Sunday, May 19, 2019

Comfortably Uncomfortable

I am going to take a step back from my usual blog posts about my professional life and write for a moment about my personal life (although still very education-related). When I'm not at school, one of my favorite things to do is to hang out with a special group of kiddos (I've written about them on my blog before). These kids & their families have come to the USA as refugees, facing many challenges that are so different from my own life. This weekend, we're celebrating two girls who are graduating from high school - one is the first in her family, and one is the second (she has an older sibling).

Congratulations, graduates!

When I first met these two, they were in elementary school. We have spent many hours together - from our weekly library homework club (which has been going on for nearly ten years now) to parties to sleepovers and more!

"Family" goes beyond flesh and blood.

I may be the homework helper, but in return, they have welcomed me into their families. At times, it comes with a bit of discomfort. I don't know what kind of food I expected at their graduation parties, but I have to admit, it caught me a little off-guard when I walked in and saw all of this.

Shrimp - bon appetit!
Squid? Octopus? Something like that...

The full dining experience!

And while I don't know if I can say that I enjoy discomfort, I think it is such a good thing for me to experience. It is a reminder of what many kids feel every day when they come to school, to a world where they look different, sound different, and feel different than their peers. It's a reminder that my "normal" is not everyone's "normal" - and mine is not better than anyone else's. It is a reminder that we all have so much to learn from each other, but it takes intentionality and courage to step into a space that is outside of your comfort zone and meet each other there.

Just reach out - like our two first graders
walking to the park today!

When is the last time you were intentionally uncomfortable? What did you learn?

Saturday, May 11, 2019

5 Things I've Learned About Tough Decisions

When my supervisor asked me how my week has been, I responded that "I've felt a little beat up this week. But I'm happy with how I'm handling it." Being an administrator is full of making tough decisions, and often, those decisions generate negative feedback. Sometimes, like this week, a bunch of circumstances all converge, and it feels like I am hearing negative feedback about many different decisions and aspects of my job all at once.

"So what? It's a part of the job," you might say. It's true, but the problem is that I can be an approval addict. I want everyone to like me, all of the time! I know it's not healthy or possible, but it doesn't stop me from feeling uncomfortable when somebody is unhappy with me. This year has yielded many, *ahm*, "opportunities" to practice getting over this tendency.

As our conversation continued, she asked me, "What's different, that makes you you feel like you are handling it well?" While I can't narrow it down to just one thing, here are five things I've learned about making tough decisions:

1. Root your decisions in data, and don't be afraid to share your thought process.

This has been one of the biggest things for me to fall back on in my conversations. I don't make decisions "just because". There is a method to the madness! And when it is rooted in data, whether qualitative or quantitative, it is easier to articulate in a way that makes sense. Transparency and building understanding go a long way in helping people move forward after tough decisions.

2. Respond. Don't put it off.

As I have heard from a wide variety of stakeholders about decisions that I have made and responded, some people have seemed genuinely surprised and grateful to get a response. It's so tempting for me to put off calling back after hearing a voicemail or responding to an unhappy email, but when I do, it actually starts the conversation off on a good note, because it shows that I genuinely value their feedback and am willing to have a conversation.

3. K.I.S.S.

keep it simple stupid the office

Tough conversations can wander all over the place, which is okay, but in the end, I want to keep it simple. I need to be able to boil my decision down to a couple of simple talking points and keep returning to them. This takes me out of the space of having to respond to every emotion and accusation that comes up, and focuses on the core issue. I don't mean to say that you shouldn't listen and respond, or that you shouldn't be open to changing your mind...but make sure you are staying rooted in the real issue at hand, and not wandering into side issues as you go.

4. Proactive communication > reactive communication

As much as possible, proactive communication can help soften and set the stage when decisions need to be made. Nobody likes feeling caught off-guard! Sometimes it even helps to know that a decision is coming, so people can prepare themselves for it.
On a similar note, if you think that things might escalate, it never hurts to give your boss a heads-up that you anticipate some possible pushback. At that point, you can make sure you are on the same page and both feel comfortable with the decision, as well as your response.

5. Trust yourself, but be open to others.

Ultimately, no matter how others feel about it, some decisions are mine to make. I have to be confident enough in myself to know that I am doing the best I can with what I have, and that is enough. Sometimes I'll make mistakes, and that is okay too. This is where being open to others comes in. Prior to making a tough decision, soliciting feedback can keep you from missing certain angles and perspectives. After a decision has been made, if somebody points out something you haven't thought of, be open to that. Weigh it against your reasoning, and see if it changes your thought process. Don't be afraid to take more time to think about it if necessary. But in the end, if the decision is yours to make, the person you have to convince is yourself. Trust your instincts.

We all have decisions to make every day. What have you learned about making tough decisions? Share your tips and thoughts below!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Aspen Summit 2019: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Last weekend, I enjoyed another #EdTechTeam summit. It was nice to be back in the ed tech world again, a bit weird to remember what it is like to present, and amazing to think about how much I have grown in the ~6 months since I last presented at a summit. I went through the #GoogleEI academy, have grown into an administrative/leadership role, and done a lot of personal reflecting and growing along the way.

A picture is worth a thousand words. I didn't capture as many details this weekend as I sometimes do in my sketchnotes, but I wrote down what was most meaningful and important to me. And that's what it's all about, right? Making meaning.


Have a great weekend, everyone!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Authentic Celebrations of Learning

This week, I had so much fun at our district high school art show reception. Along with the art show, we had a runway show to showcase the work of our students in the cosmetology program! It made me think about how powerful it is to have truly authentic celebrations of learning.


The students in the program had created headpieces made entirely out of hair! What an amazing display of artistic talent! The variety and detail was stunning! The students also did the (natural) hair and makeup for the models for the evening.


The runway was built by our construction program. Again - an authentic project to be used at an authentic event. Pretty cool!


The models were entirely professional - this wasn't some giggly kids show, but they had their walks choreographed and timed and looked amazing while doing it.


Authentic audience. That is one of the cornerstones of project-based learning, and it was on display this night. Before this, I had no idea that our cosmetology department engaged in projects like this. I didn't think much about our construction program! These are all a part of our Career & Technical Education (CTE) program, which sometimes isn't given the same weight as our traditional "academic" classes...but why?


It's important for kids to find their place and talents, and some of them clearly shined this night. I'm grateful that we had such an amazing and appreciative audience to cheer these kiddos on and a great venue to hold the show in!


How are YOU celebrating your students' creative talents? How often do they get to share with an authentic audience?





Saturday, April 20, 2019

I Remember

These are new shoes. Are they going to get all scuffed up?

On Wednesday, my district, along with several other districts in the state, cancelled school. Not for a snow storm or other weather-related issue, but because of the threat of school violence.

It's hard to describe my thoughts and feelings about that. I'm grateful to everyone who keeps us safe, and I'm grateful that the decision was made to put safety first. But I'm also sad and mad that this is our reality. That a threat of violence can shut down the schools of an entire metro area, because we can't risk sending our kids to school.

It COULD happen here. It is happening here.

It also makes me remember an incident of school violence I experienced a few years ago. It wasn't a shooting, nobody died, and it quickly faded from the news. But something like this brings back the details, sharp and clear in my mind. The shoes I was wearing. The calmness that blanketed me during the day, as we took care of all of the kiddos in the school, and the shock that came later, after they were all home with their parents. The realization that it could happen anywhere, anytime. And the decision that, even knowing that there is never a 100% guarantee of safety, I don't want to live in fear.

"As teachers, we are so wired to take care of the kids. Don't be surprised if this hits you harder weeks or months down the road. It's normal."

That quote above, from a principal at another school, was some of the best advice I received when it happened. She was right - that was my experience. I'm just dropping her words here in case somebody else needs to hear it.

Back to the present: returning to work on Thursday, after they found the person who was making these threats, was weird. Everything just felt off. They found her dead, an apparent suicide. I was glad that the threat was over, but can you ever really rejoice in someone else's death? Especially an 18-year-old girl who clearly had a lot going on?

I'm not really sure where I am going with this post, other than putting my thoughts out there, but I do want to end with a few takeaways I am thinking about:

  • Watch out for each other. We are built for relationships & connection, and it makes a big difference in life.
  • Reach out. I was so grateful for a friend who texted me, following the school closure, to share her experience (she was also at the school I was at when the incident happened a few years ago). We had a good little texting conversation about some of what we remember and how it changes how we process/experience events like the one that happened this week.
  • Be real. Don't pretend nothing is happening. Acknowledge it with your kids (in an age-appropriate way), your co-workers, and parents who are around. We are all feeling it, and hiding it makes things even worse.
  • Live life. Don't let fear take over. We can't control everything (nor should we). So don't get caught up in trying to be in control. Just live!
  • Finally, if you ever find yourself in a situation like this and want/need to talk, please know that I'm willing. It's such a taboo subject in our culture, but holding it in can make it even worse! So whether we've met IRL or are PLN friends, know that you are not alone <3.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Words Can Hurt; Words Can Heal

A couple of years ago, somebody made a comment comparing my cello playing to my violin playing. I didn't think anything of it at the time - I am a violinist, and play cello as secondary instrument. I am nowhere near as skilled or as comfortable playing cello, and it didn't surprise me when this person alluded to that!

Fast forward a couple of years, and I realized that I was feeling significant anxiety around playing cello in certain environments (especially on worship team at church).

This weekend, as I was preparing to do just that, I said something at practice about not being very confident on cello. And was met with this response: "Well, we're all confident in your cello skills!" I was amazed at how much that single comment made me relax. 

As I reflect, I wonder, did I let an offhand comment, said innocently, grow into a cloud of doubt about my own musical skills? I want to be clear - I don't blame the person who originally said it to me - it was a completely fair assessment! But something about it affected me far more than intended.

***

How do words our students? I was fascinated when I was reading a book by Brene Brown, and she shared, "When I started the research on shame, you know, 13 years ago, I found that 85% of the men and women who I interviewed remembered an event in school that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. But wait – this is good – fifty percent of that 85% percent, half of those people: those shame wounds were around creativity. So fifty percent of those people have art scars. Have creativity scars.
(TBH, I don't remember which book I first read that stat in, so I Googled it...the quote here is from a podcast.)

As teachers, our words can have a huge impact. They can hurt, but they can also heal. So how can we give constructive criticism in a way that builds, rather than squashes, creativity? The following is a list that comes to my mind - feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments!

  • Balance is important - this feels like something we hear all of the time in teacher prep courses and PD sessions, but pay attention to what kind of feedback you are giving to each individual over time, and make sure it includes both positive feedback and feedback for growth.
  • Specific suggestions - "This needs to be better," feels hopeless, but "This needs to be better, and I think you can work on it by _______," instills a sense of confidence and expectation that they can get there.
  • Recognize the growth - if you give feedback to somebody and see them follow through on it, follow up with a compliment about how they improved! This strengthens not only the relationship of working hard = getting better, but your personal connection as well, because you noticed something specific about the way they have improved!
  • Ask questions - Particularly in creative subjects, what might look or sound like a blob or a mess to me might have significant meaning to the creator. Ask them questions about their intentions and the meaning of their work, and then give feedback to help them more clearly get their message across (if appropriate).
  • Be vulnerable with your own creativity, too - Being creative is risky. It is vulnerable. You are putting yourself out there in a way that is more individual and personal than something where there is a right & wrong answer. When we model our own triumphs and successes with creativity, we give our kids the freedom to do the same.
***

This weekend, I was able to play with freedom. Instead of spending the whole time worrying about getting this note in tune, staying solidly on the bass line, or balancing with the rest of the group, I was able to just play and have fun! Words can hurt, but words can also heal. Which words will you speak to your students with this week?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Grace in the Moment

This week, I have had lots of tough conversations.
But I have also witnessed incredible grace.

Nothing sticks out to me more than when I was delivering bad news to a friend and colleague this week, and she was clearly very upset (with good reason). But then she turned it around on me and said, "I'm sorry, it's probably been a hard week for you, delivering bad news to so many different people." Wow, talk about empathy - thinking about how I feel in a time like this?

Her comment reminded me of the humanity of this profession. Sure, we are workers, but we are people first. And people can love and support each other, no matter what the circumstances are.

It also made me think that, while I hate the fact that I have to have some of these conversations, it's also an honor to be able to stand with people in tough times. I can handle the news with as much compassion, kindness, and care as I can. There's something so beautifully human about being with people in their brokenness and vulnerability, and mine as well - it creates a bond. A human connection. An authentic relationship.

So, while it stinks to deliver bad news, it comes with an opportunity. Whatever the news or relationship may be professionally, in that moment, we are two people on the same ground, connecting with each other. And that's worth something.

I guess it hasn't been such a bad week after all!

Inspired by Brene Brown's video on empathy - watch it here!