Lessons in Success
How do you define success? When I graduated it simply meant getting a teaching job. But, in 1996, teaching jobs were not abundant. As that first September came and went, I had no teaching job, and success didn’t seem within my grasp. I was fortunate to get hired working in Youth Programs at the Peel District School Board’s Centre for Education and Training. My role involved teaching as I supported youth and young adults in finding employment. Ironically, I was successful in supporting them, but I didn’t experience that same success when it came to my ideal profession.
A year later, I got my first job teaching a Grade 3-4 combined class. I was finally “successful”. Or was I? I clearly remember the struggles associated with that first year and my inner dialogues. Was I effective? How was I possibly going to cover all of that curriculum? Was I contributing enough to the school community? Did the parents like me? Did the students like me? Did I really want to do this? Needless to say, I had a few insecurities. I was finally successful at getting the job, but felt like a failure. In addition to my perceptions, it was a year of political protests. As a new teacher, I was declared excess to the board. Fortunately, it was rescinded. Unfortunately, I was then declared excess to school. Needless to say, “success” seemed a long way off.
Many of the struggles I experienced that first year have subsided. But, some are still there and new ones have surfaced. I don’t know if I will ever stop wondering if I’m doing enough to support students. But what I DO know is that success is not a destination.
Over the years, I’ve taught in many schools. Seven (to date) to be exact. As an Elementary Instructional Resource Teacher, I supported students and educators. Frequently changing grades and/or schools has expanded my understanding of teaching and learning. I have had numerous opportunities to develop and facilitate professional learning. Whether I am facilitating or participating in Professional Development, I am constantly growing.
In 2010, my Principal suggested I give Kindergarten a try. Initially, I can’t say I was excited about it, but I realized I couldn’t let complacency, or my own comfort, dominate decisions about my career. I’ve always believed that discomfort equals growth. So I cautiously accepted. And everything changed. What I thought I understood about teaching was challenged by 3, 4 and 5 year olds. It was a lesson in humility that opened up more opportunities for learning that I hadn't expected. While I certainly engaged in my own professional learning, I realized I needed to make children’s learning visible to families, so I started a blog called Crayons, Wands and Building Blocks. I didn’t anticipate how the blog would also encourage and support other educators on their own journeys. I have continued to have opportunities to facilitate professional learning in the Early Years at the school and board level. As an instructor with OISE, I am continually honoured to support educators across the province as they deepen their understanding of the Early Years through Additional Qualifications courses.
For most of my career, I considered leadership as the defining element of my success. Leadership, I began to realize, has many facets. As a teacher, I co-learn and support children in their academic, social, and emotional development. As an Early Years Lead, I support colleagues. As a co-researcher with students and as a reflective practitioner, I connect with educators as we support each other in our understanding of the Early Years in order to be responsive to the needs of children.
So, how do I define success today as opposed to the onset of my career? I’ve realized that for me, it’s about being present. Success happens daily. It happens when students are truly engaged in their learning. It happens when a colleague shares their own learning based on conversations we may have had. It happens when I get a word of thanks from a student, or a colleague, or a parent.
Success is accepting that we are exactly where we need to be. Success is embracing the struggles, so that we can appreciate the gains. Success is celebrating the growth in ourselves and in our students. It happens when we feel like we’re doing what we were truly meant to do. And I am.
York University, Faculty of Education 1996