Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Importance of Listening


True confession: I'm bad at it. Too often, I am thinking about how to share my views, rather than really listening to what others are saying. And it gets me into trouble at times!

Switching places for a moment, it feels amazing when somebody is listening to you. Especially somebody with "power," somebody who can create change. I always feel so valued when people take the time to just listen! Often, I don't want or need a solution, but I want them to consider my viewpoint. I want to share (that's the human connection piece). I want to feel heard.

Over the past several weeks, I've been in situations with students, parents, and staff members where I have to check my natural instinct to talk and focus on being a listener. It's hard! But I believe it holds the power to build relationships, and that makes it worth it!

I am far from being an expert, but here are a few tips and tricks that I have been using to be a better listener:

1. "Tell me more about..."

Often, a pause in the conversation indicates an opportunity for the other person to respond. At times, though, there may be something that was left unsaid, and probing deeper brings us to the real heart of what is going on. Using that pause to say, "Tell me more" rather than "Here's what I think" often opens up a whole new level of understanding.

2. Silence is golden.

Silence is uncomfortable. We tend to fill it with words. But sometimes those words distract from the heart of the issue. Don't be afraid to let silence sit in a conversation. Sometimes it leads to further reflection and revelation, but sometimes it just serves to acknowledge that you are hearing and thinking about what was just said.

3. Don't interrupt.

Oh, this is so hard! Especially in conversations that are more controversial, it is so tempting to want to stop someone when they are saying something that is hard to hear or not accurate (from your perspective). But what does that do? Immediately put them on the defensive. More often than not, it is worth it to let them finish their entire train of thought and look for the deeper heart of the issue, rather than quibbling over details in a back-and-forth ping-pong match. Even in conversations that are benign, it's easy to want to interrupt with my agreement, my story or experience, or my take on the matter. Hold your tongue & don't do it!

How do you focus on being a good listener? Please share your tips & tricks in the comments below!

Saturday, December 1, 2018


As I sit here with Christmas decorations (mostly) up, enjoying the cozy light of the tree, it seems to be an appropriate time to write #MyRelaxing5. This blog challenge began with @msventurino, and has made its way through the #sunchatbloggers group, focusing on something educators are not always good at - taking time for ourselves.

If you know me IRL or have seen me online for any length of time, it's probably not a secret that I am a go-go-go type of person! I enjoy a fast-paced lifestyle, I love being involved in many different things, and I'm passionate about the work I do. The flip side of this is that I'm not good at resting. Or saying no. Or doing things for myself. But neglecting that side of life can definitely lead to burnout and not being as effective at...well...anything. This is the perfect time of the year for a reminder to slow down and take a moment to just relax.

Here are #MyRelaxing5, 5 non-work things that I will commit to doing for ourselves before the end of 2018.

1. Go on a vacation!

Okay, this is sorta cheating because I've already done it, but it was a big one! Once I left the classroom, I also left behind Thanksgiving break, winter break, spring break, and summer. As a teacher, I was "told" when my time off was, and I took advantage of it! Now, I work year-round, and it didn't occur to me at first that I purposefully need to plan some chunks of time to take off. I've taken a couple of long weekends or time off to go to other conferences (which doesn't really count), but this is the first real, extended vacation I've taken in several years, making it worthy of inclusion on this list! I need to do this at least once per year, whether it's traveling out of the country or just taking days off for a staycation!

2. Making fun food

I always know my stress level is low when I feel like I have time to experiment in the kitchen. And what better time to cook than the holidays? Whether it's trying a new recipe or making my traditional Christmas fudge, I want to make time to play in the kitchen.

Image result for doing nothing cartoon 3. Sit on the couch and do nothing.

I'm serious. Sometimes the best thing I can do is...nothing. There's something relaxing about just saying no to deadlines, work-work, fun-work, volunteer responsibilities, chores, and everything else for a moment. It's hard to quiet my mind, but when I can get to that place of doing nothing and letting my thoughts wander, it's one of the most relaxing things in the world!

4. Reading

On my recent trip, lots of time on airplanes meant time to read. As I updated my "Books I've Read in 2018" list, I realized I hadn't finished a book in two months! Yikes. Somehow, between switching jobs and everything else I had going on, reading just got pushed to the bottom of the priority list. But it is something that brings me great joy! My recent "kick" has been reading books that are stories, whether nonfiction or fiction, of refugees, along with some professional reading to help me in my new role. I'm happy to say that over the past two weeks, I've read 7 books and am in the middle of #8. It feels so good to be back into it!

5. Making Music

One of my favorite relaxing things to do is to play piano. Or to play violin with friends. One of my favorite Christmas traditions is playing piano duets with my sister. It's time to practice! Making music always calms me, no matter how stressed I am, and provides a good, quick outlet for my creative juices. I want to play more before the end of 2018.

So there you go - #MyRelaxing5. Please feel free to ask and hold me accountable for actually doing these things!

What will you commit to doing for yourself by the end of the year? Share using the hashtag #MyRelaxing5, and don't forget to take care of YOU in this busy season!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

#DEN18: (A Slightly More Coherent) Wrap-Up (Part 8)

After quite a bit of travelling after the academy, I finally made it back home on Thanksgiving, and I've had the chance to reflect a bit more on my #DEN18 experience. I wrote a bit of a wrap-up post the morning after, but I know I was exhausted, and hopefully this one will make a little more sense :-). Warning: it's not short.

TL;DR Version

It was amazing and challenging, all at the same time. Both a struggle and a highlight of my professional career.

Photo cred: @IngviOmarsson 

The Academy

Photo cred: @markwagner
The Academy itself was amazing. Let's start with the people there - bringing together brilliant educators from all over the world creates a powerful think tank! There was a sense of purpose in the group - to change the world through education. And I'm not exaggerating when I say "change the world." We were consistently encouraged to start small, but dream big about how to impact the lives of students, teachers, leaders, & communities. I know that this community will continue to encourage, inspire, stay connected, and do great things throughout the year and beyond!

Photo cred: Innovator Program (@WendyGorton?)
Our three days went by quickly with a mix of team building, inspiration, work on our projects, and just plain fun. At first, I was overwhelmed at how I would get from my "problem" into a "solution" in such a short time, but everything was broken down into small steps, and I feel like I made a ton of progress. There was never enough work time (but is there ever enough?), but we kept moving anyway, and the limited time actually fueled my thinking and stopped me from over-analyzing every bit of my ideas (which I am prone to do). Constraints really do breed creativity!

Photo cred: Innovator Program (@WendyGorton?)
One of my favorite parts was getting to give & receive feedback from a wide variety of people. I feel like my project is a mix of all of the ideas other people gave me, rather than what I came up with, which makes it so much stronger! I loved that we were all there to push each other & ask the hard questions. In education, especially, how often do we hold back on asking a question to avoid conflict? My experience is...too often. I loved the expectation that we would kindly deliver critical feedback, which would make our projects better. Pivots & changes were celebrated, not seen as failures. Risks were encouraged, and support was everywhere!

Photo cred: @jlubinsky
Another big reminder - the environment really does make a difference! Being taken out of my normal context, being surrounded by balloons and decorations and, before long, our work on the walls, created an energizing space to work in. The team at Google did such a good job of taking care of us and keeping us well-fed (you know food had to make an appearance somewhere in this blog!), which meant that I was free to focus on my work rather than where to go for dinner. With all of this, I was in a mental space where I had the freedom to dream, which leads to innovation!

My Journey

Photo cred: @Itsbenwhitaker

Photo cred: @IngviOmarsson 

As I alluded to in previous blog posts, there were some tough parts too. My personal journey was much more of a roller coaster. Let's start with the people. It's way too easy to be in a room with all of these people and fall into the comparison trap. "I haven't done this like they have...they're so good at in the world did I get invited to be a part of this group?" And then, going to a place of fear about what others think: "What do they think of me...why did I just say that, it sounded stupid?" I wrote about this in Part 4 & Part 5 of my live blog reflections, but it was a huge turning point when two of our morning sparks focused on Impostor Syndrome (@deanstokes) & "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman, with the question, "What's your story?" (@cutiablunt). Two phrases from these sparks really hit a chord in me: "You are not a fraud" & "I'm not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me." It was at this point that I remembered who I am - someone who loves to connect with others, who cares about her faith, who is passionate about pretty much anything she can get her hands on, and who is quirky and nerdy at times - and was affirmed in living that out. No more comparison. This is me, and I have something to bring.

(There were also so many other great sparks - these just hit at the right time for me!)

Photo cred: @lesmcbeth
Here's the secret about being an Innovator: Your project is important, but it's more about your mindset. Until that point, I was pretty focused on myself, and wasn't able to absorb as much as I wanted to (which I was aware of, and it was frustrating me)! I'm grateful for my friends (in my area & PLN tribe alike) back home who were able to give me a bit of encouragement through this (living in a connected world is so wonderful). Once I was able to settle my thoughts, I was able to focus on learning. I began to see so many connections between what we were learning and not only my project (which is only somewhat related to my job), but my daily work as well! The tools and ways of thinking I engaged in at the Academy have truly changed how I approach problems in general, and that will benefit me in everything I do!

Photo cred: @markwagner
Another one of my big takeaways was to have fierce conversations. My #Admin2B group did a book study on this book (Fierce Conversations) not too long ago, but I never finished it, and this trip was a great time to dive back in! This is relevant both in our professional and personal lives. Be brave. Confront reality. Don't fear conflict (but DO approach it with kindness) - diversity in thoughts & perspectives makes us all better.

Photo cred: @markwagner
Finally, I was inspired to create some magic. Disclaimer: I tend to be a pretty practical person, and it's easy for me to roll my eyes (on the inside) when we go way above and beyond what is necessary. But there's something amazing in experiencing something that goes so far above and beyond expectations that it truly feels magical! Whether it's with the refugee students I work with, my teachers, or the foster kids I serve every couple of months, I am inspired give them a moment to remember...even if it costs a little bit more money, time, & effort.

My Project

Photo cred: Me, myself and I
Yeah, I'm not going to make this blog post any longer - more later (that's for you, @markwagner)! I am hoping to build a resource to help educators find training about working with refugee students, to help them connect meaningfully with families, and to give refugee students a platform to share their stories. If you have any ideas about what you would like to see or what would help you, please let me know!

Follow Along Live

Post-run selfie! Photo cred: @MrGutoA
In case this wasn't long enough (kidding!) and you want to read my live thoughts & reflections, here they are:
Part 1 - the beginning of the adventure + pre-academy thoughts
Part 2 - arrival in Copenhagen + finally meeting cohort friends in person!
Part 3 - pre-academy reflections + excitement about meeting more of the cohort!
Part 4 - reflection from day #1, when I was in one of the "lows" of the roller coaster
Part 5 - reflection from day #2, after my "epiphany"
Part 6 - quick reflections right after it ended 
Part 7 - even as a tourist, #DEN18 is already changing my perspective!
Innovator Spark Sketchnote - how I kept my hands busy all day!

Thank you!

Photo cred: @KatieF
Thank you to everyone who made this happen. To Google Copenhagen & the team for hosting us. To EdTechTeam & everyone who puts this program together. To our coaches & leaders who set the tone and shared their energy & expertise with us. To my fellow Innovators who pushed me to think further and more deeply. To my family, friends & PLN who have helped me get to this point. My experience is a compilation of all of the encouragement & inspiration you have given me over the years!

So...are you applying next round? Let me know if you want help through the application process!

Photo cred: @IngviOmarsson

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

#DEN18: Design Thinking in Real Life (Part 7)

Since the Google Innovator Academy ended last Friday, I thought that things might slow down a little bit - ha! My mom & I have continued to be on the go with touring around Copenhagen, viewing the Aurora Borealis up north, and sightseeing in Stockholm today! There is a lot to share about our adventures, as well as a lot to share about the academy, but I haven't quite had the time to compose my thoughts yet. Instead, I want to share a real-life moment of design thinking that we heard about today.

We were at the City Hall in Stockholm, where they host several events, including the Nobel Banquet. As our tour guide explained to us, Ragnar Ă–stberg, the architect, knew that ladies in high heels and fancy gowns would likely be entering the hall by going down that staircase, and he didn't want them to trip and fall and make a spectacle of themselves! He was determined to create the world's most perfect staircase, and created a shorter model to test. His wife was the lucky guinea pig, and she gave him feedback several times until he settled on a final design. This staircase includes shallow, wide steps that are (very) slightly tilted back so you don't feel like you are falling forward when walking down them.

Now, let's take a step back. Whether it's because I just finished the Innovator Academy or my training over the past few years, all I could hear when she was talking was DESIGN THINKING!

He empathized with his users, the ladies who would be walking down this staircase in their party attire;
He defined the problem of needing to make a staircase that would be safe and effective for them;
He ideated to come up with his first draft;
He built a prototype to test & perfect his design before building the real thing; and
He tested his prototype by having his wife give him feedback and went through several cycles of adjustments until he settled on a final design!

As a result, there is a beautiful stairway there that is very easy to travel up and down - and many people have kept their pride intact without even realizing how much thought the architect put into it!

How do you see design thinking in real life? How do you encourage your kids to see design thinking in real life?

Friday, November 16, 2018

#DEN18: It's Over Already? (Part 6)

It's hard to believe - but just like *that*, the Google Innovator Academy is over. Those three days flew by! At the same time, it feels like we've been together for a month with all of the work and bonding that has gone on. It's a pretty special experience!

I'm not quite sure what to say about it all. Hopefully I will come back after some time to reflect with insights & thoughts to wrap up the whole experience, but for today, these scattered thoughts are what my tired brain can come up with.

I appreciate how our hosts & leaders went to extra lengths to make this special. We felt valued, and there was a little bit of an air of magic, thinking, "What's next?" That intrigue, along with the fact that we were well taken care of, created an environment where we could learn & think creatively! I wonder how typical teacher PD could be re-imagined to look more like this?

I love being in a group that is not afraid to ask the hard questions. So often, we settle for what feels realistic, rather than dreaming. We also have a tendency to try to keep things comfortable, so pushing back on an idea or digging deeper doesn't happen as often as it should. But why? Why not dream big & dig in? I've been in a culture where it is normal & encouraged the past three days. How can we transfer that back home & develop that culture in our own contexts?

Being out of my "normal" context & focusing on an entirely different project has inspired me to go back and use some similar processes to solve some everyday problems back home. I had a lightbulb moment just before graduation yesterday - one of the issues I hear about the most from my teachers is the schedule, but could I apply a design thinking process with a group of them to collectively think outside the box and come up with a schedule that best fits everyone's needs? Why not? The wheels in my mind are turning about how to bring bits and pieces of what I've experienced back home and pass it onto my teachers!

I'll probably say more about this later, but there have been two parallel journeys going on the past few days - the journey of my project & the journey of me. As promised, the Innovator Academy was a roller coaster ride with highs and lows and twists and turns! And I felt all of that. Because that's the process of innovation.

Thanks, everyone, who has followed along on my blog! This trip will continue with lots of touristy fun over the next several days, and hopefully some sleep and time to process as well :-). #DEN18, an experience I won't forget!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

#DEN18: Work, Play, Learning, Fun, & Everything In Between (Part 5)

At Day #2 of the Academy, so much happened, and I am not even going to try to describe it all. Maybe I will be able to look back and write a little more, but right now my head is spinning from all of the activities and thinking we did! It was so helpful to see the protocols & processes our coaches took us through to stimulate our thinking & work through the design process, and I can see myself using them with students and/or teachers in the future. I also appreciated the way the day was broken up into manageable chunks of learning, work, inspiration, and fun! It flew by so quickly!

What I really want to focus on tonight as I write is the idea of telling your story.

I started the day by taking a deep breath, knowing I wanted to move past some of the insecurities & fears of last night, and also feeling very vulnerable that I blogged about it. That's the thing about putting yourself out there - sometimes, people actually read it ;-)! Almost immediately, we had two "sparks" (mini bouts of inspiration from one of our coaches or leaders) that really spoke to me. @deanstokes shared about Impostor Syndrome and feeling like a fraud, which I completely resonated with, and it was so good to see the whole room raising their hands saying that they've felt that way too! @cutiablunt played clips related to the song, "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman and encouraged us to tell our stories, which reminded me to be confident not just in my ideas or profession, but in who I am as a person. There were many other great sparks as well, but these two set me on a path to really thinking about identity and how important it is for all of us!

Of course, this led right into my project work, where I am focusing on refugee & immigrant students. Identity is very important to them, too and from conversations with them, I have heard that they can feel split between their "home" culture/identity and "school" culture/identity. We can talk about helping students learn, making connections between home and school, and giving everyone the resources they need, but if we are not truly recognizing sudents' multifaceted identities, we are only skimming the surface. Identifying this as a core need helped me focus my project.

(Side note: I'm not ready to share my project yet, as it is still very much in initial development, but it will make an appearance on this blog when it is time!)

In short, if I were to sum up my learning for today, it would be a reminder for me personally to live & tell my story and to empower others to tell their stories. And maybe, just maybe, if we all understand each others' stories, the world will be a better place <3.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

#DEN18: The Academy Begins (Part 4)

Today started off wonderfully, with a cinnamon roll & a 5.5-mile run. They cancel each other out, right? The run was a great way to see a lot of places in the city, and we definitely took some mini breaks for sightseeing and photo ops!

Do you see that star? It is Kastellet
- so cool!

After that, I met up with some other friends (even though I had never met them before - we are all instant friends here) for some more walking around and lunch. It is so much fun to just stroll through the city and see what we see!

Next up: The Google Innovator Academy - the reason we are all here! It was so much fun to walk in and have it be real. We engaged in several activities that had us smiling, laughing, high-fiving, and getting to know each other. The evening ended with an amazing dinner by the staff at the office of traditional Danish food. Yum!

I always try to be honest on this blog, and I want to be real now. While parts of the academy today were awesome, other parts were hard for me There are so many amazing educators here, and I feel the fear of, "Will I measure up? Do I really belong here? Can I be myself and fit into this group?" It can bring a dose of social anxiety! Everyone has been kind and encouraging, but these questions surface and bounce around in my own head. It has been a good reminder that this is the way some of our students feel every day. It is also how teachers sometimes feel, especially when pushed out of their comfort zone. None of us are immune. So what can we do about it? I've been grateful today for the people who, without even realizing it, have answered/affirmed one of those core questions. A little positive encouragement goes a long way!

Tomorrow will be a full day of design work, and I am simultaneously excited about what is coming and exhausted thinking about how much hard work it will be :-). The possibilities are (almost) endless, and I am trying to embrace that place of being open to whatever comes!