Fearless? Every Day’s a Test

Fearless.

I used to feel fearless. Now my confidence is tested every day.

Fearless.

That’s how I like to perceive myself as an educator. Don’t get me wrong; I know I’m not 100% fearless. I’m quite certain I’ve exaggerated the extent of my fearlessness in my mind because it’s what I aspire to be and how I would like to be perceived.

In my career, I’ve definitely had moments in which I’ve been less than fearless. I’ve passed up opportunities and settled for status quo. I’ve chosen the path of least resistance a time or two. I’ve occasionally stayed silent in professional situations when I should have spoken up.

But when it comes to improving my practice, I’ll try almost anything without fear of failure. If you tell me about an awesome strategy you want to try, I’ll try it with you. Send me an article about an amazing approach for reading intervention and I’ll implement it the next week. Present me with a method for increasing student motivation and I’m all in.

My willingness to modify my practice without fear of getting it wrong or making mistakes has served me well. I’ve always believed the mistakes I make are what lead me to figuring out what worked best for students. I don’t mind failing because the failures steer me toward the remarkable.

Fearless.

It’s the quality that made me a good candidate for pursuing National Board Certification. It’s what allows me to be a successful field tester. It’s also what shaped me into a strong instructional coach. In that role, my fearlessness allows me to give teachers the confidence they need to try new things.

Fearless in trying the innovative and different is how I’ve identified myself for many years. Yet, living through the first 4 weeks of the new school year, I’m feeling everything but fearless.

The extraordinary newness of the 2020-21 school year is leaving me feeling unnerved, worried, anxious, and scared.

I am unnerved by my lack of trust in our leadership.

In times of crisis, leadership matters. Trust in leadership matters even more. For a crisis to be overcome, the ones doing the work to grind through the emergency must believe in the honesty and integrity of those making the decisions. They must also believe that the wellbeing of the community is the priority. The COVID-19 crisis has shaken my trust in our leaders at every level, from the very top to the very local. I’m left to wonder if the health of my students, my colleagues, and my community are actually the priority to those making the decisions. I’ve never felt this level of distrust before and it frightens me.

I am worried about teacher retention.

Arizona has been suffering a frighteningly severe teacher shortage for a long time. Even before the pandemic began, Arizona was closing in on 2,000 classrooms without a permanent teacher. The lack of coherent leadership regarding COVID-19 from the national to local levels is exacerbating our already untenable classroom crisis. As predicted, teachers are resigning. Some are leaving for districts more supportive of public health, but many are leaving the profession altogether. And contrary to the drivel you might read on social media, the ones exiting aren’t timid or apathetic educators. They are National Board Certified Teachers, award winning teachers, and teachers with extensive education and experience. We are losing exceptional educators like Dr. Jess Ledbetter who writes about her decision to leave the classroom in this amazing blog. The losses are devastating to our educational communities. It is overwhelming thinking about trying to fill the void and I worry about the long-term impact on our public schools.

I am anxious about letting people down.

I’m an instructional coach. My job is to support teachers in their professional growth and help them problem solve through instructional challenges. It’s a position I’ve been successful in because over the years I’ve purposefully constructed my knowledge, expertise, and experience. I have collected resources and practiced situational awareness so that I am able to support teachers in almost any circumstance in which they find themselves. I never prepared or amassed resources for distance learning during a pandemic. Nor did I think to prepare for the emotions and public opinions that would go along with it. I feel unqualified to support teachers in this situation and the thought of letting them down weighs heavily on me.

I am scared I will lose my passion.

Public education is my passion. As exhausting and frustrating as this job can be, I have never imagined wanting to do anything else. As I wrote in a blog a few years ago, I believe with all of my being in the power that education has in the lives of children. I believe in the ability of teachers to have lasting positive influences on the children to whom they dedicate their time and efforts. I have, without regret, thrown myself wholeheartedly into this work (at times at the expense of my own family). This year feels so very different and I’m scared of losing my joy for this work. The thought of that frightens me more than anything else.

Fearless?

I’m struggling with missing this part of myself and I want to find it again. Right now, I’m trying to embrace the new emotions I’m feeling and face them head on. If I can’t be fearless, maybe I can at least act fearless in the face of uncertainty and insecurity in spite of my fears. Perhaps acting fearless will remind me to be fearless.

If your fearlessness is also being tested, what are some changes you would like to see locally, statewide, or nationally?

 

Nicole Wolff

I’m a California native. However, I’ve spent my entire career teaching in Arizona public schools, as well as instructing at the university level. My passion for teacher advocacy and support led me to become an Instructional Coach in 2013. I am currently a coach at a K-8 school in Goodyear and love the students and teachers I get to work with every day. I have spent my career actively involved in instructional improvement, chairing many committees including Response to Intervention, Academic Accountability, and Professional Development Committees. I was named Dysart Hero (teacher of the year) in 2012. I was honored to serve as a 2017-18 Arizona Hope Street Teacher Fellow. I earned a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and a Master’s in Education/ESL from Ottawa University. I am a National Board Certified Teacher. I’m also endorsed as an Early Childhood Specialist, Reading Specialist, and Gifted Specialist. In my free time, I enjoy reading, camping, and spending time with my family.

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