For me, this fall has been all about learning and connecting. Starting to work at a new school after 18 years in the same one was more of a leap than I could have imagined, but not in a bad way. Because my own kids went to the elementary school I'm working at, it felt so familiar in many ways. I knew a lot of the people, I knew the space (or so I thought), and since one of my close friends teaches there, I had an idea of what goes on inside. This was all true and correct, and also, when I started I realized how much I had to learn.
I could have stayed in my comfort zone of teaching in the same room, same subject, with the same colleagues and the same routine. A very wise close friend advised me to make the change, to push myself, learn new things, "climb higher", as she said. I took her advice. Months later, I feel it was the right decision.
At first, it was definitely overwhelming. What did I get myself into? Did the principal of the school know what he was getting himself into? What if I messed up? Who am I, anyway, to think I could be an assistant principal? Impostor syndrome was in full effect in the first month. I realized that I needed to just voice it - and I did, to multiple people. The more I talked about it, the less I felt like an impostor.
I started my journey of learning by studying the IEP and special ed meeting process - this is all under the purview of the AP in our district. At first, the special ed secretary would say things to me, and I would nod and take notes, not really having a clue what she was saying (sorry Suzanne!). I would reassure myself by saying "It's ok. Just take it in now, you will figure it all out." I convinced myself to give myself the gifts of grace and patience. Now, looking back on late August, I can see how far I've come. I know how to run an IEP meeting. I know the difference between the different kinds of meetings and how each one is different. I know abbreviations and acronyms (for a while I made up what the acronyms meant). I know which SE teachers to ask which questions, and how each one is involved in the process. I learned that the school psychologist would be one of my best allies and teachers. I learned that the SE secretary knows everything (thank goodness).
Outside of special ed, the learning has been immense also. I learned that the mental health team and the admin work together in such a way that the work feels manageable and the school is functional. I learned that people back each other up - stepping in to sub, to cover a lunch or a recess without thinking twice or feeling like they are owed something in return. I learned that teachers manage behaviors in the classroom so well that admin very rarely needs to step in. I learned that the principal is a caring, smart and perceptive person who leads by showing, not telling. I learned that the systems that are solidly in place there make you feel like you work in a sane and healthy place, with happy children and parents and guardians that are overjoyed their kids are in this school community. I also realized there were people who would support me in my new learnings and that yes, I might make mistakes - but I remind myself that making mistakes just means you learn from them and get better at things. I don't have to be perfect.
In a book about leadership that I've been reading, the author writes about trust as a part of making connections with people you work with. This sounds perfectly logical, but it took me a while to figure this out in my current context. I assumed because of events last year in our district, that I came with a certain reputation or history, but then I realized that most people didn't know me. I'm not trying to boast here - just saying that I was often quoted and was in the local news a lot for things that were happening in my school/district that I was speaking up about. I realized that where I work now, you can exist in sort of a little happy bubble because of the physical distance between this school and the district central offices.
About a month into working at my current school, I started to feel I wasn't connecting enough with teachers. That was when I realized a few things: 1) they didn't know me and I had to be patient and build trust, and that it would come; 2) I was an administrator now, and regardless of the many years as I spent in teaching, or the many friends I have who are teachers, or how great teachers feel about their admin, it was still an "us vs them" sort of situation. It was a friendly situation, but even so, it could be lonely. I realized I would not have as many teacher friends here, and it was hard to come to terms with that. I also processed the fact that the main office staff and mental health team were now "my people" - the ones who would celebrate birthdays and who would share challenges happening in their families. My teacher identity had been compromised and would need to shift.
For someone who taught for 28 years, this has been a hard fact to reconcile. I didn't want to teach for so many years, but then when I became a teacher, I was all in. I wholeheartedly embraced my teacher identity. After mom, daughter, and spouse, I was a teacher. I never want to feel far away from the classroom - I never want to be one of those admins teachers look at with disdain and say, "they've been out of the classroom so long they've forgotten what it's like." So, right now, I am in this weird limbo of trying to figure it all out.
I miss my former colleagues and the trust and connections we had after many years of working together. I notice that many people have that at my new school, and I sometimes feel left out - until I remember that this all takes time. I also miss my students, and teaching, but am starting to enjoy aspects of this position. For example, last week I went out to dinner with the best friend of one of my daughters, who is the head coach at a local gymnastics school. Before we walked in, we both mentioned how we didn't want to see anyone we knew. Of course, as soon as we were led to our table, we saw two big tables with about 10 kids and their parents - kids Avery coaches and who attend my school. They looked at Avery; they looked at me. They were so confused to see us out of context, and together. They exclaimed "Ms.Lopez!" and then, "Avery!" And in the adorable way that 9-11 year olds do, they rushed over to our table and stood there, staring at us. Avery explained our connection. They scurried back to their tables. A little later, 2 of them scurried back. They had a tiny plate with half a mochi on it. They said "we saved this for you, Avery" and ran back to their table. They obviously adore her and the gesture was so cute, I didn't even mind that there was no half mochi for me. The next day at school, I made sure I connected with those girls at lunch.
Along with learning names (I might be at 1/2 the names of the 270 kids now), making connections with kids will be my next goal (along with figuring out MCAS!). In December I'm going to host 2 craft making lunches, where kids can sign up to eat and work on a craft with me. And after that, connections with families by hosting a series of "Cafecito con Ms.Lopez" events. More learning, more connections, changing identity.