Changing Roles: Opportunities and Challenges

by Melissa Dills and Tricia Ebner

As Ohio begins the 2017-18 school year, some educators across the state are not just updating lesson plans or trying new technology tools. Some educators are stepping into new roles, with new opportunities and challenges. Educator Melissa Dills, formerly a kindergarten teacher in a northeast Ohio school district, is moving into a role as a technology integration specialist serving grades K-6 in the same school district. Meanwhile, educator Tricia Ebner, formerly a gifted intervention specialist serving grades 6-8 in a northeast Ohio school district, is moving into a role as a consultant with an ESC. On the brink of their new roles, they’ve taken a few moments to reflect on these transitions.

Both Melissa and Tricia are excited about the impacts they can make in the coming year. Melissa says, “I’m most excited to have an impact on both students and staff at the elementary schools.” She is looking forward to being a resource and support for colleagues who may have been a bit hesitant to try new technology resources. Tricia is eager to support teachers and principals as they work with programming and instruction for gifted children. Both are also excited about their own learning in these roles. “Since Ohio adopted new operating standards for gifted education this past spring, we are all learning lots about how these standards will look in practice,” Tricia shares. Melissa adds, “I truly see myself as a learner and look forward to all that I’ll learn from everyone that I’ll be working with.”

While there is a great deal of excitement with a new role in education, there are also challenges ahead. In Tricia’s position, she’ll be working with several different schools and districts on a number of different professional development and program projects. “I’m going to be learning how best to organize my work and myself as I balance all of this.” Melissa sees a similar challenge in her work: “I anticipate there being a learning curve in all areas. Serving grades K-6 will be a challenge due to the sheer number of staff members I want and need to reach.”

Moving into these kinds of roles doesn’t mean student learning standards are no longer a concern. In Melissa’s role, she’ll be working with both content standards and Ohio’s newly-revised technology standards, which encompass three disciplines: information and communication technology, society and technology, and design and technology. Melissa is excited about how content standards and technology standards can be woven together into engaging lessons. She also sees an important principle in this: digital citizenship. “I look forward to helping elementary teachers introduce digital citizenship to our youngest learners to lay a foundation of responsibility in a digital world.” Tricia also has a strong focus on student learning in her work. Because she’ll be engaged in supporting teachers in their work with gifted children, she will be helping teachers craft differentiated lessons and activities aligned to Ohio’s standards while still providing an appropriate level of challenge. “The standards are the starting point; I’m excited about collaborating with teachers to support gifted children’s ongoing learning with the standards.” Student learning and growth, starting with Ohio’s learning standards, is still a key focus for these two educators.

Preparing for new roles also has been a focus this summer for both Melissa and Tricia. A conversation with a colleague gave her some insight into the preparations she needed to make. Melissa shares, “Recently, a fifth grade social studies teacher said she’d love to work on a map unit together, integrate technology into what they already do. As I asked what skills they’re working on at that time she replied, ‘simple map skills.’  In my mind simple map skills consisted of knowing the difference between land and water on a map and globe.  I realized very quickly that becoming more familiar with content in each grade level will help me better understand the needs of each grade level. Tricia talked about needing to learn much from the team she will be part of. “I know there are going to be elements of my work that I don’t have any idea about yet, and I’m so glad I’m going to be working as part of team because I know they’ll help guide and support me as I soak up all I need to learn and do.” Melissa also appreciates the support she knows she’ll receive from administrators and colleagues. Both educators also see value in connecting with others through Facebook and Twitter. “Having a terrific PLN (professional learning network) on Twitter has given me opportunities to interact with others from across Ohio and the country, all focused on doing what’s good and right for kids. My PLN is a terrific resource and inspiration,” Tricia adds.

Both Melissa and Tricia have sought advice from others in these transitions. At a summer conference, a teacher leader who recently transitioned to work at her state’s department of education encouraged Tricia to cherish the successes she has, because the feedback in these roles is different than the feedback at the classroom level. “That make sense to me,” Tricia said, “because in the classroom, I was constantly getting feedback from my students. In my new role, I’ll still get feedback, but it’s going to be different.” Melissa got some advice from a colleague when she had a moment of mixed emotions surrounding her move. She was packing up items in her classroom when she came across a much-loved book. “I had read that book for 12 years. (I can’t say many things in my room had been used for 12 years, but this was a great book!) Not only had I read it for 12 years but 12 years’ worth of students had heard that book!  As a few tears rolled down my cheek, a good friend and colleague walked in my classroom. I felt guilty feeling sad. I full heartedly wanted this new position and had worked for years to obtain it. She gave me the best advice in reminding me that it’s perfectly normal to feel sadness and excitement at the same time.” Having guidance, wisdom, and support from others will make the transitions into these new roles smoother.

8.20.17 blog post image

A new school year is filled with transitions. Students are transitioning into new grades and subjects taught by teachers new to them. Teachers and administrators face transitions to new technology, policies, and procedures while also getting to know new students. All of us, whether we are changing roles or not, are facing change. When we support each other, keeping our students and their learning as the top priority, we make the transitions smoother and easier. As John C. Maxwell said, “A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential.” Whatever our role in education may be, let’s continue to support and encourage each other as we guide our students toward reaching their potential.   

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