I have been wanting to write to you since this "new normal" has entered our lives, but I couldn't. Why? Because I was in the mix, trying to figure it all out along with you. Why? Because I honestly didn't know what to say. Why? You are in crisis and survival mode and nothing I could say could ease your burden.
But I woke up this morning, compelled to write to you.
I have been blessed through my professional role to be a part of a large team that is supporting educators, students and their families. It has been a marathon that seems to never end and a whirlwind that just keeps spinning. BUT the bright spot in all this is you. Why? Because you are doing it. Many of you are doing things that you never thought you would be doing. But you are doing it. Many of you are unsure and uncomfortable. But you are doing it. Many of you are struggling with the fact that you want to do more, but with the current situation, you can't. But you are doing it? Why?
Because you are you. And you are an educator. This is what we do. We suit up and we do it. We arm ourselves with knowledge and understanding and are driven by compassion, empathy and love. But I ask only one thing of you my #eduwarriors. PLEASE treat yourself with that same compassion, empathy and love.
90% of those I have supported, begin our time together with the same sentiment. Some form of "I feel so dumb." And every time, it stabs me in the heart. Truly. They go on to apologize for "taking my time" and explain their reasoning, and it just hurts. I let them finish, take a deep breath and try my darnedest to put them at ease.
Here is what is going though my mind: "YOU are so brave. You don't know me well, if you know me at all and you have reached out for support. For that fact alone, you are so strong. I know for many, taking that step to ask for help is not easy. So thank you for doing this for yourself, your students and your families."
Here is what comes out of my mouth (or some version); "You are not dumb, you are learning. Please do not to apologize for taking my time, this is what we are here for- to support you. This is a lot of new for all of us and we are in this together. We've got you. How can I help?"
And then we work together. My goal when I work with educators during this time consists of two things:
1) Bring comfort to their angst.
2) Build their confidence and capacity.
Here is the thing about you all. You are doing it, there was never a question that you wouldn't.You have proven that you are willing and capable to put in the hard work to navigate this new world for your students and your families. I believe in your capacity to learn and grow during this time along side of them. I know that you are bringing your best self forward for them. And I trust you as the professional educator that you are. You do not need to be controlled. You do not need to be spoon fed. What you need is to know that we've got you, so that you've got your students. We are here to support you in this new journey and like you, we are learning and growing with you.
So, thank you dear educators- for being you. You are doing it!
It has been quite awhile since I have written. There is a reason. I have spent the last month or so doing a lot of observing and reflecting. Watching and learning how people operate (including myself) and reconciling if I am living out my truths and staying tethered to my purpose and passion. I have been taking in a lot of input and just haven't been able to translate it into output.
About a month ago, I woke up to a message that stopped me in my tracks, literally. I was getting ready for work when I read a message that my friend, John Berray, was hospitalized and in critical condition. This information did not yet compute in my head, but I felt it in my heart. I got in my car for work that morning, made it out of my complex and turned right back around. I went back into my apartment, shut the door, prayed and cried. At that point, it was all I could do.
As I spoke with a dear friend, many times that day about the situation, I kept thinking about interactions, messages and conversations I had with Berray over the last few years. My friend was lucky enough to have had a lasting, memorable phone conversation with him, just days before. But for me, I really struggled to remember specifics. And I felt guilt and sadness. But then, I switched my focus- because what I did remember was the essence of who Berray was. I wanted to write about him, but couldn't. All I could do at the time was write the two sentences at the top of this post. "Speak so others will listen. Listen so others will speak."
The outpouring of stories of impact has been no short of incredible, but not surprising. From students to colleagues to acquaintances and life long friends. No matter who wrote or spoke about him, they showed that Berray was the same caring, passionate, humble soul no matter the situation, no matter the interaction, no matter the space. And that is a true testament of character. And for that, it brings a smile.
Some have asked how close I was to Berray, and to me, I don't believe that is even a factor. I have only known him for about 3 years, and we interacted on and off throughout that time. But as I have read and heard the numerous stories, people have talked about the deep loss felt whether you only heard him speak as a presenter, had him as a teacher, only engaged in one conversation or knew him for a lifetime. Again, that speaks to his character and his legacy.
How have I coped with this loss? Not too well, but I have thought about the characteristics that come to mind when I think of Berray: integrity, empathy, openness, passion and purpose. And then I try to live those every day. Because I know that if I can try to live the way he did, I am on the right track.
My call to action is this: Reflect on your own legacy, while you can. How do you want to be remembered? What truths do you want to live? Then go out and live them, every day. And when you go off track (because reality is, we do) just do a check-in with yourself, pull yourself back and keep moving forward. Also, please remember, you DO have impact, you DO have reach. There is a ripple effect with every interaction and action. What do you want that to be?
Anyone that knows me, knows that I am a big leadership nerd. What does that mean? It means I love to read about it, I love to learn about it, I love to talk about it and I love to grow around it. If you know me, you also know how passionate I feel about the fact that everyone is a leader, regardless of their title or their role. With that being said, I believe we are leaders based on our actions and our relationships. It is this last statement that I want to reflect on and write about today.
Over the years, I have gone through many difficult situations that have shown me who people really are at their core. It is during these tough times when people are not able to mask their true intentions and as much as I don't like to label people, I have seen two types of people show through. There are those that lift up others and there are those that push others down as they try to climb their way up. These both take a tremendous amount of energy. Where do you want to spend yours?
Now let me give you a frame of reference. We are talking about the realm of education. Education, people. Where the goal is to make learning better for who? For kids. Let's keep this in mind as we dig deeper into the actions of the adults that I write about.
The bases: These are the people that are grounded in their "why". They have a solid purpose. In education, it is to always help the students. Everything that they do is tethered back students. These are the people who suit up, stand up and show up for kids. The bases are also the ones that collaborate with others for the greater goal. They take the time to get to know the members of the team. They get to know their strengths and their gaps. They partner members up to balance them out. They encourage and they grow them. They seek to understand and they empathize. They listen AND hear. They are the base so they are relied on to boost up others, to bring others into the fold and carry them. To see the great in others that they can't yet see in themselves. They don't think of themselves rather, they think of the collective and the goals to help students.
The climbers: These are the people that are gounded in themselves. Their "why" is to be at the top. Their goal is to climb the hierarchy. They may think that their intent is to do right by the students, but may have lost sight along the way. They have really great people skills and earn others' trust easily... until. They also know people's strengths and weaknesses but use them to their own advantage. They will not hesitate to throw someone under the bus for their own gains. They are jealous of another's success and will try to tarnish one's reputation any chance they can get. Because to them, if someone else looks bad, they will look better. The climbers are manipulative and usually get pretty far up the chain, leaving some pretty good bases behind and broken.
Now let me circle back to what I said before. All of this is happening in the realm of education! Where do the children fit into this equation? I just wanted to drop that little nugget there to let it ruminate.
So, what can be done? Well, start with reflection. Which one are you and which one do you want to be? For me, I hope, hope, hope that I am a base. I intentionally walk through my day with purpose and intent. I always tether back to my very first "why" six word memoir from 7 years ago "One who inspires and encourages others". If what I am doing or saying does not match up to that, I hope someone would call me out on it so that I can course correct. Integrity is A#1 with me, so I try my best, every day, to be the same person I am, no matter where I am or who I am with. I hope that people know that what I say is what I mean.
I am in a new position, in a new district. The people that I work with and serve have absolutely no reason to believe or trust me. They don't know me, they don't know of me. So I am doing my best to earn that trust every day, by doing just that. I have been as authentic and transparent as I can be with them. I have made some mistakes and I have owned them. I have tried my best to follow through with things I have promised them. I do my best to communicate within such a large system. I am my silly, authentic self every time I am with them, even though I represent "The District" as an admin. And I have done my best to empower them as the professionals that they are to make the decisions to best meet the needs of their students. I don't know if they believe me yet, but my message to them has not wavered since day 1 (July 1) and it won't.
In the past, this is where I have been tripped up. When others are not walking that same journey of authenticity. When I have been or witnessed someone else be on the receiving end of the climbers. It is so hard for me to wrap my head around someone who acts one way to someone's face but then does something completely different behind their back. I can not control this, I have 0 control of other people's actions or words. I only have control over my actions and my reactions.
My Call To Action Is This: No matter your role. You are a leader. Someone is always watching, listening and learning from you, so... Just keep your integrity intact. Let your only reaction in this case be to not react. Just keep showing up as your authentic self. Every. Damn. Day.
*Disclaimer: In this post I am going to brag on my kids. Not for the sake of bragging, but to share how they inspire me to be better, every day* But first, a story...
Last year, when my third graders and I were discussing kindness, I spontaneously told a story that I had not thought about in over 30 years. When I was about 10 years old, I was skiing with some family friends. For whatever reason, I was by myself on this particular run. I hopped off of the ski lift and proceeded down the hill. Next thing I know, I am butt down in the snow, with my legs bent and the attached skiis behind me. I wasn't hurt, but I was stuck. I couldn't reach the skiis to release my boots and I couldn't maneuver my legs to their proper position. So all I could do was just sit in the snow and shiver. As I was plopped there in the middle of the slope, numerous skiers swished right on by me. I must've been stuck there for at least a half hour. Every few minutes or so, I would again try to get myself out of the predicament. The interesting thing was, many people on the ski lift would yell down to others, to help me...yet when they passed me by, they didn't. I honestly don't know how I removed myself from the mountain, I just know that I did it on my own. When I told that story to my students, they couldn't believe that no one stopped to help me. It led into a great discussion on helping others that we see in need.
How many times have I been just like those people on the ski lift and slopes? How many times have I noticed someone in need or struggle but I just keep going, figuring someone else would step in and help? I took the time to notice, but I didn't take the time to act.
Fast forward to yesterday. My daughter, Leslie and I were at the movies. About 10 minutes into the movie, I noticed a woman, with a cane, standing at the stair railing near us. She was breathing extremely heavy and muttering curse words under her breath. She did this for about 5 minutes. I also noticed Leslie watching her instead of the movie. The woman let out a deep disappointing breath and went back down the stairs and left the theater. Leslie turned to me with that sympathetic look and said “Mommy! That woman can’t make it up the stairs to her seat. Do something.” My first response was “What can I do?”. My second was to leave my seat and find the woman. I asked her if she was in need of a seat. She told me that she had a seat, but it was up too far because she has trouble walking. I offered her my seat, but she nicely declined and said she would come back to another show with her son. She told me that she was just exhausted and just needed to sit. I offered her my seat again but she again declined and with a smile, told me to go enjoy my movie. I tell this story, because I am so beyond proud of the kind, courageous and caring soul of my daughter. And how she pushes me to be a better person. I keep replaying this scenario over and over in my head. I am a bit disappointed in myself that it took a nudge from my daughter, to actually do something. If she hadn't done so, neither would I.
After the movie, we went to visit my son who works at Sprouts. I always love going there because whenever I hand the checker his name badge (for my discount :) they always have such wonderful things to say about Trevor. It never fails, doesn't matter which checker I go to. My heart just beams for the amazing human that is my son. Yesterday, I did not receive the usual small talk from the cashier...but instead received something more. My son introduced me to one of his co-workers. He was an older gentleman (older than my son). The man proceeded to share a story with me. He said "You have a great kid here. Do you know that he came over to my house last week to help me with my computer? I was having trouble with a PowerPoint that I created." When I looked at my son's face, he just gave me shrug and that look of "Well of course I helped." All I could think was "wow" this kid is so full of kindness. He is taking a full load of college courses and when not in school, he is working. Yet, this kid (who by the way is no longer a kid), my kid, carved out time to help this man- just for the sake of helping.
These two stories of kindness have caused me to do a lot of reflection. They have inspired me to be more bold in helping others. To act rather than just take note. Kind of crazy to think that these two "Gen Z" kids are constantly teaching their old mom a thing or two about being a good human.
My call to action is this: When you notice someone in struggle, after you ask yourself "Well, what can I do?"- Do something. It will make a difference in that person and you.
I am blessed to have two amazing humans that call me mom. Both of my children have beautiful hearts and souls and intelligent minds. But for my daughter, reading and writing have always been a struggle and something that she does not enjoy. When she was in fourth grade, I saw a glimmer of hope in her eyes. Her teacher provided the class with some choices to share their independent reading with the class. One of the choices was for students to write blog posts about their reading, that would be published and shared. My daughter came home so excited...she actually read! She jumped on the computer and carefully typed out her blog post. She shared it with me and I was so delighted that she actually read AND wrote. Her content was pretty good, especially for her first time, but she did have many spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. I can't remember if I had her fix a few or just praised her ideas and watched as she pressed submit.
On the drive to school, she couldn't stop talking about her blog post and that she couldn't wait for her classmates to read it and respond. Well... according to her, upon entering class, there was a big yellow Post-it staring at her full of all the edits that she had to fix before her teacher would publish her work. All I know is that she never chose the option to write a blog again. She was crushed.
My daughter is now 15 1/2 and a sophomore in high school and I still tell this story often. I don't blame the teacher. I am sure that her intent wasn't to knock down my daughter's confidence. I am sure she didn't realize the impact of that one Post-it. But it wasn't until I told this story yesterday, that I realized that I could have interrupted and maybe changed the ending of the story.
You see, yesterday my team and I completed the last day of training over 2,000 teachers over the last four months. In this last round we provided professional development for all of our TK-6 grade teachers in Writing. As teachers complete the sign in form, we ask them to tell us what their expectations are for the day. I quickly look through the responses, find the commonalities and write them up front so that we make sure to address their needs. On this particular day, someone wrote "I would like to know why the district has made the decision to do things to make our hard jobs even more difficult." I specifically pulled this one because I know this sentiment is shared by many of our teachers and I wanted to try to explain the "why" shifts in writing were made. When I read that response, there were "oohs" from the rest of the participants, which I took as "YES, tell us why". So I explained that the decision was grounded in the ELA/ELD Framework, the Standards and district writing data. My team member added some extra historical context (as I am new to the position and wasn't around when the decisions were made). I assured them that the intent was NOT to make their jobs harder and that hopefully after today's PD they will feel more comfortable and at ease. And then we continued.
Right before lunch, a teacher asked if she could talk to me. We went outside and began walking. She introduced herself (We have 29 elementary schools and I am still learning who is who). She started talking about the story that I told about my daughter's 4th grade experience with the Post-it. She then told me that she was the one who asked "Why is the district making their jobs more difficult". She then explained me why she was connecting that to my daughter's story. She shared that as soon as I read her statement, she completely shut down for the rest of the morning.
Whoa. That caused me struggle to catch my breath and my eyes began to tear. She began to explain why she asked the question and how when she heard others say "oooh", she felt shamed that she had asked her question. This exchange humbled me like no other. I needed to reconcile this situation. She then began apologizing for bringing this to my attention because I was an administrator... - and I stopped her right there.
I first thanked her for her courage in coming to talk to me about this. For most in that room, this was the first face to face I have had with them and I was disappointed that I came off in a way that was opposite from my intent. I explained to her that the reason I read that statement was because I empathized with it. I was in the classroom last year and we often have things done TO us - with no explanation. My intent was to honestly answer her question, to explain why the shift was being made AND to explain that we know it is a difficult shift and that we are trying to go through this journey with understanding and grace.
She explained that she had hoped that was the intent, but again, she doesn't know me. She felt that she had to come talk to me based on the story that I told about my daughter. She also said that she understood I was new and didn't want our first interaction to be a negative one. *It wasn't until today that I realized that since we collected those statements with the sign ins, I could have potentially looked to see who wrote each statement. That idea never even crossed my mind, but it must have crossed hers.*
We actually had a really great conversation that ended in a hug and a whole lot of understanding. This conversation has changed me. There were three huge takeaways from that 10 minute conversation:
1) I have been in awe in the courage of these educators in my new district. There have been many times where they have reached out to ask questions to clarify something I have said or written and MANY times found mistakes for me that needed to be fixed. Every time, I share how thankful I am for contacting me. These acts have given me the courage that I didn't have, do do the same. It also caused me to reflect on the fact that I should have said something to my daughter's 4th grade teacher. It could have made a difference ,for my daughter in particular, but maybe could've made a shift in the teacher as well.
2) I need to consider and voice my intent, more so now that I am in this position. I always try to think about what I say before I say it, and consider the audience, but I never know for sure how my words will land. Until someone shares that with me. I am still a huge unknown to the people in which I serve and I can not assume that they know my heart or my reasoning. I have spent many hours reflecting on this one situation and am committed to make this shift.
3) When something doesn't sit right, my norm is to believe that there is always good intent. Because of this, I usually just ignore and move on. But now I am also committed to respectfully, and privately interrupt. Now that I have been on both sides of this situation, I feel I owe it to others and myself, the same opportunity for understanding and reflection.
Our district has spent time this year working with Epoch Education on Cultural Proficiency. One of the protocols that we have learned is the RIR Protocol: Recognize it, Interrupt it, Repair it. It is a protocol to use when working through something that causes some sort of emotion within you. Once you have recognized an emotion has been triggered, you interrupt it by asking questions or having conversations to seek to repair it. Through this one teacher's courage to recognize her feelings and interrupt by talking with me, a lot of reflection and repair has occurred. And I am pretty sure that she has not learned this protocol yet, she modeled it beautifully for me. And I am not going to lie, up until that moment, I was incredibly uncomfortable with that protocol because I had not experienced it.
My call to action is this: If you find yourself wrestling with something someone says or does. Do something...respectfully "interrupt" it. Have the courage to ask for a conversation of clarity. It could prove to be beneficial to both parties. And if you find yourself on the receiving end of such conversations, show up with an open mind, empathetic heart and a whole lot of humility and grace.
A few months ago, I decided to take a risk, I wanted to put myself in a position of uncomfortableness. I signed up to take an art class. This was a beginning class in pastels. I excitedly paid my fees and purchased all of the necessary materials. I walked into that first class pretty nervous. Everyone was very kind and shared stories about their first class, to put me at ease. As we begun, I looked around and realized that I was the only "beginner" in the class. The teacher gave us a picture as an inspiration for our creation. And then she just started creating her own. I had no idea what I was doing, there was no instruction. But I gave it a whirl and my canvas looked like a hot mess. At some point, the teacher came by and saw my frustration. She took my pastels and began adding to my piece. I left there with a half lovely image and no understanding of using pastels. I rolled into the second class, a little apprehensive. This time, we were able to choose a picture of what we wanted to create. Again, no instruction. So I did the best I could and it was not good. At one point, the teacher came over - and took over. For the next 15 minutes, she thoroughly enjoyed herself and I just sat there wondering why I was even there. I walked out of there with a lovely creation that I had no hand in. In fact, when I went home, I took my pastels and attempted to recreate some of what the teacher had created on my canvas. What I ended up doing was covering the whole thing in black and throwing it away. I never went back. Do we cause this same thing for our teachers?
This incident got me thinking about educators, curriculum, PD and trust. Why? Because I believe that teaching is an art. It is a creative profession. Or at least, it should be. When teachers are given a box of curriculum, I think of it like a box of pastels. To me, it is a box of resources that should be used to create. It is not a color by number, it is not a script to follow. I want teachers to be empowered to be critical consumers of curriculum. I want teachers to feel free to take risks, to look at an activity/strategy and adapt it to increase the rigor and relevance for their students. I want them to be able to create experiences for their students that will be more engaging, more student centered and sticky. I want them to be able to look at their class and make decisions to best meet their needs. This absolutely can not be done from inside a box. There is no way that anyone, besides the teacher in that room, knows what is best for his/her kids.
So why do I still hear people say that teachers need to be fidelitous to the "curriculum"? If all we are asking teachers to do is regurgitate what is on the pages of a teachers' edition, we are no better than my art teacher. We are basically asking them to sit back while the publisher does the work. They are in the passenger seat. We aren't supporting them, just showing them. And is this what is best for kids? I don't see how it can be.
In 2018, I wrote a post entitled "The Power of Can't", in which I discussed how that word, "can't" closes the doors on kids before they even try to turn the knob. Within that post, I also spoke a little bit about how that word can also stifle us adults in our journey forward. Lately, I have been ruminating over this word some more. What is the power of that word, when it is said about us, as educators? To me, this does double damage. It hurts the teacher and it hurts the students.
Here are some of the phrases I have heard in regards to educators - they don't necessarily have that exact word in it, but I believe there is the same effect:
- they are not curriculum writers
- they don't have the capacity to think beyond the "script"
- they don't know how to make the connections
- they can't transfer the teaching of skills
How do we know any of this? What are these phrases based on? Just like students, if that is our belief, then that is what we create. If we don't give educators the opportunities to be creative, to take risks, to make connections, to think beyond the box- they won't.
There is a seemingly small moment that happened within the first month of my new position. And as I have said many times, it is usually the small moments that have the biggest impact! And EVERY day, this memory goes through my head. EVERY day. I was in front of a group of teacher leaders, discussing a shift in writing. A teacher raised her hand and said "Why are we always talking about what needs to be changed? Why don't we start with what we are doing right?" And my response was "You are absolutely right, why aren't we?". And ever since that day, I start my PD sessions right there. I use my good friend, John Eick's quote to help drive this idea home:
We need to provide educators with the tools, the time and the opportunity to take risks. To think beyond the box to meet those kids. When we plan professional development, we need to make sure to model what this looks like. We need to give educators an opportunity to dig in and an explore new ideas, with one another. If we are going to take teachers away from their students, I want them to walk away with something that will benefit those students. I want them to walk away with excitement about teaching and learning. I don't believe that can be found in a box. If we make teachers sit and get and turn pages how are we building trust? We don't, we are in fact building the complete opposite.
Don't get me wrong- I am not saying to throw the box out the window ( I can't, I believe it is actually illegal). I am proposing that we support teachers in becoming critical consumers of curriculum. To learn how to look at something within that box and enhance it, tweak it, expand it.
My goal, any time I have the opportunity to work with educators is to hopefully provide them with some ideas or strategies as a jumping off point on how they can look at and do things differently. When I open up that space, THAT is when I get to hear about all the things they are already doing right! But, here is the sad part- so many times as I lean in to listen, they whisper, stop talking completely or say "I know I'm not supposed to..." They actually feel ashamed for doing good things for kids! And THAT is heartbreaking. Innovation and creativity among teachers should not be hidden, it should be celebrated.
How can we say that we want our students to take risks, to be creative, to critically think- when our teachers don't feel like they have that same right?
My call to action is this: Regardless of your role, reflect on if your words and actions are closing the door on teachers, learning and ultimately students or if you are laying down the bridge of possibilities.
In education, I have heard this phrase, a lot: "We need to build their capacity to..." But WHAT capacity are we building and HOW do we do that? Again, it depends on the circumstances at hand.
I was standing up front at a writing PD session recently and one of the teachers bravely asked "What if we were trusted as teachers, to...". It doesn't matter what the rest of the sentence was, it was this first part that caused me (and others) to clap. My question back was "Is that not happening already?" and there was a resounding "NO". This is not an isolated thought, as I have heard similar sentiments over and over and over again. And it saddens me that educators do not feel like it is "ok" to be the professional and make those decisions within their classroom. I can not dig into the reasons why this idea exists, because there are layers and layers. And it does not matter if it is a hard and fast truth that was told to them or a perceived one, it is their truth.
So what do we do with that information? We build...IT. We build capacity. We build trust. We build a culture of risk taking, vulnerability, support, encouragement, sharing. We build confidence.
When we talk about building educators' capacity, it gets sticky. When I think of this word, I think of helping educators fill a toolbox of strategies and ideas to pull from, while in the classroom. I also think of helping them understand that they DO have the choice and freedom to make those decisions for their students. Give them the confidence that they are the leaders in their classroom. This is not done by telling educators they HAVE to do something a certain way
"What about the new teacher that is just trying to survive?" Well, to me- those are the best people to begin building capacity in. They have the TEs to start from- and for awhile, that is what they will use. But what if right off the bat, we begin to fill up that toolbox and provide them the opportunities to try some of them out. Let's show them that we do not want "cookie cutter" lessons, classrooms or students. Let's empower them to be creative, to think beyond, to try...fail and then iterate.
But I have seen so much fear. Fear that we are "doing it wrong". Fear that we are "not good enough". Fear that we are "behind", that we will be compared, that our students won't be ready for...Fear that "the district" said...X, Y, Z. It's real- I've been there. So how do we shift that culture of fear? By building capacity.
Whenever we are in front of educators, we need to show them that we trust them as professionals. Another educator in a different session said "Why do we always start with what we need to change, why don't we start with what we are doing well?". YES! Why don't we? There are amazing things happening in classrooms that need to be shared. Rather than telling them what to do, let's open the floor for them to share? This not only builds confidence, but it adds tools to the toolbox of others, it expands mindsets, it opens up the space to iterate. To me, that is the magic.
I have said it many times- there is no "one way" to teach a student because there is no "one type" of student. There is no "magic box" from a publisher that knows those kids sitting in front of you, so by asking educators to just follow the script and turning the pages we can not be meeting the needs of our students. It is also not building trust or capacity in teachers to be the craftsman that they are, to make those decisions to change things up to best meet the needs of their students.
In my first year of teaching, my administrator taught us to meet the students where they are and move them forward by any means necessary. And he not only told us that, he then provided us with training and tools to do so. I have since found out that is not the norm. So my goal, whenever I am working with educators, is to share that message with them and then provide them with some tools to do so. I show them how to take something from the "box" and use "out of the box" ideas to reach the students. How can we use the resources that we have, in a different way? How can we look at the activities in the TE as a critical consumer by asking these questions "What is the purpose, what is the learning?" and I am now adding "Who is doing the work?". When I look at many of the activities in a TE, I see a lot of work on the teacher. The teacher may pose a question and one or two students answer. What are the other 25+ students doing? What tweak can be made to make sure that the task actually reaches the purpose and the learning and ALL students? How can we take what we have and build upon it? How can we build capacity to first be that critical consumer and then move into being that creative craftsman?
Build capacity through trust, culture and a building of tools in the teacher's toolkit.
My call to action is this: In whatever role you are in, think about how you can help build the capacity in others. Then do it.
*Look for a future blog on building capacity in our student learners*
The other week, I was listening to a church message, where the pastor referred to spinning plates. You know, holding a stick and spinning a plate on the top. He talked about the fact that once we get one spinning, we add another, and another and another and at some point...they all fall down. This idea reminded me of one of my favorite activities that I have done for site and district admin (the hopes were for them to go back and try it with staff). I mentioned the activity in the #leadlap chat a few weeks ago and it sparked me sitting down and writing this process out. Hopefully someone will take the idea and give it a try (or some version of it). I believe that I adapted the idea from activities I participated in with Brad Gustafson and Joe Sanfelippo when they worked with my former district admin.
I have done this activity as part of a session called "Culture Matters"
I start by telling the participants that I forgot to grab paper for the activity and all that the PD coordinator could find were paper plates. I pass out the paper plates and ask the participants to put their name on one side and write the word JOB on the top. I then ask them to parter up with someone that they don't know very well (we all love that one, right :)). After they decide who is partner A and partner B, I give them the directions. Here goes:
1) Exchange plates
2) Partner A has 2 minutes to run down a "task list" of a typical work day. Partner B is the scribe. Only partner A does the talking. Partner A will give a rough estimate on how much of the day each task takes. Partner B will record that by the size of print relative to the time of task. The tasks that take up more time, will be written larger and the tasks that take up less time will be written smaller.
3) They switch roles for two minutes.
4) The plates are then returned to their owners.
5) Each person will look through their task list and circle the one that takes up the most time.
6) I then lead them by saying: "Repeat after me: I (state your name) entered into education to (fill in the blank with the circled item).
And here is where the fun begins. I love to listen to and see the reactions of the participants. I then just sit quiet because what happens, organically, is they start talking to each other - I just listen in. These conversations have offered great reflection. Some people have an "Oh my gosh" moment- "I didn't get into this business to write kids up!". Others justify their answer-those have been my favorite reflections because they are trying to line up the dots of the task and their "why". "Well, I sure didn't get into eduction to make family phone calls. BUT, I did get into education to change kids lives. A big part of that IS school family communication. So I guess, yeah- It is true." Or a revelation "Wow. I got into this because I wanted to spend time with kids. I can't remember the last time I left my office."
ALL of these are fantastic. And the best part is that none of it is predictable. And I have rarely heard the same thing twice.
I then open the discussion up to the whole group and it is just amazing to witness.
In the next step, we talk about the concept of Job vs. Work. I first heard of this in Seth Godin's book Linchpin. The quote is my take on it...
I have the participants turn over their plates and write "Work" on the top. I then give them 2 minutes to write down the reasons that they entered into education. Again, this organically leads into collaborative discussions on how either they ARE doing the "work" that they set out to do OR how the "job" that they are doing- somewhat aligns to their "work" OR they realize that they may have veered off of their "work" and might need to recalculate their route.
I then share my quote about "WHY" and show Daniel Pink's video "What's Your Sentence". I also give them a link to my blog post "Walking Your Why" if they are interested in diving more into this concept.
I then move into the next activity- "Finding Your Why". This is one of my favorite activities and I have changed if over the years and have done it with many different groups, including students. I have them do use the things that they wrote on the "Work" side of the plate to create their "Six Word Memoir" of their "Why". This is a sentence or statement that is six words- no more no less. The reason I put contraints on it is that it really forces you to reflect and be concise with your words.
Once they have come up with their "Six Word Memoir" I ask them to circle the ONE word that will be their "WHY". They then, again- talk and reflect.
The activity can stop here, but I like to take it one step further. I want them to create an artifact that they can refer back to.
Side note: I created this activity in my first class in my admin credential program. I was supposed to be "reporting" on Daniel Pink's book Drive. Well, at the time, I didn't have the time to read the whole book, so I did what all great students to- I googled it and found a video. What I stumbled on was the "What's Your Sentence" video. I turned my "book report" presentation into this "Why" activity for my classmates. At the time, mine was "One who inspires and encourages others". At that time- I just had them write it on a sentences strip. That sentence strip hung on my desk for 4 years and believe me- it was my anchor when going when tough. When I would ask myself "Why am I doing this? Why am I in this position? Why should I keep going when I hear all of the chatter? Why should I keep fighting?". Throughout my time in that position, it was really cool to walk through teachers classrooms and see their "Six Word Memoir/#oneword" artifacts hanging up. To see how they adapted it for their students. One principal had her WHOLE school do this activity- teacher and students (Thank you to Shanna Sarris and the Apollo High School Staff!) And it was cool to walk by my director's office and see hers hanging up as well.
Ok- back to the activity. It doesn't matter what is created- as long as there is some reminder of the "why". I have had groups simply write it on paper with a marker to making a google slide or Adobe Spark with their "six word memoir", their "#oneword" and an image to go with it. And then I have them share it. Because as we know with students, when we share it to a larger audience, it means more.
So there you have it. The "plate" activity in a nutshell. Oh yeah- why the plates? At some point during the conversations of "Job vs. Work"- I have them hold up their plates and we take a look at ALL they have on their plates and discuss how to balance or connect (get it- OOH I should have them spin them!) the "job" and the "work".
My call to action: You don't have to go through this whole process to tether back to your "WHY". But take some time to reflect on your why and how you are going to walk it.- This is a great time- before the new school year. And just keep walking that "Why"!
This morning, my friend Tony Sinanis (Co-author of Hacking Leadership) asked via facebook and Twitter (paraphrased) "What three words resonate with you when you think of leadership." And I felt compelled to write. I used to be a "leadership nerd" in that I LOVED to read, talk, present, learn about all things "leadership". But it wasn't until I watched Tony's video that I realized the I had lost that in the last year. I really hadn't thought about leadership or myself in terms of being a leader, in a long time. And that is the first piece I would like to speak to.
I have written many times "we are all leaders in our own right". But when push came to shove and I hit a bump, I didn't believe it for myself. I let my circumstances dictate how I felt about myself and who I believed myself to be. No more. Now that I have come out the other end, I believe my above statement now more than ever. In the last year, I witnessed my students, my own children, colleagues and friends - rise as leaders. These leadership roles were not given to them, there were no titles that opened up the doors for them. These roles were created, earned and maintained by these individuals. End of sentence. Maybe they filled a gap, a need. Maybe they followed their passions. All of them took risks and it has been amazing to watch. So whether you are a leader in your classroom, your site, your family, your church, your club, your friend group- YOU ARE A LEADER. How do I know? Regardless of whether you are aware or not, someone (maybe many someones) are watching and learning from you. YOU have a spark, YOU have something to share, YOU have the capacity to give. YOU are a leader.
Ok, now back to Tony's "Three Word Challenge". This honestly was not a challenge to me as my three words came out instantly. Why? Because these words are who I try to be- 100 % of the time. These words are what I look for in those who lead me. These are the words I try to instill in those in which I lead. These are the words that I can see in others, very quickly. And here they are. Leadership in three words: Empathy, Integrity and Passion.
Empathy: I have heard this word A LOT over the past few years. It is one of those words that may be coined a "buzz word" in education these days. But to me, it is everything. Empathy and sympathy can easily get confused. To me, empathy is the ability to see things from other perspectives and try to understand what others may be feeling. I read something interesting lately to the effect of this: It is impossible to be able to actually feel what someone else is feeling because we are not that person, going through that exact thing at that exact time. But what we CAN do is honor what someone else is feeling and understand the emotion by attaching it to a time when we felt that same emotion. For example, someone may be feeling devastated over losing their home. Although I have never lost my home, the way that they did, I have felt devastated over something. Empathy is understanding the emotion. Well how does this look in terms of leadership? You can not be a leader, if you look around and there is no one to lead. It is the people that surround you that matter. As a leader, one of our jobs is to know our people and grow our people. This can only happen if we honor our people. When we listen to a circle of viewpoints and everyone has a voice at the table. When we try to understand the felling behind it them. This is not always easy, but this is important.
Integrity: To me, this one is a make it or break it word. Integrity is doing what you say and saying what you do. The quickest way to lose someone's trust- is to break it. People can quickly and easily see through the "Emperor's New Clothes" and that is not something that is easy to bounce back from. Basically, it is "walking the talk". Now I realize that in my first paragraph, I just spilled that I did NOT walk the talk in my definition of a leader, last year. I also believe that humility is part of integrity. Perfection is fiction, so let's not pretend it isn't. But when we stumble, we don't ignore it. We acknowledge it, we learn from it and I have seen the best leaders- publicly share both.
My call to action is this: Take some time to think about who you lead. Who is looking toward you for learning and guidance? What do they see? What do you want them to see? Come up with your three words and then go out and live them.
I have learned that a lot of what we deal with; what we go through and how we go through it, depends on OUR perspective. We can choose which lens we want to look and work through. Often times, my personal go to is to choose the negative lens, the darkened lens. The one that leads me down the wrong path- so here I am today - sharing part of the process I am working through in real time. This is unlike anything I have "published", but it is raw, it is real and it is me.
It has lead me to rethink this blog site, to upgrade the name. As to the future content, that is still unknown and probably always will be as I just write in real time and I always right my truths.
My hope as always, is that at least one person can connect to my writing and it is of some sort of support for wherever they are on their journey.
Thank you for joining me on mine.
Mother, Teacher, Administrator, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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