Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Tale of Two Conversations

I want to paint a picture of two conversations between a teacher and a student. Both started with a problem that needed solving.

In the first conversation, they talk about the issue.
The teacher helps the student brainstorm ideas about how to solve it, or at least what next steps might be. The questions that the teacher asks sound like this: "What is the root of the problem? What would make it better? How could you get there?"
They bounce ideas around and end up co-constructing a plan. In the end, they walk out of there with a clear idea of what to do next.

In the second conversation, they talk a bit about the issue, but more about the student who is seeking help.
The teacher asks questions to help the student reflect, such as, "What do you wish you could say? How do you think this is affecting you? What would you need to be able to move forward?"
They talk through these questions, and in the end, they walk out with some ideas of what to do, but a deeper understanding of themselves personally.

Both of these conversations are helpful, but they lead to slightly different outcomes.
Which conversation is more helpful in the short-term?
Which conversation is more helpful in the long-term?
Which conversation do you tend to have with your students?
How can we incorporate both angles into our interactions?

[Thoughts I'm pondering as I think about how to teach SEL skills, with both students and adults!]

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Little Reminder Goes a Long Way

It feels like I'm blogging a lot about my personal journey at work these days (as opposed to students/teachers), but that's where I'm at - and I know I'm not the only one who has ever dealt with a reorganization or job change!

My new role has been full of a lot of learning, which is GOOD. I love learning new things! At the same time, it can be hard on my confidence. Impostor Syndrome is a real thing, and I have found myself wondering how I can effectively support teachers whose jobs look very different than mine looked when I was teaching.

It's with this mix of overwhelmed learning + "Am I really the right person for this?" that I approached the Colorado EdTechTeam Summit this year.

The day started off with a good reminder from keynote speaker Rushton Hurley

"The only person to whom you ever need to compare yourself is the you who you were yesterday."

Are you looking in the mirror to compare, or looking out the window at everyone else?


After that, I had the opportunity to present on fun stuff: GSuite in the Arts, Spreadsheet AutoMagic, and some Google Experiment play at the playground. It reminded me (as always) that I really enjoy presenting! All of those little moments - the exclamations of "Oh, that's awesome!", "I am doing this with my kids on Monday!", and "That's so cool!" - filled my bucket. I always appreciate positive feedback (who doesn't?), but even more this year when I have felt like such a novice in my day-to-day job.

I think God knew I needed this reminder - despite all of the new, I still have strengths to bring to the table. I have a renewed sense of efficacy in being able to serve and help teachers & students. I have so much to learn, but I also have some good background to draw on.

Passing It On

Which, of course brings me to students. How often do we focus on their weaknesses, instead of their strengths? Do we recognize the background that they bring to the table as a source of learning? Do we make them feel like they are a beginner at everything, or do we value and build on their prior knowledge? These questions are especially relevant for our students who come with different cultural backgrounds that we do.

A little reminder goes a long way. Which student needs a little reminder from you today?

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Importance of Our Strengths

For anyone who knows me or has been following my blog, it's probably not a secret that it has been a tough beginning of the year for me. A district reorganization, a new job, new teams, and a lot of change means that I've been spending a lot of energy the past few months adjusting to the changes. And it's been hard.

As I continue to struggle with settling into my new job, I've tried to figure out why - and I had a realization today. I'm spending far more time working out of my weaknesses than out of my strengths.

What does this look like, practically? I'm supporting subject areas I'm just learning, while the teachers I am supporting have been teaching this class for years. I'm spending most of my day in meetings, rather than being out with teachers and students. And, in the areas where I feel like I have strengths, the work has shifted to other people/job functions, so I am not supposed to be doing these things (so we can all settle into our new roles).

It's frustrating. I also know that we are still in the beginning stages of this change, and sometimes things just take time.

Meanwhile, this has sparked many thoughts for me about how we treat our students. Are there kids in your class who feel like they spend their whole day working out of their weaknesses, and desperately want you to recognize their strengths (whether they are in traditional academics or elsewhere)? Do they feel like they are cut off from using their sources of strength to aid in their learning? What does this do to their confidence and their view of themselves as learners?

I hope that we can all take a strengths-based approach to see the beautiful strengths all of our students bring. They may be learning English, and they have a rich cultural and linguistic heritage from somewhere else. Their family may be staying with another family right now due to financial constraints, and they might have learned how to get along with a wide variety of people. They may have a disability, and they might have learned to think creatively about how to accomplish things. Which side are we going to focus on?

I hope that we, as educators, can leverages students' strengths to build their confidence and capacity as learners, allowing them to move onto bigger and bigger challenges and ultimately to soar!

(And I hope that, one of these days, I will find ways to bring my strengths more and more into my daily work!)

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

I'm now entering my third year being out of the classroom. Three years. In some ways, it feels like forever ago, but in other ways, it feels like just yesterday that I had students of my own.

It's hard, sometimes, working at the district level. I miss kids. I miss those relationships that only develop when you see them every day. And I miss teaching itself - the art of crafting a lesson, knowing your learners, and connecting with kids in that moment!

I also worry about becoming irrelevant. About losing touch with what life is like when you are teaching kiddos day in and day out. I fear that I might forget the planning, the grading, the parent emails, the hallway duty, and the never-ending stream of wondering how you could help your kids even more.

But then I remember: Once a teacher, always a teacher. A couple of weeks ago, I got to teach a Sunday School lesson at church (to kindergarten/1st graders), and it was awesome. One of those moments where you feel like you have their attention, they are engaged and excited to learn, and everything is just clicking! And then, this week, due to ice and snow and bad roads, I got to be an emergency sub for a couple of hours (until all of the teachers could make it to school). It was so much fun to be teaching kids again! It made me remember that:
1) I still love this,
2) I can still do it (even if I am a little rusty), and
3) I never want to lose touch with teaching.

I'm a firm believer that, no matter where you are in education, it is important to be in schools and important to be in classrooms. That's where the rubber hits the road! I've tried to keep that lens and spend time in classrooms throughout my time in a district position, and I hope I can continue to find little ways to exercise my teaching heart as well!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Meeting Structures

If you have been following this blog, you know that my district has been going through a change that has put many people in the place of working with new teams. While there are some awesome things happening, it has not been without its struggles! On my team (of three), one of the things we noticed is that we were having trouble in our weekly team meetings.

The problem: We had way too much to get through, and we weren't getting through it all! Additionally, we didn't have a very good way of organizing or prioritizing items, so sometimes we would get caught up talking about something that was less important and run out of time for the things that we really needed to deal with.

The solution: Although I tend to prefer a flexible approach, it became clear that we needed better structures for our meetings. We've been able to implement a couple of things that have helped. To be honest, we still have trouble getting through all of our work, and the system is not perfect, but it is better...and we know we will continue to tweak and improve!

So, what structures do you use?
  • We have one person labeled as the "agenda builder" (responsible for building the agenda prior to the meeting) and one person as the "facilitator/timekeeper". In the agenda, we list an amount of time for each item and the facilitator sets a timer during the meeting. When the timer goes off, we either decide to allocate more time to the item (and take it away from other things) or decide to pick it up again next week.
  • The agenda is on a spreadsheet, with columns for links, notes, and follow-up needed. There is also a "cover page" of links & important info (such as our norms & agreements) that we refer to often.
  • We have sections for "quick work" (mostly FYIs that somebody might want to say a few words about), "immediate decisions" (things that need to be decided or done but won't take more than a few minutes), and "discussion topics" (things that need more exploration & discussion). The agenda builder is responsible for placing things in the appropriate categories.
  • We begin each meeting with a 5-minute structure where each person says what their top priority is for the meeting that day. This allows us to all be aware of the things that are really burning on people's minds that we need to get to!
  • We reserve the last 10 minutes of the meeting for our closing structure, no matter where we are. During this time, we circle back to everyone's top priority to make sure we addressed it, we label agenda items if we need to carry them forward to the next week, and we make sure we are clear on follow-up steps. Then, we go around and each state a positive outcome from the meeting and anything we are still wondering.
Although we still have a long way to go, this structure has helped me, at least, feel like we are prioritizing our work more successfully and getting through more in our meetings. I'm sure we will continue to evolve this structure as we go, but it's nice to have a starting point!

Interested in a copy of our agenda template? Check it out here!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Walking the Tightrope

Today's soundtrack is brought to you by The Greatest Showman:

I'm writing this morning after coming off of a really hard week. One of those weeks where it feels like you are knocked down, over and over, and every time you try to stand up, another gust of wind comes and keeps you on the ground.

But I wouldn't say it's been a bad week. Sure, that's easier to say on this side of it, but it's been a week full of learning through the struggle and facing what's going on instead of running away from it. Ultimately, I know that will lead to healthier and better outcomes.

So, what's been going on?

Our organization is going through a lot of change at the moment. A massive reorganization of district staff supporting instruction means that I am in a new role, working with a new team, for a new supervisor, in a new place...and so is everyone else. Our jobs are still being defined, and we don't exactly know what everything looks like yet. Of course, as we are figuring things out, we all have a tendency to fill in the blanks with what makes sense to us in our frame of reference. And now, a month into the school year, these assumptions are starting to come out and grate against each other. And that's uncomfortable!

At the moment, I feel like I'm walking on a tightrope. On one side is where we hope to get to with this change - being super supportive to schools, working well together as a team, and doing everything we can to set our students up for success. On the other side is the messy chaos and fears that come with making a change. On a personal level, one side contains a world where I feel excited about my work, where I see how I am making a difference, and where I have strong relationships with teammates and schools. On the other side, I feel purposeless, unsure of what I am doing or why I am doing it, and feel disconnected from those I am meant to work closely with.

The messy middle

I've always loved the term "the messy middle." It acknowledges the reality of things being hard in the moment, but simultaneously shares the hope of things getting better. And that is exactly where I am at right now. Holding on, clinging to my belief that this stage will slowly start to fade away and I will find myself more firmly planted on the light side.

Supporting through change

So, why do I share all of this here? Some of it is because I want to be real on this blog, and share both the triumphs and the struggles. But beyond that, it has made me think about how we support people through change. What felt supportive to me this week?
  • Listening - letting me share and process as I tried to navigate the tension I have been feeling
  • Reassurance that it was okay to be in this place - we don't have to pretend that everything is great all of the time, and we have all felt this way at times
  • A bit of margin - permission to go outside and take a walk for a minute to clear my head and not feel bad for not "working" during this time
  • Asking questions - helping me see things from another perspective
  • Attending to both the concrete solutions/ideas (let's try this to help) and the deeper emotional side (I hear that you are feeling like this) - seeing the whole person
  • Affirmation - when things feel unsteady, it is easy to doubt myself, and the words (especially from supervisors) about what I am doing well were helpful reminders to me
I know that, being in a district-level position, part of my role is help others navigate change as well. I hope that I can be just as supportive as my leaders have been to me, largely through doing things on this list, and through doing that, we will all be able to walk through this change (and others that will come!) and come out stronger on the other side.

How do you support others in navigating change?

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Connecting with Parents

I want to relay a powerful experience I had at an elementary school Back to School Night this week. I attended the first session with some of the relocated refugee families that I work with, and didn't think much of it - it was a pretty typical presentation by the teachers, something that I have taken part in dozens of times.

As we went out to dinner (kudos to this school and their community partners, who provide dinner for families at Back to School Night), one of the parents asked me how she could help her kids with her homework, because sometimes she understood it and sometimes she didn't.

This conversation got me thinking - was she walking away from B2SN feeling empowered to partner with the school to help her students, or dis-empowered because she didn't have the requisite skills?

As we went back for the second session (siblings!), I tried to listen to the presentations through that lens. I heard many great ideas from teachers about how parents can help, such as "read to/with your child," "read clocks with them," "talk about numbers in your everyday life," etc. And it made me think...if I couldn't read with my child or read a clock myself, how would I feel? Would I see a place for myself in this home-school partnership, or would I leave the education of the kids to the school?

Let me be clear...the teachers didn't do anything wrong. Of course we want to provide ideas for how parents can be involved and help their students at home! And the ideas they provided were perfectly appropriate.

I also want to be clear...while these parents may not be literate (in English or their own language), they have a multitude of skills and things to contribute to their child's education, and they WANT to be supportive and involved.

I'm just wondering how we bridge the two. I don't have any perfect answers, but I think it is important for us as educators to think about how an event meant to connect families, when viewed through a different lens, may actually be subtly doing the opposite. And maybe, just having that little bit of perspective and sensitivity can lead to a conversation or comment that helps ALL families feel empowered to take part in the education of their students.

I'm so grateful for this moment to step into the perspective of this parent to learn something new. I've never thought about this before, and I hope that it will spark some small change in me...and the future!