Friday, July 12, 2019

Summer Gratitude

I've been on a blogging break due to a 2-week vacation with my family. It was awesome! But I'm not here just to write about my vacation. Getting away for two weeks, and then returning to my job, gave me an excellent chance to reflect on this past year. More coming in another post with more of a comprehensive reflection, but today, I want to write about my some things I'm grateful for.

I'm grateful that, when I returned to work on Monday, although I may have groaned a little bit getting out of bed when my alarm went off, I was genuinely happy to be there. I like what I do!

I'm grateful for the people I work with, who share a great bond & balance of working hard, having fun, not being afraid to challenge each other's thinking, and truly caring about each other.
*Side note: I'm reading Radical Candor right now, which has some good content for leaders/bosses/managers, and I see some of the concepts there coming out in my writing today!

I'm grateful that I feel valued as a person at work. And as a worker. But as a person first.

I'm grateful that I am in an environment where it's okay to disagree, to challenge, to debate, and to question. But then, there's a commitment to making a decision and supporting it.

I'm grateful that I'm in a position where, sometimes, I can really help and make people's lives easier and better or help them realize their vision & dreams!

Bitmoji ImageI'm also grateful that I'm in a position to have really hard conversations, and hopefully deliver them with grace and compassion and empathy. I'm grateful for my coworkers who I can turn to for advice & wisdom when I need to have one of these conversations.

But most of all, I'm just so grateful to be where I am. It seems crazy, how I ended up here - but I did, and it is exactly where I needed to be this year. I think back to when I accepted the job, how nervous I was, how unprepared I felt, and how unsure I was about the decision...but it has turned out to be amazing and I can't imagine my year any other way. Pretty amazing, right?

#gratitude 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Library Kid Adventures

Today, being 7/11, I obviously had to take a group of the kiddos I work with (relocated refugee students) to 7-Eleven for free Slurpees! Luckily, there is one just a mile away from where they live (although some might say I'm crazy for taking 9 kids, ages 6-18, in 90+ degree heat on a mile-long walk - some with scooters, some with bikes, some just walking - crossing several streets, including a highway). Every time I hang out with them, I leave full of thoughts and reflections. A few vignettes from the adventure...


Me: "Do you want to come with me to get a free Slurpee?"
Kids: "What's a Slurpee?"
Me: "Uh...kinda like a mix between a popsicle and juice? A soft popsicle in a cup?"
Kids: "Um...maybe..."
Me: "You get to choose your flavor."
Kids: "YES, LET'S GO!!!"


6th grader: "He [4th grader] doesn't realize that they [1st & 2nd graders] all follow him. If he does something stupid, they all go and do it too."
*So much truth, and such good insight from a 6th grader! Luckily, the "stupid thing" was riding a bike down a small hill and needing to walk it back up the stairs.*


Me: "Hey, buddy, wait for us at the traffic light!"
Him: *Gets there first and patiently waits*
Him: *As soon as we get there, takes off into the street, despite the red light and red walk signal.*
Me: *Quickly yelling and pulling him back*
Me: "Buddy, do you see that walk sign? The orange hand? That means we need to stop! When it is our turn to go, it will change into a white guy walking. Then we can go."
Him: "That sounds so racist."
Two things stick out to me here: I have written before about how easy it is to forget that there are some "simple" cultural things that these kiddos may not know. This time, I was guilty of it. I figured that because we had been to many lights before, he knew what a walk signal meant & how to use it. Turns out, he was just following the others! Secondly, it made me wonder how they perceive issues of race. Are there things that they feel that I don't know or think about? Or was it a response based on things they have heard in the past? We are all Asian-American, but being only half-Chinese and being born to parents who are more Americanized, I would guess that my experiences and perceptions are different than theirs.


In the end, we all left happy!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Life Lessons from 7-year-olds

One of my favorite things to do in the summer with my kiddos who are relocated refugees is to take them out in small groups on little dates. When we go to the library for homework club or have parties, it is always a big party of everybody all at once! Those times are wonderful in a different way - but the depth of conversations when you have kids in 2s and 3s can't be replicated.



"Aubrey, we don't laugh at people who are different. Other people do, but we don't."
"That's awesome, girls. Because people who are different have feelings too...they want to be friends, just live everyone else."
"Yeah, like there's this girl who is really small, and so people laugh at her because she is really small, but we just talk and say hi and don't laugh."
Ah, the gift of seeing things like a child - I don't know exactly what is going on with this girl, but they just see her as really small. While I encouraged them to do more than just say hi, I also wanted to affirm them in knowing that it's not okay to make fun of anyone for being different!



"Aubrey, can I take some of this home to save for my [little] brother? Whenever I get anything tasty, I save some to take it home to share with him. And my other cousins are coming over tomorrow, so we can save it and share with all of them."
The spirit of sharing at its finest. If I had been taken out for froyo at this age, I'm not sure my first thought would be taking some home to share with my little brother and cousins.


I love working with these kiddos, and sometimes people say that they are lucky to have me & others as their support system. But, truly, it is just as much of a blessing to me. I always learn from them - and yesterday, it was life lessons from two 7-year-olds.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

"You're too young to be a director!"

How many times have I heard that? Or a similar quote:

"You look too young to be a principal!"


It is usually said as a compliment. It's said with a bit of surprise. And while I don't take offense, it sometimes sends a chorus of thoughts through my mind.

"Why? Do I have to be a certain age to be a director? Is it going to be harder to earn their respect now? Am I going to have to prove myself because I am younger? No, I don't want this to change how I act, I just need to be myself."

And then I start thinking about other implicit biases I see, in myself and sometimes in others. When am I caught off-guard by how somebody looks in comparison to what I "thought" somebody should look like? Is it based on age? Race? Physical appearance? Gender? Something else?

If I am honest with myself, it happens. I think that, if we are all honest with ourselves, we experience this. And...truly...it's okay. I'm not writing here to make anyone feel guilty. What matters is how we respond.

I can question myself: "Why did I think that? What did I expect? What is causing this cognitive dissonance? What does that tell me about myself and how I perceive the world? How does this change my understanding and perception?"

Honestly, it usually happens in the flash of a second, and I can choose to either ignore that brief moment of surprise or dig it out to see what it means. I'm trying to get better at choosing the latter, to recognize my own biases and where I need to grow.

As for being on the receiving end...I can just smile, say, "Yes, I know I am young, but I've grown into it and it's been a great fit," and move on and do my thing. I am in a leadership role because of my character, work ethic, and ability - and that will shine through on its own.

Friday, May 31, 2019

6 Interview Tips for Teachers

In my position, I have sat on a lot of interview committees and seen a variety of candidates this year. Since it's the season for interviewing for jobs, I wanted to put together a quick list of tips for prospective teachers (or anyone else applying for a job in education)!

1. Bring the energy that you bring to your classroom!
You might be nervous. You probably are nervous. But if you are applying to be a teacher, the people on the interview committee have to be able to imagine you interacting with kids. If you try to hold back and be too "formal" in the interview setting, it is harder to picture you in the classroom. This doesn't mean that you should treat it informally - but let that energy that you feel in the classroom come through.

2. What do YOU want to THEM to know?
This is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten about interviews. They will be asking the questions, but you, as a candidate, get to do most of the talking. If you were to distill your message down to a few key concepts or phrases, what would they be? Not just "what they want to hear", but what makes you uniquely you as a teacher? Make sure you work those in during the interview as it makes sense with the questions they ask. Personally, I've found that this also keeps me from rambling too much, because it gives some focus to what I want them to remember about me.

3. Answer the question, and be honest.
While you are applying #2, make sure you also answer the questions. This sounds so obvious, right? But it's amazing how often people don't follow this rule. If you don't have a ton of experience with something they are asking about, don't gloss over it, be honest - but also show a willingness to learn! If you only remember half of the question, ask them to read it again. If you don't fully answer a question, this will put you at a disadvantage with being compared with candidates who did fully answer the question.

4. Check your resume and cover letter for grammar and spelling and style errors. Then check again.
I remember being disgusted when I was on a committee to hire an administrator and two of our candidates had pretty significant grammatical errors in their cover letters. The culprit? Copy/pasting from old ones. It's fine to reuse material, but please, read it through, out loud, and make sure it makes sense. In the field of education, people want to see that you can write well and pay attention to detail.

5. Don't just want any job, want this job.
You know how they always tell you to do some research about the school you are applying for? You don't need to know a ton of facts or memorize the mission and vision, but you want enough to show the committee that you are actually interested in working at the school, more than just getting a job. This will also help you tailor your answers to interview questions to "click" with what the committee knows about their school, their culture, and this position.

6. Be genuine!
If you remember nothing else, remember this one - be genuine! While skills, certifications, and experience are important, ultimately, the interview is about human connection. You wouldn't have gotten to that point if you weren't qualified for the job, so you can lay those worries aside and focus on being yourself. Even when first meeting someone, it is pretty easy to tell when they are trying to act a certain way, and that doesn't leave anyone with a positive impression. The best way you can connect with the interview committee is to be yourself, as Evan states in the Finale of Dear Evan Hansen:
"Dear Evan Hansen, ​
Today is going to be a good day.
And here's why: because today, today at least you're you and that's enough.​"

And a bonus #7...Make sure you have supervisors on your references list. Peers, friends, and fellow teachers are not as preferred as supervisors or cooperating teachers (if you are coming right out of student teaching).

Be bold, be confident, and be YOU, because that's enough!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Exhaustion & Rest

I've started and deleted blog posts on a couple of different topics this weekend, and I just can't seem to settle on anything to write about.

I think it is because I am exhausted.

The end of the year is always crazy, and this year felt even more so, being my first year in an administrative role. To add to the fun, our building is being torn down & reconstructed over the next 18 months, so we have to pack up and clear everything out. Add it all together, and the result is that I've been running on fumes.

If the building is going to be torn down, we may as well
tag the walls before we leave, right? :-)

This weekend, finally, I've gotten the chance to rest. Like sleeping for 9 hours and then taking a 2-hour nap in the afternoon. And getting out on a good hike with my family.




It has just made me think about how little our culture values rest...even though we need it so much! I feel rejuvenated after this weekend, and I'm confident that I will go back to work tomorrow with a better attitude and clearer mind.

As summer begins, whether you work through the summer or have a couple of months "off" (since most teachers are never really off), it is a time when we think about rest and refreshment. Maybe rest looks like sleeping. Maybe it looks like getting outside. Maybe it looks like spending good time with family and friends. Or maybe it means picking up a new hobby! Whatever it means, I'd encourage you to make an intentional plan for rest, refreshment, and rejuvenation this summer. We all need it...and your students & coworkers will thank you in the fall!

With that, I'm off to cook and watch TV and prepare for a BBQ with friends :-). Happy Memorial Day, everyone!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Comfortably Uncomfortable

I am going to take a step back from my usual blog posts about my professional life and write for a moment about my personal life (although still very education-related). When I'm not at school, one of my favorite things to do is to hang out with a special group of kiddos (I've written about them on my blog before). These kids & their families have come to the USA as refugees, facing many challenges that are so different from my own life. This weekend, we're celebrating two girls who are graduating from high school - one is the first in her family, and one is the second (she has an older sibling).

Congratulations, graduates!

When I first met these two, they were in elementary school. We have spent many hours together - from our weekly library homework club (which has been going on for nearly ten years now) to parties to sleepovers and more!

"Family" goes beyond flesh and blood.

I may be the homework helper, but in return, they have welcomed me into their families. At times, it comes with a bit of discomfort. I don't know what kind of food I expected at their graduation parties, but I have to admit, it caught me a little off-guard when I walked in and saw all of this.

Shrimp - bon appetit!
Squid? Octopus? Something like that...

The full dining experience!

And while I don't know if I can say that I enjoy discomfort, I think it is such a good thing for me to experience. It is a reminder of what many kids feel every day when they come to school, to a world where they look different, sound different, and feel different than their peers. It's a reminder that my "normal" is not everyone's "normal" - and mine is not better than anyone else's. It is a reminder that we all have so much to learn from each other, but it takes intentionality and courage to step into a space that is outside of your comfort zone and meet each other there.

Just reach out - like our two first graders
walking to the park today!

When is the last time you were intentionally uncomfortable? What did you learn?

Saturday, May 11, 2019

5 Things I've Learned About Tough Decisions

When my supervisor asked me how my week has been, I responded that "I've felt a little beat up this week. But I'm happy with how I'm handling it." Being an administrator is full of making tough decisions, and often, those decisions generate negative feedback. Sometimes, like this week, a bunch of circumstances all converge, and it feels like I am hearing negative feedback about many different decisions and aspects of my job all at once.

"So what? It's a part of the job," you might say. It's true, but the problem is that I can be an approval addict. I want everyone to like me, all of the time! I know it's not healthy or possible, but it doesn't stop me from feeling uncomfortable when somebody is unhappy with me. This year has yielded many, *ahm*, "opportunities" to practice getting over this tendency.

As our conversation continued, she asked me, "What's different, that makes you you feel like you are handling it well?" While I can't narrow it down to just one thing, here are five things I've learned about making tough decisions:

1. Root your decisions in data, and don't be afraid to share your thought process.

This has been one of the biggest things for me to fall back on in my conversations. I don't make decisions "just because". There is a method to the madness! And when it is rooted in data, whether qualitative or quantitative, it is easier to articulate in a way that makes sense. Transparency and building understanding go a long way in helping people move forward after tough decisions.

2. Respond. Don't put it off.

As I have heard from a wide variety of stakeholders about decisions that I have made and responded, some people have seemed genuinely surprised and grateful to get a response. It's so tempting for me to put off calling back after hearing a voicemail or responding to an unhappy email, but when I do, it actually starts the conversation off on a good note, because it shows that I genuinely value their feedback and am willing to have a conversation.

3. K.I.S.S.

keep it simple stupid the office

Tough conversations can wander all over the place, which is okay, but in the end, I want to keep it simple. I need to be able to boil my decision down to a couple of simple talking points and keep returning to them. This takes me out of the space of having to respond to every emotion and accusation that comes up, and focuses on the core issue. I don't mean to say that you shouldn't listen and respond, or that you shouldn't be open to changing your mind...but make sure you are staying rooted in the real issue at hand, and not wandering into side issues as you go.

4. Proactive communication > reactive communication

As much as possible, proactive communication can help soften and set the stage when decisions need to be made. Nobody likes feeling caught off-guard! Sometimes it even helps to know that a decision is coming, so people can prepare themselves for it.
On a similar note, if you think that things might escalate, it never hurts to give your boss a heads-up that you anticipate some possible pushback. At that point, you can make sure you are on the same page and both feel comfortable with the decision, as well as your response.

5. Trust yourself, but be open to others.

Ultimately, no matter how others feel about it, some decisions are mine to make. I have to be confident enough in myself to know that I am doing the best I can with what I have, and that is enough. Sometimes I'll make mistakes, and that is okay too. This is where being open to others comes in. Prior to making a tough decision, soliciting feedback can keep you from missing certain angles and perspectives. After a decision has been made, if somebody points out something you haven't thought of, be open to that. Weigh it against your reasoning, and see if it changes your thought process. Don't be afraid to take more time to think about it if necessary. But in the end, if the decision is yours to make, the person you have to convince is yourself. Trust your instincts.

We all have decisions to make every day. What have you learned about making tough decisions? Share your tips and thoughts below!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Aspen Summit 2019: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Last weekend, I enjoyed another #EdTechTeam summit. It was nice to be back in the ed tech world again, a bit weird to remember what it is like to present, and amazing to think about how much I have grown in the ~6 months since I last presented at a summit. I went through the #GoogleEI academy, have grown into an administrative/leadership role, and done a lot of personal reflecting and growing along the way.

A picture is worth a thousand words. I didn't capture as many details this weekend as I sometimes do in my sketchnotes, but I wrote down what was most meaningful and important to me. And that's what it's all about, right? Making meaning.


Have a great weekend, everyone!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Authentic Celebrations of Learning

This week, I had so much fun at our district high school art show reception. Along with the art show, we had a runway show to showcase the work of our students in the cosmetology program! It made me think about how powerful it is to have truly authentic celebrations of learning.


The students in the program had created headpieces made entirely out of hair! What an amazing display of artistic talent! The variety and detail was stunning! The students also did the (natural) hair and makeup for the models for the evening.


The runway was built by our construction program. Again - an authentic project to be used at an authentic event. Pretty cool!


The models were entirely professional - this wasn't some giggly kids show, but they had their walks choreographed and timed and looked amazing while doing it.


Authentic audience. That is one of the cornerstones of project-based learning, and it was on display this night. Before this, I had no idea that our cosmetology department engaged in projects like this. I didn't think much about our construction program! These are all a part of our Career & Technical Education (CTE) program, which sometimes isn't given the same weight as our traditional "academic" classes...but why?


It's important for kids to find their place and talents, and some of them clearly shined this night. I'm grateful that we had such an amazing and appreciative audience to cheer these kiddos on and a great venue to hold the show in!


How are YOU celebrating your students' creative talents? How often do they get to share with an authentic audience?





Saturday, April 20, 2019

I Remember

These are new shoes. Are they going to get all scuffed up?

On Wednesday, my district, along with several other districts in the state, cancelled school. Not for a snow storm or other weather-related issue, but because of the threat of school violence.

It's hard to describe my thoughts and feelings about that. I'm grateful to everyone who keeps us safe, and I'm grateful that the decision was made to put safety first. But I'm also sad and mad that this is our reality. That a threat of violence can shut down the schools of an entire metro area, because we can't risk sending our kids to school.

It COULD happen here. It is happening here.

It also makes me remember an incident of school violence I experienced a few years ago. It wasn't a shooting, nobody died, and it quickly faded from the news. But something like this brings back the details, sharp and clear in my mind. The shoes I was wearing. The calmness that blanketed me during the day, as we took care of all of the kiddos in the school, and the shock that came later, after they were all home with their parents. The realization that it could happen anywhere, anytime. And the decision that, even knowing that there is never a 100% guarantee of safety, I don't want to live in fear.

"As teachers, we are so wired to take care of the kids. Don't be surprised if this hits you harder weeks or months down the road. It's normal."

That quote above, from a principal at another school, was some of the best advice I received when it happened. She was right - that was my experience. I'm just dropping her words here in case somebody else needs to hear it.

Back to the present: returning to work on Thursday, after they found the person who was making these threats, was weird. Everything just felt off. They found her dead, an apparent suicide. I was glad that the threat was over, but can you ever really rejoice in someone else's death? Especially an 18-year-old girl who clearly had a lot going on?

I'm not really sure where I am going with this post, other than putting my thoughts out there, but I do want to end with a few takeaways I am thinking about:

  • Watch out for each other. We are built for relationships & connection, and it makes a big difference in life.
  • Reach out. I was so grateful for a friend who texted me, following the school closure, to share her experience (she was also at the school I was at when the incident happened a few years ago). We had a good little texting conversation about some of what we remember and how it changes how we process/experience events like the one that happened this week.
  • Be real. Don't pretend nothing is happening. Acknowledge it with your kids (in an age-appropriate way), your co-workers, and parents who are around. We are all feeling it, and hiding it makes things even worse.
  • Live life. Don't let fear take over. We can't control everything (nor should we). So don't get caught up in trying to be in control. Just live!
  • Finally, if you ever find yourself in a situation like this and want/need to talk, please know that I'm willing. It's such a taboo subject in our culture, but holding it in can make it even worse! So whether we've met IRL or are PLN friends, know that you are not alone <3.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Words Can Hurt; Words Can Heal

A couple of years ago, somebody made a comment comparing my cello playing to my violin playing. I didn't think anything of it at the time - I am a violinist, and play cello as secondary instrument. I am nowhere near as skilled or as comfortable playing cello, and it didn't surprise me when this person alluded to that!

Fast forward a couple of years, and I realized that I was feeling significant anxiety around playing cello in certain environments (especially on worship team at church).

This weekend, as I was preparing to do just that, I said something at practice about not being very confident on cello. And was met with this response: "Well, we're all confident in your cello skills!" I was amazed at how much that single comment made me relax. 

As I reflect, I wonder, did I let an offhand comment, said innocently, grow into a cloud of doubt about my own musical skills? I want to be clear - I don't blame the person who originally said it to me - it was a completely fair assessment! But something about it affected me far more than intended.

***

How do words our students? I was fascinated when I was reading a book by Brene Brown, and she shared, "When I started the research on shame, you know, 13 years ago, I found that 85% of the men and women who I interviewed remembered an event in school that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. But wait – this is good – fifty percent of that 85% percent, half of those people: those shame wounds were around creativity. So fifty percent of those people have art scars. Have creativity scars.
(TBH, I don't remember which book I first read that stat in, so I Googled it...the quote here is from a podcast.)

As teachers, our words can have a huge impact. They can hurt, but they can also heal. So how can we give constructive criticism in a way that builds, rather than squashes, creativity? The following is a list that comes to my mind - feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments!

  • Balance is important - this feels like something we hear all of the time in teacher prep courses and PD sessions, but pay attention to what kind of feedback you are giving to each individual over time, and make sure it includes both positive feedback and feedback for growth.
  • Specific suggestions - "This needs to be better," feels hopeless, but "This needs to be better, and I think you can work on it by _______," instills a sense of confidence and expectation that they can get there.
  • Recognize the growth - if you give feedback to somebody and see them follow through on it, follow up with a compliment about how they improved! This strengthens not only the relationship of working hard = getting better, but your personal connection as well, because you noticed something specific about the way they have improved!
  • Ask questions - Particularly in creative subjects, what might look or sound like a blob or a mess to me might have significant meaning to the creator. Ask them questions about their intentions and the meaning of their work, and then give feedback to help them more clearly get their message across (if appropriate).
  • Be vulnerable with your own creativity, too - Being creative is risky. It is vulnerable. You are putting yourself out there in a way that is more individual and personal than something where there is a right & wrong answer. When we model our own triumphs and successes with creativity, we give our kids the freedom to do the same.
***

This weekend, I was able to play with freedom. Instead of spending the whole time worrying about getting this note in tune, staying solidly on the bass line, or balancing with the rest of the group, I was able to just play and have fun! Words can hurt, but words can also heal. Which words will you speak to your students with this week?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Grace in the Moment

This week, I have had lots of tough conversations.
But I have also witnessed incredible grace.

Nothing sticks out to me more than when I was delivering bad news to a friend and colleague this week, and she was clearly very upset (with good reason). But then she turned it around on me and said, "I'm sorry, it's probably been a hard week for you, delivering bad news to so many different people." Wow, talk about empathy - thinking about how I feel in a time like this?

Her comment reminded me of the humanity of this profession. Sure, we are workers, but we are people first. And people can love and support each other, no matter what the circumstances are.

It also made me think that, while I hate the fact that I have to have some of these conversations, it's also an honor to be able to stand with people in tough times. I can handle the news with as much compassion, kindness, and care as I can. There's something so beautifully human about being with people in their brokenness and vulnerability, and mine as well - it creates a bond. A human connection. An authentic relationship.

So, while it stinks to deliver bad news, it comes with an opportunity. Whatever the news or relationship may be professionally, in that moment, we are two people on the same ground, connecting with each other. And that's worth something.

I guess it hasn't been such a bad week after all!

Inspired by Brene Brown's video on empathy - watch it here!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Trust

Trust.


This word has been on my mind a lot lately, as I have been thinking about leadership in education. A #hacklearning chat last week. Interviewing candidates for a principal position. Going through a reorganization in our department at work. Figuring out a schedule for the art, music, and PE teachers in the district for next year. All require...

Trust.


Our #hacklearning chat was about the trust between teachers and administrators, but I think the same concept can be applied to students and teachers, or anywhere there is a power differential. It is important for administrators to be trustworthy, because they often are the ultimate decision-makers. It is important for teachers to trust them, because they often have a perspective and have more information than teachers. Yet trust is not blindly given, it is earned. One of the ways to earn trust is for administrators to trust their teachers by empowering them and giving them freedom when possible. It goes both ways.

Trust.


Interviews are an interesting exercise in trust. You have to trust that candidates are putting their true selves out there, not just spinning a great story for the committee. You have to trust the process of screenings and earlier rounds, and believe that once you get to interviews, the best candidates have truly been brought forward. And, in a process like the one I participated in, the committee doesn't make the final decision...so you have to trust that your input will be heard, considered, and brought together with all of the other voices to make the best decision possible. That becomes easier if you trust the people ultimately doing the hiring.

Trust.


I'm going to be honest, here - this reorg has been the source of many questions and fears (along with excitement & potential for things to improve). There are so many little details that I wonder about! And I really like to know what is going on...all of the time. Yet the thing that I fall back on is trust. I trust that our leaders who have envisioned this change really believe it will help, and I trust that they will figure out the details. I trust that our leadership has the 3 Cs - they are capable, competent, and caring. This trust means that I can let go of my need to know, my desire to advocate at every turn, and my own ideas of how things should be. There is still a time and place to share all of that - and I do - but then I can leave it be and let them take my ideas along with all of the other ones and choose the best path to move forward. One of the big reasons I feel comfortable doing this is because I have seen, many times, these leaders choose to do what is right rather than what is easy. That gives me confidence that it is not only the loudest voices that will be heard! It's freeing to let go, but it's only possible because of the trust that has been earned.

Trust.


And now I come to a place where I have to ask for trust from others. As I develop the schedule for next year, I am acutely aware that the decisions I make will have a significant impact on the lives of my teachers and their students. I worry about making the right call, and I am asking for a lot of input. Now, don't get me wrong, I think it is essential to involve as many voices as possible in the process, but I was struck when one of my teachers and friends said to me, "We trust you to make good decisions, even if they aren't always what we would have wanted." Being on the flip side made me realize that it is so much easier for me to give trust than to feel like I have earned it from others. It's affirming to know feel like my teachers trust me, and I want to live up to that! In a time where I am having to make some hard decisions, it has encouraged me to reflect on my relationships with leaders I have trusted - and, as mentioned above, something that means a lot to me is when leaders prioritize what is RIGHT over what is EASY. This tidbit has given me confidence to move forward on some things that may or may not be popular with everyone, but I believe they are the right thing for our kids and our district. As a person in a leadership position, it is my job to make these choices, even when it is uncomfortable. But hopefully, the thousands of other little decisions that have been made along the way have laid a foundation of trust for those who are affected.

Trust.


I could on and on, but one thing is clear: trust is foundational to all of our relationships, including those in schools.

How do you go about building trust with those around you? What makes (or breaks) trust in a relationship?

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 :-)!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

I Feel Like a First-Year Teacher.

This week, I came to a realization:

I feel like a first-year teacher again.


It shouldn't be surprising, right? I am just over four months into my first administrative job. I am a first-year administrator. But somehow, that never hit me until this week.

I've been reflecting on how there are so many areas that I want to grow in. I feel like I am handling situations clumsily - I am not clueless, but I lack finesse and touch. My bag of tricks is small. I have to put a lot of thought and energy into each situation. Meanwhile, I watch others who have been doing this for years handle things with grace, seemingly effortlessly, and I wish I could get there!

Here's the thing I have to remember:

It's okay.


Do you remember your first year of teaching? How did you handle things that came up then? Classroom management issues, parent communication, expectations from administrators...I know that the way I dealt with these things as a new teacher is definitely not how I dealt with them five years down the road. We all learn and grow; experience is a great teacher! No matter how well-prepared you are, there is a lot that had to be learned just through doing it. The perfectionist in me wants to figure it all out right now...but I can't. And that's okay.

Image result for learning curve

I am at the very beginning of the learning curve right now, where learning is steep. Rather than being discouraging, it's actually empowering to know that, five years from now, I will be in a much different place. I've been through this before as a teacher; now it's time to go through this as an administrator. I won't handle everything in the best way, but I will ask for grace and learn and grow a little bit every day!

As I seek to grow, I'm thankful for so many people who are helping mentor me along the way. This week, I've been challenged and inspired in conversations with Austin Houp, my Google Innovator mentor, Amy Illingworth, a PLN friend-of-a-friend, and several people in my district. I'm grateful that I can reach out and find a community around me who accepts me where I am and pushes me to go further. That's what I want!

I'll leave you with two thoughts:
1. If you are in a new job or new situation, it's okay to not be an expert right away. Take a deep breath, learn, grow, and have grace with yourself through the process.
2. If you are an experienced administrator, leader, or coach, what resources would you share to help someone who is just starting out?

Thanks for following my journey, blog-friends!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

CMEA Conference

This week, I had the opportunity to attend CMEA (the state music education conference). It was such an interesting experience - I haven't been to CMEA for years, and in the meantime, I've attended several ed tech conferences. This gave me such a different perspective than I have ever had before, and reflecting on that has been fascinating to me! One of the things that made me smile was how floored attendees were to have an app with the schedule/program on it (this was the first year with an app in addition to printed programs).

Here are a couple of my observations and takeaways.

It's a high-quality conference...

This conference featured great variety in the sessions and well-prepared speakers. There were not a lot of sessions that I attended that were "duds". I enjoyed the presentations and picked up a lot of ideas! Beyond the sessions, everything else (venue, equipment, etc) just had the feeling of being organized and well-done.

...but still a lot of sit-n-get.

While the sessions I went to were well-done and engaging, they were still primarily presented in lecture style. There was a lot of "sage on the stage" and not a lot of participant interaction. This could have just been the sessions I attended (I wasn't in as many general music sessions), but it was a bit disappointing to me. We still have a long way to go until we teach in a way that encourages the best retention (hint: it's not by talking at someone for an hour). One possible factor was the tech limitation of having no wifi in many of the rooms.

It was wonderful being in my new role...

By far, my favorite part about this conference was getting the chance to spend time with the teachers in my district! Normally, our conversations happen during a 5-minute passing period or when there is a specific need ("Do you have _____?"). It was so refreshing to be able to hang out, talk, share, and just spend time together without the pressure of needing to get something done! I was able to have so many one-on-one conversations as well, about various things that are going on throughout the district Lots of people apologized for grabbing me at the conference to talk "regular work", but I actually enjoyed it! It gave me the chance to really hear how things are going. And THAT helps me do my job so much better!

...but also a bit hard to figure out my place.

Let's be honest, this is a conference for teachers. Which is great! And it meant that there weren't many sessions designed for administrators. I felt really torn between going to sessions that piqued my interested and those that I felt like I "should" go to. I found that even though I loved the sessions with lots of takeaways, most of them weren't that applicable to me since I am not teaching kids! This continues to be a bit of an identity shift for me - I'm not a teacher (by position) anymore.


Although I have attended in the past, I enjoyed CMEA this year more than ever before. It is a great place for connections, old and new, and I was blessed to see friends and teachers from high school, college, and beyond! I'm grateful for the opportunity to attend and spend time with a wonderful group of music educators, and look forward to seeing how this all gets applied to create better experiences for KIDS!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Silence

How often do we experience silence in this world?

[As teachers, not much!]

I have recently been reading Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, and Chapter 7 is all about silence. [Wait, a chapter on silence in a book about conversations? You will have to read it to find out more - definitely worth your time!]
Reading this chapter got me thinking...

...silence is when we are alone with our thoughts. When we can process through things.
...silence is when we can be mindful of who we are, how we are feeling, and where we are.
...silence is essential for developing new ideas and solving problems.

I usually like to be busy at work, but over break, I had the chance for large blocks of time of silence. It wasn't really silence, since I could hear the murmur of everything else going on in the office, but it was large uninterrupted blocks of time for me to think. And I was so productive! It was a different kind of productivity - not my usual checks on the to-do list or responding to emails - but more of a time to vision and let puzzle pieces fall into place.

Although my work life has picked up since then, I continue to build in bits of time to do this silent, thinking work. When I walk to church. When I run or swim in the mornings. When I close my email and sit in my office for five minutes without a task. I often solve problems during these times, coming up with solutions that I couldn't quite piece together before, because I just have a moment to stop and think.

This has led me to an interesting thought - do we give our kids the time for this type of quiet, reflective work? I can only imagine trying this in the classroom - how can we build this in (in a way that is not b-o-r-i-n-g)?

My challenge to you this week: make time for silence in your work, in your conversations, and in your life!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

2018 Reading: A Recap



When I was teaching in the classroom, I had this sign on my door. It was laminated, and I would fill in whatever book I was currently reading with a white board marker. I wanted my students to see that reading wasn't just for LA class, it was something that I, as their music teacher, enjoyed too! I loved the conversations it sparked with my students, and they really would ask me about my book. Talk about great accountability - if I had the same book on there for too long, they would ask, "Ms. Yeh, is that a really long book or something?"






I'm not in the classroom anymore, but I still love reading! I was inspired by my friend Mari's blog and, for the first time, kept track of my reading in 2018. I finished a total of 48 books (and started three more that I am getting close to finishing now in 2019). The nerd in me really wanted to get to a round number (50) or to one per week (52), but alas, I'll have to settle for 48. Meanwhile, here are a couple of interesting stats about my reading:

  • I read 35 books for the first time, and 13 as re-reads (although one was by accident - I was a couple of chapters in, thinking it sounded really familiar, when I realized I had read it a few years ago)
  • I read 5 professional books, 4 faith-based books, and the rest (39) were mostly YA novels or biographical novels.
  • I really enjoy getting into series - this year, my series reads included Harry Potter, Ender's Game, The Beyonders, The Golden Compass, The Lunar Chronicles, The Breadwinner, and Dragonwatch!
  • I started getting into audiobooks for the first time. I still struggle to focus when listening to books, but I really enjoyed listening to books that I have previously read on audiobook. It brought a new dimension to my imagination of the story, and if I zoned out for a bit (which is not unusual), I could still track what was happening.
Overall, I really enjoy reading for pleasure, and it's a great escape from my day-to-day life! Maybe I should read more professionally, but honestly, I do a lot of other professional reading through blogs, articles, etc. As I begin 2019, I don't have any major goals for reading this year except to keep it up and continue tracking what I read. I do have quite a list of books related to refugees or migrants that I started in 2018, and I will probably continue to work through it in 2019.

One thing I am always on the lookout for is good YA novels, especially series! My favorite stories tend to be adventure, fantasy, or historical fiction. If you have anything good to recommend - please let me know!