A Pebble in Your Shoe


Have you ever had a pebble in your shoe?

You know that feeling, right? Annoying. Troublesome. Yet, we are too impatient to take our shoe off and remove the crippling pebble.

Instead, we move our foot around awkwardly (sometimes to a grand balancing act!) We try to place that pebble between our toes—or in that slim space between the side of our foot and the side of our shoe.

And, just when we think we have won over the pebble—OUCH—that once smooth annoyance becomes a sharp pain on the most impossible part of our foot and we have no choice but to sit down, remove the shoe and remove the pebble.

I feel like some of the conversations we should be having about education are pebbles in our shoes. We simply (awkwardly) move them around so it feels better—until it doesn’t.

My pebble in my shoe (one of many, I might add) is courageous conversations. When I see something that goes against my educational or even my humanistic philosophy. I admit. Sometimes it feels like a boulder, not a pebble. But I tend to roll them around and pretend it’s not there–even when I can feel it.

Recently? I watched a teacher sit her entire class down outside during recess for a timed 8 minute “watch the other children play while you sit and think about…” (My kiddoes were the only other children playing.)

I know for a fact thinking about … (insert whatever they were told to think about) was the furthest thing from their little minds.

And y’all.

I felt BAD.

The pebble became a huge concrete slab being dropped on my big toe.

I wanted to walk over and say, “Go play. Go run. Be a kid” regardless of the fallout. I wanted to rescue these little people from something I so vehemently oppose.

But I couldn’t. And I didn’t. (But I should have and realistically I could have.)

So the pebble remained. And for a few days it rolled over my toes. Struck my heel. Irritated my steps.

I asked myself, realizing that there are SO many pebbles in our shoes when it comes to education, how do we subtly remove a pebble from our shoe like the conversation that needs to be had with this teacher?

For me, it starts with framing the issue. I have to ask myself is this affecting kids? Some would argue (most, in fact) that if it’s not bothering MY job, MY tasks, MY responsibilities—why do I get worked up about it, why do I make it my business?

Simple. Kids are OUR kids. My kids. Your kids. OUR KIDS. 

So. If something happens that affects kids, our kids, I have no choice but to act. These are the things for me, no matter the pebble that I am polishing.

First? Take a deep breath. It’s hard. Especially in a role such as mine. I am not the administrator. I am not the ultimate authority. I am “one of us” and take my role as teacher to be one of camaraderie and support and positivity.

Second? Write it down. I do not send the conversation in an e-mail. But for me? If I write it down, I tend to temper the emotion. I can process through what I am going to say. Even if it doesn’t go exactly like the blueprint, writing it down allows me to clarify what I want to say.

Third? Be empathetic. I tend to be an empathetic person. It goes out the window when I witness something that distresses me. But in order to have these conversations, we have to be empathetic. We have to come from a place of love and understanding (even when we are thinking what in the world is going on?!?!)

Ninety-nine percent of the time (hopefully) I think teachers (all of us) are well-meaning. I don’t think we are doing anything with poor intentions. I think, instead, we don’t even know the message we are sending out because we are not reflective. It’s not even that we are ill-equipped. We simply don’t take ourselves out of a situation and ask, “What is the perception here? How is this impacting kids beyond this eight minutes? Why is this even an issue for me? What can I do differently?”

You see. Some people don’t have pebbles in their shoes. So we have to be empathetic to those that simply don’t know the feeling.

My conversation went a little like this:

“Hey, have you ever had a pebble in your shoe? You know…no one put it there on purpose. It just sort of appears?”

“Yeh. It’s so annoying.”

“Well. I get them too and sometimes I bring them on myself, but sometimes they just appear on their own. I noticed last week your entire class was sitting out for recess.”

“Oh yeh. Well let me tell you what they were doing…”

“Before you tell me, I want you to know that I’m only talking to you as a friend. I know kids can get annoying at times. They are kids after all. But I think you have such talents as a teacher and it would make me really sad for you if people’s impression of you was what I saw on the playground. Even more importantly? I want your kids to love you and see all of the joy and passion you have for teaching. I am certain they did something that frustrated you. But can I suggest that the next time you feel inclined to sit every last child out for recess—instead—you write it down on a pebble, at least in your head…and figure out a different way to handle it? I am happy to brainstorm with you—but I really believe if you let kids play—it will come back in positive heaps to you!”

And I gave her a pebble.

I haven’t been back outside with this teacher to see if the pebble analogy had the magic I wanted it to have. But the circumstance allowed me to grow a little bit. Certainly the more we approach things with clarity of thought, empathy, a deep breath and a mindset of “for the kids” these pebbles get easier to remove.

I’ve started keeping real pebbles—with things written on them–on my desk. Sometimes it’s a child’s name—to remind me to try something new or have more patience. Sometimes it’s some action or “policy” that I want to see change or other times it’s an idea that just needs some time to ruminate. And sometimes, it’s something that nags at me to complete (blog entries—grants—lesson plans.)

I haven’t quite solved how to remove all the pebbles in my shoe at one time. And sometimes the removal of them is an awkward process or just when you think you’ve gotten rid of it—it makes itself known again.

However, I feel if we look at obstacles in education whether it’s that “one” learner, that “one” parent, the policy, or even a courageous conversation, as merely a pebble, we begin to change our posture, change our stance and ultimately get rid of the pebbles to make things better for everyone.

What pebbles do you have in your shoe? Are you working to remove them or just move them around until they become more of a problem?

Say it Anyway

TELL YOUR STORY 2Dave Burgess uses the most amazing analogy in 140 Twitter Tips forEducators: Get Connected, Grow Your Professional Learning Network and Reinvigorate Your Career to implore teachers to use their voice to change education. Dave suggests that if someone collapses at a party and you know CPR, you don’t shirk back into the crowd. Instead you exclaim, “I know CPR!” And with an adrenaline rush and great pride you have the potential to save someone’s life.

What about teaching?

Think for a moment of the vast body of knowledge you have. From theory to methodology to classroom management to technology, to name a few. (I know I am barely scratching the surface with what we know!)

Teachers must be willing to proselytize what is working well—and what is not—in their classrooms, in their schools and in education as a whole.

Think about how amplifying a collective voice of educators can be and the impact those voices can have on each other and more importantly, on children.

We must value teacher voice so we can value children’s voices.

So where the teachers at? We can’t hear you! 

Tip #127 in 140 Twitter Tips for Educators: Get Connected, Grow Your Professional Learning Network and Reinvigorate Your Career is important to read and believe. It needs to be a perpetual mantra. In fact, I find myself repeating “#127” in my head and noting “#127” on ideas and thoughts and noteworthy experiences. This blog is my biggest leap of faith with sharing my voice.

You see, I am one of those teachers who thinks thought, “Surely everyone is already doing this.” Or, “No one really has time to try something else that I think is magical.” Or, “I’m sure people are sick of me sharing.”

And then I recognized this same thing in my classroom.

I asked a fairly innocuous question to my group of learners. I expected and hoped everyone would share a response. It was during a morning meeting and I asked, “If you could change one thing about the way you learn, what would it be?” As children started answering one by one, it seemed that there was a growing consensus of a few similar ideas.

And then one of my learners said, “I was going to say the same thing he said.”

This happens often, right? Learners don’t realize the power of their own stories. Their own ideas. Their own voice. Instead of letting this little one escape, I responded:

“Say it anyway.”

And she did. Her words and expressions were not exactly the same while the idea was.

And, get this. The student that shared the original idea responded, “Yeh. That’s what I mean but she said it better.”

Don’t we have the same experiences as teachers? I do.

I sit in meetings and collaborative discussions and often I hear my ideas said in a different way. Maybe it’s more elaborative, or concise. Maybe it is more global. More personal. Maybe it’s what didn’t work for something that did work for me. Or vice versa maybe it is something that worked that I struggle with.

So you see. Our voices are not always so different. But we have them. That’s why #127 is so crucial. We have to tell our story.  We have to share our personal experiences. We have to tell our shared experiences. Even if we don’t think we have anything to tell. We have to tell it anyway.

Most of the time, our singular voice represents so many.

Sharing our voice, “telling it anyway,” doesn’t have to be complicated.

It merely has to be willing and intentional.

So how willing are you?

For those of you who are in the same frame of mind I was. Here are a few things to consider when you don’t feel that your story matters:

Being a reflective educator is paramount to your growth and it helps others evolve, too.

We all need people in our profession to help keep us real and keep us motivated.

Don’t share your story thinking you’re going to be the next New York Times best-selling author. Instead, share your story thinking, I matter. You matter. We matter.

Sharing your story makes you vulnerable. Being vulnerable establishes trust. Trust breeds strong relationships.

Telling your story makes you a better listener. A better observer. You have to be more aware of your world to tell your story.

You never know how your story will impact new teachers, more tenured teachers, people that want to be teachers and educational administration and beyond.

You have the amazing ability to impact others by simply sharing.

Erin Morgenstern says what I believe all teachers should believe in with regard to the individual stories we hold:

 “You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” ~ The Night Circus

Share. Be willing. Be intentional. 

If you don’t tell your story, who will?