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!
Last night my friend Alice Keeler asked me "If you started your own business, what would it be?". WHAT? Well, I didn't answer, I couldn't answer. How could I? But what it did was...it got me to think. It got me to think hard. I started thinking inside education, I started thinking outside education...the concept was just way to large for me to comprehend at such a late hour.
I do know that whatever it was, it would have to be a business of service- that is a non-negotiable. Did I want to help students and adults to understand their worth, to walk with them through their struggles and help them come out brighter on the other end? Did I want to help create new and improved learning experiences for students? Did I want to create a way to change learning and school for kids by changing learning and school for teachers? Do I...Do I...Do I...
And then I remembered- this was not real. I do not have the ability nor the capacity to even do this. I have worked hard for many years, to try and make changes...I believe I have failed. And now I am letting my mind wander to trying to do this on an even bigger scale? No...nope...not. And this was only at the "concept" stage, not to mention any sort of start up, PR, finances, clients, buy in... just so overwhelming.
Wait...I need to stop there. We had 30+ (classroom teachers (elementary and secondary), Intervention/Rti teachers, district and site administrators, a School Board Trustee AND student teachers) people, on a Saturday (the day of the Royal Wedding), with only three weeks of school left- learning about how to teach math differently. And it was AMAZING. Oh wait... did I mention, that they didn't receive compensation for their time other than some delicious hot dogs?
That in and of itself is mind blowing and incredible and I will share some "testimonial videos" from them in a few. I want to keep that fire going and fan it to include more...
But what I ended up telling Keeler last night was this... I want that tweet to be the norm, not the exception. I want teachers new and seasoned to learn HOW to teach different because our students NEED different. And if we want different, we need to show different, we need to provide professional learning on different and we need to be with these teachers and students to support different. There in lies my inner struggle- this is where I am being pulled to, but this is also what I am being pulled farther and farther away from because of situation and circumstance.
So, what next? Still unwritten. A lot of reflection will be needed. A lot of work on self, is needed. And we shall see what this next chapter looks like.
All I know is that I want more of this....
How can we create more of that?
How would you answer this question... "What is the one thing that we can do to increase student achievement?" And go...
Well, this was recently a question that I was lucky enough to have been posed...and the flood gates opened. I don't know if what I and others said was heard, but at least we stayed true to our "why" in sharing our voices.
**Before reading- I want to let you know that I am going to mention teachers a lot- please understand that I am not judging or laying ANY blame on teachers- I am one of you! I am in fact doing the opposite. I am doing what I have been fighting for-for four years- I know the importance of our role and it is unfair to put so much pressure on teacher's shoulders without providing the resources, support, man power, money and time that is needed. This is my fight for you and for our students. And it will continue in whatever capacity I can. This is my promise to you...to us!**
Here I will share my answer(s) - because we know there isn't just ONE:
-Change the conversation: Whenever anyone wants to talk about student achievement, I try to change the wording to discuss student learning. To me, this is an important distinction. Achievement to me is a number, a letter, a color on a chart and I don't want to reduce children to that. I would rather discuss how we can help students to learn differently. When we can have students learning and thinking differently- it will show up as an increase in students achievement- but the shift takes some time. Changing that one word, changes the conversation. Context matters.
-Learning and teaching go hand and hand:
"If we want to change the way students learn, we need to change the way that students are taught. There is no other way."
The teacher in the classroom IS the decisive factor. But how can we expect teaching to look different, if teachers are not given the resources to make it happen? If one has not been shown different ways, how are they expected to use different ways? When we know better, we do better. We owe it to our teachers, students and families to provide professional learning opportunities to arm our teachers with this mindset along with multiple strategies and tools to reach all kids. We need to provide them with time to dig in to it, with their colleagues and plan forward. They then need ongoing supports in the way of job embedded PD, observations of others, team planning and team teaching.
"Our students require different school experiences to make learning sticky. Teachers require different learning experiences to help make that learning sticky. Let's start our support with them. Support matters."
-Culture: This concept is not new, it is talked about often, but talking about it is different than acting on it. If we want student learning to change and we want teaching to change, then culture, too must change. From the top all the way down to the classroom and vice versa. Is there a shared "why" to what we do, every day? Does the organizational vision line up with the site vision, the teacher vision and the classroom vision? Is there a culture of collaboration and risk taking? Is there a sense that we can try, fail- get up and try again? I believe that for this culture to be true- it needs to be aligned throughout the whole organization and it needs to show. Show with actions over words. Encourage, celebrate and support those that are forward thinkers, willing to jump outside of the box and innovate- whether that is our administrators, our teachers and especially our students. It is often said, but is it done? With change comes fear- it is natural- so how can we help ease that fear? By modeling- at all levels. I often say #cultureovercurriculum but, it really goes above that-
The overall culture, beliefs and vision set the stage for the morale for all else. Culture matters.
-Tech: Oh tech..I both love it and hate it. I love it because when used properly, it can open up so many doors, create so many experiences and enhance learning for all. I hate it because it is also the great divide. Just putting devices in teacher's and student's hands is not the answer. We need to think about what is being done with those devices. Tech can make the "not so strong" teachers less strong, it can make the "strong teachers" go backwards OR (the hope) it can help move everyone forward. The incredibly important, yet often over looked factor is the training and the ongoing support that comes with those devices.
If data shows that devices are being used X% of the day by X% of students, my question is- where is the data that shows what is actually happening behind those screens? What experiences are our learners involved in? Were they used as "babysitters" where students play games or simply watch videos? Are they being used for students to now type the notes off the teacher's slides onto a doc rather-than hand write them into a note book? Are they only consuming information or are they being used for students to critically think, communicate, collaborate and create? If our students are still only consumers, we are doing them a disservice by not leveraging what is in front of them to become creative critical problem solvers. To do this, WE need to learn and WE need support. Experiences matter.
-Data: Data is big in education. And I agree- data is important. We need a measurement to understand where we started and where we are- and to plan where we want to go. Here is where I get tripped up- I believe we need multiple data points to make informed decisions that involve kids- they deserve better than decisions being made based on one snap shot.
But here is the other thing, what data is being collected AND more importantly, what is being done with it? We can give students assessments and surveys until they are completely exhausted- but why are we doing it? Where does that information go? Is it being analyzed? Or do we have so much that we are at "analysis paralysis" and don't even know where to begin?
What is done with that information? Is it used to find strengths and gaps in the organization as a whole, the sites, grade levels, classrooms? If so, great!! And then what? Is that information being used to create change? Do we find what is working well and build that capacity and spread it? Do we find the gaps and make a plan to help fill them? If so, how do we do that? Do we purchase more "programs" that promise this? How can a program help humans? How can a program know students as people and as learners? I don't believe it can - it can be one tool that can be used properly or not- it all depends-The important factor is always the teacher. So do we use that data to create space and opportunities for teachers to look at the data and provide professional development and supports on how to do different? Action matters.
-Differentiation: I think by now, we all can agree that different students learn differently. That we need to create different learning experiences based on knowing our kids. But what does that look like? Do we have a handle on what differentiation looks like? Have we been trained in such or just asked to make it happen? I will go back to #knowbetteredobetter- Before I knew, I thought it meant different leveled worksheets at different tables that the students rotated through. Well... now I know- that ain't it. Differentiation can be in the form of how students receive content, it can be how they interact with content and it can be what they do with the content to show their learning. With that, the opportunities are endless- and THAT is exciting. But again- where is the professional development to give teachers these tools, ideas, strategies and activities. Many of my "switch flip" moments only happened because my administrators provided us with these experiences. I was blessed to have been able to have my eyes opened to "do better" - to learn to meet kids where they are and not the other way around- but beyond that, the how. Opportunity matters.
So to answer the question above: No, there is not "one" thing, we are in the kid business and that is ever changing, unpredictable and incredibly important. BUT if I look at the umbrella theme in all that I just wrote, it does come down to one thing- Teacher support. What is the message to teachers? How are they supported to be continuous learners? How are they involved in the processes that affect them and their students?
It is unfair to put it on others to create change, without providing them with what is needed to do so.
My call to action is this: No matter your level of leadership (and WE are ALL leaders)- take some time to really look at those in which you serve. Think about what they need to be successful and create a plan to get it to them. The plan should be both long range and actionable. There also needs to be built in smaller reachable milestones - not only to have "checks and balances" but to also allow for enhancements or course correction as needed. There must be supports in place along the way and opportunities for success for the sake of overall morale that trickles down to the kids.
It's a huge job- but it is a huge responsibility as well. We need to always anchor back to our "why"- it is the kids...always the kids.
Keep fighting the good fight and I will be right along side you!
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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