Saturday, March 23, 2019

It's Time for a Break!

Bitmoji Image


It is definitely time for spring break!



The funny thing about working at the district office is...you don't really get these breaks. A lot of people take days off, but it's not like being a teacher where your week is defined for you. It's a bit of an adjustment!

It's been a month of very hard work, and I feel so good about what we have accomplished! But I feel my brain getting fuzzy. I'm just not as sharp after weeks of thinking, planning, and doing. It's a bit hard to describe - I just know that I need to ease up a little bit to be able to come back fresh to continue to tackle the challenges & opportunities that exist.





To that end, I'm taking Monday & Tuesday off. My plans include:


  • Going to see my old high school (and several other schools) compete in the regional robotics competition (& meeting my family & some friends there)
  • Going to see a symphony concert where they play the movie score to Star Wars (The Empire Strikes Back) while the movie plays on the big screen
  • Reading a book. Not a professional book, not one for my #GoogleEI project, but something just for fun. Which book? TBD.
  • Spending a couple of days with my family - my brother is a teacher and my sister is home from college, so we will all be together!
  • Getting my taxes done. Yep, it needs to happen.
Really, more than anything, this is a #selfcare and accountability post. It's hard for me to take time off, especially when I feel like there is a lot that needs to be done, but it is so needed!

What are you doing to rejuvenate this spring?

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Cooperative Problem-Solving

My work, at the central district office, has been pretty busy lately. I've been charged with taking point on a big puzzle...

...dun dun dun...

The master schedule for specialists! 


In my district (of 56 schools), elementary art, music, & PE are on a 3-day rotation, so they teach each class every 3rd day. 5th graders also have instrumental music, which happens 2x/week (not on the 3-day rotation). 6th-12th graders have class most days, but these schools often employ a modified block schedule or regular late start or early release schedule (one day per week).

Figuring out how to fit all of the teachers (and fill their contracts, which are all different) together with all of our school buildings (which all have different schedules) with the number of students requesting each class (which is different in every place) is no easy task. Many teachers work at anywhere from 2-7 schools, and it all has to work out, and not just on regular days, but also block days, late start days, early release days. It requires so much information and so many different perspectives!

Luckily, I don't have to do it alone.


When I started thinking about how to approach this "problem" (as in, a problem to be solved, not something that is bad), I imagined getting a bunch of stakeholders in a room and going through a design thinking process. While that sounds great, it would probably take a couple of days, and that is too long to be taking teachers & principals out of their buildings.

Image result for stanford design thinking process

As a result, we are going through a shortened, modified version. I started with a small group of stakeholders for one afternoon to all share our perspectives and help figure out our priorities & design constraints. This helped us empathize and define what we wanted to solve.

Next, I asked teachers to create the perfect schedule in their perfect world. I was actually inclined to start with principals, but in our small group, the principals said it would be better for the teachers to try a first draft. This gave us the chance to ideate and dream about what could be! What I love is that teachers gave me their best thinking, which highlights things that I wasn't thinking about (for example, logical driving routes including right turns rather than left turns during tight commutes).

I've been able to take the teacher's schedules as a starting point and combine it with things I know & see from the district lens, and make adjustments. The next step has been calling principals to see if this prototype might work in their individual buildings. Sometimes the answer is yes; other times, we have to pivot and explore alternate options. What's great about this process, though, is that it is not happening in isolation. I ran into a bump in one school after talking with a principal. I mentioned it to a teacher, and less than an hour later, I had a text from her with a possible solution. I ran it by the principal, and it will work! I love having so many people around who can help me with this thinking, because honestly, it is daunting and overwhelming!

The great news? It feels like it's finally coming together! This coming week, I will bring it to all of the principals to test the idea out and see what issues we still have. There are still approximately a hundred details to be worked out, but if we have the big pieces in place, I trust that the rest will follow. It feels like we really hit a turning point last week where we could place enough pieces to start to see the big picture.

I am thrilled that this project is coming along, but even more thrilled that we are doing it together. I know this phrase gets thrown around a lot, but this process has truly been an example of being #bettertogether. We each have a piece of the puzzle, and when everybody gets to share their thinking and take ownership over a small part, it comes together much better than if one person (me!) was trying to figure it all out by themselves.

And that, my friends, is my leadership lesson & takeaway for the week.

Is there something that you are in charge of where collaboration needs to be expanded? What steps can you take to bring people together to problem-solve?

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Create!

The theme of my past week or so has been collaborative creation. There are so many fun ways to insert creative, collaborative activities into your day-to-day life! Here are a few that I've engaged in over the past week - what will they spark in your mind?

Creating a public art piece for our new building




What better way to celebrate our district culture and diversity than creating an art piece to go in our new district building? Each person got a cube to work with, painted the top & bottom black, and then went to town with the other four sides:
  • One painted in black and white
  • One painted in color
  • One created with collage
  • One created with woodworking or wood burning tools
It was amazing to see what people came up with! I felt a little out of my league as a former music teacher in a room full of art teachers, but don't we tell our students to take risks? Especially in creation? How could I not do the same thing? Everyone was helpful as I figured out how to use the tools & materials, and while my cube was no masterpiece, it will be woven into the art piece, signaling a welcoming community for all.

Kids creating "Humans of Our District" displays to be hung in a local museum








My favorite two pictures from above are the ones where kids are interacting with their parents. We talk about family engagement and authentic learning experiences, and this is a great example of project-based learning done well! Students began with a driving question about telling the stories of our community, and then went through a variety of steps to tell those stories. The 1st-3rd graders from four schools that participated all did something a little different, and we ended up with autobiographies, biographies of community members, books, posters, weavings, and 3D sculptures representing the humans of our community. At the grand opening of the exhibit, the room was packed with parents and friends, excited to see the students' work. Creative power + community engagement = an amazing, real-world learning experience! For more information, see this newspaper article.


Nerdy Creation in the office


I can't hide it - I am really a nerd in disguise. Something I've loved doing since my middle school days is solving Rubik's Cubes. My friends and I even joked that we had RCS in high school - "Rubik's Cube Syndrome"! This creation activity appeals more to those who are strong in problem-solving - a cube mosaic! You can print a picture (or make your own), and it basically works like pixel art. The top of each cube needs to be solved to match its place in the mosaic, and when put together, it will make a picture. Because you only need to solve the top side of the cube, it's pretty accessible, and anyone with a bit of time and patience can do it (with the help of the instruction manuals included in the kit). And the best part? This set, and others, can be rented for free from You CAN Do the Cube - all you have to pay is return shipping! This has been a fun way to build office community and engage the left and right sides of our brains in a different way!

Collaborative creation - I believe this is a crucial skill for students to be prepared for life after school. And everything is more fun with friends. What will you (and your students) create today?

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Coming Together or Coming Apart?

As I have mentioned before on this blog, my district is going through a lot of change right now. As we walk through it all, you can definitely feel an increased level of stress and tension in the office. Even though I think the changes will be for good in the end, right now, it's just leading to a lot of uncertainty!

Sometimes, this tension can drive people apart. Cliques can form, huddles happen, and everyone gets more isolated. Or, on the contrary, people get more irritable and take out their stress on each other.

I am so grateful that I have seen the opposite. In my office over the past week, there has been a lot more coming together. Everyone is being supportive of each other! There's something about all being in a situation together that opens up a deeper level of community.

One of the coolest things about this time, for me, has been the opportunity to engage in deeper conversations with people that I don't usually talk with. We are a large district, and I've only been in my role for about six months...so there are several people who I have never had more than a surface conversation with. I've appreciated the chance to get to know my coworkers much better as we talk about our hopes and fears for the future. In a field where relationships are key, even the talk about these changes has broken down some of the walls and allowed us to form stronger relationships than we had a week or two ago!

Times of stress are when culture really gets tested. Culture is sneaky - it is built slowly, moment by moment, and you don't always realize that it is there. Until something comes. Although I haven't been here for that long, it is clear to me that the culture has been built to help us come together, rather than come apart, during this time.

I want to end by sharing a video I shared to start a meeting on Friday - a good reminder to all of us that we are better together!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

What Drives YOU?

It's February - traditionally a hard month for teachers. With some changes coming in my district, there has been an extra layer of tension and uncertainty. Instead of getting stuck in this, I have spent a lot of time lately reflecting and reconnecting to my purpose.

The Big "WHY"

No matter what role you are in, why do you do what you do? It's easy to say "students", but I would challenge you to go even deeper than that. What is it about working with students that drives you? Is it seeing them learn? Is it preparing them for the future? Is it the relationships? Is it seeing them develop a love for your content? All are important, but is there one that is more fulfilling to you than others?

Thinking Outside the Box

If you could be doing something else, what would it be? I've always been a teacher of some sort, and my identity is tied to that. When I moved from teaching music to ed tech, I initially struggled with "losing" the music teacher part of my identity. When I moved into administration, I worried about "going to the dark side". But each move has accelerated my growth and given me new skills and perspectives. Sometimes it's worth thinking outside the box of where you currently are to see the opportunity to develop a passion for a different area.

Finding Joy

What brings you joy? What is exciting and fulfilling to you? What makes you feel like you had a really good day at work? As I have been thinking and paying attention to how I feel throughout the day, there are two big things that have stood out to me:
  • I like working with people. The parts of my job I like the most are those where I get to interface with people. The ones I like the least are where the tasks I am doing feel more removed from the people they impact. I am happiest when I am in a people-focused role. Relationships are a huge factor in me enjoying my work.
  • I like working with the big picture. I love making connections between various things that don't seem connected. I do my best work when I can see the big picture of how things fit in and I can help figure out how to get there.
There are many more things, but those two stuck out the most to me. Guess what? I can do them in lots of different jobs. Teacher, administrator, ed tech specialist, etc. It was comforting to come to the realization that no matter what I do, I will be able to do these two things that matter a lot to me - and, because of that, I trust that I will find joy in my work.

A Note on Purpose

Things change. Every year brings different students. New initiatives, new curriculum, new tests, new laws...our profession is dynamic! Staying connected to our purpose - beyond our job description - can help us weather those changes and come out on the other side. So I leave you with these thoughts:

Why do you do what you do?
How are you limiting your thinking, and how could you expand it?
What brings you joy?

Saturday, February 16, 2019

#GoogleEI: Picture Books About Refugees & Migrants

As a part of my Google Innovator project, I have been making my way through books about migrants & refugees. Reading for fun is always a win in my book, and reading stories about a subject I am passionate about is even better!

If you are a teacher (or person) wanting to learn more about the refugee experience, I highly recommend picking up one or more of the books below. All have been available through my local library. If you want to go a step further, I'd consider adding some of these to your classroom library or reading them with your class. The more we share about these experiences, the more our students will build empathy and knowledge of the world! It also helps normalize conversations about other cultures, which can build safety for students who live in a world of mixed cultures every day.

Without further ado, here is the very beginning of my list, consisting of picture books that would be perfect for a read aloud!

1. The Day the War Came by Nicola Davies


Image result for the day the war cameThis book is not tied to any one specific country or story, but illustrates how quickly you can go from living a normal life to having everything turned upside down. It also touches on the challenges of being in a new place.





2. Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay


Image result for mustafa bookThis book tells the story of a little boy in a new country, trying to make sense of a language and culture he doesn't understand, and how a simple act of kindness changed his world.





3. Dreamers by Yuyi Morales


Image result for dreamers yuyi moralesThis poetic book describes the dreams of those moving to a new country. I particularly enjoyed the focus on books & libraries, and how they can further our dreams!






4. Undocumented: A Worker's Fight by Duncan Tonatiuh


Image result for undocumented a workers fightThis is an inspiring story of an undocumented worker who worked with others to fight for fair wages and proper treatment at their jobs. It has great ties to both current issues and economic/social studies lessons!





Check out these books, and let me know what you think in the comments!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

From an Administrator to my Music Teachers

It's February! I don't know about everyone else, but this time of year was always stressful for me as a music teacher - kids were signing up for classes, and the number of students signed up for my class determined my FTE for the next year (I was never guaranteed a full-time job). That is stressful!

Now, I'm on the other side as the one who assigns FTE. And while I can't take all of the stress and anxiety away, here is what I would say to my teacher self and anyone else in this situation:

1. Do your thing, and do it well.

While this is the time of year that retention is at the front of everyone's mind, you are really working all year to give your kids a great experience so they will want to return! Don't feel like you have to change it up or track students down or do a silly little promotion - your best strategy is to make your class awesome all year long, because that is what they will think of when choosing classes for next year!

2. Don't make it a competition.

This is so hard! There are only so many kids, and elective teachers are usually "fighting" to get them in class. The worst thing you can do is to turn it into a competition and set yourself against any other teacher. Through collaboratively building each other up, we can all have strong programs! I've seen schools where that is the culture, and it works - everything thrives! I'm not sure how that works out, numerically, but it does!

3. Advocate for yourself!

Share your ideas, thoughts, and dreams with your administrators! There is no one who knows your schedule, strengths, and talents better than yourself, and you often can a creative solution to get more classes (or divide them in different ways) better than anyone else can. Don't be afraid to ask!

4. Realize you don't see the big picture.

There are approximately one thousand factors I am balancing when allocating FTE. Okay, not quite that many, but it is very complicated! There are things that administrators can't share, especially about HR issues, and ultimately, it's their job to figure it out. Please see #3 and advocate for yourself, but don't cross the line to thinking you know everything and pestering admins.

5. Don't take it personally.

This is one of the most challenging ones for me. When kids didn't sign up for my class, I wanted to take it personally (what did I do wrong?). When I didn't get as much FTE as I thought I should, I wondered why. Now, being on the other side, I can see that sometimes circumstances are such that it just doesn't work out. I know I will probably have to let good people go at some point, and that's hard. Meanwhile, in my own professional life, I am in an interim position, and I may or may not get to stay where I am - I'm gaining a deeper understanding of the fact that it may not have anything to do with me, and everything to do with the other factors around me.

6. Give yourself extra grace.

True confession: I was stressed last night. So I gave myself permission to go to the store and buy a candy bar to eat while I listened to an audiobook to chill out a bit (side note: there's something ironic about listening to Brene Brown talk about different habits to numb our emotions in Dare to Lead while munching on a candy bar after a hard day...). My healthiest coping mechanism? Not at all. And then, this morning, I've hardly done anything. And that's okay. Don't beat yourself up, and realize that you might need a little extra space in your life to deal with the extra stress.

And finally...7. I'm on your side.

As an administrator, I want all of my teachers to be successful. Period. End of story. I also have to make hard decisions that affect your lives, and don't underestimate the emotional toll it takes on me to process through these decisions. Even when the results aren't what you wish, know that I am committed to supporting you through it all and hoping that next year, we will be able to get that extra class or better schedule!

Happy February :-)!