It was a Thursday afternoon when I interviewed Sonia. After a long day at school, my mind was busy negotiating what was and was not accomplished. Like most days, I struggled with my work-home balance and feverishly ran home to switch gears, quiet my self-doubt, and prepare for our interview.
Sonia Nieto is a leader, activist, author, and advocate well known for her work in diversity, equity, and social justice in education. Professor Emerita of Language, Literacy, and Culture at the School of Education, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Author of Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education, Sonia has been working in education for nearly 50 years. She taught at the first fully bilingual school in the Northeast and was later recruited to a position in higher education, as a member of the Puerto Rican Studies Department at Brooklyn College. As she grew to love higher education, she worked toward her doctorate in curriculum studies with concentrations in multicultural and bilingual education. She has spent 26 years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst teaching preservice and practicing teachers, and doctoral students.
Education is something no one can take away from you.
As Peggy Brookins’ grandmother once told her, the more you know, the more you’re able to walk your own path in the world. Peggy’s grandmother, who was born at the turn of the century, was her greatest inspiration. She demanded that Peggy persevere and walk her own path, rather than be a follower — and that’s precisely what she’s done. Whether it was her trailblazing spirit that started a STEM school or her work as CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), Peggy has provided an example of focus, drive, and strong leadership, and has helped others to see women of color as leaders.
When I was a little girl, I was often called bossy. A natural leader, sometimes my leadership skills were perceived as negative: too controlling, too vocal, too loud. I admit, I was demanding, inquisitive, and creative. I liked leading school projects that positively influenced others, whether it be giving jolly ranchers to every student on their birthday or adopting roads for my high school to keep clean. Yet, as I continuously heard this “bossy” label, I began to see a clash with the “good girl” image I so desired, based on societal norms and expectations of women. Consequently, though remaining independent and focused, I did temper my opinions, never wanting to take a side for fear of being disliked. Popularity was my goal and I was willing to forgo speaking up to appease others.
Sitting down to talk with Kristin felt like talking with a friend.
Kristen Swanson, founder of EdCamp and current Director of Learning at Slack, brings to the table an accomplished career in education and leadership, but during our interview, I was most in awe of her humility and down to earth nature.
It was incredibly clear that, in her life, she listens, connects, and elevates the ideas of others. These qualities are all components that likely enabled her to create the EdCamp platform. For readers not familiar, EdCamp is an “unconference” where participants drive the content, structure, and flow of their professional development on the day of the event. EdCamp provides ownership of ideas, participant voice, internal motivation, and relevance to teachers seeking to redefine their professional learning experiences.
I grew up with the belief that I could do anything — that being born a woman wouldn’t impede my path to achieving my goals or obtaining a leadership role. One of two girls, I was raised learning how to fish in the ocean, play sports, and dance. Moreover, both of my parents held two jobs so traditional gender-based roles were not my norm. I often felt empowered because I was surrounded by strong female coaches and role models who inspired me to reach beyond what even I thought possible.
It wasn’t until high school that I understood being a strong, intelligent woman may not always be a popular choice. While running for student body president, I campaigned against a young man who wore a gold colored t-shirt to school every day and took on the nickname “golden boy.” Void of a dense platform, I assumed my marketing, clever ideas, and rich resume would convince the student body that I was the best candidate. Unfortunately, this was an incorrect assumption and I lost in what might be considered a landslide. That moment gave me pause and made me doubt whether I really could do anything. Surely I had the talent to be a leader, but would others be able to see it too?
This entry is the sixth post in the series #TchWellness.
Every September, my desk and office space begin as blank canvases. As I purchase supplies and create materials, I place each item in an organized location. However, as the year progresses, I’m often overwhelmed by paperwork, post-it notes, books to read, projects to complete, and more. Somewhere in all of this, my desk becomes a space for my expansive educational collections and to-do lists rather than a clean, organized retreat where I can mentally focus and be creative.
This entry is the fifth post in the series #TchWellness.
This year, as I continue to focus on issues that impact teacher wellness, I had the opportunity to interview an expert in how we build trusting relationships: Nan Russell, author of Trust Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture That Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation. My goal for the interview was to better understand the concept of trust and then work to increase the development of trust in my professional relationships.
Why do I trust some people and not others? As I pondered this question, I initially thought the answer may be connected to likeability. Do I trust people whom I like more? Yet, thinking back to coaches who challenged me during my days as an athlete, I realized I often trusted the coaches who pushed me the most, even if this was at the expense of a more comfortable, lighthearted relationship. I knew it had to be more complex than likeability.
As I interviewed Nan, I asked how teachers could build trust in a world that focuses heavily on performance evaluations that so often work from a deficit model, focusing on what needs to be fixed in our instructional practices.
This entry is the fourth post in the series #TchWellness.
As part of Teaching Channel’s #TchWellness series, I’m connecting with a series of authors who are helping me — and you — understand issues impacting teachers. Our first, Nan Russell, author of Trust, Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture That Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation, recently sat down with me for an interview. Her work, not limited to education, explores how trust is developed and sustained.
As students walk into school every fall, I focus on routines and procedures emphasizing classroom management. I have students repeatedly practice these expectations to effectively maintain a safe and engaging classroom. However, over the past few years, in addition to focusing on routines and procedures, I’ve become increasingly interested in the intentional and sustained engagement of students in critical conversations and curious thinking practices. Once students are engaged in the core of my content area, procedures make more sense and become embedded in the learning foundation already established.
The following strategies represent 5 ideas that will help to create engagement while also focusing on a sense of community in your classroom.
I am the baby of my family. For as long as I can remember, this placement has meant constantly trying to make sure everyone was taken care of and happy. By the time I reached school age, people pleasing was common practice for me. I wanted to make others proud of me. I wanted to be well received and would do whatever necessary to be well liked.
This led me to being a socialite among my middle school and high school peers. Yet, in seeking the approval of others, I taught the people around me what to expect of my behavior. I believed living for others, and living up to what I thought they expected of me, was the right thing to do. In school, I thought my role was to say what the teacher wanted or expected to hear. I was good at determining the “right” or “correct” response, so teachers enjoyed my presence in the classroom.
This people-pleasing mentality followed me into my adult life, but it wasn’t as effective. Although supervisors liked and respected my ability to follow commands, my ability to push back or give critical feedback on an idea was constantly compromised. I often sat in silent disagreement because I was too scared of retaliation to challenge any idea. It was easier to compromise my own beliefs to keep peace among the group, even if I knew my ideas had validity. Being likeable was much more valuable.
Five years ago, I had my first tangible opportunity to become a teacher leader. Selected to be part of a statewide grant, over a three-year period, I was asked to develop my own thoughts and support them with evidence. Intentionally, the facilitator didn’t validate my ideas. She forced me to take my own stance, knowing this experience would set me up to brush against my own insecurities. Rather than responding with excitement that someone was interested and invested in knowing who I was at my core, I grew frightened and afraid, crying out for the approval I knew well. Approval was always my validation and these new rules were uncomfortable.