Last night my friend Alice Keeler asked me "If you started your own business, what would it be?". WHAT? Well, I didn't answer, I couldn't answer. How could I? But what it did was...it got me to think. It got me to think hard. I started thinking inside education, I started thinking outside education...the concept was just way to large for me to comprehend at such a late hour.
I do know that whatever it was, it would have to be a business of service- that is a non-negotiable. Did I want to help students and adults to understand their worth, to walk with them through their struggles and help them come out brighter on the other end? Did I want to help create new and improved learning experiences for students? Did I want to create a way to change learning and school for kids by changing learning and school for teachers? Do I...Do I...Do I...
And then I remembered- this was not real. I do not have the ability nor the capacity to even do this. I have worked hard for many years, to try and make changes...I believe I have failed. And now I am letting my mind wander to trying to do this on an even bigger scale? No...nope...not. And this was only at the "concept" stage, not to mention any sort of start up, PR, finances, clients, buy in... just so overwhelming.
Wait...I need to stop there. We had 30+ (classroom teachers (elementary and secondary), Intervention/Rti teachers, district and site administrators, a School Board Trustee AND student teachers) people, on a Saturday (the day of the Royal Wedding), with only three weeks of school left- learning about how to teach math differently. And it was AMAZING. Oh wait... did I mention, that they didn't receive compensation for their time other than some delicious hot dogs?
That in and of itself is mind blowing and incredible and I will share some "testimonial videos" from them in a few. I want to keep that fire going and fan it to include more...
But what I ended up telling Keeler last night was this... I want that tweet to be the norm, not the exception. I want teachers new and seasoned to learn HOW to teach different because our students NEED different. And if we want different, we need to show different, we need to provide professional learning on different and we need to be with these teachers and students to support different. There in lies my inner struggle- this is where I am being pulled to, but this is also what I am being pulled farther and farther away from because of situation and circumstance.
So, what next? Still unwritten. A lot of reflection will be needed. A lot of work on self, is needed. And we shall see what this next chapter looks like.
All I know is that I want more of this....
How can we create more of that?
How would you answer this question... "What is the one thing that we can do to increase student achievement?" And go...
Well, this was recently a question that I was lucky enough to have been posed...and the flood gates opened. I don't know if what I and others said was heard, but at least we stayed true to our "why" in sharing our voices.
**Before reading- I want to let you know that I am going to mention teachers a lot- please understand that I am not judging or laying ANY blame on teachers- I am one of you! I am in fact doing the opposite. I am doing what I have been fighting for-for four years- I know the importance of our role and it is unfair to put so much pressure on teacher's shoulders without providing the resources, support, man power, money and time that is needed. This is my fight for you and for our students. And it will continue in whatever capacity I can. This is my promise to you...to us!**
Here I will share my answer(s) - because we know there isn't just ONE:
-Change the conversation: Whenever anyone wants to talk about student achievement, I try to change the wording to discuss student learning. To me, this is an important distinction. Achievement to me is a number, a letter, a color on a chart and I don't want to reduce children to that. I would rather discuss how we can help students to learn differently. When we can have students learning and thinking differently- it will show up as an increase in students achievement- but the shift takes some time. Changing that one word, changes the conversation. Context matters.
-Learning and teaching go hand and hand:
"If we want to change the way students learn, we need to change the way that students are taught. There is no other way."
The teacher in the classroom IS the decisive factor. But how can we expect teaching to look different, if teachers are not given the resources to make it happen? If one has not been shown different ways, how are they expected to use different ways? When we know better, we do better. We owe it to our teachers, students and families to provide professional learning opportunities to arm our teachers with this mindset along with multiple strategies and tools to reach all kids. We need to provide them with time to dig in to it, with their colleagues and plan forward. They then need ongoing supports in the way of job embedded PD, observations of others, team planning and team teaching.
"Our students require different school experiences to make learning sticky. Teachers require different learning experiences to help make that learning sticky. Let's start our support with them. Support matters."
-Culture: This concept is not new, it is talked about often, but talking about it is different than acting on it. If we want student learning to change and we want teaching to change, then culture, too must change. From the top all the way down to the classroom and vice versa. Is there a shared "why" to what we do, every day? Does the organizational vision line up with the site vision, the teacher vision and the classroom vision? Is there a culture of collaboration and risk taking? Is there a sense that we can try, fail- get up and try again? I believe that for this culture to be true- it needs to be aligned throughout the whole organization and it needs to show. Show with actions over words. Encourage, celebrate and support those that are forward thinkers, willing to jump outside of the box and innovate- whether that is our administrators, our teachers and especially our students. It is often said, but is it done? With change comes fear- it is natural- so how can we help ease that fear? By modeling- at all levels. I often say #cultureovercurriculum but, it really goes above that-
The overall culture, beliefs and vision set the stage for the morale for all else. Culture matters.
-Tech: Oh tech..I both love it and hate it. I love it because when used properly, it can open up so many doors, create so many experiences and enhance learning for all. I hate it because it is also the great divide. Just putting devices in teacher's and student's hands is not the answer. We need to think about what is being done with those devices. Tech can make the "not so strong" teachers less strong, it can make the "strong teachers" go backwards OR (the hope) it can help move everyone forward. The incredibly important, yet often over looked factor is the training and the ongoing support that comes with those devices.
If data shows that devices are being used X% of the day by X% of students, my question is- where is the data that shows what is actually happening behind those screens? What experiences are our learners involved in? Were they used as "babysitters" where students play games or simply watch videos? Are they being used for students to now type the notes off the teacher's slides onto a doc rather-than hand write them into a note book? Are they only consuming information or are they being used for students to critically think, communicate, collaborate and create? If our students are still only consumers, we are doing them a disservice by not leveraging what is in front of them to become creative critical problem solvers. To do this, WE need to learn and WE need support. Experiences matter.
-Data: Data is big in education. And I agree- data is important. We need a measurement to understand where we started and where we are- and to plan where we want to go. Here is where I get tripped up- I believe we need multiple data points to make informed decisions that involve kids- they deserve better than decisions being made based on one snap shot.
But here is the other thing, what data is being collected AND more importantly, what is being done with it? We can give students assessments and surveys until they are completely exhausted- but why are we doing it? Where does that information go? Is it being analyzed? Or do we have so much that we are at "analysis paralysis" and don't even know where to begin?
What is done with that information? Is it used to find strengths and gaps in the organization as a whole, the sites, grade levels, classrooms? If so, great!! And then what? Is that information being used to create change? Do we find what is working well and build that capacity and spread it? Do we find the gaps and make a plan to help fill them? If so, how do we do that? Do we purchase more "programs" that promise this? How can a program help humans? How can a program know students as people and as learners? I don't believe it can - it can be one tool that can be used properly or not- it all depends-The important factor is always the teacher. So do we use that data to create space and opportunities for teachers to look at the data and provide professional development and supports on how to do different? Action matters.
-Differentiation: I think by now, we all can agree that different students learn differently. That we need to create different learning experiences based on knowing our kids. But what does that look like? Do we have a handle on what differentiation looks like? Have we been trained in such or just asked to make it happen? I will go back to #knowbetteredobetter- Before I knew, I thought it meant different leveled worksheets at different tables that the students rotated through. Well... now I know- that ain't it. Differentiation can be in the form of how students receive content, it can be how they interact with content and it can be what they do with the content to show their learning. With that, the opportunities are endless- and THAT is exciting. But again- where is the professional development to give teachers these tools, ideas, strategies and activities. Many of my "switch flip" moments only happened because my administrators provided us with these experiences. I was blessed to have been able to have my eyes opened to "do better" - to learn to meet kids where they are and not the other way around- but beyond that, the how. Opportunity matters.
So to answer the question above: No, there is not "one" thing, we are in the kid business and that is ever changing, unpredictable and incredibly important. BUT if I look at the umbrella theme in all that I just wrote, it does come down to one thing- Teacher support. What is the message to teachers? How are they supported to be continuous learners? How are they involved in the processes that affect them and their students?
It is unfair to put it on others to create change, without providing them with what is needed to do so.
My call to action is this: No matter your level of leadership (and WE are ALL leaders)- take some time to really look at those in which you serve. Think about what they need to be successful and create a plan to get it to them. The plan should be both long range and actionable. There also needs to be built in smaller reachable milestones - not only to have "checks and balances" but to also allow for enhancements or course correction as needed. There must be supports in place along the way and opportunities for success for the sake of overall morale that trickles down to the kids.
It's a huge job- but it is a huge responsibility as well. We need to always anchor back to our "why"- it is the kids...always the kids.
Keep fighting the good fight and I will be right along side you!
Today is an interesting day. We are about to join the rest of our team for a breakfast in honor of "Teacher Appreciation Month" for us TOSAs while some other awesome teachers prepare to interview for my current job this afternoon. Talk about a limbo. Talk about emotions. Actually, I just don't want to talk. I don't even want to go in. Not because I am not appreciative of the effort. Not because I don't care for everyone in that room. It is for selfish reasons, because I can't seem to keep my emotions in check lately. And I don't like that. They are raw and they are showing loudly and clearly displayed on my sleeve, no matter how hard I try to cover them up.
So how do I deal? Well, as usual, I process through writing. My last few posts have been a bit dark and down and that is not who or where I want to be. So today I am flipping the switch. I am doing what I encourage others to do and look for and celebrate those bright spots. So today, on the last day of "Teacher Appreciation Week”. I am going to share my appreciation for my four year journey.
*A little background: Prior to this TOSA position at the district office, I worked at the same school for 14 years. I did not know the world outside of my site. I didn't even realize that there were two elementary schools within walking distance from my own. I did not know anyone outside of my staff. It is incredible for me to reflect back and see how many amazing people I have been blessed to get to know and walk along side with. Grateful, is the word.
Showing gratitude is one of the best ways to change your attitude.
1. I want to start by thanking those individuals who allowed me to embark on this incredible journey of learning and growth. To those who took a chance, and hired me for this position. I can picture you all, sitting at the large dining room style table as I was answered question after question of my interview. Every single one of you have played a part to get me to where I am today. Most, I have seen on a daily basis. I wanted to thank you for taking a risk on an unknown. I was a wild card- I didn't know that was going to be me and I can bet neither did you. I know that I am not the same quiet and wide eyed person that sat in front of you four years ago, and I really hope that is a good thing.
2. I have incredible love, respect and gratitude for all of the wonderful educators that I can call my partners. You have come in the form of team mates, mentors, friends and supports. Many have come and gone off to bigger and better things, but I know that I am better for our time together. It hasn't always been easy, in fact, there have been times that were quite painful. But through the pain, I believe that there is growth and I am better today because of every interaction with you. One of THE most important lessons I learned, was how to really be a part of a team. I learned that people can have differing opinions and ideas and in fact, I have learned how much they are needed. I didn't know or understand this before. Now I preach it. You were there when I needed to be challenged, when I needed a wake up call and when I needed support...and for all of the above, I am truly grateful.
3. Along this journey, I have been incredibly blessed to have had exposure to and work with a group of incredible administrators. When I started, the site administrators had no clue who I was and vice versa. But from my first day in front of you, I felt respect. This was new to me. I was unsure of who I was, what I was doing and why the heck I was allowed to work with you all. But you made me feel at ease and were so accommodating as you played along with my instructional strategies in your meetings. I had you singing, dancing and I remember a VERY fun "soul train" type line as we did "lines of communication." As we got to know each other, many of you shared how much you disliked those types of activities (and guess what, as a participant, so do I)- but that you did them out of respect for me- and that meant the world. Many of you have allowed me to work with your staffs, sometimes quite closely, and for that as well as your continued support, I am thankful.
4. This next one is an interesting, but incredible by product of my job. Somehow, I will never understand, I have been blessed with an incredible network beyond the district. I have somehow collected this amazing group of people who I lean on constantly, who I seek advice from regularly and who I love to death. One interesting thing is, those in this group are from all over. Many don't even know each other or they don't know that each other belong in this "support group" of mine. This group both collectively and many individually have not only helped me to stretch and see way beyond what I could see, but they have helped to keep me a float over the past year, in particular. Many call this group of people their "PLN"- Personal Learning Network, but I love the term my friend Tara Martin coined "PLF"- Personal Learning Family, because family is what it feels like. And for them, I am truly blessed.
I have had a blast getting to know you, to learn from you and grow with you. That was pretty tough given the sheer number of you all and all of us being pulled in so many different directions. I believe that I did that best I physically could to connect to as many of you as I could. I just hope that I served you well and will continue to do so, even though roles have changed. I am big on relationships and I am big on them not having walls. I hope that our journey of collaboration and learning does not end with the change on my business card (do I even need a business card, do I even get those, now?). Anyway, I believe that you all know how to get a hold of me and I hope you know that I will continue to be there. It has been a pleasure serving you and l hope you have gained even a small fraction from me, compared to all I have gained from you. *A special thank you to those who allowed me to come in and be "edu-auntie" and work with your students. They were in fact the best part of my job (no offense), and as I move into the unknown, I have to remember that.
With that- I wanted to express my gratitude, one more time and am anxious, yet excited to see what the future has in store for all!
So...here I am, literally 2 years after crafting my first blog post. It is quite interesting that on this "anniversary"- I am at the end of this particular journey. I have found myself using the word "limbo" many, many times over the last month. I would say that almost in every aspect of my life right now, I am in limbo. Coincidentally enough, someone asked me this weekend, about the title of this blog site. What did I have in mind when I created "Leading In Limbo"?
At the time, I felt that I was in a very unique situation in that I was straddling between two worlds in my TOSA role. I was not an admin, but played in the admin world and although I was a teacher, I was not fully immersed in that world either. I was able to see what was on both sides of the fence and I had no idea back then, all that I would learn. I wanted to lead...I thought I could lead...I am now unsure of it all. What I am sure of is that I have learned...in limbo. I have grown...in limbo. I am better, for being...in limbo. But it isn't comfy.
"Being in limbo is not comfortable- but being in comfort is not where we grow."
One thing that I am walking away with is the idea that no matter what you believe to be true, if others do not, there will be struggle. Struggle causes limbo. I believe that we are all leaders in our own right and it took me a really long time to get there, and a very short time to lose it. My goal is to find my way back. When one is told with words and shown by actions that this is untrue - you believe it. You try hard to not. You try hard to "walk your why". You try hard to keep pushing and fighting and speaking up for what you believe is right...but at some point, you have a switch flip and you just retreat.
So here I am, questioning if any of what I have written or done in the last four years, has made any impact. I am questioning if I have in fact been able to lead at all or if I have just been flaying here in limbo.
I often talk about taking risks, just leaping, being comfy with the uncomfy, failing forward, plot twists and the adventure of the journey. Well - I also talk a lot about "walking the talk" and I'm not going to lie, right now that all seems very difficult. Recently, an unexpected rock has been thrown in my spokes and it has left me on uneasy ground. I don't think I can even say that I have reached a fork in the road or even that I am at a crossroads. The only thing I can compare it to is an unforeseen bend in the road with no idea where it is taking me, and I must proceed with caution. BUT, I will proceed.
On a recent hike, my friend and I came to a fork in the path. I asked him which way we should go - to which he replied "You always need to know what is coming next, and where you are going, don't you?" This actually did stop me in my tracks, because that didn't sound like me, but that was what he observed from knowing me. He must be right. Hmm... After I thought for a minute, I responded with "I don't know if that is as true as the fact that I just need to know I am going "somewhere". The how nor the what, doesn't matter as much, I just need to know there is a destination."
Here's the thing. What I know to be true, is that I WILL be ok. I WILL land on my feet. But it's the whole, "walking on a tight rope", living in limbo that has me spinning. I don't need to feel sure, I just need to feel safe. Right now, the future is blurry and walking into the blur feels unsafe.
So for now, I just try to take one step at a time, and learn and grow from each step. I am trying to find the bright spots through the blur. I am trying to learn to lean on others and am very blessed that I have those others to lean on. This is really hard for me. I thank all of those who have been wonderful enough to support me, walk alongside me and stay with me through this time. I appreciate your patience and apologize for not being my normal me, but I will get back there. I will.
Ok. Here goes. This post has nothing to do with education, it has nothing to do with leadership. But it has to be written. This post is about me and a journey.
As of late, I feel as if I have been living in a snow globe. One that has been picked up a few times, turned upside down, shaken and then left on the shelf. My mind and my heart have been spinning and swirling from the shake ups. But it has to stop. It has to.
Yesterday, I realized something as I was walking around campuses...I seem to have lost something, actually a couple of things. I seem to have lost my smile and I seem to have lost my shine...and that is unacceptable. Because if I don't have those two things, I am just not me. One of my good friends calls me her "carbonated friend" because I am typically bubbly, positive and light. And I have lost that. But now I am taking it all back!
Author Glennon Doyle compares the rough spots in life to a sand sifter. When in struggle, we are forced to sift though everything and what is left at the top, is what is actually real. So I am in the process of sifting...and here is what I am left with. Here is what I have found to be true:
We can't control our circumstances and we can't control others. There is very little that we have control over. But what we can control is the most important: US. WE have the power to choose how we react and act. We have the ability to control our attitude and our gratitude. We choose what lens to live life through. When our snow globe gets shaken, it is only up to us, to decide how to pick up those pieces, once they land. I have chosen to try every day to find my way back to me...to find my smile, my shine and my carbonation. To continue to live my "why": To inspire and support others. To make school better for kids. To do this, I need to regroup, reassess and redo. To do this, I needed to sift, and here is what is left...
People show up. I have been amazed and humbled by the kindness and support of others. I'm not going to lie, it is difficult for me to lean on others, and I believe this is the first time that I actually have allowed myself, fully. When I sift through it all, what I have found is an amazing group of supports. Incredible people who have lifted me up, when I am down. Many are not even aware of their impact on me. I have received many texts, calls, messages and face to face conversations filled with amazing, humbling and path altering words. I have learned that sometimes we need others as much as we believe they need us, and for that, I am grateful.
We make an impact: This one is still hard for me to wrap my head around. We go through our lives, day to day, often just trying to survive. But what we often don't realize is that what we say and do has an effect on others, whether it is intentional or not. THAT is huge! What do you want your impact to be? A friend of mine and I used to talk about this concept of "Eulogy Virtues"...although a bit morbid, it often grounds me. What do you want to be remembered for when you are gone? What spot do you want to leave? For me, this is where I think about "Walking Your Why". As we go through our day to day, rarely do we actually find out what mark we are leaving...until we do. I have been blessed with many people sharing this with me, as of late. Sharing things that I never even realized were impactful, and I have been truly humbled. Thank goodness, they have been positive, but I'm sure there are some that aren't. But, what I am thankful for is the reminder to check myself...alot.
Find the learning. I have often said, that I try to take the learning from every situation and every interaction...and this is true. This is often what keeps me moving forward rather than down the rabbit hole. The last week or so, I found myself doing something and I didn't know why. At the end of every day, I created a quote and a graphic of my learning...and I shared it out. I doubt if anyone saw or read them, but I now realize why I did it. I did it for this very reason. I needed to record my learnings so that I could go back and reflect. What it has done, is it has caused me to pause, regroup and refocus. When I go back and look, they are pretty random, yet to me they are all intertwined. When we try to find the learning, at least for me, it puts a lot of things in perspective and it grows me. Here is what I have learned...
My call to action is this: We all have had our lives shaken and we will continue to. When this happens, take a moment to breathe and reflect. Allow yourself to see the good in others and in yourself. Look for the bright spots, reflect on your impact, find the learning and allow others in.
Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Leadership 3.0 conference in San Francisco. I co-presented on each of the three days with three different groups of people. These were three brand new presentations that focused on three different themes. But what I realized as I spoke in each session, there were three big themes that I weaved throughout them all. It is my hope that participants were able to take away something from at least one.
Walking Your Why
It is much easier to make decisions and take action if we are grounded in our fundamental purpose. For me, my "why" is "Make school better for kids". Everything I say, write, do...is tethered to that anchor. When I am in struggle, I always center back to that. If what I am doing, is aligned with it, I keep moving forward...fighting the good fight. If my actions or words do not meet my purpose, I stop and reflect, rethink, revise or redo. Sometimes the conclusion is just to abandon the idea and move on. "Walking My Why" has allowed me to have both the strength and the freedom to make those decisions.
Everyone Should Have A Seat At The Table
What does this mean? It means that there needs to be a good mix of people, roles and titles in these discussions. This means that all voices are heard and listened to, regardless of their rank, role or title. If we open up our minds to that, we may just find some answers from some unlikely sources.
Someone whose "why" is to increase student achievement on test scores, will start with the data. And data is great and data is needed. But it can not stop there. First of all, there needs to be multiple measures considered, not just the one public display. *And I realize why that one test IS important to look into because that is where a lot of outside judgement occurs.* But after data is analyzed and strengths and gaps are identified, we need to move beyond that.
Someone whose "why" is to make sure that allocated funds are properly spent, may be looking for a "fix" in the way of a program. What curriculum, survey or online program can we buy to help students achieve higher? But is a static, ready made program going to reach students or is it a teacher?
There should be many more voices at this table, but I will not go into that now. But I will explain my "why" in this scenario. I try to bring it back to the fact that we are talking about people here. Big ones and little ones. So in considering all of the other factors, we also need to consider our end users. Who are they? What do we want them to accomplish and what can we provide to support them in this? I try to switch the conversation away from student "achievement" onto student "learning", because that one word replacement changes the conversation. Do we want our kid achieving or learning? If we want them learning differently, they need to be taught differently. And if we want teachers to teach differently, we need to show them different. Not only that, we need to provide them with the professional development and resources to do this. Which leads nicely into the next theme...
Designing To The Edges
Take the time to really get to know those who sit in front of you. Then use this information to help them succeed. The second piece that is needed is a teacher "tool kit" of strategies, activities, tasks and resources. If teachers are going to have to teach in multiple ways to meet their students multiple needs, they need to have the professional development to gather those "tools", the supplies needed to create rich tasks and the ongoing support. Support in terms of professional development as well as support from administrators to take risks and fail forward.
When I reflect back on these three themes, I realize that these are my three current passions in education. These are the three things that are interwoven into everything I do. Reflection matters.
My call to action is this: Take some time to reflect on these three themes and how they play out in your own role in education. What would you keep and what would you change? There is no time like the present.
*Thank you to my co-presenters: Aimee Spurbeck-Boin, Terri Leon, David Culberhouse, Jon Corippo and Jay Sorensen.
I have been wrestling with this post for days. I knew I needed to write it, I just wasn't sure how or what it would look like. But over the last few days, I have had this reoccurring picture in my mind. It was that of broken windows. I grappled with this idea, trying to figure out the meaning. I am writing this today, to help me work through this process...let's see what happens.
So, how does this relate to broken windows? Well, I often speak about looking for the bright spots, the light when things are dark. Windows were created for that exact purpose...to shine light. But what happens when a window becomes broken? There are three options right? Leave it, replace it or cover it. Well, if you leave it...the light that is let in has a much stronger effect, no filter. If we replace it, everything goes back, just the way it was. If we cover it, the light is just blocked and basically disappears.
Now...rather than us talking about windows, let us talk about US. Throughout all of our lives, there have been incidents that have changed our light...that have altered our shine. You know what I'm talking about...they are vivid and they are real. We all have these broken windows...all of us. That is part of being human. When a piece of you is broken...it hurts, it cuts, it crumbles. But as my good friend Jon Corippo said in that same session "Pain is mandatory, misery is optional". So what do we do with our personal broken windows?
If I were asked that question about a year ago...I would say COVER IT UP! No one wants to see it, know one wants to hear it, know one wants to know it...no one wants to deal with it...especially me. But if we continue to cover up the light, our light will eventually get lost. I've tried to go dark...it doesn't wear well on me. For me, this one is no longer an option.
In this metaphor, if I simply replace it and ignore it...there is no chance for learning and growth. "Nothing happened here, keep on moving...nothing to see." And for me, that is a missed opportunity to create some great.
So...what am I left with? Leave it. Just leave it and live with it. Why? Because it is a part of me. Like I stated above...everything we have done up to now, was in preparation. But to think about walking around with broken parts...it just seems painful and depressing...and it is. Unless.
Unless we choose to look from a different perspective. When we become broken, we also become vulnerable...and although vulnerable is scary, vulnerable is good. It is in our vulnerable times that our windows are cracked open, ready to receive something different.
Here is what I have learned over the last few days. Even though only a part of me showed up to the table - a much better, more complete me left it.
Let me explain without explaining:
I have been looking forward to presenting and attending the Leadership 3.0 conference since I left last year's. It was by far one of my favorite conferences. This year I was so excited to actually be on the other side of the room. I was blessed with co-presenting a different session (with different co-presenters) each of the three days. But as I was actually packing for the trip the night before...I picked up my phone many times to send messages to my various co-presenters to let them know I wouldn't be joining them. They didn't need to know why, they just needed to know. My windows were broken and jagged and I was just raw. But one thing about me - my integrity means everything to me...and that means always showing up, always being real and always keeping my word. So those texts were never sent. And THANK GOODNESS!
I needed to go. I needed to put my mind and energy into sharing my passions with the educational leaders there. I needed to talk about "walking your why" and sticking to your purpose. I needed to share my voice, in my why, "making school better for kids". I needed to challenge thinking to remind us to focus on the end users in this education game...the students. I needed to not only share it out but I needed it for me. With every presentation and conversation, something began to happen with those broken windows. The light began to shine through...and eventually it was brighter than before...no filter.
On the flip side, due to the incidents that were thrown at my windows, I struggled to be fully present. I think I would be generous by saying I was half present. This upset me even more, because I let it hinder my experience. I knew there was so much learning and inspiration to be had, that I lost out on. BUT...
I am still in awe of the amazing experiences and incredible people that I just left. Being surrounded by positive, supportive, genuine people- wow- all the difference in the world. People didn't care that I wasn't a "leader", an administrator. They didn't treat me any different, when they looked at what was typed on my name tag. In fact, it appeared they were actually listening to what I had to say...this was kind of new...And to me, that was eye opening! I still haven’t wrapped my head around it. The openness and kind words of the participants in our sessions were amazing. The "after party" conversations...incredible. The "post-conference" reflections I have seen...unbelievable. I want this light that is now shining through my cracks, to inspire and encourage others. I want to share this forward! THAT was my original "why" four years ago...and I am so thankful that I was reminded of that this week.
So now I realize...broken doesn't mean bad...instead, it just creates a space for more light. So I will proudly leave my broken windows, because that is what I am made of and that is me.
Growing up (in fact up until about a year and a half ago) I tried to stay small and quiet. I never rocked the boat, I went with the flow...basically, I was compliant. I am a born people pleaser, and that was my role. But apparently, we have the capacity to change. I did not realize this until a friend said something to me a few months ago. We were discussing why I didn't get a particular job...he told me "You are a disruptor, and that scares people." Little ol' ME, scary? WHAT? I will admit, at first, I think I was offended. I was not one to create waves. I didn't want to be seen as "difficult". Especially if this was a reason to not get a job. To me "disruptor" was a negative word.
But, my good friend David Culberhouse often talks about a "disruptive mindset", which was always intriguing to me. It wasn't a negative, it was just different. And it was a positive different. But I always thought...well that is you, that ain't me!
But here I am, two years into writing this blog, and if I go back and read the evolution of my writing and my ideas, I see it. I see how I have finally found my voice...after *2 years on this earth. And this voice is no longer the quiet, compliant one. It is the one that has chosen to stand up and speak up for things that align with my "why", my purpose. I think I have finally narrowed that "why" down to one sentence (with the help of a friend)- "To make school better for kids."- That's it. Simple. Well, not so much. Under that as an umbrella, there are so many different facets or "hills" to die on.
When I talk with others that begin to get overwhelmed with the magnitude of ideas, my advice is always this:
Because if our energy is split too many ways, it isn't available to do the great that is needed. So I have chosen three "hills" to focus on, in my path to disruption:
1) Make learning sticky: I have written and spoken quite a bit on this subject. I went though school and not much of it stuck. I have many holes in my learning because of this. I think our kids deserve better. How can we create experiences to help engage and empower kids that can solidify their learning?
2) To change learning, we must change teaching: This is when #knowbetterdobetter comes in. Are educators given the proper training, resources and ongoing support to teach differently? We can't expect them to do different, if they don't know different.
3) Be the mirror for others: We are all doing the best we can, with what we have, at any given moment. Without feedback, we have no idea if we are on the right track. And without that information, we tend to make stories up in our heads to connect the dots (at least that's what I used to do, and it wasn't pretty). Let others know what you see in them (children AND adults). Let them know their worth and potential because I can bet, not many can see that for themselves.
I am still learning to navigate how to play this so that I can be heard and not just be dismissed as "causing trouble". I am nothing, if not a work in progress.
This "disruptive mindset" tends to make others uncomfortable, but I no longer think that is a bad thing.
"It is when we are uncomfortable, that we should seek to understand. "
I have found that people do not really appreciate when someone asks questions from a different point of view and that makes me sad. I believe that the only way to make informed, positive decisions is to include many differing voices and points of view. I didn't always believe this, as I used to take someone disagreeing with me, quite personal. Now I know better. When this is done in a safe, respectful way in an environment of trust, it can actually be transformational...we just have to be open to it.
I know that I am not a "leader" by title, but I do know that in whatever leadership role I will have in the future, I will use my experiences to drive my future. I believe that team members should be used for their skills and passions, regardless of their role or title. Some of the most profound ideas come from often untapped resources. We need to be open to listening and learning. I also believe that decisions that are being made that affect teachers and students, should include those end users. How can we make decisions if we are not with or don't intimately know those in which we serve? I don't know if we can.
My call to action is this: Focus on your "why" and let it drive you in your words, actions and decisions. Don't be afraid to cause some disturbance (respectfully, of course) if it will help move forward with your why. If you are a leader, I encourage you to get to know those in which you lead. They may have strengths and knowledge that are yet unknown, that could be of great benefit to the overall organization.
This post has been rattling around in my head for months. Little bits of it have come out in various meetings, presentations, conversations and posts. Today is the day I try to string it all together.
I have found myself in many discussions lately on the topic of math. Student math “achievement” to be exact. When people are put on high alert to fix something, they begin to scramble, they feel an urgency and snap decisions get made. But I caution us to take a breath - take a moment to really examine, understand, grapple with and plan forward. It is difficult to make important decisions from inside the pressure cooker.
One switch for me, is that I would rather focus on student learning, rather than student achievement. If we look at the long view, is it achievement or learning that we want our students to walk away with? I hope it is the latter.
We all come at a problem from a different point of view and background. This is important. We need to be able to look at something from a circle of viewpoints to make the most informed decision. Most imortantly- we need the voices of the end users.
Here is where I come from- if we ONLY look at data, we are reducing our children to a number. Our kids are not a number, they are not a letter and they are not something to be "fixed". Don't get me wrong, data is a very important piece to this puzzle, but it can not be the only piece. What I try to bring to the table is the empathy piece. When I look at tackling a problem like student learning, I take a very human based approach- but I wasn't always this way.
About 10 years ago, I remember going to my principal to ask him why we didn’t have a particular web based math program for our struggling students. His response “Cori, a computer or a program isn’t going to help kids- only a teacher can.” This left me extremely frustrated! I knew other districts that used it and their students didn’t struggle like ours. The next year, I went to him again with the exact same question, where as, he gave me the exact same answer. I believe this may have happened three or four times before I just gave up. I was forced to figure out HOW to help MY students, thank goodness! I didn't know better, until I did. Hindsight is 20/20.
Well, guess what I now say like a broken record? When someone asks “Is there a program we can buy for the struggling students?” My response is “A program isn’t going to help those kids, only a teacher can.” Ha! #knowbetterdobetter at its finest. But I can't and don't stop there...
We are in the human business...the kid business. No one knows what makes our students tick, in terms of learning, better than us. Right? A computer, a teacher’s edition, a box of curriculum nor a packet of worksheets - knows our kids. If we want to grow our students we must know our students. Armed with that information, we need to have multiple strategies, skills and tools to meet them - because each one is so unique.
I was very blessed in the fact that when my principal wanted to change student learning, he knew we had to change our teaching. Beyond that, he provided us with training, resources and support to do different- and so we did. And the results were astounding!
So my response to the question- "How can we increase student math achievement?" is this..."If we want to change how students learn math, we have to change the way the math is taught. Not just taught, but they need a different experience.
Well, what might that look like? Rather than us force feeding them algorithms and steps that they nor us understand, let's provide them with opportunities to wrestle with math. Let’s provide rich tasks where there is sense making for the students. Let's give them a chance to play with and manipulate numbers rather than “beat the clock” on a timed test. Let us create a safe space for students to share different ways to solve a problem and a place where process over product is honored.
"We need to become comfy with the uncomfy and to step back a bit."
Allow for productive struggle yet be ready to guide and support students in mathematical discourse.
All of these ideas are the complete opposite of how I learned math- but guess what? I don’t believe I learned- I had no understanding- I just performed steps, like a robot, to get my good grades. Our kids deserve better.
So now what?
In order to teach math differently, we need to do what my principal did. We need to train our teachers in different. We need to flip some switches, change some mindsets AND provide them with activities, resources and ongoing supports in changing the classroom experience for students. Rather than putting kids on the computer or pulling them out for small group work on more of the same, let's put them at the center and craft lessons to engage, empower and enhance their learning experience.
I am only able to do better now, because I know better now. I can only imagine what kind of teacher I would have been, had I not been shown another way. If the only training our teachers receive in math is how to use the textbook, we are shortchanging not only our teachers, but our students. So, how can we fix student's achievement in math? We help teachers to understand and provide them with the supports to teach math differently. When they know better, they will do better.
What if we put money into professional development in this area rather than for some program that will just be a band-aid. Let’s show teachers the power of doing it different. Let’s give them what they need to then do it. And not a “one and done”...but ongoing support, job embedded support: coaching, co-teaching, observing and reflecting.
These all seem to be doable and easily scalable ideas- so why isn't it happening? I am not a decision maker and my voice is pretty small, BUT changing math experiences for kids and teachers IS a hill that I will die on.
I may not know or understand all of the politics, red tape or roadblocks that are holding this back- but one thing I do understand is the definition of insanity...
What does it feel like to have your heart break? For me, it is an aching pain and salty tears. I'm sure many of you have felt this. There is one such heart break that I just can't shake (and that is a good thing). This was a classroom heartbreak...
Teaching first grade was new for me. I had taught the grade before and the grade after, this couldn't be much different...little did I know. I will tell you, I only lasted one year in first grade. With hindsight being 20/20, I now realize that I was the one to blame for the "not so good" experience of that year. I had unrealistic expectations of these little guys and when those weren't met, I became frustrated. I was frustrated with the students and I was frustrated with myself. It was strange because that person had never shown up before, and at the time, I didn't know she had shown up then. Looking back, I don't even recognize that person...because it was in that class, I changed. And it was a heartbreak that did it.
I had never subscribed to the idea that "boys will be boys". I would cringe when I heard it. I had always thought that was an excuse that people used when boys struggled to behave or control themselves. I believed this to be true with Eric. Eric was all boy! He was silly, he was rough, he was messy, he was loud and he could NEVER stay in his seat. He would literally fall out of the chair multiple times a day.
But here was the thing about Eric, he was also kind, he was also sweet, he was also funny and he was also highly, highly intelligent. But what did I focus on? The silly, rough, messy, loud part that always fell out of his chair. I couldn't let it go. He should be able to pull it together, right? He should be able to "behave" and follow MY rules...and when he didn't, it was like a showdown.
I am wondering if anyone that knows me would even believe this, (let me rephrase that...I HOPE anyone that knows me would not believe this), but it's true. And I share this for a reason. I share this because I am not proud of that person...she wasn't around long, but for me, any time as that person, was too long. My hope is to get others to think about the effect that their words and actions could have.
I tried many things to "help" Eric keep control of himself, to make him fit MY mold of what a first grader should be. One of my brilliant ideas was a "happy face" chart. This had been suggested to me by a few others. They told me to make boxes (each box representing a certain amount of time in the day). I don't even remember the amount that each box represented, but I'm sure for a six year old, it was too long. At each time increment, I would draw either a "happy face" :) or a "straight face" :l depending on his behavior. Yes, a "straight face"- I mean, come on, drawing a "sad face" would just be cruel...little did I know.
So day in and day out, Eric would do his "Eric" thing and I would do my "Mrs. Orlando" thing and draw on his chart. Each day, he would take it home to show his mom. Was this chart helping? I don't even remember, but I can bet it wasn't. Each day, a new chart would be taped to his desk for all to see (WHAT WAS I THINKING?). I know what I was thinking- "Every day is a fresh start!"...little did I know.
One day I received an email from Eric's mom. I opened it and it shook me to my core. Typing about this right now is difficult, as I am trying to see the screen through the tears. Even though it is far in the past, it is still so raw.
In her email, she let me know that my "happy face" chart was destroying her kid. Her son. Her boy. Her heart. She let me know that because of the "straight faces" on the charts, Eric thought he was bad. He thought that I didn't like him. He didn't want to come to school. THAT is when I felt that ache in my heart, that pain in my stomach and that lump in my throat. I DID THIS. I broke this six year old. ME. I hurt this sweet, silly, intelligent boy and I was reduced to a puddle. I made this all about me, not even considering him. How could I have done this and how am I going to fix this?
I am so incredibly thankful that this mother was an advocate for her boy! That she was able to share with me what my actions were doing to him. I would have NEVER known.
That's the thing. I have had people respond to some of my #knowbetterdobetter blog posts with "Well the students don't really seem to mind if they ....". And my response is "How do you know? Who are we to speak for them? We have NO CLUE how our students are thinking or feeling unless we ask them and create a space where they feel safe and free to share." Do we do that? We have NO IDEA what the repercussions of our actions are unless we ask their families. They are the ones that are left to deal with the aftermath.
And guess what...once I knew better, you damn well know that I have done better. I NEVER- EVER want another child, another human, to feel badly because of me.
So how did I handle this situation with Eric? I started with a very heartfelt apology to his mother. I got real honest and I owned it. I told her about all of the wonderful things I loved about her son. I told her that I love having him in class because he brings so much. I also told her that I would be apologizing to Eric in class tomorrow. And that I did.
While the rest of the class was busy working on centers, I called him over. No doubt, he thought he was "in trouble". I knelt down on the ground next to him and I cried, just as I'm crying right now. I apologized for hurting his feelings and making him believe I didn't like him. I told him I, in fact, that I liked him very much. I let him know that his sense of humor always put a smile on my face. I told him that his incredible thinking and ideas blew me away on a daily basis. I let him know that he could come to me any time he felt that I wasn't on his side, because I was. We talked about the fact that he yelled out and fell out of his chair. He wasn't even aware he did these things. At that point I realized that his behavior was just part of him, it wasn't intentional, it wasn't defiant- it was just him. I explained to him why I was crying-that it hurt my heart to know that I hurt him. From that day forth, I looked at Eric and every other student, differently. And I vowed to do better.
Now did this six year old understand all that I was saying? Probably not, but I wanted him to know that I saw him for the great kid he was- and from that day forth...I was changed.
I think of Eric often- I attribute my attempts at empathy, to him. Because of him, I try my hardest to think about my actions from a circle of viewpoints. How might this effect others? Am I always on target? Of course not:
Perfection is a ridiculous idea. But what I can promise is that I am always trying, I am always reflecting and I am always growing.
Like Maya Angelou said "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, you do better."
I am so thankful that I now know better and strive every day to do better.
My call to action is this: Take some time to reflect on your day, your week, month, year. Think about your interactions with students, colleagues, staff, friends, strangers, family. Now think about those same interactions from the other side...put yourself in their shoes. This is how we practice empathy...this is how we can know better. Now go forth and do better. #knowbetterdobetter
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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