“Something Good:” Celebrating Small Successes

20 Jan

In Cathy’s last post, she encouraged educators to find something great each day. Her post coincided with my starting a class on teacher leadership through Walden University, and in our weekly discussion, my classmates and I reflected on roadblocks to being a leader in our schools and what we can do to overcome those issues. We all had the usual complaints: not enough time, disconnected administrators, unsupportive colleagues. But over and over again, the solutions came back to the individual and her response to the setback. Certainly easier said than done, but crucial nonetheless.

Dr. Roland Barth, founder of the Principals’ Center at Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote something that really stood out to me: “…the teacher leaders who succeed, in addition to being purposeful and persistent, seem to be able to settle for, and to even celebrate, small, partial success” (“The Teacher Leader: Words of Wisdom From Those Who Know Best”). This is really tough for me–both personally and professionally. I dream big! I chucked my entire curriculum to go totally student- and inquiry-driven. I co-wrote a book about my favorite tv show (anybody a LOST fan?). I’ve seen 49 of the 50 states (I’m coming for you Alaska!). This means I now have goals like publishing a book and getting a doctorate. So, when a proposal gets rejected or I do poorly on a paper, how can I possibly find the good? We certainly have those moments with students, and we would never dismiss any triumphs. I remember my first year teaching when a student really wanted to raise his failing grade, but ended up with a C. I told him how proud I was of how he was able to change his habits to improve his work. His tears let me know that he was still disappointed, but I hope that lesson settled in, that it’s the hard work we should celebrate.

This isn’t to say that we should celebrate every moment of improvement or hard work (even Carol Dweck is telling us to rethink that strategy). But I want my students to see that setting a goal and learning to overcome obstacles to get to it are even more valuable than writing the perfect poem. And, of course, I need to do this for myself. It’s okay to encounter setbacks–to have to continually revise a piece of writing or to be told the new class I wanted to teach won’t be running. Instead, I’ll focus on the “something good”– the ability to collaborate with two of my best friends or how nine years into teaching, I’m still learning!

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