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.
Nine days ago...eleven colleagues and myself embarked on a unique and interesting journey. We were given 18 days to make a difference. I'm not going to lie, I went in with some skepticism, but tried not to let it show as one of the "teacher leaders" of the group. I wrote about our upcoming adventure here: "In A Moment".
The first week was a whirlwind...for many reasons. *These are only my thoughts based on my experiences and do not reflect my colleagues' sentiments*:
1) I have not been in charge of a class in four years.
2) We had almost complete autonomy in "curriculum" - which is a good thing!
3) We were a bit confused as to the focus in math.
4) Our students came with differing reasons to join us: many were forced, some chose, a few had no idea and most of them just looked scared.
5) Our students were a mix of incoming 5th and 6th graders from all 18 elementary schools as well as outside of the district. Some students were brought to us to fill gaps, some were with us to receive enrichment, some joined us to get a jump start for next year and some still don't know.
6) There were huge discrepancies in students' experiences in and with math - all coming from different school and classroom environments.
I had high hopes of things we could do in these 2 - two hour periods. Mindsets shifted, switch flip moments, smiles, laughing, learning, risk taking and amazing growth and confidence....
AND THEN REALITY HIT.
Day 1, Minute 1... sitting before me were 27 (mostly strangers to me and each other) looking worried and unsure. I took a deep breath and smiled (Yes...we smile on the first day - all the way through to the last day). When asked, a majority said that there parents made them come. To which I smiled again and let them know that I promised to make their time in Room 24 worth it and that we were going to have fun (with math). They weren't buying it. I don't blame them - for many those two things have often been mutually exclusive. These may be some tough nuts to crack!
I wanted to get to know my new kiddos as learners and as people. I assumed that they would be pretty shy the first day, so I wanted an activity where they could share, without much risk. We jumped right into a "four corners" activity in which they responded to four questions (anonymously in writing). The various responses were interesting, yet surprisingly well balanced. For almost every student that shared that they did not like math or that it was stressful, there was another that said math was boring or it was easy. For every response to "Something I struggle with" there was the same answer on "Something I am good at". After they gallery walked and sorted answers, we attempted a discussion. I knew this was a risk, because we hadn't spent time developing rapport, trust or culture. But all I could think about was "I have 17 1/2 days left..." so we went full speed ahead!
I am not going to bore you with scripting how it went, but I will let you know that it was not one of my proudest moments. Not because of the students, but because of me. I knew better, but I didn't do better (excuse me while I choke on my own words). Not many students spoke because, well... they had no reason to feel safe with myself or their unknown peers. They acted exactly how I would have acted if I walked into a party full of people I didn't know (except they did not have a chip bowl to cling to).
The students that spoke though were amazing...they were honest and vulnerable. They helped me to gather important information that would not show up on any assessment they would be taking for us.
The big ideas from both classes were these (and I am generalizing):
- They felt pressure in math
- Tests make them anxious
- Math time usually consists of the teacher talking and them doing workbook pages
- They are not used to collaborating
- Talking about math (or each other) was a new concept
And there we were... staring at each other. My mind was racing as to how I could remedy the above, give three assessments (the first week) AND actually explore the math - In 17 and 1/4 days (time was ticking). I knew I was rusty, but oh boy! This seemed like a mountain that I just couldn't even find my footing on.
But then something clicked and I went right into full teacher mode. I KNEW that we needed to build culture first (#cultureovercurriculum) and we needed to build it fast. Out came some #eduprotocols (Thank you to my pals Jon Corippo and Marlena Heburn).
I'm not going to lie and say that at the end of day 1 we were all besties, holding hands in a Kumbya Circle - but I did start to see some kids opening up, talking, excitement and smiling. Did we do any math that first day? Besides one of the assessments we had to give (groans from the kids) - NO - there was no math. It was all about building the classroom culture. I wanted to create a safe place for them to #riskforward and #failforward. We talked about making mistakes and struggling - and how these are needed in order to grow. *Luckily- I have made at least one mistake per day, per period as a "model" for them- without of course meaning to.* The best part? They feel comfortable enough to respectfully correct my mistakes - to which I thank them. We can't make this stuff up nor find it in a teacher's manual.
Over the next 8 days...there have been ebbs and flows - but the students have been so positive and willing to stretch their thinking - looking at math differently and enjoying (for the most part) new experiences with math. BUT - one thing for certain - this has absolutely solidified the idea of #cultureovercurriculum for me. I knew this to be true, I practiced it my whole career but as I stated before - I was rusty. I would typically spend the first two weeks of school, building this and I tried to squish it into two hours - and it showed.
Finally, today - as we are literally halfway through the whole Math Camp - I saw students seamlessly working together, sharing ideas and having fun WITH MATH! And they were TALKING...about MATH! 8 days ago, that was a completely foreign concept to many. They actually groaned today (like with the assessment on Day 1) when I asked them to clean up their project, for break. WHAT? Imagine the difference we could make, if we had the time to really lay that foundation of culture. This is great practice and a huge refresher course for me.
Yesterday, we had a discussion in period 2 based on some Memes they saw about teachers and students. They shared with me the images and sarcastic sayings about things that we deal with as teachers, such as: repeating directions more than once, putting names on papers and getting work done. I know these are struggles that we, as teachers face on a day to day basis, but I didn't feel right with the students' discussion - they thought they were funny, but couldn't tell me what was funny about them.
So, we turned into a discussion about respect - mutual. My respect for them, their respect for each other and for myself. And then I asked them this question "Do you guys remember us coming up with class rules? Did I ever tell you about any rules?" They looked at me quizzically and then responded with "No". My next question was "Do you think we need to?" To which they also responded "No". It wasn't until that moment that I realized we had, in fact, built our classroom culture. Maybe I am naive and/or just blessed with two periods of the most amazing kiddos or we were on to something here. Maybe respect goes a long way?
I'm not going to lie, three days ago - I was questioning my effectiveness as a classroom leader. Maybe I had lost it in those four years? I think I used to be good at this...but maybe I wasn't.
All I can say is that I am failing, reflecting, learning, growing and having fun! I believe that these kids are having fun as well. I am listening and talking with them as they are working on their tasks and they are excitedly participating in different experiences than their norm - and THAT, my friends, is my goal with these #18daysSV.
There is SOOO much more I could write about on this experience, but I am going to hold that, for now, and just see what these last 9 days hold for us!
Thank you to the #MathMavericks in Room 24 and my amazing colleagues that are sharing this journey with me!
Ok all...I have a confession to make. Actually, I don't know if it's a confession if it is something I share ALL THE TIME. But here goes... I am NOT a techie person. There.
I did that for a few reasons. One being that in his book "The Eduprotocol Field Guide" - after each time I'm mentioned or wrote a piece, he gave me a different job title - but all included the word "tech". It just makes me giggle because...I was never that - but most people that don't yet know me or have yet to meet me, believe that to be true.
I of course, always correct them, because I am nothing if I am not honest. I WAS an ELA TOSA who somehow got wrapped up into this EdTech World. (Thank you to my former colleague Dustin Ellis, for bringing me into and supporting me in navigating that world!). And if anyone has read or talked to me, you know my opinions on "Titles"- you know that I believe we all are so much more than who our email signatures or business cards say we are.
I share this and many other truths... a lot. What I have found, when I share these, there is a sigh of relief. People connect through experiences and stories. When people realize that I am just like them - a teacher, just trying to figure out how to do what's best for kids - they feel relieved and instantly connected. I share with them that I love doing "lesson remixes" and that usually involves some kind of tech for the students to use. And since I am NOT a techie - I just click on things and see what happens. I assure them that they won't break, "The Google" won't break, they won't scar the children and they most likely won't break their devices.
I believe, as many of us do, in #pedegogyovertech. I start with the children first, then the learning. If there is a tech tool that could fit in and enhance, we give it a whirl. I do not use tech, just to say I did. That doesn't help anyone. It is the "how" over the "what". HOW are we going to...? But so many people still get lost in the "new shiny thing". The #FOMO takes over and often times, the learning gets lost. I hope that the pendulum begins to swing and the tech can move to the background.
I believe that this pedagogy piece is what I am able to bring to the table. I was blessed to have two amazing administrators who were incredibly strong instructional leaders. (Oh, and by the way- NEITHER were big tech fans- that was not even a piece in this). They fostered this foundation for me that guides all that I do in terms of education. They armed our staff with multiple resources, ideas, tools AND time to dig in. They allowed our staff the autonomy and trust to use our skills, knowledge and passion to create experiences for our students that would lead to deep learning, creation and understanding.
We often hear that tech and devices are the great divide. They can make good teachers better or they can make not so good teachers - worse. The deciding factor in it is US - the teachers. No inanimate object (device, tech, teachers' edition, program, curriculum) can move kids forward on it's own. It is the teacher,, the leader in the classroom who decides, guides, activates and supports how those are used. In this way...it's the HOW... HOW is this tool being used to grow students forward? My pal, Jon Eick said it best...
It is up to us to decide what we do with all the tools we are given. Do we use them as license to "do school to kids" by just turning (or clicking through) pages, giving worksheets (digital or otherwise), busy work or things to keep kids quiet? Or do we look at the whole toolkit we are given and craft lessons and experiences where our students are having to think, having to create, having to communicate and collaborate?
This week, I read that Google Classroom will be adding a feature to lock students from being able to search outside of an assignment. To this, many are rejoicing! "YES- now my students can't cheat!" WHOA... HOLD THE PHONE. If that is the driving force, it may be time to step back and reflect. "What is the purpose, what is the learning?" If we are giving tasks that have completely "Googleable" answers, (and by the way, does there always have to be an answer?) - are we creating learning within our students? And with that... I will need to create a whole other blog post...
"Good morning, Cori...how are you?"
"I'm good, and yourself?"
"Great! Have a good day."
30 seconds and the moment is gone. That is a familiar "outward conversation", but what is the "real conversation" that is hiding behind the niceties?
"Good morning, Cori...how are you?"
"To be honest, I'm struggling."
"I understand, how can I help?"...
30 seconds and the moment is changed, impact is made.
I have been thinking quite a bit about time, lately. It is something that we seem to never have enough of, it is something we are trying to conquer, it is something that we are "up against"...BUT it is something we ALL have and it is free. So how are we spending our time?
On Monday, a small group of teachers, including myself, will be embarking on a new adventure and WE ARE EXCITED!! Our district is "piloting" a new summer school program for 5/6 graders. Each student will be taking part in a two hour "Math Academy" (which I am teaching) and a two hour "STEAM Camp". Here is what is unique: ANY child that will be entering 5th or 6th grade is welcome, they don't even need to be from our district. Students are not placed in classes for remediation nor are they placed for extension. Their placement in our classes are totally random. To me, this is an amazing gift! But it is also an amazing responsibility. Because these students are from all walks of life, come with varying skills, confidence, understanding and experiences with math- culture matters more than ever. I often say #cultureovercurriculum - spend the time to build culture up front or it will be very difficult to get students to understand the curriculum. But we have a hiccup... time.
The goals for the Math Academy are this:
- Change Mathematical Mindsets
- Foster Mathematical Discourse
- Build number sense
- Make math fun
-Make math sticky
Well- here is the kicker- we ONLY have 18 days! 18!
Part of my role, which I was sooo excited about, was to help facilitate the PD for the teachers to get them ready... but how can I act pumped up about it, when I couldn't wrap my mind around that short little time frame? And then I had a "switch flip moment" which I shared with the group.
I thought to myself, we only have 18 days. And then it clicked. Oh my gosh, we HAVE 18 days...to make a difference. We can make a difference in just one moment...how many moments will we have in 18 days? We can do this... Let's make a difference!
And so with that, I have been walking around with a new lens. I have tried to tune in to life more. I have been focusing more on the small moments, because those are the ones that often produce huge gains, but if we don't slow down, they go unnoticed.
Here are some small moments that have made a difference to me personally, over this last week:
- someone sharing a quote that reminds them of me
- someone reaching out to me to share something they are struggling with and asking me for help
- someone checking in on me on a regular basis
- someone allowing me to do what I love to do, on a whim
- someone telling me they believe in me
- someone sharing appreciation for something I didn't even realize
- someone taking a chance on me and providing an opportunity
- someone listening to my stream of consciuoness
- someone sharing a risk they have taken
- someone letting me know that they read what I write
All of these things took only moments on the other person's part, but their impact is ever lasting.
I love this TED talk by Drew Dudley- Everyday Leadership . In this he describes what he calls "Lollipop Moments". Well, when this was shared with me a few years ago, the person shared it with this message "Made me think of you." - right there- that person gave me a "Lollipop Moment" herself.
Here is my call to action: First, reflect and find those small moments, those "Lollipop Moments" that have impacted you. Now, keep those in mind as you move through your day today. How do you want to use the moments your are given? Whether it is with students, staff, adults, children, friends, colleagues, strangers. How can you make an impact on others?
Here is where I am stuck. I had somehow found my voice in speaking about leadership and organizational change. I have seen a lot from my position, standing on that fence - wavering between two worlds. Which by the way, I whole heartedly believe, they should all just be in one world- "For the Children" (shout out to CUE Tang Clan). I have seen, experienced and learned a lot. I believed I had a unique perspective based on this "Limbo Factor". I believed that sharing through that lens could be helpful and impactful.
BUT...Now that I am heading back to the classroom, do I have the "right" to continue sharing that voice from "Leading In Limbo"? I know I have the "Limbo" part down, but I'm not going to lie... my confidence has been completely shot on the "Leading" part.
One of the most interesting things in all this, was the timing. I found out about this change in role, the day before flying out to a leadership conference (Lead 3) to speak in front of many leaders, in all different roles of education; over three days. To be honest, my soul and confidence were crushed and I felt like a fraud. I don't know how I was able to compartmentalize and stand up there and spout my stuff - or at least I hope I was.
As I stood up there and presented...this tape kept playing in my mind "Who are you, to be talking to these administrators about leadership? You are not a leader."
As much as I tried to cut that tape, it just continued to play over the next two months. I was ready to shut this blog down. Stop presenting on such things. Crawl into my new classroom, shut the door and do my best to serve my new students. Simple.
But it just didn't settle right inside of me.
Then this amazing opportunity was presented to me by my friend and often "partner in crime" Jay Sorensen. He asked if I would be one of three speakers for his district's (OUHSD) CUE Rockstar Admin PD day. I of course, believed he was just "throwing me a bone" because he knew where my head and my heart were at. But I of course, couldn't say no.
So... get this line up: Jon Corippo, John Eick and... me. That didn't cut that tape in my head... it just made it replay more frequently and louder.
Now, luckily, those two gentleman are friends of mine and I love them both to death, so I didn't have a complex about presenting with them, personally. To me, I was worried about perception from the participants- because those two are edu-leader giants, and I was just.. well ...you know how that ends.
A big "One of these things is not like the other....", deal.
I have written before about how blessed I am with amazing people in my corner. One is the incredible Joe Sanfelippo. I was chatting with him to bounce some ideas around about this session I was doing on "Culture". We went back and forth for awhile. Finally he said "Culture is also built on the language that you use. But after almost every single idea you had, you ended with "Who the **** am I?". Stop saying that! You can’t stand up there and lead, if you don’t believe in yourself. So stop it.”
Well- who can argue with that? OK, Joe... point taken.
So I pushed all of those things aside and went for it. I will share the results of that day, in another post- because that is not what this one is about. This one is about believing. It is about "Walking Your Why" and believing that we ALL have something to contribute. It is about not letting fear, anxiety, the past, chatter... deter you from your path...from your journey, if you are walking that why.
So- I am still not completely settled in what to do with this blog space. For now... I will just keep on writing and keep on leading, in whatever capacity I can.
My call to action is this: Learn from my "cautionary tale" - this is why I write so vulnerabily. We ARE all leaders in our own right... whether we are leaders in our classroom, on our site, in the district, of our family, in our church. Look around and see who is WITH you. Not necessarily behind you. I believe our best leaders, lead from the middle. Those who are in the mix, who encourage and inspire others to lead forward. That can be all of us. And in the words of my friend Brent Coley...
Thank you to these amazing people for helping me continue to "Walk My Why"- no matter what it says under my name, in my email signature: Jon Corippo, John Eick, Brent Coley, Tony Sinanis, Joe Sanfelippo, Michael Niehoff, Steve Woods, Jay Sorensen, Pam Hernandez, Terri Leon, Eddie Campos, Jr, and Jeremiah Ruesch (to name a few). You are appreciated more than you will ever know. I have learned so much from each and every one of you and continue to do so with every interaction.
This morning, I woke up at 0' dark 30 with so many thoughts in my head...so many emotions in my heart. I sit here on my ** birthday and realize- what better time for a soul check, than now? Now this could go one of two ways. This could get way personal or it could get way professional. Well, if you know me at all- we know how this is going to go...
Next week, I will be closing up shop as a TOSA (Teacher On Special Assignment) in my district, to go back into the classroom. Although this was not the path I had planned, I have to believe it is the path that was planned for me- somewhere, somehow, by someone. So there has been a ridiculous amount of reflection over the past two months- much I have shared here.
This blog has been my go-to for a whole lot, a majority of these four years. As I am sitting here, I am in limbo on what to do with this space, moving forward. This has been such a huge of a piece of my recent life, that I can't even ponder it right now. I am going to leave that piece still unwritten...for now.
Over the past two months, I have been incredibly humbled by the kind words and sharing that I have received from many of the people that I have served in these past four years. Yesterday, I heard even more and last night, I read some in writing. It is really difficult for me to take that all in, but I am trying. Some were personal, and don't need to be shared beyond them and me.
I have written and talked about the idea of "Walking Your Why", sticking to your purpose and doing so with passion. This check- is a check on that. Did I, in fact do what I intended to do? Did my message come through? Did the right message come through? Honestly- this sounds personal, and on a level it is- but I am focusing more on that message. There are so many quotes (and you know I love quotes) I could throw in here, but the one I want to share is from my friend John Eick. This is something that he said in a Voxer conversation with myself and our friend Brent Coley. It was an amazing nugget that he didn't even realize he said, but I caught it and asked if I could use it...
So I am going to go through a list of what other people have shared that they remember from me- not ABOUT me...not the purpose here:
*These are not all exact words, but the themes that seemed to re-occur*
- Relationships matter
-Take risks and fail forward
-Students first- always- show with actions, not just words
-Choice is important for both students and teachers
-Get comfy with the uncomfy...for kids
-Collaboration is key
-Share freely and share widely
-Meet kids (and adults) where they are- this can only be done if we know them (reach them to teach them)
-Culture over curriculum
-We must support both teachers and students with the information, time and resources to create any sort of substantial change
Well- if I could put a check on even just one of those, I can walk into my next adventure with my head held high. And if you ever read anything on here- those in fact ARE the themes that re-occur in my blog posts. So what matters even more is this- did my actions match my words? Did I in fact model, encourage and support in those 10 things? Man, I sure hope so.
Will I take that list and add on as I move forward- Heck Yeah! *And please note that I am not naive to the fact that I also have many places to fix, learn and grow. I am aware of my weaknesses and will work on those as well- just not today.
Yesterday, someone said this to myself and my colleague Dustin Ellis (who is off on a new journey as well) - "The role may have changed, but you haven't." And those words are the ones that I am putting in my pocket, and walking on with. We shall see what the future holds...
My call to action is this: When time allows, take a few minutes to do a check. What is your purpose? What is your why? Has that in fact been your anchor, your compass and your spring board? What do you want to take with you? And what do you want to abandon? It is always important to check yo' self.
Have a fantastic end of the school year! Talk soon!
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.