Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Working with Friends Means so Much

Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to hang out with old friends from a former job.  We worked together to make schools a better place for kids to learn and teachers to teach.  

Our clerical help, Kathy with a K and Dale, were angels in disguise because they could organize and manage all of us and the mountains of paperwork that a curriculum and instruction department produced with humor, patience, and efficiency.  Many times these friends were right there with me when I was struggling to lose weight on Weight Watchers assuring me I could do it.  And they were there to help me learn not to take myself so seriously.  I also found that they were loyal to a fault and that they would do anything I needed.  And for that and so much more,  I consider them some of my truest friends.

Then, comes Cathy with a C, who is the nicest, kindest elementary teacher/counselor you will ever meet, but whose organizational skills for getting all the standardized tests unpacked, distributed, monitored, collected, and accounted for were amazing. Managing 17 schools and all of the testing materials that go with them was a major undertaking, but Cathy with C always did it with a sense of humor and a sense of purpose. These two things are crucial when you have to bag up a test booklet in a Ziploc because a kid threw up on it, but the State Department requires it to be returned no matter what. Yuk!  Cathy usually did this without much help, but our team recognized her need for help and we helped out for a few years with this overwhelming task.

Vicki was on board in this department as the Reading Coach when I arrived to be the director of staff development.  She is a bright, lively person who is passionate about getting kids to read and about teaching adults to help the kids learn.  She set up many professional learning groups with reading coaches from all over the district and when our middle school reading/language scores were in the basement, she took on the task of working with middle school reading teachers.  Vicki always made me laugh or smile when I went to her office because she had such great picture books and stuffed animals.  I learned lots about what makes good readers and what makes good reading instruction from her.

After our schools were on alert or in school improvement or whatever the term was at the time, the department got its next addition, Sabrina.  Her job was to improve those schools, by golly, and use whatever means necessary to get the message to the teachers and to the students on what they needed to do to make that happen.  Her background in middle school and high school came in very handy and her intelligence and organization skills made her a force to be reckoned with.  Sabrina visited all the schools in school improvement on a regular schedule and made sure they were walking the walk about changing things for the better, not just talking the talk.  She was able to use all of our skills in the department as well as her own leadership to turn around those schools in just a couple of years.  The middle schools in our district were never in better shape than when Sabrina led them out of school improvement.  

Finally, our fearless leader, Polly Moore, gave a vision to our team about what high quality learning and teaching should look like.  She inherited most of us from a previous assistant superintendent, but quickly made us all feel part of her team.  She was a no-nonsense leader and she supported her people with integrity.  She also made decisions not based on politics, but on what was good for kids.  She taught me many things including how to be firm yet gracious, that looking good is important, how a professional educator acts, that sometimes a pause might be in order before firing off that email or saying something that might be better left unsaid, and mostly just how to be a great mentor and friend.

Lots more folks, like Jan and Ruth, were there to make this place a good one to work.  Each of us took pride in our jobs and tried to keep kids as the focus of what we did.  Because of this group of people, for a time, this was one of the best work environments I have ever had the privilege to work in.  Professionalism and pride in your work mean a lot, but working with friends means so much more.

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