Some people say "Home is where the heart is". Other say, "Home is where I grew up". Still others might say, "Home is where I lived the longest."
Dave and I are going 'home' this week, back to Niceville, Florida. We are going back for just a week (likely not long enough, because, if you know the secret to the area, October is the most beautiful time of year there and the people are always beautiful) to visit friends and loved ones we lived alongside for 17 years of our so far 25-year marriage. So, when we say it's where we lived the longest, that is so much the truth.
Niceville is also a place where Dave and I both passionately loved the work we did. He worked for years on Eglin Air Force Base and I worked in Okaloosa County Schools, as a teacher, guidance counselor, and a principal. Niceville, originally called Boggy, is a small town by most standards but is situated near Destin, the Emerald Coast of the Gulf of Mexico, so it draws a pretty touristy crowd running through it.
For me, going back to Niceville brings to mind so many beautiful life, learning and loving moments:
1. Church: After being a cradle Episcopalian, my fractured family all strayed from church for many years (and forever, for some). In high school in San Antonio, a dear friend's family re-introduced me to the Episcopal church and when Dave and I moved to Niceville, I found such solace in re-re-introducing myself to St. Jude's Episcopal Church. I taught youth group (where I met some of the dearest youth who have become dear friends with their own children, and where I got in touch with my own soul through the lives of countless others), sang in the choir, served on the Vestry, and worshiped and praised God.
2. Serenity: Niceville is where I found the loving arms of spiritual guidance through a 12-step program that helped me decide that alcohol had become way too important to me. For over 14 years, I met with other folks on a daily and weekly basis who helped me become who I am today. As one of my sweet friends just said this morning, "I grew up enough to see that I still had a lot of growing up to do." For the first time, I began to feel comfortable in my own skin and I can't wait to go back and see some of those folks who were there for me when I began that journey. Dave and I went through some tough life lessons while in Niceville (not the least of which were the deaths of his parents, sitting beside by own mother as she died, and putting our dear first Labrador Retriever, K.C., to rest). But the serenity and peace I feel when I think back on those times does not cause me any "should have..., could have..., would have...'s" because of the serenity I learned about in Niceville.
3. Passion for education: Believe me when I say I knew I was going to be a teacher when I was six years old (lining up stuffed animals and trying to teach them to read---the stuffed frog made TOADal progress----sorry). But I could have never dreamed what all would happen to me and for me with regard to my own education and the education of others around me. While we lived in Niceville, I taught students with learning disabilities, I was a guidance counselor at a middle school, I became a guidance counselor at an elementary school, then I became the principal at that same elementary school. Through each of those experiences, I learned a bit more about teachers, teaching, students, learning, and, yes, more of my own passion for education. I earned my doctorate in education while living there and made lifelong friends through that program. Most of all, I tried to become the kind of instructional leader I felt God had called me to be. I made some mistakes, I made some good decisions, but the best part of being a principal at an elementary school in Niceville were the people and the relationships nobody can ever in a million years take away.
I talk in most of my blogs about relationships, communication and the power of working alongside one another (mostly in schools). Now that I have been an educational consultant for a few years and have had the opportunity to work in schools and districts literally across the world, I still believe the formative learning that impacted me the very most was from that elementary school in Niceville.
They say, "You can't go home again". This next week, Dave and I are going to give it a go.
We all know the scenarios in which people are trudging through life with a frown on their faces. Personal examples abound about going to restaurants and being served by frustrated waitstaff; checking out at the grocery store and receiving grumbles to our attempts at cheery chit-chat; gate agents at the airport who will not budge (and seem to do it with a badge of honor) on helping you get another flight. The list is endless, and we all have those stories. Whining at work and about work seems to be an American pastime. And when we aren’t the ones doing it ourselves, we are likely complaining about those who do.
But what do we do when we encounter those who are loving their jobs…and showing it? And what are we doing to pay the kindness or goodwill forward when we are faced with those employees who don’t often get to hear from happy customers?
As a frequent traveler, I have certainly seen my fair share of cranky customers as well as sullen service people, alike. I also happen to be extremely happily married (for 25 years!) to a man who knows how to turn the ice-cold waitress warmer with his charm. Over the years, he has taught me some tips of the trade that have helped me in times of frustration on the part of employees and customers.
1. Be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. Consider the following scenario: I’ve asked for a diet coke with a lime (let’s really not talk about the fact that I had given up diet coke for a year and am now drinking it again---that’s for another blog. Please). The waiter is crazy busy and comes back with drinks for everyone and….no lime. If I am close to the bar, I might just go up and ask if I can get a lime on a napkin. Same thing if we don’t get ketchup----we might steal it from another table instead of asking the crazy-busy waitstaff. In other words, I believe some people take pride in being picky and making a stink out of “This is not how I ordered this” when Stephen Covey said we should seek first to understand then to be understood (I wonder how many times I used a Covey-ism in my blogs over the last few years---something to research).
2.Smile and be polite, even if others are not. Here is a common scenario: the flight is delayed; everyone is frustrated in the gate area and the gate agents are sweating because they know everyone is frustrated and worried about their connecting flights (Have I mentioned that I will drive to Phoenix to catch a non-stop flight rather than having to make a connection somewhere? I h**e connections! Oh wait, I’m smiling, and being polite---back to the story in progress). When we (finally) board, everyone seems to be glaring at the gate agent checking boarding passes as if that gate agent called the airline that morning and said, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for today---why don’t we delay a bunch of flights today to see how many passengers we can frustrate?” When I scan my boarding pass, I try to look them in the eye and say, “Thank you for everything you do. I know it’s been rough. Hope you have a great day.” What does that hurt? It takes me about 3 seconds, and I would guess I get a relieved smile almost 100% of the time. Also, if there is someone who seems to be particularly enjoying their job, why not let them know how much you appreciate that? People, no matter the job (my hairdresser, the bagger at the grocery store, the custodian, the taxi driver, etc.), often say, “It is so nice to hear good news. People are always quick to share the bad news but not so much with good news. Thank you SO much.”
3.Be helpful, if possible. Here are some examples we try to do: stack the plates on the table when you know the wait staff is incredibly busy; stack the bins at the airport as we go through screening (yes, even though the clueless people in front of you left them on the belt) while waiting for our own luggage (it takes about 5 seconds and it helps the TSA folks a bunch); help lift a bag into the overhead bin (okay, in truth, Dave does this ALL the time---I was not blessed with that sort of vertical ability); and finally, speaking up when it might help others. My best recent example was while waiting for an update on a delayed flight. The three gate agents were standing at the gate talking among themselves, while the screens still said our flight was going to depart on time (when it was 5 minutes away from departure time and we still hadn’t begun boarding). Rumblings and grumblings began, “Here we go again”; “Come on!” “Let’s go!” You could feel a palpable frustration in the crowd that the gate agents either weren’t recognizing or didn’t know what to say. I stepped out of line, went up to the gate agents, and said, “I know you guys are super busy, and I also know you want to keep this crowd from growing more frustrated. It would be extremely helpful if you could just give everyone an update, so we know what’s going on.” They thanked me and one agent announced they were waiting for one more flight attendant and we should be boarding momentarily. All of a sudden, the tension in the crowd relaxed visibly. One little tweak.
My parents divorced when I was in elementary school. My sister and I became those kids who spent the week living with our mom and going to school, then spending the weekend with our dad. (I chronicled the time of how the divorce affected my mom, about her alcoholism, her recovery, her diagnosis of cancer of the larynx in my memoir called "Finding Mother's Voice". Mother, in all honestly, was a much better writer than I could ever hope to be, so when I got the chance to put some of her own writings in a story that deals with parenting a parent, what it's like to live without a mother who had been my greatest fan all my life, I jumped at the chance).
This blog is about what I remember the most about 5th grade, despite all that divorce and custody mess. Claudia Edgerton was my 5th grade teacher. I couldn't tell you how old she was (pretty young, I think) or how long she had been teaching, but I can tell you how she made me feel. Every weekend, we'd go out to dinner or to the movies with Daddy (I remember going to see "Jaws" and Woody Allen movies and thinking I should maybe not be watching these movies) or to his apartment. On Monday morning, it seems there would always be a note written on Mrs. Edgerton's stationery on my desk.
The notes would say something like "I hope you had a great weekend with your dad. I love having you in class." In one, she said I was "wise", and I thought I would cry. In fact, I likely did, as life was a bit emotional at the time. My best friend's dad died that year, and I know Mrs. Edgerton was there for Tricia as well. Wise? I felt clumsy and different, not "wise". I knew I was a good reader; in fact, books transformed my life events to another place, one in which I didn't have to think about things like alcoholism or divorce. When I am asked what my favorite book is, I don't hesitate before saying, "Where the Red Fern Grows" by Wilson Rawls. Claudia Edgerton read to us every day right after lunch for a few minutes, and I remember almost every line of that book (not just from her reading it aloud, but because it is likely the only book I have ever read multiple times---I think I read it at least 10 times---I still have the same paperback with tear-stained pages). I remember getting to go to a special math group each week with four other kids, as well, where we did "harder math" or worked on turning kids' books into felt-board stories for the younger grades, but, as special as that was, I missed being with Mrs. Edgerton during those times.
Why? Three reasons that I believe all teachers should do or be for every student:
1. She made me feel special.
As evidenced by the notes she wrote, the hugs she gave and the true sincerity in her voice when she asked about my weekend, I knew she cared.
2. She loved what she did.
I would be lying if I said I remembered all the academics we did in 5th grade, but what I do remember is the passion Mrs. Edgerton had for everything she taught, read and did.
3. It mattered to her what kind of people we would turn out to be.
The things she said to me, and I suspect to many of us, indicated that she didn't just care about us as 5th graders. She wanted us to be empathetic. She actually told me I should use empathy (I used S. Covey's words "Seek first to understand, then to be understood" when I became a principal) when I was upset when Mrs. Edgerton's student teacher moved me away from my best friend in an effort to try to "make the class her own". I still have that note.
A few years ago, during Teacher Appreciation Week, I looked up Claudia Edgerton, found her address and sent her a letter telling her what she had meant to me. Lo and behold (no, it shouldn't have come as a surprise, actually), she wrote me back. She told me she remembered me and she was proud of the educator I have become. We are now friends on Facebook and I am someday going to take a moment to go see her again in person.
Charlotte Danielson says that we, as educators, must get the climate of respect and rapport and the classroom environment right before we can do anything else in teaching. Claudia Edgerton is my example of why I believe in this truth so whole-heartedly.
Just for today, think about the educator who has had the most impact on your life and share that with me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or on my blog. Our stories matter!
What a question, right? Pretty loaded, if you ask me. I mean, I stand in line a bunch (TSA pre-check, waiting for a taxi, lining up to board a flight, etc.), and I consider myself to be fairly friendly (if you have a differing opinion about me, please message me separately instead of writing a public comment---I'm only trying to make a point here. ) ;) So, I often find myself engaged in common questions like that, "How are you doing?" "Where are you headed?", etc. I wonder, sometimes, though, if we should be asking those questions unless we honestly care about the answer.
I recently had a participant in one of my workshops who was having issues with her blood sugar. She asked me to step into the hallway to tell me she wasn't feeling great but she didn't want to miss this training (I think she said, "this most incredibly enlightening and best training ever" but my memory could be fading). ;)
I told her if she needed to step out and sit down on the floor (the only light in the entire building was our training room---the rest of the building would have been an amazing spot for a quick nap (or the boogie man, whichever)), that would be fine. She thanked me and we went about our business. About an hour later, I knelt down beside her (while others were reading something) and quietly asked her how she was doing. She looked at me like I was an alien, a nice one, I guess, and said, "I am doing better. Thank you so much for asking." She was sincere and I was sincere.
How often do we do this in schools (or other places of business, for that matter)? How often do we ask each other how the person is doing and honestly wait to find out or honestly take the sincerity to care, deeply. I have worked in a school in which that was the norm. If you were feeling down, there was someone there that would care, hug you, let you cry an ugly cry on their shoulder (even if your tears messed up their dress), and might even pray with you privately. I love that school! And I love all the other schools in which honest caring happens.
I am amazed at the surprise in people's eyes when I offer my email and tell them to email me with specific questions about the topic we discussed. I think it is only after they have done it and gotten a response that they honestly believe I meant it.
I have a confession to make: I say "Fine" to most people if they ask me how I am doing, and, to be honest, most the time I am. But every once in a while, I love knowing there is someone to whom I can say, "I am feeling a little sad today", and I can get a response that uplifts me (or makes me think, or makes me do work on figuring out why I am sad, or simply tells me that it is totally okay to be sad). What I won't do is wallow in sadness, as I learned a long time ago that wallowing in it is about as helpful as wallow in a pile of poo (or mud, whichever analogy doesn't make you want to throw up).
We need people with whom we can be totally ourselves.
Just for today, maybe tell those folks how grateful you are for them.
Because, with them, "There ain't no mountain high enough"
and who doesn't need a little of that in our lives?
I’ve been teaching, in one capacity or another, for a pretty long time. I’ve taught students who were emotionally or mentally challenged. I’ve taught students who were in “last-ditch-effort” settings before they were sent to prison. I’ve substitute taught while I got my Master’s degree in Counseling. More teaching has occurred in my role as a consultant for Charlotte Danielson. I’ve taught in multiple countries. And I also teach at two online universities and mentor students getting their master’s and doctorate degrees.
One truth I hold close to my heart is that every single time I teach, I am as much the learner as I am the teacher or facilitator. The learning from participants with whom I work prompts me to learn more---read more books, watch more teachers teach, take more classes, and always and forever remain a LEARNER. Yesterday, after teaching, I had the distinct pleasure of having a superintendent (and now a dear friend) take me around the Dawson area in the Yukon Territory. I saw Jack London’s cabin; learned about dredging and mining for gold; I asked so many questions, I feared Bill would throw me off the top of the Dome where we overlooked the Yukon and Klondike rivers.
With this learner mentality in mind, I would like to share some pieces of an article Charlotte Danielson wrote about how to promote teacher learning, whether your school or district is using the Danielson Framework for Teaching or not. Charlotte’s words are in color, which is appropriate because she writes so eloquently, they deserve to be in living color.
The need for ongoing teacher learning is well-recognized in the professional community. Teaching is, simply stated, such complex work that the skills cannot be adequately addressed in a teacher preparation program, regardless of its quality. As Lee Shulman has memorably noted:
“After 30 years of doing such work, I have concluded that classroom teaching – particularly at the elementary level – is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced, and frightening activity that our species has ever invented.” p.504.
Most teachers would concur. Furthermore, not only is teaching extraordinarily complex work; it is essential work. Our nation depends, for its future well-being, on an educated citizenry and a well-prepared workforce. So in addition to the educational imperative to enable each student to reach his or her greatest potential, there is a larger societal demand as well. It’s essential that schools graduate students who will be able to inherit a complex world. It is also well-recognized that of all the various factors that contribute to student learning, the most important one under the control of the school is the quality of teaching. There are others, to be sure: the quality of the curriculum and instructional materials, the master schedule, the level of learning support for those students requiring extra help. But the bottom line, after many studies on the subject, is that the quality of instruction is the single most important factor within the school’s control in promoting student learning. Therefore, given the importance of good teaching, and its complexity, it would require breath-taking audacity to suggest that the tasks of teaching can be mastered by the time teachers enter the profession. Indeed, learning to teach is a career-long endeavor; the most experienced teachers acknowledge – frequently with pride – that they are still perfecting their craft.
While there is professional consensus on the need for ongoing professional learning by teachers, such learning cannot occur in a vacuum. That is, in order to create the conditions for improved teaching, one must first define it. Without such a definition of good practice, educators are, in effect, wandering in a swamp. Many schools and districts (and some entire states and a few countries) have adopted the framework for teaching (2007) as their definition of good teaching. The framework is a research-based set of components of instruction, aligned to the INTASC principles, and grounded in a constructivist view of learning and teaching. While the framework is not the only definition of good teaching that could be used to structure professional learning, it has been an important part of the educational “scene” since it was first published in 1996, and it is widely accepted by teachers as capturing the essential components of their practice. Furthermore, because it includes levels of performance which describe a continuum of teaching from novice to expert, it can help guide ongoing learning. Any definition of teaching rests on certain assumptions; those of the framework for teaching concern the active nature of student learning and the consequent need for teachers to be able to offer lessons that enlist students’ natural curiosity and drive for learning. Furthermore, the framework of teaching rests on the concept of teaching, in addition to being challenging emotional and even physical work, is intense intellectual work. That is, teachers make, literally, hundreds of decisions each day; teaching is a thinking person’s profession. Thus, if one accepts that teaching is, among other things, cognitive work, then the conversations about teaching, the manner in which teaching is supported and promoted, must be about the cognition.
Educators have consolidated their understanding of the principles of teacher learning over the past several decades. While it was believed at one time, even after the need for ongoing learning was recognized, that workshops and courses would fill the bill, the limitations of such approaches are now well-known. Derisively referred to as “sit ‘n git” sessions, stand-alone workshops and courses have been demonstrated to have little impact on teacher practice. Far better results have been achieved through job-embedded approaches, those that incorporate professional learning activities into the daily work of teachers. But it is not only the immediate relevance of job-embedded approaches that accounts for their effectiveness; that effectiveness is also a consequence of how the activities are structured and carried out. Now that the principles of professional learning are better understood, they may be applied to the variety of setting in which such learning occurs.
Simply put, teacher learning is learning, and the principles of all learning can be applied to it. Granted, there are some important differences between the manner in which adults and children learn, primarily relating to the greater experience on which adults can draw. But the mechanisms of learning are the same, and may be boiled down to a single sentence: learning is done by the learner through an active intellectual process. That is, learning is not something done by one person to another, which is why the term “professional learning “ is preferable to “professional development;” the latter suggests, somehow, that the development of teachers is something that can be arranged by others. To quote Lee Shulman again,
“..in the lives of teachers, authentic and enduring learning occurs when the teacher is an active agent in the process – not passive, nor an audience, not a client or a collector. Teacher learning becomes more active through experimentation and inquiry, as well as through writing, dialogue and questioning. Thus the school settings in which teachers work must provide them with the opportunities and support for becoming active investigators of their own teaching.” (ibid, pp 513-514.) In specific terms, then, what are the features of activities for teachers that create an environment of active engagement? What should be designed into processes intended to promote teacher learning? There are only three, and they may be incorporated into multiple professional activities. Self-assessment It is a well-known principle of learning that self-assessment against clear criteria and standards promotes learning. This is the concept behind teaching students to review their own writing, for example, against a rubric with the aim of identifying aspects that could be strengthened. In order to do this successfully, students must step outside the actual act of writing, and examine their own writing in a dispassionate light. This activity requires metacognition and the analysis of their writing as distinct from producing it. The same mechanism is at work when teachers analyze their teaching. They are required to consider evidence of practice, and compare this evidence against the performance standards, as reflected in the framework for teaching and the accompanying levels of performance. Such self-assessment requires stepping outside the experience of teaching itself, and a dispassionate analysis of practice. Reflection on practice Reflection on practice is a natural activity; whenever we find ourselves replaying “the tape” of an event, we are, in effect reflecting on that activity. In fact, as John Dewey pointed out over 100 years ago, we learn not through our actions per se, but through our thinking about those actions. In other words, it’s not the activity itself that yields learning; it’s the teacher’s thinking about the activity that does so. However, while reflection is a natural human activity, not everyone does it well. High-quality reflection, in other words, is a learned skill. Some programs of professional practice incorporate an emphasis on reflection as part of their approach. Graduates of those programs will probably have acquired a high level of skill in reflection. But many other teachers, if they encounter it at all, encounter their first experience with reflection as part of a mentoring program. If it’s well designed, new teachers will be asked to reflect on their own teaching in light of the standards of practice, and to suggest ways in which that teaching could be improved. Once they have acquired that skill, then, it is available for use throughout their careers.
The English language is replete with expressions that illustrate the close connection between thinking and speech. “I’m thinking out loud” means that I’m talking something through, and that process of talking helps me clarify my thoughts. Or, “How do I know what I think until I hear myself say it?” refers, in an amusing manner, to the role of speech in bringing thoughts to life. Educators who have used the framework for teaching in their schools, for many different purposes, are frequently surprised (and delighted) to discover that the quality of their professional dialogue has been vastly increased. Indeed, many of them report that “it’s all about the conversation.” When the stated purpose of an observation, for example, is teacher evaluation, this is an astonishing finding; it emphasizes the power of conversation around clear standards of practice to shape professional interaction, and to promote learning.
The most productive learning occurs when educators incorporate into their practices those elements widely accepted as promoting professional learning, namely self-assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversation. The framework, due to its level of detail, and particularly the levels of performance, make it particularly suited to such applications.
Danielson, Charlotte. Enhancing Professional Practice: a framework for teaching. Alexandria, VA, ASCD, 2007.
Shulman, Lee S. The Wisdom of Practice: Essays on Teaching, Learning, and Learning to Teach. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2004.
Sorry, now it is back to me and my own thoughts. As you can likely see for yourself, Charlotte says it all. What I love are the specific examples of learning about the learning. For instance, one school leader told me, “I have always believed that teachers need to continue to grow in their practice, but now I see that I need to be the model for that. Every time we get together for professional learning, I should be modeling professional learning the way teachers should be teaching---with the learner in the center of the equation.”
Happy Communicating to all!!
When I was a counselor at a middle school and then at an elementary school in Florida, we started using a morning words of wisdom program. It was great. It started the day off with great words for students and staff to absorb in whatever way they might. I know many schools start the day in similar ways, and it makes me wonder if, by chance, there could be a correlation between schools that share words of wisdom and other good things like: less discipline problems, less jail terms for those students later in life, and yes, maybe even better academics. Since I have been asked nicely by Dave, my dear husband who put up with me in my Master's and Doctoral programs, to refrain from getting another degree, I may never find out myself. But I do wonder...
I get my words of wisdom from the Bible, from another big book that is an integral part of a 12-step group of which I am a proud member, from various readings I do, and yes, from Facebook. I told a friend this morning that I love reading people's positive posts about words they live by.
Today's blog is simply a sampling of some of my favorites I've grown to love over the years of teaching, loving, losing, and living. I'd be honored if you read mine then added your own to the comments below or to the comments in Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn (wherever you read this).
1. "So much has been given to me, I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied." Okay, I'm going to admit that this quote is one that I don't always adhere to. It is highly possible that I might whine about silly things every once in awhile or get a bad case of the "I want"s. Everyone was supposed to let out a collective "What? Not you, Shelly!" in unison just now. Alas...it likely didn't happen. Hey, I said they were my favorite words of wisdom. I didn't say I practiced them 100%. While I love the quote itself, the author of the quote is what makes it so very dear to me. Any guesses? Helen Keller! I figure if she could say this with all she had to deal with, my problems seem pretty petty and first-worldish.
2. “The highest reward for person's toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it.” —John Ruskin. I made this quote into a sign that hung in my classroom when I taught students with severe behavior/emotional disorders. I had to find something, because they were always asking me, "Miss, what do we get if we do this?" I know that partially stemmed from the extrinsic reward system on which they had always been operated in school. But imagine my distinct pleasure when someone asked, "Do we get candy if we finish this?" and Mario starts to quote the quote himself. Honestly, I'm not totally sure they all understood the true meaning of it, but I will tell you that my brother, Ryan Armstrong and his wife are living the quote right now as they prepare to take a boatload (literally) of supplies to folks in Houston tomorrow, to help out in any way they can.
3. What others think about me is none of my business---Author Unknown I promise I would give credit to whomever first said this, but if you look online, it appears every 10th person in the world (slight exaggeration, perhaps) is credited with having said this. But what a truth! And coming from a slightly sensitive person who still suffers from 'I just want everyone to love me' every once in awhile, I am so grateful I have a spiritual advisor in my life who reminds me of this, not just in words but because she lives it, too.
4. I always have a choice, no matter what I do. I make the choice and I can't blame you. ----- Shelly How selfish, you might think, to use a tiny little poem I made up as one of my "wisdom quotes" to live by. The reason is it reminds me so much of my time as a school counselor and principal, when we were trying desperately to teach students to take responsibility for their own actions. "We don't act that way at ______" (fill in the blank with your own school, if you like) was another mantra, but always having a choice and knowing you don't have to act a certain way just because someone else acts in a certain way first is pretty freedom-filling. I am 51 (I did not hear the collective "No, Shelly, that can't be!"---you all are slacking off) and I still need to be reminded of this.
5. "Be still, and know that I am God"---Psalm 46:10 I think this might be my favorite because is my own meditation mantra. Why? Frankly, I have no issues with the "know that He is God" part, but the being still? Wowee. That is a tough one. I have some dear prayer partners in life who remind me (and each other) that this is likely a good one to live by. No matter what, He is God, and He can do what I, in all my control-freakiness, cannot do. So, I leave you with a bit of music to listen to before you aren't still anymore. Be still and know that He is God
Happy Communicating---please don't forget to share your favorite words of wisdom with me.
Obviously, as many people in the world are doing, I am currently thinking about peace quite a bit. Without trying to get into an argument with anyone, I wanted to share a quote I used in a training with teachers in Texas last week. No political agenda intended, I just read the words above and thought, "This is what teachers (probably all of us, to be quite honest) need to hear, believe, and act on right now." If we believe we can do one little thing to keep/maintain/create peace, and everyone else believes they can do the same, maybe our generation could be remembered for goodness and peace. Does anyone else feel this way?
So, as most all of you know, I believe communication is one of the biggest parts of that. I may have said, "How we say things makes all the difference in the world" a couple of hundred thousand times (maybe a teeny-tiny exaggeration)
Here are some recent examples of peace and communication (or lack of) I have experienced:
1. While in Bogotá, Colombia this week, my dear driver and mi amigo nuevo, Julio, and I were talking about all of the wars, attacks, and hatred going on in the world right now. I asked him (in Spanish, of course---after all, I am practicing the best I can) why he thought people attacked innocent people. His answer was "envy". I asked him to explain. He said he thought people attacked (like 9/11, hate attacks, terrorist groups, etc.) because they envied the peace and happiness that others experienced. He believed negative people are envious of happy people. I had to think about that, but I do agree, in part, that toxicity and poison don't respond well to happiness and peace. I have witnessed that in schools and districts and states and countries.
2. While waiting for my midnight flight from Bogotá back to USA on Friday night, we all saw that the flight was going to be delayed a bit (not by much, but enough that people started wondering why). Everyone around me who was lined up (speaking Spanish or English or some other language) to board the flight was asking, "Why?" "Por que?" aloud. Not a word from the gate agents. Four gate agents were at the gate, laughing and talking to one another (at least they were happy, right?), but not talking to us at all. Passengers started to get really frustrated. You could sense the tension. After a few minutes of this, I decided to take one little tiny portion of action. I stepped to the gate and said, "Excuse me, I know you may not realize it, but there are a bunch of us who are wondering when we are going to board, as we were supposed to board almost 30 minutes ago. Would it be possible to simply announce when you think we might board, so everyone doesn't get so frustrated?" They nodded and an announcement was quickly made. You could almost feel a palpable sense of relief from the passengers. What people really wanted to keep them from getting up in arms was some communication. Without it, the frustration would have grown...and grown...and grown. But sometimes, we just stand by and complain until we burst with frustration and then there is tension everywhere. I'm working on not letting that happen to me.
3. In one area I was recently working, I conducted a keynote on giving teachers the support they need to grow in their practice (which was extremely well-received), then I worked with smaller groups over the next couple of days on some practices that school leaders and coaches could do to help their teachers. While I had given everyone expectations and guidelines about how we would be engaging in conversation among ourselves (not just me talking AT them) and even modeled how they might encourage a more shy participant to speak up ("What do you think, Sonia?" etc.), just like we want students to do, one man sat in the last row of tables, writing constantly but not in the "workbook" we were using. At one point, I went back, knelt down and asked, "How are you doing?" He smiled and said, "I'm fine." I asked, "How can I help you engage in the group?" He said, "I'm doing the work." Okay, but....ummmmm....you're not (notice I said this to myself but not to him). Later, he began asking aggressive types of questions, to which people around him looked down but did not say things I had modeled, like, "While I understand Ray feels _______, I see it differently, and I believe _______." I found out later that this type of "bullying" (the word that was said to me by several participants) was simply accepted and not counter-acted.
I'm not positive that it was peaceful, but at the end of the day, I thanked everyone for coming, and I noted my email address on the slide in case anyone wanted to ask me questions privately. I then had them read the quote by R.F. Kennedy, and I proposed the following: If we are always looking for problems, we will have no trouble finding them. After all, they are everywhere!!!! We barely have to look for them. The hardest part is searching for solutions----in education, in life, etc. But the searching and finding the good in what we do, especially if done together, is so worth the effort. My hope and fervent prayer is that every one out there that is drowning in negativity find one simple act they can do to make a change for the better.
I believe in solutions. I believe in communication. And, above all, I believe in peace.
I am away from home for work for two weeks. (whine, whine, right?) As much as I miss Dave and the pups, I am finding some incredible truths in my travels through Texas and Bogotà, Colombia (don't try to make a connection--it is simply my work schedule). In Brownsville, Texas, we were watching a video of a teacher talking about her work with her 4th grade students, and the participant said, "It's like the more she loves what she is teaching, the more the students love the learning." I may or may not have done a little happy dance. I think that statement is so important---we have to be careful, though, to not expect that JUST because we love what we are teaching, the kids will love it, too. After all, if I pontificate or lecture minutes upon minutes about a subject and don't give students a chance to process the information for themselves, then all I have done is a diatribe, right? Not unlike doing a tap-dance routine in front of a group and hoping they like it. Nope, that is not enough.
Instead, I have to make sure that the students (or adult participants) have a change to process the information (I say "muzshel" their information around, but I can't find that word anywhere so it must be a Shellyism to mean "mix or merge"). How do we process the information?
1. We first need to do this individually. After all, if I don't have time to think about what I just heard or read, I won't have my own thoughts to share. So, we ask our students to write something down (either specific like "Write one way you could use this in your learning of fractions?" or "Write one thought you are having so far about what we are learning.")
2. Next, we can combine thoughts with pairs or trios. I get asked sometimes, "Why in pairs or trios? Why not share with the whole table (of 5 or 6 or 8, etc.)?" Think about that for a moment. What I tell groups or classes is "You get more bang for your buck if you talk in pairs first. Each person gets more talk time. Also, it is sometimes safer for people to share in smaller groups first". I advise having norms or expectations for sharing. What good does it do if Partner A says their thought then Partner B says their part, then they both look at the teacher like, "We're done. What next?" (Quit laughing. You know this has happened to you before, on either end). The norm I say is, "I want to hear, as I walk around and lurk and listen, things like, "I said something similar but I also thought......" or "Hmmm....I didn't quite see it like that. I thought......." The point is we are truly listening to one another.
3. THEN, we can share in larger group discussion. There are many, many ways to do this, but it takes consensus first and time to develop that consensus. Maybe groups write down their top three thoughts. Maybe one person is appointed to be the "sharer-outer", as my colleague, Peggy, says. Maybe you call on tables randomly. Maybe, if the groups aren't so large, they partner up with another group to share their thinking.
No matter the process, we need to expect that we will learn something from one another in the procedure.
I hope to never quit learning. I learn so much from my own participants, every single time I work. In Bogota, Colombia, even more, maybe, as I am teaching them about teaching, but they are teaching me about language and culture and so much more.
Look for opportunities to learn from one another today. Don't close your mind off---just because you think you already know what you want to know about a topic (educationally, politically, relationally, etc.) You might just find that you have opened your mind to a whole new world.
I am leaving today for two weeks on the road for work (to my homeland of Texas and then on to Bogota', Colombia) for two weeks (yes, packing was a bear) then home for one day then back on the road for another week. At the airport in Tucson, as we were waiting to board, the sun was coming up and directly shining in the eyes of those lining up for the boarding process. All of a sudden, I noticed I was not blinded any longer. I looked up to see a gentleman smiling at me (not in a creepy way, mind you). He said, "I'm tall, I'm fat and I make a good block from the sun". I laughed, told him "thank you" and told him that he had done his good deed for the day so he could take it easy the rest of the day. He said, "Oh Lawd" (yes, he did), "I have a lot of making up to do. One a day won't do it." We both laughed.
On the plane, I started thinking (and napping, but mostly thinking) about the times the little things have mattered---to me, to others around me, etc. The first one that came to mind was about post-it notes. Yep, you read it correctly.
Now, first of all, my colleagues can attest that, for teaching, post-it notes might be one of the best inventions ever known to man. In fact, I should have invested in post-it notes early on. But that's beside the point (kind of). I was getting ready to teach a group of adult participants a couple of years ago, and I was making sure all the supplies were ready in the center of each table (those who don't teach, hang in there. This is just we teachers do) before the day began. One early participant saw me struggling to open the post-it note packages and heard me remark how my nails don't love post-it note packages. She came over, took the post it notes from me, bent the pack and the plastic popped open (and off). I think I started singing "It's a miracle" (I would appreciate it if you do not judge my inner Barry Manilow. ) Wait, what? I have been picking those silly square packages open for years and pop! she opened it with one squeeze and bend. Fast forward to this week when I was teaching a phenomenal group of teachers in Tucson. One participant was stroking my ego (unprovoked, I might add) by saying, "This is so great---I am sick of going to workshops where I learn nothing!!" I told them that old chestnut about always being able to pick up one new trick, even if it is tiny. I took a minute to tell them about the post-it note scenario, and a collective "Wow!" and "Ahh!" went up in the crowd. I warned them that I would track them down if they wrote on the evaluation "The best thing I learned today was about how to open post-it notes!". We all enjoyed a laugh before getting back to work.
Another seemingly little thing I have learned in traveling so much was from Laura Lipton, one of my dear mentors in Learning Focused Supervision. She has taught me so much, but one of the tricks of the trade from just simply traveling so much has saved my packing (and therefore my back). She suggested, for a three-day training, I pack one color of outfits (I do all black, all gray, or all brown) and then add scarves, jewelry, etc. to dress up the outfits with a bundle of color. Love it!!!
Her partner-in-crime (not really crime, please don't start any fake news), Bruce Wellman, also taught me a pretty cool move that works for students and participants of all ages. When I am in front of the room, about to give directions, I ring my chime (or raise my hand, or whatever other signal I use to get attention), and I begin my directions once everyone is listening (or at least acting like they are). :) I have done that for years. But, what do you do when someone begins talking while you are in the middle of your directions, thereby distracting people around them and you, as well? (and that takes very little for a presenter like me who can get distracted easily) Bruce said to begin another sentence and simply interrupt yourself during a multi-syllabic word. For example, I want to say, "Many of you addressed the issue of constructivism in your depictions of engagement" but Talky McTalkster begins saying something right after I start my sentence. I then do this, "Many of you addressed the issue of construc....." -stop talking altogether, pause, and look down (to avoid the very tempting action of staring at Talky)...the talking stops and I begin that word again and finish the sentence. I have tested this out a few times and every time, it works like Harry Houdini magic (well, I don't disappear but you get the reference).
What are the little things that work for you or make your life better/easier? Please share them with me!! I am going to be busy cracking open a few post-it note packages but can't wait to hear your responses!!
This past week, I have been inundated with experiences, social media posts, notes, cartoons, quotes, and anecdotes from workshop participants that accentuate the importance of having people in our lives who make us happy even when the going gets tough.
It all started about a week ago, when my two very best friends (and their husbands) from college came up to stay with Dave and me in a house we had rented near Aspen, Colorado. First of all, what a brave act our husbands did by agreeing to spend a weekend with the three of us who giggle interminably about the silliest things (we are all educators and "get" the humor of little ones). Our stomachs ached and our eyes watered so many times over the three days we were together from laughing so hard---making fun when one of us said to our whitewater rafting guide, "How many oars do we each get?"; getting so tickled and laughing so loudly on a hike (on which I was fervently searching for bear or moose) that there was no way any wild animal would come near the three of us; sitting together on the deck, saying, "Okay, no talking. We are only going to read our books for a few minutes", when seconds later, a new conversation had begun. How incredibly blessed I am to have those friendships with people that are life-long and pick up right where they leave off---every time.
But then I got on social media and saw a letter from one of the teachers with whom I used to work written to another teacher with whom I used to work, thanking her for being such an amazing influence on her son. Here is an excerpt from what she wrote:
School wouldn't have been as wonderful as it was if it hadn't been for you. I have tried to figure out what makes you such a great teacher. Honestly, It's hard to describe you with words. It's a feeling. It's your demeanor. You're just the right amount of fun, but can easily be all business when needed. You are caring. Most teachers are (at least the ones I associate with), but there's something special about you. Maybe it's your tone? I've often heard the way you speak to your students. It's like you're carrying on a regular conversation when you're teaching, but you expect and receive respect from your students. The rest of what makes you so awesome hides inside you I guess
Both of these teachers are amazing in their own right, by the way, and are frequently bragged about by me in my workshops (from the way they establish a culture of respect and rapport in their classrooms) to the way they demand a culture for learning. But what struck me the most is the unselfish way in which the writer of the email unabashedly praised the other teacher without ever worrying that doing so would diminish her own abilities. In some instances, I have seen teachers NOT compliment one another, for fear that, in doing so, they might be saying, "You are good so I must not be". On the contrary, I have come to believe that when we can see a strength in other people and acknowledge it, that single act can boost our own self and our own strength (after all, what could be stronger than being comfortable enough in your own skin to acknowledge the gifts of others?).
In a recent workshop I taught, I heard one school leader say (and I'm paraphrasing), "I have learned so much from _______ , and I am so glad she is not afraid to share her great ideas with me." That, to me, is a win-win. A win on the part of the recipient of the help but a double win for the recipient of the compliment. I am hopeful this type of sharing of praise is self-perpetuating. The more we do it, the more we will do it.
And, after all, why not?
What makes you laugh? What makes you feel good? What fills your bucket?
Just for today, perhaps you can do for someone else what you think might make their day. It probably can't hurt and it certainly could help---both of you!!