Feeling Competent – Or Not

California to British Columbia. Teacher to administrator.

One of those jumps is a big deal. Both of them together are a head spinner.

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Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled about my new job. The other two administrators I work with are great. The clerical staff is so helpful. Teachers have been super welcoming. The district admin mentoring program – non-evaluative, opt in, paired with an administrator not at your school, tailor the conversations and meetings around your needs – seems thoughtful as well. But it is a BIG set of changes.

Day one was a head-spinner. I ask a lot of questions; that’s how I process things. But you can’t ask questions every time anyone says something. That’s both not feasible and annoying. I left that day feeling kind of lost.

Again, that was to be expected. New education system and new country, new role.

Day two was a little different. I was working on tangible things. I asked questions – lots of them – when I had them. I think that I started to get used to feeling lost in larger conversations. Which is fine – I’ll learn the context of these conversations over time.

But I left day two feeling more accomplished. Did I get more done? No, not really. But I knew what I was doing (kind of). I felt competent (kind of).

As I thought about that feeling – competence – it was a little jarring. As a teacher, I usually felt competent: I knew what I was doing to try to get students from point A to point B and how I might fix it when it didn’t work. But in a new role and in a new place that systemic understanding, that path forward, is currently lacking for me.

This feeling, a lack of competence, was a good reminder. As a new teacher, I felt that lack of competence a lot. I slowly lost that feeling: I knew how to reflect, who to talk to about that field trip, what teacher might have an insight on an issue I was struggling with.

Competence is important. Not to lower the bar – excellence is important too. But feeling competent is a win. A huge win, at times. I need to remember that going forward. How can I help people feel competent? What about new teachers or people new to a school? That’s about a quarter of the staff this year.

I’m reminded of what a brilliant friend of mine Darren Hudgins talked about in his newsletter a couple months ago: how are you helping people start the year by feeling ‘right’? Helping them start the year with small wins? In his words, a bit more elegantly:

So as the year continues – or starts – how are you making students and teachers feel competent? How are you helping people feel right? Helping them get small wins? Because my head-spinning couple of days was a reminder of just how important that feeling of competence and the humility of being a beginner really is for us as educators.

“Why’d you leave the classroom? I want a blog post about that.”

Next week I’m starting a new job as a vice principal. A friend I was chatting with asked me why I left the classroom. Except she didn’t want an answer in the DM we were chatting in – she asked for a blog post. So here it is 🙂

It’s a long answer, and has to do with my past and my future. First, the past. I came from as close to a perfect position as a teacher could ever dream of. I got to loop with my students for two years and teach a world history class with a cross-curricular Humanities focus. The English teacher I collaborated with on this is a brilliant teacher and human being. The smaller learning community team I was on – the math, science, and English teachers that shared the same students I taught – was nails. I was 1:1. I had administrators that trusted me to take risks and do right by my kids. I had colleagues that pushed me to be better. I got to take risks and get pushed and do what I wanted, do what my students and I wanted – in my classroom. That’s a hard spot to get immediately back to.

But the larger part of my rationale for leaving the classroom dealt with the future. As a middle class straight white cisgender male with a Masters degree, I am the epitome of privilege in this world. If people like me, people with incredible privilege, aren’t going to try to maximize the positive impact that they are having on the world, well, what’s the point? I agree everyone can help. But for me there’s an urgency there, to try to make the system that benefits me so much better for more students, for more people.

I loved the impact I got to have on the 110 kids I got to teach every year. But could I have a bigger impact? Could I help create the space and support for more teachers to take risks to do right by their kids? Could I help more kids feel loved, feel valued, than I did?

For me, a way to try to answer those questions meant to leave the classroom. But I honestly don’t know if the answer to those questions is yes or not. I am hopeful that it is.

I also know that I could teach history for the rest of my life and love it. But I want this challenge. I want to step outside my comfort zone and see if I can do this. If I can have a bigger positive impact. We’ll see if it happens or not. I’m excited and thrilled for the opportunity though!