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Who Has Helped You Grow?

Who else besides me had a microscope as a kid? Mine came in a blue plastic case from Sears. Of course, it had some slides and coverslips, as well as tweezers and a dropper with blue dye, which left a brilliant stain on my bedspread. I even had some prepared slides of bee and butterfly parts.
I dutifully read through the instruction booklet and did some of the suggested activities. I looked at a letter e from the newspaper and then put some blue dye on an onion skin to take a look at plant cells. But in all of these things, I went through the motions without really knowing what I was doing, or why I was doing it.
It wasn’t until I had skilled teachers in junior high and high school that I figured out why the letter e moved the way it did in the field of view, and how to identify and describe the purpose of the parts of a plant cell. My microscope skills advanced even more as a biology major in college taking lab courses, and then I was able to pass along those skills to my own students as a seventh-grade science teacher myself.
Being an educator is a little like using that microscope. We usually begin teaching by following the directions we find in a lesson or textbook, sometimes without knowing exactly why we do what we do. It’s a bit of trial and error, which can improve dramatically if we have someone with skill to help guide us through best practices, and explain why particular content and pedagogy are important (and even to help define educator words like pedagogy).
We reach a point where we have good information to pass along to other newer and younger teachers, helping them learn to be effective by sharing all the good stuff we’ve collected over the years. And those of us in science leadership, in turn, have a chance to grow even more teachers and teacher coaches in our role as an administrator.
I’m still friends with the first teacher who took me under her wing when I began teaching sixth-grade science in the middle of the school year with absolutely no experience. My first job as a science specialist was a time of huge growth for me as I learned how to write a quality test question, plan a meaningful professional development, and especially, how to deal with all types of personalities from my science coordinator. And my time as a science supervisor was guided by good friends who held similar roles in their own districts and challenged me to be my best.
Take Time to Reflect
What is the path that led you to your current position? Where do you want to go next? There are times in my life that I made purposeful decisions toward a new job, and other times that an opportunity landed at my doorstep. No matter how you arrived at your current position, there’s value in looking at the experiences that have shaped your philosophy and actions.
Say Thank You
Life is busy, and we don’t always follow through on our intentions. I have mentally composed many cards and e-mails to friends that somehow never get written or delivered. Who are the people in your life who caused growth and provided guidance? Today, I’m pulling out some blank cards, writing names on envelopes, and adding an item to my daily agenda to make my intentions a reality. There are some words of gratitude that are long overdue.
Pass It On
I bet that if you look around, you’ll find someone in your life who would appreciate having a mentor. It might be sharing a lesson you’ve learned, passing along a great article, or just listening to frustrations, aspirations, or ideas. With the heart of a teacher, it’s just in our nature to make those around us even better.
Science education is a tough job. We manage not only science, but also content-area reading and higher level thinking skills. We find meaningful labs and then gather lab equipment and consumables to make learning real for our students. But at the end of the day, I can honestly say there is nothing I would rather teach or supervise. And I learned how to be good at what I do because of the amazing people around me.
Not every boss has been my favorite, but I’ve learned something from everyone I have worked with and worked for. As a friend affectionately reminds me, “We can be a shining example or a horrible warning.” Jobs change, promotions take place, and team members come and go. So as seasons change, I have some e-mails and cards of my own to write to thank those who have made such a difference in my career. And I promise they’ll be way more fun to read than a microscope manual.

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