Unlearn Humility and Start Taking Initiative.

Unlearn Humility and Start Taking Initiative.

Life has taught me that good women, especially good women who are teachers, are patient, subtle, and humble. Those rules were fine by me. They fit my introverted personality and allowed me to grow in the shadows, unnoticed and uninterrupted by others.

Then coronavirus happened. Schools closed. Everything changed, including me.

As a teacher in a pandemic, there is no place for patience, subtly, or humility. Students needed every ounce of my reaction, drama, and confidence as a teacher, and as a leader. While that has always been true, the urgency of it pressed on me with renewed vigor when so much of what we took for granted about school was taken away this spring.

Opportunities exist to create beauty out of the pain of this time, so we must take them. In this season, I am learning to unlearn humility and take the initiative.

Unlearning Humility

For the first few weeks of the closure, I had very little contact with students. Schools needed to streamline communication to families through homeroom teachers. Specialists like me were asked to fill our time with other tasks. I worked on unit plans and collaborated with my teaching team. I was patient.

Once it became clear that schools would not reopen, I started to question this patience.  How would we pull this off? I wondered. My school district is small, so formal leadership rests on very few sets of shoulders. Who would pull this off?

I began to feel a whisper of slow, subtle dissent build inside me. Why not you? I felt restrained by the lack of communication with my students. I knew I had skills, knowledge, and relationships that put me in a unique position to contribute. But the virtues I lived by reprimanded my doubt. Trust others. Don’t overreach. Stay humble. Be good.

Then, one day in March, I was on a Zoom training about best practices for emergency remote teaching. I was the only teacher on the team of school and district leaders. We were all overwhelmed by the work ahead, but at the same time, I was energized by the beginnings of a path through the chaos.

“If it’s helpful,” I quietly offered, “I could set up the calendar invites for the other meetings.” That suggestion felt so bold at the time. I remember holding my breath as I chastised myself. Speak when you’re spoken to. Be good.

I was surprised that my outburst was met with relief instead of offense. I was also changed. For the first time, I realized that conviction and confidence are essential companions. I realized that initiative is not a vice. It’s a virtue that I must work hard to develop. Now.

Learning Initiative

From that moment on, I let go of my inhibitions and gave myself permission to live into my potential. I took on more leadership on that team as it continued to grow. We brought to life a plan to prioritize relationships, engagement, support, and accessibility for every student, parent, and teacher in our community.

With each of these actions, I could still hear the whisper. Stay small. Be humble. In the middle of it all, I happened to see the campaign for #EmbraceAmbition by the Tory Burch Foundation. As I was moved by this campaign and wanted to share it with others, I still hesitated. Will someone think I’m ambitious? I noticed how difficult it is to overwrite the stories in my head, but I shared it anyway.

Even as I write this, doubt still threatens me. Quit bragging. Be good. But I keep writing because I also just finished reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle. In the book, Doyle talks about seeking a more true and beautiful life. She charges readers to see that each of us are here in this world to leave it changed by us. That rooted inside of me and quieted my doubts again.

There will always be more urgent work to do in schools than hands to get it done. Taking initiative is more true and beautiful than staying small, silent, and good. Now, more than ever, my students need every ounce of my creativity, ambition, and leadership to mitigate the pain of this moment and bring something beautiful into a post COVID world.

Teaching Initiative

As the school year closes, I continue learning. I’ve been teaching now for ten years. I am a Washington State Teacher of the Year. These things come with responsibility. I am learning the responsibility I now have to lead other teachers, especially women, to take initiative, too.

The virtues that I’ve long sought after--subtlety, patience, and humility—these are not coincidental. They are American, and most American educators are women. If teachers operate from these alone, what will happen in the next crisis? How many voices will go unheard? How many ideas will go unrealized? How many students will be affected?

As I began to consider this responsibility last week, I quickly had an opportunity to act on it. I was leading a meeting for teachers to problem solve issues of digital learning. A first-year teacher spoke up to share a different way to deliver students’ digital weekly assignments. Her idea allowed students to engage with the learning, monitor their progress, and self-reflect more deeply than the original method I introduced.

I was instantly impressed with her innovation, and with her as a person. I would never, ever have spoken up in a staff meeting when I was a new teacher. I needed to help her realize the value of this confidence. When I asked her to share her idea with the rest of the elementary teachers in the district, she did! She made a tutorial for them, and her ideas were quickly adopted. If anyone else discovered this method, only she took the initiative to share it.

Later, I followed up with her. I reiterated how much I respected her for taking the initiative and having the confidence to follow it through to make a difference for students beyond her classroom. What she will do with that teaching moment is for her to choose. The lesson I’m taking from working with her is that I want to lean into moments like these when they present themselves in the future.

I am a teacher, I am a woman, and I have a lot of potential. I am taking the initiative to unleash it in myself and in others. Fueled by my conviction and newfound confidence, I will contribute all that I am toward better outcomes for students,, whether they are in my classroom or learning from home, from now into fall, and whatever comes next.

Camille Jones is a hometown teacher in Central Washington State, and the 2017 Washington State Teacher of the Year. She teaches elementary enrichment courses in a STEAM Lab—a place to inspire curiosity, create opportunity, and grow potential. She challenges everyone in her classroom, including herself, to do hard things, on purpose, every day. For her work, Bill Gates named Camille one of his 2017 Heroes in the Field.

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