Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Tale of Two Conversations

I want to paint a picture of two conversations between a teacher and a student. Both started with a problem that needed solving.

In the first conversation, they talk about the issue.
The teacher helps the student brainstorm ideas about how to solve it, or at least what next steps might be. The questions that the teacher asks sound like this: "What is the root of the problem? What would make it better? How could you get there?"
They bounce ideas around and end up co-constructing a plan. In the end, they walk out of there with a clear idea of what to do next.

In the second conversation, they talk a bit about the issue, but more about the student who is seeking help.
The teacher asks questions to help the student reflect, such as, "What do you wish you could say? How do you think this is affecting you? What would you need to be able to move forward?"
They talk through these questions, and in the end, they walk out with some ideas of what to do, but a deeper understanding of themselves personally.

Both of these conversations are helpful, but they lead to slightly different outcomes.
Which conversation is more helpful in the short-term?
Which conversation is more helpful in the long-term?
Which conversation do you tend to have with your students?
How can we incorporate both angles into our interactions?

[Thoughts I'm pondering as I think about how to teach SEL skills, with both students and adults!]

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Little Reminder Goes a Long Way

It feels like I'm blogging a lot about my personal journey at work these days (as opposed to students/teachers), but that's where I'm at - and I know I'm not the only one who has ever dealt with a reorganization or job change!

My new role has been full of a lot of learning, which is GOOD. I love learning new things! At the same time, it can be hard on my confidence. Impostor Syndrome is a real thing, and I have found myself wondering how I can effectively support teachers whose jobs look very different than mine looked when I was teaching.

It's with this mix of overwhelmed learning + "Am I really the right person for this?" that I approached the Colorado EdTechTeam Summit this year.

The day started off with a good reminder from keynote speaker Rushton Hurley

"The only person to whom you ever need to compare yourself is the you who you were yesterday."

Are you looking in the mirror to compare, or looking out the window at everyone else?


Image


After that, I had the opportunity to present on fun stuff: GSuite in the Arts, Spreadsheet AutoMagic, and some Google Experiment play at the playground. It reminded me (as always) that I really enjoy presenting! All of those little moments - the exclamations of "Oh, that's awesome!", "I am doing this with my kids on Monday!", and "That's so cool!" - filled my bucket. I always appreciate positive feedback (who doesn't?), but even more this year when I have felt like such a novice in my day-to-day job.

I think God knew I needed this reminder - despite all of the new, I still have strengths to bring to the table. I have a renewed sense of efficacy in being able to serve and help teachers & students. I have so much to learn, but I also have some good background to draw on.

Passing It On

Which, of course brings me to students. How often do we focus on their weaknesses, instead of their strengths? Do we recognize the background that they bring to the table as a source of learning? Do we make them feel like they are a beginner at everything, or do we value and build on their prior knowledge? These questions are especially relevant for our students who come with different cultural backgrounds that we do.

A little reminder goes a long way. Which student needs a little reminder from you today?

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Importance of Our Strengths

For anyone who knows me or has been following my blog, it's probably not a secret that it has been a tough beginning of the year for me. A district reorganization, a new job, new teams, and a lot of change means that I've been spending a lot of energy the past few months adjusting to the changes. And it's been hard.

As I continue to struggle with settling into my new job, I've tried to figure out why - and I had a realization today. I'm spending far more time working out of my weaknesses than out of my strengths.

What does this look like, practically? I'm supporting subject areas I'm just learning, while the teachers I am supporting have been teaching this class for years. I'm spending most of my day in meetings, rather than being out with teachers and students. And, in the areas where I feel like I have strengths, the work has shifted to other people/job functions, so I am not supposed to be doing these things (so we can all settle into our new roles).

It's frustrating. I also know that we are still in the beginning stages of this change, and sometimes things just take time.

Meanwhile, this has sparked many thoughts for me about how we treat our students. Are there kids in your class who feel like they spend their whole day working out of their weaknesses, and desperately want you to recognize their strengths (whether they are in traditional academics or elsewhere)? Do they feel like they are cut off from using their sources of strength to aid in their learning? What does this do to their confidence and their view of themselves as learners?

I hope that we can all take a strengths-based approach to see the beautiful strengths all of our students bring. They may be learning English, and they have a rich cultural and linguistic heritage from somewhere else. Their family may be staying with another family right now due to financial constraints, and they might have learned how to get along with a wide variety of people. They may have a disability, and they might have learned to think creatively about how to accomplish things. Which side are we going to focus on?

I hope that we, as educators, can leverages students' strengths to build their confidence and capacity as learners, allowing them to move onto bigger and bigger challenges and ultimately to soar!

(And I hope that, one of these days, I will find ways to bring my strengths more and more into my daily work!)

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

I'm now entering my third year being out of the classroom. Three years. In some ways, it feels like forever ago, but in other ways, it feels like just yesterday that I had students of my own.

It's hard, sometimes, working at the district level. I miss kids. I miss those relationships that only develop when you see them every day. And I miss teaching itself - the art of crafting a lesson, knowing your learners, and connecting with kids in that moment!

I also worry about becoming irrelevant. About losing touch with what life is like when you are teaching kiddos day in and day out. I fear that I might forget the planning, the grading, the parent emails, the hallway duty, and the never-ending stream of wondering how you could help your kids even more.

But then I remember: Once a teacher, always a teacher. A couple of weeks ago, I got to teach a Sunday School lesson at church (to kindergarten/1st graders), and it was awesome. One of those moments where you feel like you have their attention, they are engaged and excited to learn, and everything is just clicking! And then, this week, due to ice and snow and bad roads, I got to be an emergency sub for a couple of hours (until all of the teachers could make it to school). It was so much fun to be teaching kids again! It made me remember that:
1) I still love this,
2) I can still do it (even if I am a little rusty), and
3) I never want to lose touch with teaching.

I'm a firm believer that, no matter where you are in education, it is important to be in schools and important to be in classrooms. That's where the rubber hits the road! I've tried to keep that lens and spend time in classrooms throughout my time in a district position, and I hope I can continue to find little ways to exercise my teaching heart as well!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Meeting Structures

If you have been following this blog, you know that my district has been going through a change that has put many people in the place of working with new teams. While there are some awesome things happening, it has not been without its struggles! On my team (of three), one of the things we noticed is that we were having trouble in our weekly team meetings.

The problem: We had way too much to get through, and we weren't getting through it all! Additionally, we didn't have a very good way of organizing or prioritizing items, so sometimes we would get caught up talking about something that was less important and run out of time for the things that we really needed to deal with.

The solution: Although I tend to prefer a flexible approach, it became clear that we needed better structures for our meetings. We've been able to implement a couple of things that have helped. To be honest, we still have trouble getting through all of our work, and the system is not perfect, but it is better...and we know we will continue to tweak and improve!

So, what structures do you use?
  • We have one person labeled as the "agenda builder" (responsible for building the agenda prior to the meeting) and one person as the "facilitator/timekeeper". In the agenda, we list an amount of time for each item and the facilitator sets a timer during the meeting. When the timer goes off, we either decide to allocate more time to the item (and take it away from other things) or decide to pick it up again next week.
  • The agenda is on a spreadsheet, with columns for links, notes, and follow-up needed. There is also a "cover page" of links & important info (such as our norms & agreements) that we refer to often.
  • We have sections for "quick work" (mostly FYIs that somebody might want to say a few words about), "immediate decisions" (things that need to be decided or done but won't take more than a few minutes), and "discussion topics" (things that need more exploration & discussion). The agenda builder is responsible for placing things in the appropriate categories.
  • We begin each meeting with a 5-minute structure where each person says what their top priority is for the meeting that day. This allows us to all be aware of the things that are really burning on people's minds that we need to get to!
  • We reserve the last 10 minutes of the meeting for our closing structure, no matter where we are. During this time, we circle back to everyone's top priority to make sure we addressed it, we label agenda items if we need to carry them forward to the next week, and we make sure we are clear on follow-up steps. Then, we go around and each state a positive outcome from the meeting and anything we are still wondering.
Although we still have a long way to go, this structure has helped me, at least, feel like we are prioritizing our work more successfully and getting through more in our meetings. I'm sure we will continue to evolve this structure as we go, but it's nice to have a starting point!

Interested in a copy of our agenda template? Check it out here!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Walking the Tightrope

Today's soundtrack is brought to you by The Greatest Showman:

I'm writing this morning after coming off of a really hard week. One of those weeks where it feels like you are knocked down, over and over, and every time you try to stand up, another gust of wind comes and keeps you on the ground.

But I wouldn't say it's been a bad week. Sure, that's easier to say on this side of it, but it's been a week full of learning through the struggle and facing what's going on instead of running away from it. Ultimately, I know that will lead to healthier and better outcomes.

So, what's been going on?

Our organization is going through a lot of change at the moment. A massive reorganization of district staff supporting instruction means that I am in a new role, working with a new team, for a new supervisor, in a new place...and so is everyone else. Our jobs are still being defined, and we don't exactly know what everything looks like yet. Of course, as we are figuring things out, we all have a tendency to fill in the blanks with what makes sense to us in our frame of reference. And now, a month into the school year, these assumptions are starting to come out and grate against each other. And that's uncomfortable!

At the moment, I feel like I'm walking on a tightrope. On one side is where we hope to get to with this change - being super supportive to schools, working well together as a team, and doing everything we can to set our students up for success. On the other side is the messy chaos and fears that come with making a change. On a personal level, one side contains a world where I feel excited about my work, where I see how I am making a difference, and where I have strong relationships with teammates and schools. On the other side, I feel purposeless, unsure of what I am doing or why I am doing it, and feel disconnected from those I am meant to work closely with.


The messy middle

I've always loved the term "the messy middle." It acknowledges the reality of things being hard in the moment, but simultaneously shares the hope of things getting better. And that is exactly where I am at right now. Holding on, clinging to my belief that this stage will slowly start to fade away and I will find myself more firmly planted on the light side.

Supporting through change

So, why do I share all of this here? Some of it is because I want to be real on this blog, and share both the triumphs and the struggles. But beyond that, it has made me think about how we support people through change. What felt supportive to me this week?
  • Listening - letting me share and process as I tried to navigate the tension I have been feeling
  • Reassurance that it was okay to be in this place - we don't have to pretend that everything is great all of the time, and we have all felt this way at times
  • A bit of margin - permission to go outside and take a walk for a minute to clear my head and not feel bad for not "working" during this time
  • Asking questions - helping me see things from another perspective
  • Attending to both the concrete solutions/ideas (let's try this to help) and the deeper emotional side (I hear that you are feeling like this) - seeing the whole person
  • Affirmation - when things feel unsteady, it is easy to doubt myself, and the words (especially from supervisors) about what I am doing well were helpful reminders to me
I know that, being in a district-level position, part of my role is help others navigate change as well. I hope that I can be just as supportive as my leaders have been to me, largely through doing things on this list, and through doing that, we will all be able to walk through this change (and others that will come!) and come out stronger on the other side.

How do you support others in navigating change?

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Connecting with Parents

I want to relay a powerful experience I had at an elementary school Back to School Night this week. I attended the first session with some of the relocated refugee families that I work with, and didn't think much of it - it was a pretty typical presentation by the teachers, something that I have taken part in dozens of times.

As we went out to dinner (kudos to this school and their community partners, who provide dinner for families at Back to School Night), one of the parents asked me how she could help her kids with her homework, because sometimes she understood it and sometimes she didn't.

This conversation got me thinking - was she walking away from B2SN feeling empowered to partner with the school to help her students, or dis-empowered because she didn't have the requisite skills?

As we went back for the second session (siblings!), I tried to listen to the presentations through that lens. I heard many great ideas from teachers about how parents can help, such as "read to/with your child," "read clocks with them," "talk about numbers in your everyday life," etc. And it made me think...if I couldn't read with my child or read a clock myself, how would I feel? Would I see a place for myself in this home-school partnership, or would I leave the education of the kids to the school?

Let me be clear...the teachers didn't do anything wrong. Of course we want to provide ideas for how parents can be involved and help their students at home! And the ideas they provided were perfectly appropriate.

I also want to be clear...while these parents may not be literate (in English or their own language), they have a multitude of skills and things to contribute to their child's education, and they WANT to be supportive and involved.

I'm just wondering how we bridge the two. I don't have any perfect answers, but I think it is important for us as educators to think about how an event meant to connect families, when viewed through a different lens, may actually be subtly doing the opposite. And maybe, just having that little bit of perspective and sensitivity can lead to a conversation or comment that helps ALL families feel empowered to take part in the education of their students.

I'm so grateful for this moment to step into the perspective of this parent to learn something new. I've never thought about this before, and I hope that it will spark some small change in me...and others...in the future!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Trust

One concept I have been pondering lately is trust. I've worked in schools before that have a good feel to them, and it is often correlated with a high degree of trust in the building. On the other hand, I've also worked in places where the culture is pretty negative, and when asked why things are a certain way, one of the first answers tends to be that there is a lack of trust between different groups. Trust is a big deal. But what do we mean when we talk about trust in this professional sense?

A couple of years ago, one of my principals talked to me about the 3 Cs of trust: caring, competence, and consistency.
*I feel like I should cite an original source here, but I don't really know where this has come from - in my life, it is from thousands of observations and conversations!



Let's break down the different components below:

Caring - Simply put, if I don't believe that you care, it's going to be hard for me to trust you. I need to know that you care about your work, about the kids that we work with, and about their families and lives. I also need to know that you care about me...not just as an employee or coworker, but as a person!

Consistent - This has to do with fairness. For me to really trust you, I need to know that you will not play favorites or act differently depending on the day. Sometimes a lack of consistency is intentional, but sometimes it's unintentional - it's unsettling when you aren't sure how a person will react to different situations! This doesn't mean that you always do things exactly the same way, but you need to have a consistent way of approaching situations, which largely comes from convictions & morals.

Competent - Even with the best intentions, if I don't think you are able to do your job well, I'm going to have trouble trusting you professionally. I need to believe that you have the ability to act on your intentions.

Transparency - This is added around the circle, because it is how we judge the three Cs. Not only is it important to be caring, consistent, and competent, you have to let people see it! Flaunting it is not the goal, and neither is oversharing - but secrecy naturally breeds suspicion. If you are open about how you make decisions and handle situations, I will be more likely to see the three Cs come out, and that leads to greater trust.

While this framework has been helpful for me in building trust, it has actually been more helpful when I feel trust breaking down between myself and somebody else. I can usually pinpoint one of these components as the reason why I'm having trouble trusting...and that helps me ask for what I need and get to a solution more quickly. On the flipside, it is a good reminder to me about developing trust, especially at this time of year when we are meeting new teachers (and students) all of the time!

Trust. An abstract concept that shapes our relationships and interactions. Do you have anything you would add to this idea drawing about trust?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Safe Place

Where is your safe place?

When you are having a hard day, where do you want to go "escape" to? Do you run to the bathroom? Is it your car? Do you just want to be home, or out somewhere at a special place?

Who do you pick up the phone to text or call? I know that I have certain people that I can text and say something short, like, "It's been a hard morning, please pray," and they will be there for me. I know that when I get those texts, it's not the time to ask a million questions, but a time to just be there (virtually) to provide support.

Do our kids have safe places?

The beginning of school is full of transitions and new things, and that can be overwhelming for some of our kiddos! With new teachers and classes and sometimes a new school, where is their safe place? Who can they go to? Do they have an outlet when they just need a moment to breathe?

Teachers, principals, and everyone else in schools - as we begin the year, please be willing to be a safe place for our kids. Respond with grace and compassion. Know that the beginning of the year and all of the change can trigger fear and anxiety in many students. Some will show it more than others, but they all need to know that they have a safe place at school if needed.

And for those of you who, like me, work in the central office - be a safe place for those you support. Working directly with kids every day can be emotionally draining, and sometimes we can help carry the burden that teachers feel every day, leaving our teachers with more energy to be on the front lines with our kids.

Do you have a safe place? Can you be a safe place?

I have the feeling that if we all did a little more of this, the world would be a better place ❤️.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Just Listen

I learned a lesson this week: Sometimes, you just need to create space and listen.

I learned through being on the receiving end. I had been having an issue at work, but I didn't know how to bring it up or deal with it. It was a relief when one of my leaders asked me if I wanted to talk.

This moment was the turning point of my week.

I'm reminded that, as a leader, sometimes you have to seek people out and push/prompt them a bit. I didn't want to bother anyone else, especially at this busy time of year when we are all consumed with getting schools ready for kids! Some people won't be afraid to share what's going on (ever), while others may tend to keep to themselves without prompting. A healthy practice is to create time & space to talk with people without an agenda...and then truly listen to what they have to say. I can almost guarantee it will lead to new information & insights about your team that you would not have known to ask for!

So my challenge to you today? Amidst all of the hustle and bustle, make sure you find a way to create a space to just listen this week. It will be worth it!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Blogging Break

Hello friends! I have loved posting on this blog for the past several years, and blogging has become a part of my weekly routine. At the same time, I have found myself struggling to figure out what to write more and more often. Not being in the classroom provides me with a rich new perspective, but one that is harder (and, at times, less appropriate) to share publicly.

I'm not good at saying no to things, but as we begin the new school year, I think I need to give myself permission to take a break from weekly blogging. I will still post on here as I feel inspired, and with any luck, I will actually be spending more time in schools this year, which might fuel my blogging creativity!

Allowing myself to take a break from something is never easy...but it is all a good lesson in #selfcare, right?

Bitmoji Image

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Back to My Musical Roots

I still love teaching.

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me into her classroom to teach a mini-lesson about music, STEM, the physics of sound, etc. The audience was a group of rising 3rd graders. Of course, I said yes! We had a blast, and they were super engaged, so we ended up going much longer than originally anticipated. I wanted to share some of the more interactive activities we did below for my fellow musical friends - these could work well with any age, from preschool up through elementary school, or as a part of an accessible lesson for students with special needs.

Feel the Music

After playing and providing a little bit of an intro, talking about how the strings vibrate to make sound, I invited the students up to feel the vibrations while I played. Watching their faces was precious as they truly "felt" the music! Many of them also commented on how it tickled their hands :-).
*Note: This works best on cello or some larger bass instrument - I have also done it with trombone!












Learn a song!

The next step for these students was to learn a bit of a song! I used the Cabbage Song, one of my traditional beginning songs. The melody is four lines with a standard bass line, so after practicing with solfege hand symbols, I called four students over to the cello and assigned them each one line (4 notes - easy enough to memorize). They each practiced individually, and then we put it all together with me playing violin them playing the bass line, and the rest of the class doing hand symbols for the bass line!
*This, obviously, will only work with kids who are a bit older - it's probably too much for preschoolers to handle. I was a bit worried at first about taking care of the cello while it was on the ground, but they were super respectful and did great!


Play your own song!





The last interactive activity I did with the students was call them up, one at a time (if they wanted to play), and had them choose a song they wanted to try. The songs ranged anywhere from "Twinkle, Twinkle" to movie music from Moana! I taught them the very basics of how to hold the instrument (hand on the shoulder, hold the bow on the frog), and had them move the bow back and forth on one string while I did fingerings for them. This always results in a lot of laughter, because it is hard to keep the bow on one string and keep a good sound, so we get lots of *interesting* sounds! My fingering isn't always 100% accurate from this angle, either :-). Nevertheless, it is fun for the students to get the chance to "play" something that they want to play and also provides a great opportunity to talk about how hard work can pay off!








Finale

Of course, beyond these interactive moments, I played violin, talked about low and high (bigger and smaller instruments), demonstrated tuning (looser/tighter), etc. It was a great day with a great group of kiddos!

On a personal note, it was such a relief to realize that I can still go into a classroom and command the attention of a group of kids. That might sound silly, but now that I don't teach every day, I sometimes feel a little rusty! I never want to be too far removed from the day-to-day reality of teaching, and this was a great way for me to jump in with my favorite subject and just be with kids. I look forward to more opportunities like this over the course of the year! 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

#OneWord2019: COURAGE (Update)

At the beginning of 2019, as I have for the past several years, I chose my #oneword for the year: COURAGE. Being just a few months into a leadership role, it seemed appropriate for what I was working on and where I was at.

Courage


For Christmas, one of my friends gave me a bracelet. It became the symbol of my #oneword2019. If I had a big meeting or presentation that day, or if I knew I would be having a tough conversation, or if I would have to make a decision that would be hard, I would have that bracelet on. It reminded me to be courageous, but also of where my strength came from, and that there were people who believed in me and who were rooting for me. That encouragement meant the world to me, and I would often glance down or briefly touch the bracelet in the moments when I needed courage the most.



As the year has gone on, my confidence has grown, and I've found myself reaching for that bracelet less and less. I still love the bracelet and the reminder, but courage has become increasingly internalized. Although it might seem small and silly, this has been a tangible indication of my growth this year.

What have I learned?

Nothing profound, really. Just that some things are never easy. There will always be hard conversations to have. Nobody likes dealing with tough issues - not even the people who do it well. They simply have the courage to step into the arena and face them head-on.

I've also learned that, as a leader, some decisions are up to me. I can ask for advice and seek out input, but in the end, I'm the one who needs to step up and choose a direction. And sometimes it's actually more helpful when I do that, rather than leaving everybody wondering and wandering in ambiguity.

Finally, I've learned that courage and honesty and vulnerability often go hand in hand. Being courageous means being real, even when I don't have it all together.

I look forward to continuing my year of courage!

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?