Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Ripple Effect of Our Actions

I vividly remember a mistake I made one year when I was a summer school principal.

A teacher had come to me, letting me know that another staff member was consistently coming in late (right as the kids were arriving). This teacher didn't want to be a "tattletale", but did feel like it was affecting the kids and the rest of the team.

Instead of addressing it directly with that staff member, I sent out a general email to the whole staff with a reminder of our hours and when we were supposed to be there in the morning. "I'm protecting the teacher who told me," I told myself. "Now no one will know who snitched."

Later, I found out the ripple effect - a couple of different people came to me, looking unsettled, and asked if that was targeted at them. "I feel bad, I know there was one day that I had to juggle daycare dropoff because my spouse was out of town and I was a few minutes late, but I will make sure that doesn't happen again." "Have I done something wrong?" "Was that about me...is there something we need to talk about?" Yikes - I felt bad! This reminder had NOTHING to do with them. Instead of addressing the issue where it was happening, I had created a sense of unease and guilt among my staff. That is the exact opposite of what I meant to do!

What did I learn from this incident? I took the cowardly way out. I didn't want to deal with conflict directly, so I found a way to avoid it (and even justified it in my mind).

Okay, I know this wasn't a huge deal in the grand scheme of things (one email about showing up on time), but it taught me an important lesson about dealing with conflict and how, as a leader, your words & actions can be magnified. This lesson is now coming to mind as I am on the other side, feeling a little anxious, and being 99.9% sure it's not about me (but is it...?).

Being a leader is hard. You have so much power, and something small can turn into something big. People are quick to interpret things, and they may interpret them differently than what you intended. As leaders, we need to be careful, and mindful of how our actions affect others. As followers, we need to be gracious to our leaders, because they are human too!

If there's one thing I've learned, though, it's that shying away from healthy conflict - accountability, honest conversations, and tough love - is not helpful. I'm hoping for more of that in my world, because even though it can be harder in the short-term, it leads to better relationships and a healthier environment in the end!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

An IEP Meeting...from the Other Side

This past week, I went to an (initial) IEP meeting for one of the kiddos I work with. I know the teachers at this school pretty well, but my role here was to support the parent & family. I was on the other side - literally, when the meeting started, I physically moved from sitting next to the teachers (where I was) to the other side of the table (next to the parents).

We had a great meeting and walked away with some concrete goals and a lot of support. But, as is often the case, doing things with my friends from a different culture gives me a new perspective on our educational system - even something I've done dozens of times, like attend IEP meetings! Here are some of my thoughts:

  • IEPs are ridiculous. Don't get me wrong, I am so glad we have laws and protections for some of our more vulnerable students, and I am grateful that they have access to the help they need! At the same time, the number of forms, the lengthy process that must be followed exactly, and the number of sections on each form...it struck me that they were probably all added because something had gone wrong or ended up in court. It was hard to try to explain to my friend, whose life as a refugee did not allow her to spend time in a consistent education system and comes from a culture where teachers are honored and valued, why she had to sign the consent for evaluation, the consent to release information, the consent to bill to Medicaid, the eligibility determination paperwork, the IEP, and more. And why the same information was listed on the evaluation report and the IEP. And why there were so many sections. Just trying to explain that made me think...this is a little ridiculous. It's all there for a reason, but when it comes down to it, the stacks of paperwork can't distract us from the heart of the matter - helping the kiddo we all care about!
  • Disabilities are viewed differently in different places in the world. The kiddo we were there for was identified with a (fairly mild) speech-language disability. In talking to his mom, she spoke of another person who had a similar issue, but he grew up in the camps and nobody really thought twice about it. It was just the way that person was. We are all excited to be able to help this kiddo, and I think it will help improve his quality of life, but that perspective made me remember that we are all human. In the education world, this label is a ticket to services and supports, but on other places, differences are viewed as just that - differences. Not things that make a person better or worse or more or less likely to succeed. (I also know that, in other parts of the world, disabilities are a reason to cast someone out or drown a child in the river - it's not always pretty!) It was a good reminder to not let the specific labels take away from the basic humanity that defines us all.
  • Parents matter. In this case, we were looking at an emerging bilingual student whose first language is not English. In fact his first language is not something that we could formally test in (it is a tribal language). Because of this, it became imperative to check in with the parents about their observations of their child. Through interviews, we were able to determine that the speech issues were present in both languages, not just English. (Formal tests were also given - it wasn't just based on interviews - but they played a key piece in understanding the intersection of a disability and an English Language Learner). While this situation was unique, it showed just how important parents are as a part of the IEP team.
  • A good team makes a world of difference. I have been nothing but impressed by this particular group of teachers and how thorough, thoughtful, and caring they are. As a result, this kid has been growing by leaps and bounds! In the end, what makes the biggest difference, from the school system, is a kid's teachers. Their relationships with the student, expertise in knowing when and how to challenge the student, and the way they see the whole child have made a HUGE difference for this child!
It's easy for me to think this way when I am on the other side of the table, sitting next to parents who speak a different language than me, but how will I bring this perspective in the next time I attend an IEP meeting as an educational professional? I guess we will have to wait and find out - but I definitely have learned some lessons this week!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Colorado Music Educators Association Conference (CMEA) 2020!

I'm just returning home from CMEA 2020, full of good food and good memories (but running low on sleep)! I think this is the most I have ever enjoyed the conference. Why? Mostly, it comes down to purpose - I knew why I was there, I knew what I wanted to get out of it, and that helped guide me toward a great conference experience!

Here's the thing about being in my position - most of the sessions are designed for current music teachers. I struggled a little bit last year trying to figure out what to go to - should I go to the things I am interested in (which mostly align to my strengths)? Or places where I need to learn and grow? It's awesome if a session has "strategies that can be implemented in your class on Monday," but without a class of my own, what was I supposed to do with these tips?

This year, I made it simple. I wanted to go where the teachers in my district were going. My purpose in being at the conference was not to take in a ton of great learning for myself (although that is always a benefit), but to allow me to better support my teachers. Obviously if they were presenting or performing, I was in that room, but beyond that, if one wanted to go learn how to start a mariachi group, I wanted to be right there beside her, hearing the same things so I could be a thought partner as she starts out! Knowing we just implemented full-day kindergarten in my district, which doubled the number of minutes of music, I wanted to be in the kindergarten session to get ideas for how to engage our youngest learners for an extended amount of time. And if a teacher wanted to talk for a bit in the lobby, outside of a session, that is where I wanted to be.

It ended up being a great balance! I still went to a couple of sessions that I just wanted to experience personally, but they were ones that didn't conflict with anything that I felt really compelled to be at with the teachers in my district. And, after going to sessions with teachers, we were able to have some great instructional conversations because we had a common base to start with!

All in all, this clarity of purpose helped me evaluate and prioritize my schedule and not feel guilty about choosing one thing over another. It made me wonder - should I be thinking about this for any (large) conference I attend? How much better would my professional learning be if I invested a little bit of thought ahead of time about what I wanted to get out of it?

It was great to see people from all walks of my musical life. It was great to learn a lot. But, most of all, it was great to build relationships, appreciate the talent in our district, and see how excited everyone was about offering the best possible instruction to their students! I may be tired, but a little bit of purpose goes a long way in making this an extremely successful conference!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Culture

It's fascinating to think about how culture shapes who we are, how we think and process information, and how we act. I've been thinking about this more lately as I read Zaretta Hammond's Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. This may eventually turn into a series, but for now, I want to focus on the first part: self-awareness.

So, who am I? How does my culture impact me? Well, I'm half-Chinese. This means that half of my extended family doesn't speak English as their first language, serves (somewhat) different food at home, and sometimes have different ways of communicating ideas (that are more typical in Chinese culture). Although I have never lived very close to them (geographically), they have always been a presence in my life, and I have always felt connected to this piece of my identity.

[On the other side of the family, I have ancestors who moved to the USA a couple of generations back from Europe. While I don't want to neglect this side of my past, it is much more similar to the dominant culture where I live, so I am going to focus my blog on my half-Asian side.]

While it's hard to pinpoint the exact implications this has had on my life, I wanted to write and reflect on a few ideas here:

  • I have always been around people, who I love, who speak English with an accent, or don't speak it fluently. I would guess that it has naturally given me a higher comfort level when communicating cross-culturally than I would have otherwise.
  • While I realize that Asian Americans face different realities than those of other races, I have still had personal experiences that demonstrate racial insensitivity (at best). Usually, I just shrug these things off - what else can you do? But I'm starting to wonder if it's an entry point to deeper conversation.
  • Something that one of the (South Asian) refugee kids I work with has stuck with me - "The bad thing about being Asian is that everybody expects you to be smart. It's worse being a stupid Asian." While there are many things to unpack in that statement (and you'd better believe we had a conversation about how different strengths does NOT mean you are stupid!), it opened my eyes to the fact that even "good" racial stereotypes can be harmful.
  • I've been thinking a lot about the concepts of individualism vs. collectivism. I'm not sure I have really concrete thoughts to write about, I see both really manifest in different areas of my life. It's given me a good lens to think about as I work with students, teachers, and especially my friends who are relocated refugees! I feel a little bad mentioning it here without really having much to say, but it's altered my perspective, albeit subtly, enough that I feel like I need to at least mention it here.
This has been a learning journey for me, and one that I have struggled with how much to say on a public blog. Examining your own cultural background, implicit biases, and thinking about how it interacts with others' is deep work - and easy to misinterpret on a blog without the benefit of non-verbal communication! At the same time, not talking about it enables current patterns to continue, so I feel compelled to write something. Curious to talk more about this? Please reach out - I'm happy to have one-on-one conversations in more detail!

How does your culture influence you? How are you building your own capacity for cultural responsiveness?

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Reading Reflections from 2019

Although I enjoy reading, 2018 is the first time I tracked the books I read over the course of the year. Last year, I am happy to say that I read 52 books - one for each week! Some thoughts & reflections are below.

Refugee Ready
As a part of my #GoogleEI project, Refugee Ready, I am trying to put together a good book list of books featuring refugees. Of course, before I include them on a list, I want to read them! 32 of my 52 books for the year were related to refugees, and it was a great way to expand my horizons and read diverse titles that normally wouldn't be on my radar.

Professional Learning
Although I like reading to learn, I generally find that I prefer to come home and escape into a good book. That being said, I read 7 books this year that drove my personal professional growth, and another 5 YA books related to my new role (working with Language Arts), because I wanted to see what the kids were reading in their classes. I expect this number to go up in the future as I continue to learn what literature for LA class looks like in 2020, which is different than when I took it many years ago! There has been a strong focus on diverse, engaging, relevant texts, which is fun for me to read!

The Rest
So what were the other 8 books? Easy reads - either children's books or YA series! As I said, reading is a great way to relax for me, so I don't like anything too heavy or hard. Something that I can cruise through and enjoy is perfect!

I always wish I had more time to read, but I am happy with the fact that I was able to spend at least some time in books this year. Maybe next year will bring more? We will have to see! I don't really set reading goals for myself, other than wanting to continue reading, expanding my repertoire, and practice good self-care by taking these quiet moments to myself. Here's to a 2020 full of books!

Saturday, January 4, 2020

#oneword2020: VALUE

As I pondered my #oneword for this year, one word continued to stick out at me. At first, I wasn't sure - rather than being one idea to center my year around, it seemed to boil down to three different concepts that are all united by the same word. As time went on, though, I continued to feel drawn to it, so here I am with my #oneword2020:

VALUE

What do I mean by that?


Finding VALUE in my work

No doubt about it, the end of 2019 was challenging. As I continue to figure out how to move forward and improve, one big thing I want is to find and see the value in the work I do. When I was teaching, it was much easier to know that, no matter what else the day held, I was making an impact on a kid's life. Now that I work in central office, I am more removed, and I have to work a little harder to find the value in how I spend my hours.

Ultimately, I think all of us want to know that we add professional value to our organizations, and in a larger context, to the people around us in life. Which brings me to my next point...


VALUING the contributions of others

I want to do a better job of valuing the contributions of others, especially those who are different than me. It's easy to value those who think the same way as you do, but I want to do a better job of recognizing and encouraging those who I don't naturally understand as well.

How will I do this? Well, to start, I have a practice of trying to recognize the positive & write encouraging notes weekly, and I want to leverage that to be more intentional about where I am looking to find the positive. I'm sure other opportunities will come up, but this is one concrete action step I have in mind already.


Living out of my VALUES

When it comes down to it, times of struggle really show us what we value. As I go into this year, I want to stay centered around my faith and my values, and let them guide my actions.

It sounds really easy on a Saturday afternoon wrapped in a blanket with a cat on my lap...but I know that this intention will be put to the test in the real world!


Each year, I find that the #oneword I pick in January plays out in many ways - some expected, some not - by the time I get to December. I look forward to this journey in 2020!

What is your #oneword2020?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

#oneword2019 Reflection: COURAGE

2019 was a weird year for me professionally - a year of growth and change. I would really divide it into two parts: the end of the 18-19 school year (when I was in one position) and the beginning of the 19-20 school year (when my position changed). My #oneword2019 was courage, and I needed in both phases!

Here's what I wanted to have:

  • Courage to embrace change
  • Courage to look at things differently
  • Courage to say no to some things and give up control
  • Courage to do what's right, not just what's easy
  • Courage to not run from tough conversations
  • Courage to step out with confidence and lead

The first half of my year was all about courage and growth as a leader. I'm proud to look back and say that I did try to do what is right, not just what is easy, to have some tough conversations, and to lead with confidence. I also had the courage to take on a leading role in our district's strategic plan, something that felt way over my head! I grew so much in being willing to make hard decisions and stand behind them, yet (hopefully) deliver them with grace and compassion. I came out feeling stronger, and realizing that I really could do some things that scared me...and do them well! It wasn't all positive, but I am happy with the way I was able to put courage into action.


As I transitioned into my new role over the summer, a different kind of courage was required. I found myself often having to reflect on that bullet point of saying no to some things, because they were no longer my job...which was hard! I needed the courage to embrace change, because whether I wanted it or not, change was here.

To be honest, if I were to pick a word for the second half of my year, it would be struggle. Struggle isn't always bad, but it isn't ever easy. And it takes courage to keep going through struggle.

It's been a struggle to settle into my new role, to figure out what my days look like now, and how to work with a new team. Sometimes, courage has manifested in having the strength to look inward to figure out what really is triggering my frustration. Sometimes, courage has been being honest about how I am feeling and what I need. Sometimes, courage has looked like continuing to show up, to be present, and to put one foot in front of the other when it's hard.

In an unexpected way, through the highs and the lows, courage ended up being a very appropriate word for my year. It's something I know I need to carry with me into 2020 as I continue to hope through the struggle. But a new year is a time to focus on a new word.

What will it be? Stay tuned!