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!