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 others...in the future!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Trust

One concept I have been pondering lately is trust. I've worked in schools before that have a good feel to them, and it is often correlated with a high degree of trust in the building. On the other hand, I've also worked in places where the culture is pretty negative, and when asked why things are a certain way, one of the first answers tends to be that there is a lack of trust between different groups. Trust is a big deal. But what do we mean when we talk about trust in this professional sense?

A couple of years ago, one of my principals talked to me about the 3 Cs of trust: caring, competence, and consistency.
*I feel like I should cite an original source here, but I don't really know where this has come from - in my life, it is from thousands of observations and conversations!



Let's break down the different components below:

Caring - Simply put, if I don't believe that you care, it's going to be hard for me to trust you. I need to know that you care about your work, about the kids that we work with, and about their families and lives. I also need to know that you care about me...not just as an employee or coworker, but as a person!

Consistent - This has to do with fairness. For me to really trust you, I need to know that you will not play favorites or act differently depending on the day. Sometimes a lack of consistency is intentional, but sometimes it's unintentional - it's unsettling when you aren't sure how a person will react to different situations! This doesn't mean that you always do things exactly the same way, but you need to have a consistent way of approaching situations, which largely comes from convictions & morals.

Competent - Even with the best intentions, if I don't think you are able to do your job well, I'm going to have trouble trusting you professionally. I need to believe that you have the ability to act on your intentions.

Transparency - This is added around the circle, because it is how we judge the three Cs. Not only is it important to be caring, consistent, and competent, you have to let people see it! Flaunting it is not the goal, and neither is oversharing - but secrecy naturally breeds suspicion. If you are open about how you make decisions and handle situations, I will be more likely to see the three Cs come out, and that leads to greater trust.

While this framework has been helpful for me in building trust, it has actually been more helpful when I feel trust breaking down between myself and somebody else. I can usually pinpoint one of these components as the reason why I'm having trouble trusting...and that helps me ask for what I need and get to a solution more quickly. On the flipside, it is a good reminder to me about developing trust, especially at this time of year when we are meeting new teachers (and students) all of the time!

Trust. An abstract concept that shapes our relationships and interactions. Do you have anything you would add to this idea drawing about trust?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Safe Place

Where is your safe place?

When you are having a hard day, where do you want to go "escape" to? Do you run to the bathroom? Is it your car? Do you just want to be home, or out somewhere at a special place?

Who do you pick up the phone to text or call? I know that I have certain people that I can text and say something short, like, "It's been a hard morning, please pray," and they will be there for me. I know that when I get those texts, it's not the time to ask a million questions, but a time to just be there (virtually) to provide support.

Do our kids have safe places?

The beginning of school is full of transitions and new things, and that can be overwhelming for some of our kiddos! With new teachers and classes and sometimes a new school, where is their safe place? Who can they go to? Do they have an outlet when they just need a moment to breathe?

Teachers, principals, and everyone else in schools - as we begin the year, please be willing to be a safe place for our kids. Respond with grace and compassion. Know that the beginning of the year and all of the change can trigger fear and anxiety in many students. Some will show it more than others, but they all need to know that they have a safe place at school if needed.

And for those of you who, like me, work in the central office - be a safe place for those you support. Working directly with kids every day can be emotionally draining, and sometimes we can help carry the burden that teachers feel every day, leaving our teachers with more energy to be on the front lines with our kids.

Do you have a safe place? Can you be a safe place?

I have the feeling that if we all did a little more of this, the world would be a better place ❤️.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Just Listen

I learned a lesson this week: Sometimes, you just need to create space and listen.

I learned through being on the receiving end. I had been having an issue at work, but I didn't know how to bring it up or deal with it. It was a relief when one of my leaders asked me if I wanted to talk.

This moment was the turning point of my week.

I'm reminded that, as a leader, sometimes you have to seek people out and push/prompt them a bit. I didn't want to bother anyone else, especially at this busy time of year when we are all consumed with getting schools ready for kids! Some people won't be afraid to share what's going on (ever), while others may tend to keep to themselves without prompting. A healthy practice is to create time & space to talk with people without an agenda...and then truly listen to what they have to say. I can almost guarantee it will lead to new information & insights about your team that you would not have known to ask for!

So my challenge to you today? Amidst all of the hustle and bustle, make sure you find a way to create a space to just listen this week. It will be worth it!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Blogging Break

Hello friends! I have loved posting on this blog for the past several years, and blogging has become a part of my weekly routine. At the same time, I have found myself struggling to figure out what to write more and more often. Not being in the classroom provides me with a rich new perspective, but one that is harder (and, at times, less appropriate) to share publicly.

I'm not good at saying no to things, but as we begin the new school year, I think I need to give myself permission to take a break from weekly blogging. I will still post on here as I feel inspired, and with any luck, I will actually be spending more time in schools this year, which might fuel my blogging creativity!

Allowing myself to take a break from something is never easy...but it is all a good lesson in #selfcare, right?

Bitmoji Image

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Back to My Musical Roots

I still love teaching.

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me into her classroom to teach a mini-lesson about music, STEM, the physics of sound, etc. The audience was a group of rising 3rd graders. Of course, I said yes! We had a blast, and they were super engaged, so we ended up going much longer than originally anticipated. I wanted to share some of the more interactive activities we did below for my fellow musical friends - these could work well with any age, from preschool up through elementary school, or as a part of an accessible lesson for students with special needs.

Feel the Music

After playing and providing a little bit of an intro, talking about how the strings vibrate to make sound, I invited the students up to feel the vibrations while I played. Watching their faces was precious as they truly "felt" the music! Many of them also commented on how it tickled their hands :-).
*Note: This works best on cello or some larger bass instrument - I have also done it with trombone!












Learn a song!

The next step for these students was to learn a bit of a song! I used the Cabbage Song, one of my traditional beginning songs. The melody is four lines with a standard bass line, so after practicing with solfege hand symbols, I called four students over to the cello and assigned them each one line (4 notes - easy enough to memorize). They each practiced individually, and then we put it all together with me playing violin them playing the bass line, and the rest of the class doing hand symbols for the bass line!
*This, obviously, will only work with kids who are a bit older - it's probably too much for preschoolers to handle. I was a bit worried at first about taking care of the cello while it was on the ground, but they were super respectful and did great!


Play your own song!





The last interactive activity I did with the students was call them up, one at a time (if they wanted to play), and had them choose a song they wanted to try. The songs ranged anywhere from "Twinkle, Twinkle" to movie music from Moana! I taught them the very basics of how to hold the instrument (hand on the shoulder, hold the bow on the frog), and had them move the bow back and forth on one string while I did fingerings for them. This always results in a lot of laughter, because it is hard to keep the bow on one string and keep a good sound, so we get lots of *interesting* sounds! My fingering isn't always 100% accurate from this angle, either :-). Nevertheless, it is fun for the students to get the chance to "play" something that they want to play and also provides a great opportunity to talk about how hard work can pay off!








Finale

Of course, beyond these interactive moments, I played violin, talked about low and high (bigger and smaller instruments), demonstrated tuning (looser/tighter), etc. It was a great day with a great group of kiddos!

On a personal note, it was such a relief to realize that I can still go into a classroom and command the attention of a group of kids. That might sound silly, but now that I don't teach every day, I sometimes feel a little rusty! I never want to be too far removed from the day-to-day reality of teaching, and this was a great way for me to jump in with my favorite subject and just be with kids. I look forward to more opportunities like this over the course of the year!