Have you ever had one of those out of body experiences where you are living life and all of a sudden you can basically feel yourself lift out of your body and your looking around at your life as it passing you by? I have had a lot of those moments lately. My life has drastically changed in the past few weeks and a lot of challenges, hardships, and changes have come up or creeped back up both personally and professionally.
At the beginning of the year, I chose my #OneWord2017 to be "awaken" and I started the year with such confidence to begin blogging, start sharing my messages and stories with the world, to start writing a book, to start living dreams and not just having dreams. I started out strong - wrote that initial blog post #AWAKEN, started to brainstorm a list of future blog posts, started to really build up my PLN on Twitter (I'd love for you to follow me @MrCoachEli if you haven't already), developed some great connections with people like my good friend Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd) and other really inspiring friends I've made like Roman Nowak (@NowakRo), Keith Peters (@PrincipalKP), Jordan Potrzeba (@JordanPotrzeba), and John Wawczak (@MrWawczak) amongst so many others that helped me start to re-evaluate my performance and vision and start making changes. I was so blessed with the opportunity to be the first guest of the year on the Kids Deserve It Podcast/YouTube series on Episode 54 (which you can catch here) with authors Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome (@AWelcome). All of these great things were beginning to happen and I was pumped for what was to come in 2017 - then reality hit.
As I returned to my campus from Winter Break, we had some amazing professional development as a staff. We have been very fortunate at my school to have a lot of Kagan Training under our belts and we were able to receive training on Cooperative Learning and Writing on our first day back. If you've ever been to a Kagan workshop you know team building is a huge piece and our staff came back energized and ready to continue doing the work we've been doing. Simultaneously our school hosted a Kagan tour stop the same day and we were given a unique opportunity of having Dr. Spencer Kagan himself give the training. With that came hosting him as a guest and the opportunity to share a meal with him and pick his brain about our "Failing School" and "poor test scores" that just aren't moving. It was then that reality began setting in and bogging me down once again.
Many of my friends have posted some great blog posts recently about school grades. Many educators face the unfair and harsh reality of having a label slapped on our school and the repercussions that come along with that. My school is one of those schools that has a big fat "F" stamped on us (the majority of that grade coming from standardized test scores) there is so much frustration that comes along with that "F" label. There's pressure from the district and the state to bring that grade up. It does a toll on a staff that works their tails off - I can't tell you how many excellent teachers I've seen leave the school or profession to escape it. It has the potential to demoralize a campus.
It can quickly begin to wear you down to face all of those things. However, as I really began to reflect on the work the team at my school does and I started thinking of the harsh realities our kids face that letter grade began to become less of a thing to me. When I walk the halls of our campus, visit classrooms, attend professional developments or collaboration with our staff, I talk to kids at recess, talk with community and family members, visit other schools for Instructional Rounds, etc. I do not ever feel like I'm at an "F" School. I do not feel like I'm in an "F" school when I know the reality that many of my students face - constantly having amygdala firing as so many of them in survival mode at all times being a school that has such a huge population living in poverty. I do not feel like I'm in an "F" school when one of our kids passed away tragically earlier this year, or when two of our teachers lost their husbands, or I lost my grandmother and our kids have such impeccable social skills and our school as a whole (students, parents, staff) are all so supportive, kind, and loving in times of need. Test scores don't measure those things. Standardized test scores don't measure the growth of the student. Test scores don't measure the development of the child as a whole. I don't feel like I'm in an "F" school at any moment of my day. Sure as one of the school leaders I want the grade to improve, that's what I'm expected to facilitate after all - however, balance must be achieved and remember that the letter grade and those test scores are only one piece of this puzzle and in the grand scheme of things is not the largest in child development.
In addition to the bogging down of things professionally like the things I just mentioned, my personal life began to rain as well after returning from break. I am very blessed to be of a family that is large and very close-knit. At the center of my family has always lied my grandparents. In the middle of the 2012-2013 school year I learned my first lesson of balancing a personal and professional life. I worked insane hours as a baby teacher. I can't tell you how many times I felt so defeated and the depression that set in. I was living in Phoenix at the time and I came home for Winter Break. It became very clear to me that time with my grandfather was limited at that point. For the first time I had the realization of needing to find balance between Mr. Casaus the teacher and Eli the person. I quit my job and moved home to New Mexico to be with my family during my grandfather's final days. He passed away shortly after I moved home. As 2017 began and there was so much heaviness at school trying to balance and improve things instructionally my grandmother's illness reached its end. I quickly had to again remember that I was Mr. Casaus but I was also Eli. Learning to balance my personal life and my school life had to happen. After a rough, long two weeks of trying to balance my grandmother passed away. In the midst of dealing with my grief and being the rock of my family, the other shoe dropped and I had to learn balance yet again as regardless of what is going on in my life the world still goes on and school still happens - the short 180 day school year continues to tick by. I had to find balance. The day of my grandma's funeral tragedy struck my staff. Two of my colleagues tragically lost their spouses. Finding balance again came to play. Even now as I sit and type this blog post on an airplane I am trying to find the balance between being Mr. Casaus and being Eli. I had a trip planned to Washington D.C. long before and I had to make a choice of whether to still go on this trip and be Eli or not.
On a personal note, I enjoy fitness. I spend a lot of time in the gym. I choose to use fitness as my balance in life to keep me grounded and an outlet. It's a way to be Eli daily. But it's also a way to metaphorically think about the importance of balance. You have to keep weights and form fairly balanced or you'll end up with an uneven look. Some people pay attention to the scale which is another form of balance.
Life is all about balance - especially as an educator. Balance of teaching a child to develop academically and as a person of character. Balance of having a professional and personal relationship with the school community you spend the bulk of your day with. Balance of teachers learning and teaching. Balance of remembering yes you are an educator but you are human also.