Saturday, April 4, 2020

Working from Home... not my favorite! But it's our reality right now, with good reason. Three weeks in, I wanted to share three things I'm noticing, three challenges I'm facing, and three benefits I'm seeing.

Three Things I'm Noticing:

1. My schedule is later than usual. I am waking up later, working later, and going to bed later.

2. My eating habits are really different. Rather than eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I am snacking or eating smaller meals all day long. Still trying to find the balance on this one - I don't think the different habits are necessarily bad, but I need to re-calibrate how much I should eat for larger meals, knowing I am snacking more in between.

3. I now know what my pet does all day. I say this tongue in cheek, but seriously, I've gotten the chance to observe my cat's habits like never before! At least, her habits with me being home - I wonder if it's different without any humans around? ;-)

Three Challenges I'm Facing:

1. It is really hard to "shut off" work for the day and move onto "me time". I mean, my work (computer) is sitting in the middle of the kitchen table, staring me in the face! But it's better than a couple of weeks ago, before I was able to get my work computer, and I was doing all of my work on my personal device - talk about no separation!

2. I'm tired of my chair! Sitting all day is hard, and especially when it is in the same chair, day after day. I noticed that my back was hurting this week due to some of the ways I have been turning to work on my double monitor (which I am SO thankful for), so I adjusted my setup. It helped, but still, I think I might have to find a couple of different places to with and work so that my body isn't in the same position all of the time.

3. So. Much. Screen. Time. I have never been a person who focuses too much on screen time (I believe that what you are doing on that screen is far more important than counting minutes), but by the end of the day/week, even social things like happy hours via Zoom feel like one too many activities on the screen.

Three Benefits I'm Seeing:

1. No commute! Seriously, this saves time and mental energy, leaving more of both for doing the things I really want or need to be doing.

2. More flexible hours! I've often found that I do well when I wake up early, work for a couple of hours, take a long break, and then get on with my work day. Right now, I can do that, and I've taken advantage of that several time!

3. More collaboration! As counter-intuitive as this sounds, we have been collaborating so much more. One of the barriers to this during "regular life" is time and space - it's hard to all be in the same place together. When we are all working from home, that barrier is instantly removed, and it's easier to get together virtually! I've been so energized by seeing how communities are coming together.

I know we will continue to get through this - here's to week #4!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Bringing Out the Best in Us!

The teacher who has rarely (if ever!) used technology to teach before, finding that Google Slides is fun!

The team that voluntarily worked all weekend to dismantle Chromebook carts, disinfect every device, and wipe the profiles so they could be ready to hand to students who need a device at home.

The unlikely new teammates that are quickly learning to collaborate and work well together from a distance.

The teachers who made a video compilation to say that they miss their students...and the students who replied with a video compilation of their own.

The hundreds of teachers who showed up in optional professional development sessions over spring break to learn how to do this well for their kids, and continue to ask for me.

The staff who are calling families to make sure they know how to access food, technology, and learning.

The operations staff who have spent hours cleaning, disinfecting, and making sure our buildings will be safe when we return.

The community members who are donating money, food, and time to make sure our students and families are taken care of.

I'm not trying to be falsely positive or make light of a very serious situation. It's true that there are a lot of things about this virus that stink! But I want to take a moment to be grateful for the good -- the way it is bringing out the best in us!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Teachers, We've Got This!

Teachers, we've got this!

Over the past several weeks, we've spent a lot of time talking about everything that has changed. Indeed, our world looks different than it did a month ago! But what if we focus on the things that have not changed?

Our relationships

We are in this profession because we care. About students. About families. About learning. None of that has changed! We still can find ways to show our kids how much they mean to us, and how much we care. Those relationships can't be stopped by 6 feet (or more) of distance!

Our creativity

We have been functioning for years in less-than-ideal circumstances. Lack of funding = purchasing our own supplies, larger class sizes, and generally being asked to do more with less. You could almost say we are experts at adapting to the situation and making do! Here is another chance for our creative selves to shine. "Necessity is the mother of invention," and I know we will come out of this having invented new (and sometimes better!) ways of thinking about our instruction and what really matters in a class.

Our perseverance

Standardized testing. Educator effectiveness. Unfunded mandates. We are all-too-familiar with the number of things that get added to our plates, yet we persevere. That all-important "grit" that we talk about with kids? Just like always, we are going to keep going when the going gets tough and work through hardship.

So you see, even though a lot has changed, the most important things haven't. We will work through this next chapter of education, together, because our students are worth it. The tools might look different (hello, Hangouts/Meet and Schoology), but the core of education will stay the same - helping our students learn and grow into happy, healthy, and well-rounded human beings.

Teachers, we've got this!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Keeping It Simple

I know I've been on a bit of a blogging break. I just had so much going on, and this was one thing I could let go of for a few weeks to give myself some breathing room! But in this world of wow-things-are-moving-quickly-with-coronavirus, I thought it would be a good time to return!

I'm here today with one message: Keep it simple.

Those of us who are active in the ed tech world probably have lots of ideas for how to implement home learning. Some of our favorite tools are now being offered for free (due to the pandemic)! Our expertise in designing blended or flipped lessons is paying off! Everyone is being so great about sharing resources, so we have a whole world of ideas at our fingertips!

We need to be reminded: Keep it simple.

This is a huge change for our students. It will feel weird to them. They will be balancing other things, like siblings vying for use of the technology, the loss of their usual social outlets, and feeling cooped up at home. Along with that, we are kidding ourselves if we think the kids aren't feeling the undercurrent of stress running through society right now. We need to not overwhelm them and keep it simple.

This is a huge change for our parents. They are dealing with childcare issues, figuring out how to continue with their jobs, and for some, how to continue to put food on the table. They may be thinking about elderly parents, having enough toilet paper, and access to medical care if needed. We need to not expect that they will be sitting next to their students, helping them with schoolwork every day. For their sake, we need to keep it simple.

And this is a huge change for our teachers! Some teachers are ready and building lessons as we speak! But I bet each one of us has a face that comes to mind when we think about somebody who is not as excited about technology. All teachers, no matter what their level of comfort with technology is, are probably feeling a little intimidated and worried about their students, how they can teach online, and what will happen with tests/graduation requirements/evaluations/etc. We live in this wonderful world of sharing, but let's not dump too much information on our teachers who are adjusting - let's keep it simple.

So what does simple mean?

  • Relationships first. Connect with kids. Connect with each other.
  • "Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind." ~Brene Brown. A little clarity goes a long way.
  • Communicate. The unknown is scary. Hearing from each other makes us feel a little less alone.
  • Don't neglect self-care. One of the downsides of the internet is that we are all connected, 24/7. Step away and take care of yourself, too.
  • Above all, let grace and compassion reign. We are all in uncharted waters, and we are all figuring it out together. Some of us will adjust more smoothly than others. Let's put our differences aside and be gracious as we try, take risks, fail, and try again!

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 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 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!