I have a confession to make...in junior high (that's what middle school was called in the dark ages) and high school, I was a cheerleader. I can't even believe that one, myself. Our very first performance, for the freshman class, was at freshman orientation. We were set to perform in the gym, in front of a kazillion of our new peers. In the routine, myself and one other were set to do a round off back handspring. I had learned this trick over the summer and had successfully "stuck it" numerous times in the practice room. I was nervous, but not paralyzed. I had butterflies as our squad was announced...here we go. Cheer was going fine, alright...here comes the trick...round off, nailed it. Back handspring...nailed my face into the gym floor! My arms had buckled and my nose made first contact. I completed the trick...instead of pushing off with my hands, I pushed off with my hands AND face. Oh the pain...oh the humiliation! I had no time to think and just kept going. No other option. What I came out of there with, was a bruised nose for my freshman ID card, a bruised ego and now a STORY and some learning. Upon reflection, I realized that I had NEVER tried that trick on a hard surface, such as a gym floor, only the padded, spring floor of our practice room. My arms buckled upon impact. What I learned was, it is best to practice or work through something BEFORE actually doing it in a public forum.
Why do I tell this long story? This is my "go to" story, when I talk to my own kids about "failing forward". Everyone makes mistakes, everyone has hiccups, we can't let those define us. We are human and we will all fail, it's how we handle it that defines us
If you know me, have heard me speak, seen my tweets or read any of these blogs, you know that something I am passionate about is encouraging risk and the idea of "failing forward". Whenever I say this phrase, it gets a reaction. (Truth be told, this is of course not MY phrase, but I got it from one of my favorite Author/Researchers: Brene Brown). When I use this phrase, people often ask what it means, OR they let it sit for a minute and then say "I like that". I am now hearing this phrase, all the time. This of course makes me very happy, but I always like to clarify what it actually means.
Fail forward does not just mean you simply "fail" and move on. This is part of it. For me, "failing forward" is a six part process:
1) Recognition: Ok, something happened, something didn't go as planned. You made a mistake, there was a hiccup, a blip. Best not to ignore it, acknowledge it and go to #2.
2) Move forward: Don't get stuck in that moment, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving forward. Don't beat yourself up, don't go down the rabbit hole. This is a very important part. We often get stuck on step one and spin in circles...I have found that that is not productive and no good can come from it.
3) Reflect: At some point, when you have time, as close to the "fail" as possible; reflect back on what happened. Why did it happen? Is there any explanation? Was it due to circumstances out of your control? What were the steps leading up to it? Could you have approached this in a different way? Were there steps missed? Again...this is not time for a "beat up session", I think as educators and humans, we already do enough of this. This is a time to think and prepare for learning.
4) Learning: Based on your reflection, what new learning do you have? It is there, sometimes you just have to look for it. I know, in the cheer leading incident, my first instinct was to place blame, first on myself and then anyone or anything else I could think of. "It was the gym floor's fault". That doesn't help. It was my fault for never practicing in the actual venue that I would be performing in. What learning can you take away from the "fail"?
5) Grow: I try to take EVERY circumstance; good, bad, ugly, as an opportunity to grow. I take the reflection and the learning and use it to try and better myself. Let's be life long learners, willing to continuously grow both personally and professionally. If we aren't growing we are dying, and we are too young for that!
6) Go: Do something with your new learning and growth. Share it. Humans thrive on connections, share your "fail forward" stories. I know when I do (and I do it often), people always appreciate. I often get a "me too". or "I'm glad to know that I am not the only one to..." I try to be transparent, my ego was checked a long time ago. I have shared my "fail forwards" with my students, my own children and many adults that I come in contact with. I think this is an important step for us as well as those on the receiving end. It builds that connection: We are ALL the same at our core. And to me...that is BIG.
Now...I am also a big proponent of "Walk the Talk" and REALLY try hard to practice what I preach, but I am just human. I had a recent incident in which I "failed" and got stuck on step one, for a bit...but that "fail forward" story, is for another post. To me, it was a DOUBLE "fail forward" and I want to share it.
But for now...just keep moving forward through reflection and learning. #failforward
I have written in the past about "thinking before you speak", and this is something I commonly practice, but I have recently had to think about this in a different context. I am usually thinking about other people's feelings, when I speak. I have never really thought about the fact that people might actually be listening to the content of which I am speaking.
I have shared in past posts, that for a good 10 years, I was pretty much silent on my campus. I was friendly, I chatted and had people that I spoke to at school, but in groups, I was silent. In 10 years of staff meetings, I didn't say ONE WORD. Not because I didn't have ideas, opinions...I just didn't think they mattered. In the staff lounge, I would try to speak a few times, but EVERY TIME; I would get talked over, so I just stopped trying and eventually stopped going in there. In my 11th year, we had a change in administration and this new administrator, for whatever reason, took an interest in me. She encouraged me and valued me, I began to think that maybe I DID have something to contribute and started opening up and speaking in those staff meetings. This same administrator, somehow encouraged me, nudged me...maybe coerced me into presenting with her. Boy, was this out of my comfort zone!
I remember that first presentation as a defining moment for me. When I spoke, people were nodding their heads. Hmmm... When I spoke, people asked questions. Hmmm... When I spoke, people wrote it down. WHAT? When I drew a pictorial explanation, people took pictures. WHAT? WHAT? This was surreal to me. As this was all happening, I had one of those moments that you read about. I was presenting, but at the same time observing the participants AND talking to myself in my head. It went something like this: "These people are actually listening to me. Why? Wait a minute, are they writing this stuff down? OH NO! Why are they doing this, what am I saying?" This was just all so new and strange to me.
Fast forward to my current position where I am in constant contact with teachers and administrators and am often speaking and presenting to groups. I am still in awe that people are actually listening...actively listening. I know this, because months, years later I will hear: "Remember that time when you said..." *Usually I don't remember, unless it is one of my many "Key Phrases". But here is where is gets "sticky". Since I work IN the district office, sometimes when myself or my teammates speak, people hear it FROM the District Office. This is just perplexing to me and still not something I am comfortable with. I often do not think that way. If it is something from "the office" I will say it. I have now found myself saying things like "This is not a District perspective/opinion, this is a Cori perspective/opinion." Unfortunately, what I have learned, is it doesn't matter. AND people remember things you say. I found this out when I was talking "off cuff" in a meeting one afternoon and my words were repeated back to me verbatim, the next day. WHAT? I didn't even remember what I had said, but someone apparently took copious notes on it.
So now I have this need to really think things through before I say them or do them. I am not used to these "politics" as I have just recently found my voice. I didn't realize that there were limitations. This becomes complicated when social media is in the mix. I have found myself backing off of Twitter, recently, for this reason. Things I have said in my 140 characters or less, have come back to haunt me...taken out of context, misunderstood. And instead of asking me about it, I hear about it through the grapevine. This makes me gun shy to say much of anything.
But here is what it boils down to. I only have ONE purpose, both personally and professionally: DO GOOD. Anyone that knows me, knows this. In terms of my position, everything I do is driven by doing what's best for teachers and always the students. That's it. There is nothing more I can do than state that and follow it up with my actions.
I just have to now speak and act as if people are listening and watching, because apparently they are. This is one of those times where I am in constant limbo. I have said before, we are all leaders in our own right. This is why I write this. Someone is listening, looking, learning. This holds true for being in the classroom. When we are with those students, ALL eyes are on us. Even when we don't think they are listening or watching, they are and we must act accordingly. When we are parents, we don't often realize it, but our children are ALWAYS watching and learning. So what do we do?
All I can say is what I always say: Be true, be you, be authentic, be kind. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Speak with purpose, act with intent. We can't control how others interpret our words, our actions, but if our intent is clear; we can only hope that our message is clear, as well.
Last week, the wonderful Christine Pinto asked me if I would write a guest post for her blog. It has been a pleasure getting to know and collaborate with this #educrockstar. She has brought her energy and passion for littles to Simi Valley USD and the fire is growing.
Check out the post here.
Disclaimer: I am by no means a gardener...I am in fact what I consider; a "black thumb". Truth be told, a plant has recently been removed from my care, at work, to go to a better, more equipped home.
Luckily, I am going to write about metaphoric "seeds", and by seeds, I mean ideas. I have learned, through experiences and observations, that one CAN NOT force ideas on someone. It doesn't end well. If you over saturate a plant, it will die. So what do you do with those ideas that you wish to share with others? You plant seeds. You cultivate the environment. You water and you feed. You invest your time and energy, IF the soil is primed and ready for a change.
Every summer, I buy a basil plant, with high hopes that THIS summer will be the summer that it actually lives longer than a week. No such luck, I either saturate it or starve it. Either way, it doesn't flourish...it dies. This holds true with ideas. If we come on too strong, too forceful, we can turn someone off completely...not only to our ideas, but to new ideas in general. On the contrary, if we withhold ideas from others, we take away theirs AND our opportunities to grow. Ideas are precious and must be treated accordingly.
So, what if we have ideas, thoughts that we feel deeply about? Things that we feel would benefit others...what do we do with them? Is it better to do nothing or do something? Depends on the purpose, the intent. Sometimes, we have to just drop those seeds and walk away, the soil may not be ready...yet. But at least the ideas have been planted and something may sprout up. Other times, when the soil is ready, we drop those seeds and proceed with care.
1) Prep the soil. Start with knowing your audience. Feel them out, are they ready? How can you help to get them ready? Get to know your people. What makes them tick? What are their needs, wants? What is the best way to reach them? Will your idea help them to move forward?
2) Know your purpose. Is your intent simply to get YOUR ideas out there? Is this about you or them? If it is about you, you may want to retreat. Dead Basil Plant. If this is about them, make it about them. How will this "thing" benefit them. Here is where empathy is key. Put yourself in their shoes, look at things from their perspective.
3) Drop seeds. Don't come on too strong. Not too many seeds, not too much water. Do not over saturate, overkill. If you have done steps 1 and 2, you should know how and when to drop these seeds, water and feed.
4) Here is the hardest part. Wait. Give them time to take it in. Don't water too quickly. You will know what to do, because you have done the above. The person may reach out to you, that sprout may peek out. If you don't see anything growing after a week or so, this is when you can check in. Just a simple email, text, call, note. "Hey, how's it going? Given any thought to our discussion?". You will know by the response; if you get one; what the next move should be.
5) If you see a plant begin to grow, then you must pay attention to it. Water it, feed it, support it. There will be some people that will take an idea and run with it. Those are your Rosemary Plants. This does not mean you leave them be, they are not a cactus. They will just need a different kind of support.
6) If you see a plant start to wilt, you can decide. Do they want to move forward? If so, you plan accordingly. If they don't, it's ok. We need to respect that. Give them space. Those seeds have been planted.
Here is what I have found. This is where I think the magic happens. Often, we plant those seeds without even realizing it. Then one day, someone reaches out and lets you know. They let you know that what you said or what you did, made a difference. Even better, you hear that they have taken those seeds and passed them on to others. And they are now amazed that those seeds have grown. Although we won't often hear about these circumstances, it is happening, we just have to believe it. If we are passionate and feel strongly about spreading our ideas for good, we have to believe it.
Here is the other thing that is exciting...many times, cross-pollination occurs. Someone might take part of your idea and mix it with their idea. A new hybrid seed has been created and is ready to be planted.
So my advice: be patient, be kind, be thoughtful, be empathetic, be purposeful, be authentic and be supportive. You never know whose lives you are effecting.
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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