When I first did my internship, I had an awesome mentor teacher who helped to get my career started in the right direction. I know this is not always the case for new teachers, and as a former teacher and administrator, I know how much a great mentor can matter when you are new to the profession.
She made things easy and was open to any questions that I had about teaching, but I remember one conversation in particular. I asked her, “At the end of this internship, I want the best ‘evaluation’ possible. What do I need to do in your eyes to get there?”
Sometimes the best pathway to a destination is a straight line. The “teacher evaluation” was critical in obtaining a job at the time, and I thought that the best way to know what I needed to do was to ask her directly.
At first, I think she was surprised by the directness of the question, but I wanted to do well. Since she was the one writing the evaluation, I wanted to know upfront what that looked like from her perspective.
When I was growing up, my mom told me that you never know the answer to a question if you don’t ask. It is something I have always held close to my heart.
This approach has not always worked, but in some situations, it has been tremendously beneficial. I know not asking has a 100% failure rate.
Later in my career, I felt that I had lost some purpose in my work, and I wanted to try something new. I was able to obtain a position at a new district. One of the things that I appreciated about the process was that in a huge district, they had all new teachers come early and meet the central office staff, including all superintendents. I know in the experience of some teachers, they could spend years in a district and never meet their superintendent, and here I was meeting them on the first day.
As I met one of the superintendents, I had shared that I had a passion for technology and that I would love to help other teachers in the district if there was an opportunity. Not much was said after that, but about three weeks later, I received a phone call asking if I could lead an afternoon workshop on a new tool being used in the district. I was elated, but I also knew that would have never happened at that point if I didn’t put the opportunity out there. The superintendent attended and asked for feedback on how I could improve in the process. The feedback I received on that day led to ideas that I use to this day. It helped tremendously.
The point of this story is that although a path to success can be messy, sometimes there are opportunities to take a straight line if you ask.
These three tips can help you to find some opportunities in whatever you are trying to do:
1. Identify your strengths and figure out ways you can use them.
2. Look for opportunities to lead “up”; do more than what is expected.
3. Ask for feedback on how to get better
I know in both stories, I was blessed with the good fortune of connecting with an excellent mentor teacher and moving into a district that was focused on building relationships. But when an opportunity is presented, it is crucial to capitalize.
Sometimes if you want to know an opportunity is available, you might have to ask.