Olivia is my youngest child. Although, she really isn’t a child anymore. She is a second year language arts and social studies teacher in a neighboring school district. And me, I am a 32 year veteran currently serving my school as its Principal. We are at opposite ends of our careers, and this isn’t the only quality in which we are different. Liv and I have had a tumultuous relationship. My recollection is that from the moment she was born we were either completely in love OR completely frustrated with each other. Fortunately, as both of us have matured, our relationship has too.
In fact, each day between 5 and 5:30 pm, Olivia calls me. I am usually on my way home from school or finishing up with the loose ends of the day. We spend our 20 minute phone call debriefing the day. I learn about Cheyenne who eats paper from her math journal, verbalizes every thought that pops into her head and doesn’t believe she can read or write since she was retained when her twin sister moved on to 6th grade. I learn about Jason, a student with autism, limited English proficiency, and a fierce desire to impress his teacher and classmates. I learn about Dametrese, a boy who Olivia describes as her most advanced reader and writer. She tells me about how they challenge her; how they make her laugh and how they make her a better teacher. Even though I have never met any of these students, I feel like I know them. I feel like they are my students, too.
Around March of her first year of teaching, our calls changed. Initially, Olivia was consistently frantic, exhausted, or stumped about the next steps for things that happened that day. The conversations were very one-sided She asked lots of questions and I gave her ideas about how to proceed. However, as the year went on, our conversations evolved. They became less a question and answer session and more of a dialogue about the strategies she was using. Instead of Liv asking questions, I became the questioner. She continued to share the ups and downs of the day, but the essence of her story was more about how she felt about the strategies she was using. Our roles changed and as a result, our conversations got better and more meaningful, for both of us. The questions I heard myself asking Liv became questions I asked myself- and the teachers I am learning alongside- about the lessons I observed in our school. My daughter was providing me the opportunity to practice instructional leadership! She pushed back when my questions didn’t make sense. She even hung up on me a couple of times when my questions offended her. Gratefully, she loves me unconditionally, called me back the next day and made suggestions about how to ask the questions differently before I offended one of the teachers at our school.
I cherish the talks Liv and I have about our work. We continue to grow as professionals. We talk about books. We talk about what she is learning from her literacy coach. We talk about her perceptions of morning PD sessions. Most importantly, we talk. Not everyone is blessed with a daughter who telephones every day and who shares her passion for teaching. It is my hope, though, that each of us can find a confidente that pushes us to grow just as Liv and I have done for each other. Who will be your daily call?