#101 – Views From Both the Classroom and District Leadership: Perspectives, Insights, and Understanding

Unpacking Education July 20, 2022 37 min

This episode is all about perspective. It’s about recognizing different perspectives, and it’s also about gaining new perspectives through our own experiences or the experiences of others. No matter how we achieve it, a broader perspective is valuable and can bring better understanding and empathy to the conversations we have with colleagues and community members.

In this episode, we hear from Ena Rasmussen, a teacher who has gained multiple perspectives by holding both classroom and district-level positions in her district. She has taught middle school science, taught at an alternative learning center, served as a curriculum specialist, gone back to the classroom to reconnect with the students, and serves now as a district-wide digital learning specialist. Throughout this episode, you will hear the insights and perspectives that Ena has gained during her unique journey.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

…To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.

Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Gaining Perspective

It’s difficult to truly understand another perspective until you’ve had an opportunity to walk in their shoes and do the actual work. Ena recalls, “I thought I knew what that job looked like.” However, she found that her eyes were opened wider each time she took on a new position in her school district, and she considers each stop along the way as a powerful, formative learning experience.

Listen as Ena talks about the things she learned as well as the things she wished she had known from the beginning. While you won’t be doing the actual work, you can still experience some of Ena’s journey vicariously through her words. Perhaps her thoughts and experiences can provide you with new insights and a broader perspective. Be sure to listen to the podcast for the full story, but here are a few highlights from our conversation:

  • From the Classroom to District Leadership: Ena shares the insights she gained when moving from her middle school science classroom to a position as a district-wide curriculum specialist. She talks about how valuable this experience was for her, saying, “Being able to step back and see what this whole system involves is just very eye-opening.” She adds, “I had a deep understanding of a narrow role as a classroom teacher, and then I became aware of all these other roles and how they were actually impacting what I was doing in the classroom, but I just never knew that.”
  • Challenges of a New Position: Ena talks about the shift she needed to make toward systems thinking. While she wanted to “swoop in and help” all the teachers she served, she realized that was not a practical or efficient model, and she wasn’t empowering them to do things on their own in the future. She says her perspectives needed to change. She had to “create a long-term solution to this systems problem that’s not serving that teacher.”
  • Equity: Another of Ena’s positions was serving as the district-wide equity specialist. In this position, she needed to not just work on herself anymore; she needed to find ways to help the system grow. She expressed that the work is hard, but we need to “keep pushing.” She often asks the important question: “How do we empower students to be advocates for themselves?”
  • Misperceptions: One eye-opening aspect of moving to district leadership was becoming more aware of all the unseen positions and people who helped make the district successful. She says, “We don’t think about what we’re not seeing.” She continues by describing how beneficial it was to her career to be able to see and work with the people throughout the district, from kindergarten teachers to speech pathologists. She says, “My practice became so much better for being able to work with them.” When she doesn’t have firsthand experience about the work of others in the district, she believes it’s important to “assume positive intent.”
  • Back to the Classroom: Ena was excited to return to the classroom and try out all that she had learned from teachers throughout the district. She made it a priority that her students felt her trust, care, and high expectations. One shift she made during this stint as a teacher was to make her classroom even more student-centered than before. She wanted to make sure that students had ample opportunities to interact with each other and they “felt known in this class.”
  • Insights From the Classroom: During her return to the classroom, she discovered that students’ social and emotional needs had grown and were more significant. She also believes it’s important to “amplify student voices in every single space.” This includes soliciting input in both the classroom and school-wide leadership. She also talks about the stress of being a teacher, pointing out that even though some of the challenges of pandemic teaching have been removed from teachers’ plates, they are still feeling a great deal of stress from the abundance of commitments. To address teacher stress, she believes it’s important to ask, “What are the things causing that stress?” She wonders, “How are we going to help teachers manage all of the amazing things they are trying to do when they’re still operating with a lot of stress left over from three years of this?” The answer to this question can potentially empower teachers to be even better than they already are.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What did you learn during your first experience as a classroom teacher?
  • What positions in your school or district might you not have a full understanding of? What would you like to know?
  • What experiences do you have that might benefit others?
  • Which of Ena’s experiences or insights resonated with you the most?
  • How might you help break down misperceptions in your school or district?
  • What are the things that are causing stress for teachers and other staff? What can be changed or taken off their plates?
  • What other position in education might you be interested in trying at some point in your career?
  • How can you help students—as well as cohorts of teachers—interact to get to know each other better and form a sense of community?