it is.
‘Till 818, be kind!
Curiosity * Respect * Believe * Iterate
Over the course of my professional career, I had the pleasure and honor of serving various teams of individuals as a leader. The teams were quite diverse from groups of cashiers selling tickets at the local ski hill, to software engineers distributed around the world, and most recently 7th and 8th grade students in a Social Studies classroom.
Prior to entering the classroom, during the interesting landscape of the pandemic, I leaned heavily on my personal precepts to form relationships, motivate, and help teams unlock their potential. So when I accepted the offer to be a long-term sub in middle school this spring, I was eager to see if leading with curiosity and respect would translate into high performing teams in the classroom.
To introduce students to my precepts, at the start of class, I often shared my favorite three emojis to help them get to know me, and also to share how important my precepts are to me.
My core precept which helped me grow and thrive in a variety of roles is to approach everything with a curious mindset. In the software world, being a lifelong learner was critical to keep up with the constantly changing landscape of tech. Learning modern programming languages and leveraging new technologies was essential to building successful teams and products.
Beyond new tech, being curious about the little things, like interactions between teams, processes and workflows, and which team members excelled in different situations was imperative to discovering important data that would enable me to lead successfully. Being curious about all aspects of the team helped light the path to better employee productivity and happiness.
In the classroom I discovered that leading with curiosity is infectious and created an engaging environment. To kickstart curiosity, I created a weekly “History Mystery Box” where I would hide an item or photo of historic significance, and on a daily basis I would give the class a clue about what was in the box. Students had one guess to try and solve the History Mystery, so they had to guess wisely!
I was delighted to see that by taking a curious and playful approach to learning history, students were eager to research and talk with family members to try and solve the puzzle. These critical thinking patterns then helped students get curious, stay engaged, and succeed in gaining knowledge in our daily lessons and projects.
Being an avid lover of the outdoors, I find great joy in showing respect for our natural environment. No life is possible without our Earth, and being mindful and respectful of our natural resources is very important to me.
Furthermore, being respectful and kind towards all people, regardless of age, race, gender, or beliefs is something I strive hard to practice and model. We live in an extremely divisive country, and I aim to start each encounter from a place of respect and kindness.
When standing in front of a class for the first time, I share with the students how I have a deep respect for our Earth, and all humans who make it home. I then motion to the entire classroom and remind them that I respect them for attending class. I show empathy to the challenges they face as middle school students by recalling my obstacles I had with my own middle school days. And finally I thank them for showing up and kindly ask them to show respect towards me and all of their fellow classmates.
This message of shared respect, compassion, and equality is a wonderful way to begin building new relationships in the classroom and beyond.
Magic happens. If you believe in yourself and work hard, life will amaze you at times. For me I have been able to share the story of my past year with students to show how taking risks and believing in yourself can lead to wonderful adventures.
Just about a year ago, I was in a dark place where I would end most of my days at work with tears. Working remotely was a fantastic experience for me, but the pandemic prevented our teams from gathering in real life for the important face-to-face bonding time. I was hiring and training team members on the other side of the world, and I didn’t know if I was ever going to meet these teammates in real life.
Furthermore, the 15 years of the high tech world grind exhausted me, and I found that I was no longer curious or excited by the products my team was building.
Walking away from a successful career was not an easy step to take. Likewise, navigating the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practicies Commission for the first time to obtain a Restricted Substitute License was a surprisingly difficult mountain to climb. But the reward of working hard through these situations was pure magic.
By believing in myself, working hard, and taking some risks, I found a new calling in the classroom. I discovered a place where curiosity and respect thrive. I got to know students who did their best each day and pushed their own boundaries to find magic. I found a place and a community where I felt welcomed and I did my best to foster an inclusive and safe environment.
And that is why I am here today writing these words. The experience this spring illuminated the fact that it is time for my next big iteration in life. I found a craft that piqued my curiosity. I met students and colleagues that I deeply respect. And I desire to feel more of that classroom magic on a daily basis.
I realize the path forward will be challenging. Juggling a family, two teenagers, studies, and a job will be hard. But I’m thrilled to get started and model to my students and my own children that it is never too late to start a new adventure.