Professional Practice

Finding Positive People (Ep. 160)

It’s hard to be a teacher right now, and we know all of the reasons why. One thing that can help, however, is surrounding yourself with positive people. In today’s episode, Nic talks about finding a community that can help you thrive. Listen as she discusses her administration, her colleagues, social media, and friends, and how they all help her with their positivity. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: It’s hard to go to school right now. It’s hard to be a teacher. You might even hear in my voice today that I have been teaching for two weeks and I’ve lost my voice completely talking through a mask and teaching the way that I always have been, as well as online is hard. So I apologize for my voice ahead of time. One thing that I have found that has really helped me through getting started in this school year of 2020 is being surrounded by the people that I need to surround myself with. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Finding a community that can help you get through this and thrive as we move forward. This is Everyday Art Room and I’m your host, Nic Hahn.

I’m going to get started by talking about the beginning of teaching for me, of being part of this educational group. And first, in order to do that, I need to describe who I was at the start of teaching. I was extremely cocky, like thought I knew everything and my voice was turned up so loud that I was unable to hear the voices of the people around me. I spent many years like this, thinking that I truly knew the right things to do, and didn’t need advice from others. I lived in this world that is a bit embarrassing at this point in my life. I don’t know really what got me out of it. And I’m hoping that I have learned enough right now that the words that I say are not words that I’ll be embarrassed of in the future. But at this point in my life early on, I just knew it all. And I couldn’t listen to anyone else.

I’d say about year 10 was when I started shifting a little bit and understanding, man, I need to start looking and listening to the people around me. And the first people that I started to listen to were the people that I was probably judging the hardest at the beginning of my educational career. And these were the more advanced teachers. See at the beginning, I don’t know. Let’s think about administration asking us to be on committees. Administration would stand up in front of a meeting and say, hey, we have this committee and we need some people to spearhead this idea and who is available to help out? And my hand would always shoot up because I was the best teacher in the world at that time. And so they were lucky to have me. I’m being sarcastic. I was not, but I thought I was.

And so I was going to offer my time, offer my services to the school. And I’d look around and the people that were not raising their hands, were these advanced teachers, these teachers that had been teaching for 15, 20 years. I didn’t understand why they were always so … I mean, embarrassingly, I thought that they were lazy or they just needed to find another career because they obviously don’t have the passion anymore. These are the same teachers that I went to about five years after my judgment. So at year 12, 13, I found myself often going to these same teachers, these advanced teachers, these teachers that had a good 10, 15 years above me and asking them, “Hey, how do I get through this? I don’t think I want to teach anymore. Did you ever feel this way? I’m burnt out. I’m doing every committee there is. How do I say no?”

I realized at those moments that these advanced teachers had seen a lot more. They probably had been the teachers that raised their hand. And then eventually they got burnt out because they couldn’t find balance in their life. And balance, sometimes is saying no. Once I realized that these teachers weren’t lazy, they weren’t trying to get out of work, they were more interested in balance with their family and their life, they didn’t want to lose what they have in their personal life for their job. I started realizing holy smokes. Have I missed out on such an amazing resource? I started talking to these teachers on a regular basis about real things. I mean, deep things, family things. Sometimes I’d ask them about balance between my family, my kids and school. Sometimes I would ask them, have their hearts ever been broken because of the students that we teach and the circumstances that they come from?

These were the people that I could go deep with. People that had more advanced years than me, they had been through more, they had seen more and they had just a plethora of advice for me. Many of these teachers are now retired and man, is it fun to watch their life after retirement? I mean, I have friends that are traveling the world, I have friends who have found new love in their retirement. I have friends that actually this last week passed away. These are the people in my life that have truly brought me joy and experience. And through their experience, they taught me how to be more accepting of others and how to be a better teacher. They were able to teach me because they understood me. They understood me because they were me at one point. Listening to teachers that were more advanced to me was so valuable once I discovered that that was a wealth of information.

Moving on, my peers. These are the people that I was hired with. Man, do I have a bond with them. People that I was hired with around the same time ISD 728 was hiring about 70, 80 teachers the same year that I was hired. And I’m really fortunate to have that. And in my particular building, I think there was 20 of us that were hired new. Can you imagine? 20 new teachers in a building. One building, brand new out of college teachers. It was awesome. I loved it. Man, we had so much fun because a lot of the things that we were experiencing in life, as well as in our educational career were the same. So we had a lot of these life mile markers along the way. Not for all of us, but many of us started meeting people and getting married around the same time. Many of us started a family at around the same time, getting new little furry babies, little pets in our house and in our life. And then many of us started having children. We started getting to know each other’s families.

So just meeting moms and dads and sisters and brothers and understanding the dynamics between their families. And unfortunately, again, experiencing loss of parents and family members together because that’s the stage of life that we were in. We were figuring out school together and we will continue to do so, hopefully retiring together with many of us. This is the group that I hang around because they understand me. They get me because they are me. We have so much in common and even the little differences that we have amongst ourselves, those are beneficial as well. We listen to each other so that we can learn from each other.

But I think one of the most valuable peer groups that I hang around with currently started about five years ago. And this was at a point of my life where I wasn’t really feeling education anymore. I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue as a teacher. It just wasn’t a passion for a period of time. But I was placed into a classroom and surrounded by brand new teachers. Here I was, maybe 15 years in education and I had several women directly by my classroom. So physically by my classroom, that were very new, if not brand new to education.

We have CC, Lauren, Laurel, Val, and at the time, Becca. And these women were brand new to life, brand new to education. And instead of being that person who wanted to give them advice, and there was a lot of advice that I did want to get. I tried really, really hard to actually use their energy for my positivity. When I was a new teacher, I was super excited. I wanted to do everything. I loved the children’s so very much. I still love them, but it was like a passion. It was my only thing. It was the only thing that I had. And so I had this energy that was super high and ready to tackle anything that was given to me. At this point in my life, my levels were a little bit lower. And then I was placed in a room with all of these women around me who had that same energy that I used to have.

Instead of being the teacher that I was judgy about, or in my perception, this is all my perception. I tried really hard to make myself be the person that I wanted them to see. So at the time, even though I was feeling low, I wouldn’t talk negatively about our administration. I wouldn’t talk negatively about our students ever to this group of women. I would try really hard to keep that information to myself and in doing so, I listened. I tried to open up my ears to listen to what they loved about teaching. We started sharing stories about our students, that’s probably my favorite thing about these people. We come together on a regular basis, out in the hallway and just start sharing information about the students that we share. Not information, just stories.

Oh, this little kid, can you believe he came to school today and he did this? Aww, it was so cute. I couldn’t even get over it. Or that little kid, the way that she always says her Rs, it is just to die for. I love it. She said this to me the other day, and it was adorable. I just want to squeeze her little cheeks. I can’t believe it. These are the conversations that we would have. And because I was trying so hard to be a positive person for them, it turned out that I became a positive person. When I was trying to project this positivity into the world what happened was, is it shot right back in my heart and my heart and my soul became more positive as well. I was trying to be a role model without being an advice giver.

Now, granted, if you talk to these ladies, you’re going to find out that I do give advice sometimes. They’ve all become wives and many of them are mothers now and it’s hard. It’s hard to stay quiet when you see young mothers who are stressed out and overworked and overwhelmed. It’s hard to not say, take some time for yourself. So in this full circle, I have found such value in every type of person that I’m working with, that I can connect with. However, I want to point out that these people that I have mentioned, my more experienced teachers in my life, the peers in my life and the younger generation of teachers. I don’t just let any of these people come into my world. I’m very picky. I want to have myself surrounded by people that project positive. That includes my social media peer group. That’s you guys.

When I’m on Instagram, and I start noticing people that are posting things that like, what would I do if this person said this to me in real life? Would I try to hang out with them on a Friday night? Probably not. Can I just ignore what they say and move on with things? Maybe. Or what I try to avoid that person? If the answer is avoid, I definitely just stop following the feed that I’m getting from that person. That helps me surround myself with the energies that I’m choosing to surround myself with. Going a little further, you’re going to find people that you truly connect with.

So on social media, I have found people that have my same style of teaching, and or my same style of maybe even just the subjects that I’m concentrating on at the time. So maybe I love doing themes in my classroom, or I just really love those brightly colored rainbows that people fill their classroom with, that organization, whatever it is. I have definitely found people that I connect with because we have a similar style or we’re trying to teach our students the same thing at the same time. So I definitely connect with social media groups, according to what they’re posting and how they’re posting it in a positive way. And it has brought me into some actually spectacular friendships. I’m going to bring up one. There’s so many, but Don Massey and I have been friends for a long time via social media. And then we’re fortunate enough to have met several times at the different national conferences, so kind of throughout the world, nation, I should say. We’ve been able to meet up and just kind of connect in a personal way as well, not just on a device.

And what I’ve found with his friendship and many others, his is just the example that I’m using is that we know … Well, I know for him, he knows more about what I do in my classroom than my husband and children do. I will send him a picture and say, “Hey, I’m doing this lesson, but I’m struggling with this point right here. What do you think?” And he’ll text back. Sometimes he’ll text me and say, “Hey, I’m working on this composition for this street art. What do you think? Do you like it in the bold lines? Or do you like it with the cool colors? Or what’s your feedback?” So I can text him back real quick and just tell him what I was thinking. We have a relationship based on what we’re doing as artists and what we’re doing as teachers. And like I said, I’m just using him as an example, because there are so many people out there that I’ve actually found this bond with. This kind of starts with just commenting and admiring someone else’s work.

When you see stuff on Instagram, of course, Don and I started with our blogs and that’s kind of how we started connecting, I believe. I don’t know. It’s been a long time. But now currently how I connect with people is what I like seeing on Instagram most often or on Twitter. And I’ll just make sure that I retweet or repost or give a comment, a positive comment. And when I start doing that enough, I find that they’re doing it back to me because we’re probably connecting on something that we’re posting. And so that brings us closer together. And that allows us to make a new connection.

So finding those people in your real life, no matter what level of teaching that you are, and or they are, still thinking about that positivity. And then also finding those people on social media, trying to find them is important to be the best teacher that you can possibly be. And this is what we need most often right now. We need to find those peers that are going to get us through these tough times. Those peers that are willing to share their ideas, and then allow that seed, that idea to come into your brain and develop and grow and become what is most beneficial for you. Look around you, try to find the people in your world that are going to make your space the best that it can be right now.

One of the peer groups that I have found is through the Art of Education University. I’ve talked to you guys a little bit in the past about the AOEU retreats that they’ve had in the past. This last one had to be virtual and it was amazing definitely, but it probably wasn’t the same as the ones that were in person. The ones that were in person allowed me to understand the coworkers that I have throughout this nation. The Art of Education, of course, hires people throughout the whole world actually. My friend [Kit Ling is 00:20:10] is now working for us as well. She’s living in Hong Kong, but what it does is it gives us a time to actually know the people that we’re working with because really we work virtually together. And I definitely know a lot of people in that manner, in that way, working with them virtually, but seeing them in person is always super beneficial. The Art of Education University has quality people working for them and we want to share our positivity, our resources with you.

So jump on our website, because let me tell you, the people that work for this university are quality and positive. Find them, find people that you can relate to and allow us to be part of that. We’ll talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.