Schedule a conversation – Eric Isselhardt




If I could entitle this blog – do blogs have titles? – I would call it Struggling.  The past few days have been a struggle for me, both personally and professionally, and I have frequently been feeling overwhelmed

Personally, I am having some work done in my home, involving repositioning furniture, organizing my new, in-home office, painting, decorating, and minor construction.  In addition, it is Fall, and that means pulling out plants from garden beds, purchasing and positioning Fall plants, and doing the major switch over of decorations from summer patriotic to Fall scarecrows and leaves, a huge endeavor that involves many weekend hours of attic crawling and shed sorting.

The struggle with all of this is that I am doing all of these things for the first time without my mother, Rosie, my mentor and guide in all things home and garden-related, as well as in life.  I lost my mother in April of this year.  Just looking at that sentence is simply overwhelming.  How does one lose a mother, and still go on?  I find myself unable to make simple decisions – the men are here to place a new shed, and I can’t tell them where to put it.  Where would Rosie have said it should go – this corner of the yard, blocking the hydrangeas that we planted together?  That corner, where we put in a hosta garden?  I just don’t know.  I do know that Rosie would have known, would have made an instant decision, and it would have been the right one.  Finally, I had a breakdown in the yard – OVER A SHED, for Pete’s sake – and my husband and the men sat me down and told me that they would place it and that it would be all right.

I am not the only one struggling with this monumental loss.  My daughter, Jessica, who as you know began law school a few weeks ago, is struggling.  Law school is hard – harder than she thought it would be, as she adjusts to a new, for her, learning protocol, the Socratic method, learns a new vocabulary,  new transportation route, and so on.  When I asked her why she was making such a big deal out of this transition, she said simply, I miss Gram.

My son, Josh, is preparing to release his first album; should he use this photo for the cover, or that one?  Which color scheme?  Rosie would have had strong opinions on all of this, and would have had no problem sharing them.  Would he have listened?  Maybe, maybe not; but, he would have valued her advice.

My sister, now responsible for all of the decisions in my mother’s home, where Suellen and her family lived with my parents, now with just Dad, struggles too.  Did she plant the flowers in the right beds, did we put the bunnies in the right places in decorating for Spring/Summer, is it sacrilegious to not want to use every single patriotic decoration that Rosie had collected in doing the porch?  And a serious conversation we had recently, how will we do Christmas this year?  How will we put up the – I’m serious here – hundreds of elves, dozens of crèches and Santas, let alone purchase gifts from Rosie and Pop?  And Dad himself is struggling.  Truly his other half, he struggles to figure out what to do with a day without Rosie.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Professionally, this past week has also been a struggle, likely influenced by my own personal mood.  I traveled to New York and Washington, to give half day workshops on educator effectiveness as part of paving the way for the studies that we will begin with Pearson; these presentations for Pearson staff are part of the ‘selling’ that has to be done to get staff on board with the research agenda that those studies represent.  The presentations focus half on the Center’s research agenda, and half on the policy landscape of educator effectiveness.

Giving the second half of these presentations, and using best-Justin Minkel practice and building in time for quick participant discussions, brings back all of the churn around educator effectiveness big time.  I have been immersed in looking at educator effectiveness through the lenses of assessment, policy, teacher voice, and legislation now for so many years through the work that I did with the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, at ETS, at Pearson, and with NNSTOY and have seen so many trends and changes come and go.  Giving these presentations, summarizing all of this for folks who have not been immersed in it, and then hearing their conversations has put much of it a new light for me.

Coupled with the plethora of articles around the Chicago teacher strike, it all brings me back to the essential question that has bothered me for so long – why is teaching not regarded as a true profession and why are we constantly struggling to position ourselves as professionals?  This is a question that I have spent countless hours researching, thinking about, and talking about with others for the past for years, and I still believe that a major reason for this is a general lack of key, professional structures.  Some of these, in my view, include a lack of:

  • Career ladders – we have no place to grow and advance as professionals unless we leave the classroom
  • Distributed leadership models – Charlotte Danielson calls teaching the flat profession; she is right.  We are truly top-down, with one or two people at the top
  • Actionable feedback to inform practice – evaluation models of the past have traditionally been checklist models, in many cases, with little feedback that we could take and use to craft thoughtful professional learning plans to address areas of need, and to use areas of strength to help others
  • Collaborative practice – we are still driven by the school bus schedule, and have little time built into our days in which to work collaboratively with one another.  How sad that we are expected to teach our students to work in this way, but in too many cases, have no opportunity to do so ourselves
  • Guiding principles for the profession – we are held accountable by so many others, but we lack guiding principles present in so many other professions, developed by practitioners for practitioners, and to which we hold ourselves accountable

This is my list, not any official list and it drives my work and my vision for NNSTOY.  I see NNSTOY as the leading voice in initiating conversations about these missing structures, and in finding ways to address them.  Most of the time, I am full of ideas about how to go about this and am passionate in meeting with others to convey the need for these structures.  But, this week, I’ve struggled in meetings with others to adequately convey them.

After my meltdown today, I sat myself down and tried to ‘hear’ Rosie’s voice telling me what to do.  One of my struggles is that I do not actually hear her like I thought I would.  But, in this case, I could easily envision what she would say to me.  Rosie:  “Katherine, your get up and go has got up and went.  Get it back.”  Me:  “I know, Mom, but I don’t know how to get it back.”  Rosie:  “Katherine, it’s simple.  Do ye the next good thing.”

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I heard those words.  Do ye the next good thing.  In other words, stop over-analyzing it, stop wallowing in the obstacles, just pick one good thing and get out there and do it.  And so I will.  Next week, I will let you know what I picked, and how it went.

I don’t want you to think that I have been idle for the past week, and that our work has not moved forward.  We have accomplished the following:

  • A signed contract with our Web designer
  • A draft final agreement with Pearson
  • Good meetings with policy folks, resulting in some solid suggestions for collaboration
  • Indication of a small grant from NEA Foundation for the coming year
  • A lot of thinking about the next good things that need doing internally at NNSTOY and how to get these good things done through establishing committees;  I will be posting volunteer job openings shortly.  I trust that you will consider them.
  • Our first official invitation to present at a conference – the Pearson policy conference

As I finish this, and look out the window, Robert and Paul have already finished digging out the frame for my new shed and laying down the gravel and railroad ties.  I can see where it will sit and it will be a good spot.  I am grateful for their patience and support in what should have been simple decision-making.  As I am grateful for your support as NNSTOY continues to move forward.


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