Today’s Confirmation

Today’s Confirmation

I often say that I never really chose to be a teacher; more that it feels like teaching chose me.  I’ve always felt it was a calling much more so than my occupation.  I’ve known since I was in second grade – thirty years ago! – that I wanted to be a teacher.  And even after I came to lead a school, I most of the time describe myself as a teacher when asked.  It means something to me.  It means a lot to me.  It means every day I can make a difference to children and their families – and to teachers and staff too.

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However, the sad truth is that while it means a lot to me – and certainly to the people I teach and lead with every day at Pinecrest School, and to the many friends and family who are also educators, and most definitely to the teachers and professors who had a profound influence on my life from elementary school to graduate school – it does not mean a lot to everyone.

I know this for a few reasons.  The first time the world told me that teachers didn’t matter was when I was graduating from high school.  I remember many people reacting to the news that I was going to study education in college with comments like, “You’re too smart to be a teacher” or “Those who can do and those who can’t teach.”  What?!  I remember knowing then that these people were very mixed up.  How could they think the professionals shaping young minds and hearts every day should not be smart?!

Then, once I started working, my compensation also told me that teachers didn’t matter.  And then there’s the long hours, the work and planning during personal time, the comments from people who don’t get it about having summers off, and how you can never, ever turn your brain off when you’re thinking about a student’s well-being, or reflecting on a lesson or an exchange, or planning the next creative, hands-on, interactive learning experience.  And this is to say nothing of how much parent interaction and struggle there is on a regular basis, how you can’t go to the bathroom when you want, or how you are literally “on” every second of the day as soon as you walk into your school.

So, all of these things are messages about our profession, and we internalize them, and we are no doubt affected by them, but we keep doing this work.  We keep showing up, every day, to make a difference.  Because we believe it matters.  And it does.

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But, today is the day that I know for sure that the world thinks teachers don’t matter.  Today is the day that 50 Republican Senators and the Vice President of the United States of America voted to confirm into office someone who has no experience being a teacher or a school leader, someone with no formal education in the area where now she’s going to lead.  Betsy DeVos did not even attend public school – nor did her children – and yet now she is rising into a position that will oversee every public school in the nation.

The Senate voting to confirm Betsy DeVos as the next United States Secretary of Education is so disheartening, and so unfortunate.  But, to me, the real confirmation from today is that our culture does not value educators or schools.  I can’t think of any other profession where people who have no skills or experience in that field think they should make decisions for it or be leaders of it.  I don’t believe someone else so “uniquely unqualified” (as many of the Democratic Senators accurately described Betsy DeVos) would ever come to lead any other government agency.  Would Secretary of Defense ever be someone who never served in the military?  Would the Surgeon General be a carpenter?  Would the Attorney General be a teacher?  No, I don’t believe these scenarios would ever happen.

I am too smart for that.


Despite the disappointment of today’s decision, there are 46 Democrats, 2 Independents and 2 Republicans who should be recognized for showing up for students, teachers and schools in the Senate today.  To Senators Baldwin (D-WI),  Bennet (D-CO), Blumenthal (D-CT), Booker (D-NJ), Brown (D-OH), Cantwell (D-WA), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Casey (D-PA), Collins (R-ME), Coons (D-DE), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Donnelly (D-IN), Duckworth (D-IL), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Franken (D-MN), Gillibrand (D-NY), Harris (D-CA), Hassan (D-ME), Heinrich (D-NM), Heitkamp (D-ND), Hirono (D-HI), Kaine (D-VA), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (D-MN), Leahy (D-VT), Manchin (D-WV), Markey (D-MA), McCaskill (D-MO), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Murkowski (R-AK), Murphy (D-CT), Murray (D-WA), Nelson (D-FL), Peters (D-MI), Reed (D-RI), Sanders (I-VT), Schatz (D-HI), Schumer (D-NY), Shaheen (D-NH), Stabenow (D-MI), Tester (D-MT), Udall (D-NM), Van Hollen (D-MD), Warner (D-VA), Warren (D-MA), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Wyden  (D-OR): THANK YOU!

And to the Senators not listed here, I hope the voters remember this day and your lack of integrity when you are next up for re-election.  (You can find their names and re-election timelines here.)  I am not from any of your states, but I won’t forget and I look forward to contributing to the campaigns of your opponents.

 



 

Nicole McDermott is in her twelfth year leading Pinecrest School, a small, independent preschool through sixth grade school in Northern Virginia.  As it should be, before becoming a school leader, she taught kindergarten, second grade and third grade.  In addition, Nicole has extensive experience working with high school student leaders through her community service work with Kiwanis International, and she spends a week each summer volunteering at Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine serving critically-ill children and their families from all around the country. Nicole prioritizes building connection and community, supporting people she loves and causes that are important to her and continuing to grow into a better version of herself. You can read more of Nicole McDermott’s written work on her blog.

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38 Things I Know For Sure

Another year, another thing I know for sure!  Well, of course, it’s more than one, but, this year, it was easy to make the one addition.  (It’s something about which I’m very sure as I’ve been living it for almost two years now.)  Yay 38!

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38 Things I Know for Sure

  1. “When people show you who they are, believe them.” –Maya Angelou
  2. Be intentional. Know what you’re doing and why – and own it when something does not go exactly how you intended.
  3. Operating out of fear creates stress and tension for you and everyone around you.
  4. Love is in the details.
  5. There are three ways to be when leaving something (a place, a job, et cetera): act like you don’t care/have a screw them mentality; act as if you’re not leaving/so that people wonder, “She knows this is her last month here, right?”; or be chill, do your best as usual and have only good intentions for what you’re leaving. Choose the third option, please.
  6. Accepting that something isn’t the right thing for you is very hard, but sometimes very necessary.
  7. Using people’s names in conversation builds connection.
  8. If you can do it, do it (whatever it is – for you or for others).
  9. Always take the opportunity to tell someone you’re appreciative, grateful, happy, and/or better off because of him/her. (“Celebrate what you want to see more of.” –Tom Peters)
  10. Validate. Say thank you.
  11. Being truly empathetic is about showing up, listening, hearing, being there; it’s not about problem-solving.
  12. Technology is a tool – for efficiency, for connection. It’s not for exclusivity or rudeness.
  13. Discretion, especially in groups, is a very valuable yet a VERY underused skill.
  14. Friends made during life-changing experiences are often life-long friends.
  15. When you have an uplifting, escapism, Joy Rising and/or Bonus Day experience, you’re resetting and refreshing. Look for big and little ways you can do it regularly. It’s so good for you.
  16. Self-conscious inclinations limit you; try to break free from them, even if little by little.
  17. Kids whose parents divorce or have some other challenge (in their family or within themselves) could benefit from talking to a professional. There’s no shame in it.
  18. Energy matters. (“Take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.” –Jill Bolte Taylor)
  19. Showing emotion is real and true; it’s not something about which you need to be embarrassed.
  20. When someone gets cancer (or is going through something tough), say, “That’s awful. I care about you. I am thinking of you. How can I help?” Nothing else is needed. And, you can never say “I’m thinking of you” too much to someone who’s facing a challenge.
  21. Be yourself, openly and with pride and humility. You will encourage others to do the same.
  22. Quality leadership shows itself in so many tangible ways. You often don’t realize what you have until you don’t; try to be aware and recognize it when you have it and try to be a contributor to the positive culture and environment.
  23. Community isn’t a place, but a feeling. It should be synonymous with safety, trust and connection.
  24. Honor your friends’ trust.
  25. Find your person and people – and never forget how incredible it is that you did.
  26. Traditions and inside jokes can be the best. Know when it’s the right time to bring these out though based on who’s around you.
  27. When communicating to a group, operate as if everyone is brand-new to the situation. Thinking this way helps you be very clear with the information. Anticipate what will be asked and address that up front. When people know what to expect, they feel more safe and comfortable.
  28. Manage expectations – for you and for those around you.
  29. Credibility and respect are earned through honesty, being real and having a pure agenda on a consistent basis.
  30. Invest in what matters to you – with your time, resources and effort. (“Actions express priorities.” –Gandhi)
  31. Trust your gut. Go with your instincts. (“Doubt means don’t.” –Maya Angelou)
  32. Give credit where credit is due. (Even to yourself. And when others acknowledge you, being gracious is the best response.) Don’t take credit for something that isn’t yours. Know your role.
  33. Knowing when it’s time to say goodbye or call an ending takes a lot of maturity and self-awareness. It’s important to know when it’s time to give someone else a chance and/or find out what new opportunity is awaiting you.
  34. Be careful with the word “but.” When used, most anything said beforehand is not heard.
  35. We can’t ask people to do things that we aren’t willing to do ourselves, especially as leaders.
  36. When giving a speech, remember President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words: “Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.”
  37. Grateful thoughts change my energy, and that means the energy I share with others changes. Gratitude is transformative, and there is always, always, always something for which to be grateful.
  38. We can do hard things. And if you’re working on something REALLY hard that takes a L O N G time, having the right team around you is essential.  Persevering with a team – especially a team embodying mutual respect, hard work, attention to detail, good sense and good humor – makes persevering the only option even when it feels like it isn’t.


Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: Writing my original post in 2015 was inspired by Drew Dudley’s “38 Things I’ve Learned in 38 Years”