“Trust Me”

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“Trust me.” The words are supposed to bring you comfort, but don’t they kind of give you the creeps? It seems like every conniving bad guy in every movie ever made has said them. I did a quick Google search when I sat down to write this blog post, and immediately came up with this chilling moment from The Godfather, when Michael Corleone tells his reasonably suspicious wife: Kay, my father’s way of doing things is over, it’s finished. Even he knows that. I mean, in five years, the Corleone Family is going to be completely legitimate. Trust me. That’s all I can tell you about my business. (If you are not a fan of the movie franchise, you’ll have to, well, trust me: Kay should not have trusted Michael in this.) However, despite all of these movie-warnings (not to mention the politicians…), over and over again we ask those with whom we work to trust us. We’re not the bad guy — that’s other people!

A few weeks ago, my colleagues, Alicia and Jeff, and I agreed to try out being Blog Buddies. This was Alicia’s brain child. All three of us are blogging, so she suggested that we all write on the same theme one day, and then link to each others’ posts, and see what would happen. How would we take the theme in different directions? What would we learn from each other? Would our readership grow? We agreed upon the theme of Trust for our first effort in this experiment, and today is that day.

When we first chose our theme, my mind went to the conversations that we often have in school leadership. We regularly think about our work through the lens of Building Trust / Earning Trust / Deserving Trust. My favorite book on this topic is Stephen M.R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust. I’ve attended and run workshops on trust-building, and believe strongly that there is always more to learn about it. No matter how good we may think we are at this, we can all falter. We can all break trust, and then need to start again.

However, lately I’ve also thought a lot about Giving Trust, and that is my lens today, exploring trust through 3 avenues — Giving Trust to our Colleagues, Giving Trust to the Process, Giving Trust to the Universe.

Giving Trust to our Colleagues

One way to give trust to colleagues is to trust their work and their opinions. This part is easy! I work with incredibly smart, talented people — without question, I trust the high quality of their work and their professional views. I also think about trusting colleagues in relation to collaboration and time. It’s this: I am lucky to work in an extremely interdependent system. We try hard not to exist in silos, and thus when there is a project to do, rarely is one leader responsible for the whole thing. Much of what each of us does touches many other people and departments. This commitment to collaboration improves our products and decisions immensely, however there is a downside regarding our day-to-day work, as collaboration takes time, and time is a very precious commodity. We are BUSY! So, we find ourselves frequently waiting for each other (while the “other” is working on equally important projects!) — for questions to be answered, for one-to-one and group meetings to be held, for drafts to be reviewed. All of us sometimes ask others to find time for something, and all of us sometimes convey that we just don’t have time right now. We will soon! Why this big lead up? Because I think that trusting colleagues can mean trusting that they indeed are eager to work with us on something, and they will do so as soon as they can. The work ethic in my school system is truly exemplary, and we have to trust this ethic and the relationships that we’ve built enough to know that the work will indeed get done, and will be better because we’ve done it together.

We also rely upon this system-wide strong work ethic when it comes to our own departments. We believe whole-heartedly in surrounding ourselves with smart people, and then trusting them to manage their own work without top-down close scrutiny. This doesn’t mean that we don’t get involved in setting priorities, and of course we believe in the importance of checks and balances. But the “checking” can come from various people. In this case, trusting your colleagues means knowing that others are just as invested as you are in excellence, and then behaving as such.

As I consider Giving Trust in this context, it is not lost on me that there is, or at least there should be, a direct relationship between Giving Trust and Building / Earning / Deserving Trust. When our teams don’t believe that we trust them, then they don’t trust us. When we do trust them, and display this regularly, then strong trust grows between us. The thing runs on a continuous loop, I think. When the loop is broken, a swift attempt at repair is important. However, the loop may, well, hang by a thread for awhile. And, the more trust that existed previously, the more quickly the loop mends.

Giving Trust to the Process

Has anyone ever reminded you to trust the process? If not, then friend, I admire your patience! For many of us, trusting the process means knowing that when we skip steps, it shows in the end product. It also means remembering (or, if need be, reminding each other) that when we are worried about a situation, we likely already have a process in place to deal with just that type of thing. We have to just trust the process. Which can be slow. Which can be hard for us when we are worried, or hurried, or just generally impatient. (Impatience… seems like a theme… I feel another blog post coming on…)

Giving Trust to the Universe

There are many variations on this, some religious, some metaphysical, some that probably came directly from your mother. And in truth, this concept can be a bit hard to take in many contexts, as there are an awful lot of terrible things that happen in this world which can make it hard to trust that there is a reason for everything. And also it can be pretty hard to remember in the moment, even when the problems only FEEL gigantic. I remember once lashing out at my bewildered husband when he was trying to comfort me with, “It will be ok,” as I was sure that he did not know that! (Sorry, Larry… that was not nice of me back then…) (And also, thanks for not doing it again.) (Enough about my marriage.) But the point is this: if we want to subtract out the truly heinous things that happen to people, Trusting the Universe is a pretty good concept. And for many people, it rings true even in the most horrible circumstances. One of my colleagues has a sign in her office that I love, which reads: Not to spoil the ending, but everything is going to be ok. In most cases, I do believe that is true.  It just may be a pretty painful route before we get there.

If you enjoyed thinking about trust with me, I hope you’ll also check out more thoughts on the subject from my colleagues, Alicia and Jeff! It was rather freeing for me to think about trust as a commodity to be given away. Its quantity isn’t finite, like for money or time. In fact, it multiplies.

Professional Learning at Starbucks

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There are about thirty of us in this Starbucks in the Chicago neighborhood where I’m  spending my afternoon, and it seems that we are all engaged in something important to us. Some of us are reading, many of us are studying or doing some type of homework. Some are writing, and some are deeply immersed in conversation. A mom snuggles the toddler on her lap while she reads the newspaper. One lady is gripping a highlighter and pouring though stacks of papers filled with text, and I feel certain that she is pulling themes for qualitative research, just as I was doing a few years ago when I was writing my dissertation. And I am sipping tea, grateful to be enjoying self-directed professional learning time for a few hours.

When do you find time for professional learning? I don’t mean when do you go to workshops or discuss and share at meetings or (for Illinois administrators) attend Administrator Academies? I mean when do you read/watch/write/talk/create/learn because doing so is meaningful to you as a learner and leader and teacher of others? I’ve tried all sorts of things… I’ve blocked out dedicated time on my calendar during the work day, but have usually not lasted past a week or so. I simply cannot ignore the ringing phone or knock on the door, and well, let’s just say that I’m still on the road to recovery when it comes to the whole Checking Your Email Thing. Bottom line: at work, work distracts me from work. Or I’ve decided that I’ll focus on professional learning while I have lunch, but then I don’t have lunch, or I meet during lunch, or I actually catch up with someone at lunch. For me, my best self-directed professional learning happens outside of the work day. It happens as I listen to an audio book or podcast in the car or on the treadmill (currently enjoying HBR’s podcast Women at Work). It happens when I read an article on Twitter while my husband drives. It happens when I dive into a book on leadership or learning on a weekend afternoon. (Recent good read: Daniel Pink’s When, which fed my nerdy interest in the topic of Time.)

Enter: The Starbucks in Lincoln Square.

My husband Larry has been taking guitar lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music for years now, and I enjoy coming down here to Lincoln Square with him, pretending I’m cool enough to actually live out here. (I’m not. I don’t.) Last spring, I even took a class myself, enjoying thinking about teamwork while singing with a nice group of people. (Curious? I wrote about it… Work Team Lessons While Singing Doo Wop… Who Knew?) However, this autumn the electric guitar class that Larry wanted to take didn’t match up with any vocal classes, and so I’ve dedicated the time to my own professional learning.

Here I sit in Starbucks down the street from the Old Town School, sipping on my hot drink, reading, writing, maybe watching, and learning. There is one simple rule: I deny the urge to do any of the work that is specific to my job description as a school district administrator. I’m not answering email and I’m not completing a project that is staring at me from my Google Task List. I have been a working adult long enough to know that the email will never be to zero, and neither will the task list. So it is up to me to save myself! This is time that I use to develop myself as a learner, teacher, and leader so that I may be useful to others in ways that may not be described within that job description. I may be reading articles, possibly those shared by people I respect in my PLN, or retrieved elsewhere. (The newest issue of Ed Leadership showed up in my email box yesterday, and I’m itching to get to those articles on Social Emotional Learning. Also, our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Learning just shared an article about listening with compassion in the classroom… looking forward to reading that today, too!) I might use the time for reflective writing. (Does this blog post count? Yes, I think so. I’m thinking about thinking. Very “meta”.)  I may be reading a book. (Next week, I plan to dig into Rath’s Strength’s Based Leadership, lent to me by colleague and Learning Leader Alicia Duell!) I may be watching a Ted Talk; I may be digging into the Illinois State Board of Education website, reading about something that is coming down the pike. Sometimes, a muffin may be involved.

Today,  I’m reflecting on how my professional learning has intersected with Starbucks. You see, back in the the late ’80s, I was a barista in one of the first Starbucks in Chicago. I was experiencing my first real job as a half-time teacher in Oak Park, IL, and making up the other half of my rent by pouring coffee. There were no Frappuccinos then, there was no Iced Peach Citrus White Tea Infusion Lemonade. There was coffee, there was espresso, there was cappuccino, there was tea. And there was this 23 year old newbie, steaming milk and thinking about how to teach my third graders how to read. I love that I’m sitting here, so many years later, enjoying this same space (well, a few neighborhoods away), still thinking about how children (and adults) learn, and where my place is in it all.

Why this blog post? In John Stepper’s Working Out LoudStepper explains that Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. Perhaps my Starbucks strategy might help someone carve out that time for professional learning. And perhaps some of you will share with me your own strategies for finding the time – I would love that! Stepper also guides people towards accountability through goal setting that is shared with others. In some ways, then, this blog post keeps me honest. If I’m writing about it today, I sure better still be doing it next week!

My colleague Catherine Joy is my model for professional learning. She always has a new book or article, and she fits learning in anywhere/anytime: she is known to watch a Ted Talk while getting ready for work in the morning. Now that is dedication! I’m still working on it all. Today, Larry told me it was time to sign up for the next set of guitar classes — did the time frame still work for me? Indeed it does. Hey, nice barista behind the counter, I’ll see you next week!

I came close to crying in a middle school hallway today, and I am not a middle schooler

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I came close to crying in a middle school hallway today, and I am not a middle schooler.  I’m not even a middle school parent, well not anymore. It was the glorious first day of class, and this assistant superintendent had the honor of helping out at two middle schools. Due to the outstanding organization and cheerful goodwill coming from staff and students at both of these schools, my “helping out”  consisted mostly of assisting lost 6th graders with finding classes and opening reluctant lockers.

Ok, what was the lump in the throat about? It came on quite suddenly when a sixth grade boy politely asked me to help him find his class. So… huh? Well, most of the emotion came from the sheer joy of being in a school with excited students and staff.  The boy and I chatted about his summer a bit as we walked down the hall together, and don’t worry, I held it together. Didn’t freak the boy out by actually letting this overwhelming burst of emotion show! After we parted ways, I returned to intermittently helping nervous kids open lockers and watching/listening to middle schoolers who were in their element. A few favorites:

  • The Greetings and Supports – “You’re going to gym? I am too!” (followed by a hug and a High 5); “Come with me, I did this last year!” (I LOVED that one!!!)
  • The Nerves – “Dude, it feels so weird!”
  • The Tough Vulnerability (5 eighth grade boys dressed to impress, swaggering down the hallway together, but still peering at their schedules)
  • Blending In and Standing Out (Who is inside those Nike Air Force 1s? Who is beneath that awesome rainbow-colored hair?)

I taught middle school for a year at the very beginning of my career, and do not remember the students being quite this fantastic. I don’t recall them encouraging each other this much, or being this fresh-faced and cute. Of course, I may be remembering my students from the weary end of the year rather than from the excited start. Maybe, though, part of it is that all of our emphasis in the social-emotional realm is paying off, and adolescents really are nicer than they used to be. You don’t have to look too far to read about bullying… educator friends, we need to tell the great stories, too.

So back to the heightened emotion I was feeling in the hallway… it also may have been because I was hit in the face with all that it took to get ready for that moment. In late May, I had committed to my work self that in the slower summer months (HA! NOT!) I would make sure that just about everything I worked on would in some way make things better for someone, or would support my own learning and reflection (“What’s In Your JunePile?“). It was an extremely busy summer, and I tried very hard to hold myself accountable to this goal. Of course, ultimately, “making things better for someone” could be distilled down to making things better for this sixth grader. I collaborated with other administrators to write and submit a grant (fingers still crossed as we await news!) in order to forward this boy’s social-emotional goals, a colleague and I took new staff on a bus tour while teaching them about our district in order to prepare them to help this boy grow, another colleague and I labored over decisions about this year’s staff evaluation assignments so that we could best support the professional growth of the adults who work with this boy. Etc.

Later in the morning, I had the pleasure of watching the Principal, Assistant Principal, and Dean model vulnerability when they introduced themselves to a class via a slide presentation. They invited students to guess which of them sometimes has trouble maintaining a “conversational level” (the Dean!) and who is sometimes distracted and off-task (the AP?)…  Without banging them over the head with it, they showed the students that we all have differences and hurdles and wonderful strengths as well. Bravo, adults! What a fantastic message for adolescents who are trying so hard to figure themselves out, who need permission to struggle with their awesome, terrible selves every single day!

Tomorrow I start the day with a brief meeting in my office, but I know I will be itching to return to the wonderful staff and students in Middle School 2, where I spent part of the afternoon today. The truth is, the adults and preteens in neither school needed me very much today, and I’m sure that tomorrow will be the same way. Who are we kidding? I needed them.

I’m Still Learning from Summer Camp

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“My heart is full and mushy and running over with feelings.” Not very eloquent, but it is pretty much what I said to my daughter yesterday as we walked the grounds of the overnight camp that taught us each so much about ourselves. It was Alumni Day, and both of my daughters and I are all alumni, having collectively spent 24 summers there.

It is not possible explain what this camp means to me. Here’s the anecdotal data, though: when I was seventeen, I spent the summer there on the work crew, where I cleaned bathrooms and emptied garbage FOR FREE. Need I say more? If you were lucky enough to go to overnight camp and loved it, you understand that it does not matter that you drank “egg water”, ate indescribable food, gave up all privacy related to your personal hygiene, slept in cabins or tents that horrified your parents (“We are paying all this money for you to sleep in THAT?!?!”) and were driven round the bend from the itch of mosquito bites (while there) or maybe lice (a delightful surprise after you got home). You understand that you want your own kids to go there, and if they do, you are sure to either drop them off or pick them up (instead of putting them on the bus both ways) so that you can experience having your heart quicken as you drive through the camp gates and hear the singing and smell the smells. Ok I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I love my camp.

As I drove home with my brimming and mushy heart, I considered why people who are lucky enough to attend overnight camp often feel connected to their “summer homes” in ways that supersede their attachments to their schools. After all, unless you move often, you certainly spend more hours in the year at school than you do at camp. However, although I went to excellent public schools and have great school memories, for me, at least, there is absolutely no comparison.

We could talk about the joy of independence with no meddling parents around, of making our own daily decisions about things that are both not all that important and also enormously important. We could talk about the value of choice, of picking which activity to attend (basketball or friendship bracelets? paperbag dramatics or canoeing?), and of learning from counselors who are maybe just 4 or 5 years older than us, and therefore hilarious, wise, and incredibly cool. We could talk about possibilities of summer flirtations and all-out romances, if that is our type of thing. But what is on my mind just now is the idea of Belonging.

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My K-8 school district chooses specific Areas of Focus to frame our work with children, and for the next few years, along with Literacy Throughout the Day, we will be focusing on Positive School Climate. And we’ve written this vision for that focus: Students and families are invited into a school environment in which they feel valued, safe and engaged in meaningful learning. Yes, well, that is indeed exactly how I felt at overnight camp — valued by my friends and counselors, safe to take risks, and engaged in learning which meant an awful lot to me. All of this, because it was clear that I belonged.

Of course, not every camper is a happy camper. Children leave before the session ends, or muscle through but never return. Ask them for their stories, and there is a high likelihood that they were shown by others, usually campers, that they did NOT belong. Like schools, the camps keep trying, but haven’t made it right for all kids.

When I think about my own school experiences, there is one particular middle school teacher who brought school connection to me and so many of my friends. His teaching techniques were unusual, and I’m sure our parents rolled their eyes often at what they heard about and saw come home in our backpacks, but his message was clear and it worked: “If you are in my class, you are part of a community. We care about each other, we risk showing each other who we really are, and we are safe.” If you went to Maple Jr. High School in Northbook, IL awhile back, there is no question that you know exactly who I mean. He was a legend. I went back to observe his classroom while I was preparing to be a teacher, and quite frankly was appalled. I was learning the science of teaching then, and what I saw did not at all fit with what I was studying at college. Now that I know more, I wish I could go back and take a peek at the art of his teaching. For sure, a huge part of why he helped us to feel connected to our school and to each other was because he showed us that we belonged.

Most kids do not get to go to overnight camp. It is an expensive luxury, and well out of the realm of possibility for the vast number of families. Lots of kids would not want to go, and lots of parents would not want to send their children. And of course, families have a myriad of ways of creating wonderful summer memories for children that have nothing at all to do with camp.

Going to school, though, well that’s pretty common. So what can we learn from camp? How can we help our children love school the way that I love that bunch of buildings, trees, and people who gather every year next to a lake in Wisconsin? I feel sure that it is less about drinking “bug juice” and telling ghost stories, and more about creating a feeling of belonging. That, we can do. Our teachers already work very hard at this, and I’m so glad that we’ll be giving time to ongoing conversations as we learn how to get even better.

It Turns Out that Falling In Was No Biggie

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I’m not exactly sure what made me feel that I must try surfing. This happens to me sometimes. I’ve never really been a “bucket list” type of person, but when I have it in my head that I need to try something new, either personally or professionally, well, then, I’m suddenly quite ready. I do my research about the challenge or change, and then I jump in.

Quite possibly, the surfing idea came as a result of completing my dissertation. While writing, I often thought about the Learn to Surf scene in the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, as it felt as though my dissertation chair was much like the surf instructor, constantly telling me that I was doing it wrong, but not telling me how to do it. (Although she was not quite as sunny about it as Paul Rudd’s character… but that is a story for another day.) Anyway, surfing may have lodged itself into my head during the lengthy writing process, only to reveal itself as a full-blown itch this summer, now that writing is done and I have time for other endeavors.

It is noted that the above photo shows paddle boarding, not surfing. And if you are wondering which of those women is me, the answer is NONE. Are you kidding? But indeed I did paddle board yesterday, as that was part of my surfing research for my upcoming trip to the California coast. I figured that before I tried surfing, I should check to see if I could even stand up on some type of floating board. So off I went to Stand Up and Flow on Bangs Lake in Wauconda to take a “Basic Stand Up Paddle Boarding Lesson”. Never mind that I have lived 30 minutes from this lake for the past 19 years and didn’t know that it existed until last weekend… that is just shameful, and helped me to realize that I need to do a better job of checking out my 30 minute radius. But anyway.

So here’s how the whole thing turned out: First of all, there were a LOT of technical instructions given back on the beach. This made me very nervous, as I didn’t know if all of the information was really sinking in, and I headed into the water thinking, “Well, I really hope that this will be pretty intuitive.” In fact, it WAS, and soon my goal was less about standing, and more about not falling.  So, there I was, gliding along, feeling pretty good about myself. (“Look at me! I’m GREAT at this! So graceful! Not falling! I was MADE for paddle board!) And then, mid-Positive Image Moment, the motorboat came along and provided a bumpier wake, and BAM – I was in the water. And I had to get myself out of the water, back on the board, alone. Which I did, of course, hardly worse for the wear, and definitely wiser.

It turns out that falling in was no biggie, and in fact enhanced my experience. It cooled me off, brought me back to humility, and gave me a chance to prove to myself that I could pull myself back up on the board. Next up will be surfing in California, and then I intend to do Stand Up Paddle Board Yoga and a Night Paddle back at Bangs Lake later in the summer. And of course there are professional challenges ahead as well, as the new school year brings new programs and opportunities to grow. Because why not? Falling in is no big deal.

 

 

 

I See You, Spiderman Dad!

 

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It is Father’s Day, and I’m thinking about Spiderman Dad. I’m also thinking about my own dad, who taught me through his actions to always do what I believe is right, about my two wonderful fathers-in-law, and about my husband (more on him later). But right now I’m thinking a lot about Spiderman Dad.

I met Spiderman Dad at school drop-off one morning this past spring. In my school district, our central office administrators serve as back-ups when principals are absent, so I was at one of our elementary schools early one morning, wearing a safety vest and greeting students as they exited cars. There he was, a man in a Spiderman hoodie, cheerfully hustling his kids out of the car. We shared a smile, and I told him that I liked his sweatshirt. He grinned sheepishly and told me, “Yeah! I’m Spiderman before he got into shape!” and off he went to start his day.

Why did the moment stay with me? I think it was because I felt that I learned a few things about this guy in that short interaction. First, I had the chance to peek at the warmth shared between Dad and children. Surely, these kids’ day was going to go better because it started with some loving communication with their dad. How lucky he and his children are that they had this time together — as much as we’d like to, many of us can’t drive our kids to school, and instead find other ways to help our children start off with love from us. Of course, there is a lot I don’t know here… maybe he doesn’t usually drive them, but that day they missed the bus. If so, then his annoyance at the situation didn’t show, so bravo for him! Maybe the kids would rather be on the bus with their friends. I don’t think so, though — they seemed pretty comfortable to be arriving with a send-off from Dad. In any case, the warmth between them was very present.

Also, Dad is approaching life with a sense of humor, as indeed he was maybe not as “in shape” as Movie and Comics Spiderman. As we all know, that sense of humor goes far when getting through the day, week, and year with children!

And then there was this: Spiderman Dad appears to be willing to be Embarrassing Dad. Well, maybe not yet. Right now, the young school-age children are probably delighted that their dad wears a Spiderman hoodie. But give it a few years, and I guarantee that middle-schoolers will be shrinking in their seats and hoping to be dropped off half a block down. Yet, somehow I think that Spiderman Dad may still be wearing that hoodie during those adolescent years, either oblivious or purposeful about the temporary humiliation that he is bringing to his pre-teens. There is, as we all know, a long and rich history to Embarrassing Dad.

And this brings me to my husband, Larry, who brings grace and beauty to being Embarrassing Dad. Ever since my now young adult daughters were teenagers, the girls have been proud to connect their dad with their friends, and the friends adore him. He is not purposeful about being embarrassing, he just plain does not care. He appears to be completely un-self-conscious about dorky dancing and off-key singing and kindly lecturing and music sharing. Below is a picture taken today when Larry visited Sophie, our twenty year old (top left), in Boulder. She and her college roommates made him Father’s Day brunch after he suggested it — who gets away with such a bold move and everyone is happy? My fabulous Embarrassing Dad husband, that’s who!

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Back to Spiderman Dad, though. In truth, I don’t know him, not at all. If I saw him again without his hoodie, I probably wouldn’t even recognize him. And yet, I’ve built a positive story about him from just a few cues. And perhaps that’s my biggest take-away, a reminder about an idea that I discuss with newer teachers whenever I have the right moment: we have to assume that the parents in our schools are indeed doing their very best with their children. When we talk with them, even if we are not in agreement about something, we must remember that our parents are entrusting us with all that is most precious to them. We also have to remember that it is brash of us to believe that we always know what is right for a child. Yes, we bring research and experience to our opinions, but parents live in a whole other realm of knowledge about their children, because they are the PARENTS!

So anyway, yeah, I see you, Spiderman Dad. I hope you had a Happy’s Fathers Day! As far as I’m concerned, you’re crushing it.

 

The Truth Is… We Could Not Run Our Schools Without Our Substitutes

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On any given Friday in May, my school district is struggling to fill our substitute vacancies. Many of our highly regarded substitutes are retired teachers, and by May they have worked all of the days that our state’s retirement system will allow. In addition, May brings college graduations and weddings and, well, a wide array of reasons for our teachers to be absent from work. And yet… learning must continue.

Thus, we find ourselves utilizing creative solutions for plugging those holes, and so, a substitute may arrive at one school to step in for a third grade teacher, only to be told that we’ve covered that vacancy another way, and that he/she is instead needed at another school across town to teach bilingual Polish first grade, or middle school math, or perhaps PE. Or, a substitute will come to a middle school teaching assignment expecting to have planning time as part of the day (definitely not guaranteed for substitutes, but a nice perk!), and will instead be told that he/she will be covering other classes during that time.

When we are asking our substitutes to do more and more, I am glad that we have a few constructs in place to thank them for their commitment to our district:

  • Like many districts, we have different pay rates — a daily rate, an increased rate for those who have worked a certain number of days, and a long-term rate. A couple of years ago, we also added a Loyalty Rate to honor those who have, indeed, shown loyalty to our school district. In order to be eligible for this rate, a substitute must meet these qualifications: have worked in our district for at least 5 years as a substitute and/or in a full time position, and have worked on at least 90 days as a substitute in our school district in the previous year. The Loyalty Rate resets each fall, and thus each spring we review our data to identify which substitutes qualify for the rate in the next school year. Full disclosure: the Loyalty Rate is only $3.00 per day more than the rate used for those who have worked at least 60 days. However, we know that our substitutes may also work in surrounding districts, and we created this rate to both encourage them to keep our district at the top of their list, and to acknowledge their consistent work and longevity with our district.

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  • Each June, we host a Substitute Appreciation Tea. We schedule it during the window between the school year ending and summer school starting so that as many substitutes as possible might be available. We work with our food service provider to create a real tea, complete with finger sandwiches, pastries, lemonade, and of course, tea! The agenda is simple: very brief speeches from a couple of grateful administrators, time to mingle (many of our substitutes have known each other for years, and love the chance to catch up), and an opportunity for substitutes to provide feedback to us via a brief form which they complete in small groups.

Our Tea gives us the chance to let our substitutes know how much we really appreciate them while also getting feedback from them in a positive setting.

  • We are proud of the training that we provide to our substitutes, and believe that putting time and effort into offering substitute trainings shows them that we appreciate and value the work that they do for us. We make it very clear to them that every day counts for our students, that gone are the days when a teacher might have the substitute put on a movie for the students. Our substitutes need to be ready to teach new skills and reinforce what has already been taught, and thus our school district helps them to hone their craft.

    All of our substitutes are required to attend a half-day training prior to working for us. Even if they have worked in this role in other places, we want to make sure that they have full awareness of the expectations in our district. We try to keep our training interactive and fun while we provide important information. During this training, we cover: HR basics such as securing assignments and understanding pay structure, information about our district, crisis plans and health training (such as practice with EPI Pens), and classroom management expectations and tips.

In addition, we offer our substitutes optional training opportunities throughout the year. We take advantage of times when we know our substitutes would not be working for us, such as after school or during School Improvement Days when students are not in attendance, and then provide inservices run by our specialists. For example, training about working with students who receive special education services was provided by our Director of Student Services, and updated information about math instruction was given by our Math Coordinator. In this way, we help our substitutes to remain current in their teaching practices, and we honor their work as educators who are important to our system.

Of course, the best appreciation comes at the school level. I will never forget the joy and pride I felt when teachers told me that they had created goodie bags for all of the substitutes who were present at their school on a particular day. I also regularly remind our principals and building secretaries to greet and thank substitutes, and to treat them as the professionals that they are.

The truth is, we could not run our schools without our substitutes. It seems only right that we let them know that.