This week I embarked on my first days outside of working in the public education system. It is a system that I am a product of and a system that I have dedicated eleven years of my life to. During this time I have worked with thousands of kids and families, hundreds of incredible teachers, and a handful of leaders who each taught me something.
I’ve always been equally curious and terrified by the phrase “leap and the net will appear”. It is not in my nature to take actions without thinking through several alternatives. Often to the eventual decision of inaction, or safe action. At the first sign of risk I almost always take the safer route. But here I am- a couple of days in to my new life having quit my job and now working as an independent contractor.
What I didn’t know is that you don’t even really have to leap far for the net to appear. It is always with you. You’re weaving it together in every role you are in, with every coffee meetup you have, with every conversation. The net is the people you surround yourself with every day. It’s the digital communities you connect with and the podcasts you listen to. We are all connected.
In the past year I was the Assistant Principal at an incredible project-based elementary school. Toward the end of the year I regularly saw kids doing things that I am too scared to do. I saw them give TED-style talks, sing and dance in a talent show, create commercials and build websites. They put their ideas and talents out there although they were probably afraid too. Even at a young age they are creating their nets and taking risks.
I love working with kids and teachers and I would not trade those years. I don’t regret any of my moves or roles as they all taught me lessons about teaching, learning, and leadership. But the work is hard and is getting harder. The expectations increase and the resources stay the same or often decline. It is not a sustainable path for many people, especially those who are giving care to young people or the elderly. I can’t imagine raising your own children, while working in education. If that’s what you’re doing- I salute you! When you take care of others for a living you are consistently drawing from a limited supply of both energy and time.
Instead of searching for the next public school job on the leadership ladder I’m stepping off and scanning the horizon. There is so much more to education than what happens in schools. John Dewey said that “education is life itself”. And our lives as we know them are changing. Virtual reality, artificial intelligence, space exploration, and rapidly shifting socio-economic conditions call for radically different systems of education.
While not knowing exactly what my next job or project will be is very scary, I can feel the net all around me. It’s my husband who is cheering me on, putting up with my meltdowns, and coaching me through the scary world of self employment. It’s my family who may think I’m nuts but who are supportive and proud nonetheless. It’s my global tribe of educators from TED-Ed to Pike Road to TEDxBirmingham and beyond who are nothing but positive and helpful.
If you have something scary on the horizon and are worried that the net won’t appear I want you to think about the nets you have in place already. You might not see them because you don’t always need them, but they are always there waiting for you when you leap.
Education careers are tough. These entries are dedicated to making the lives of educators easier and empowering those who have chosen this path to reach their potential in work and life.