Sometimes, I wonder about the little things. Sometimes, I worry about the little things. Recently, I had a travel experience that encompassed both wonder and worry. Let's start with the worry. Does that sound familiar? Did you ever do the "I've got some good news for you and some bad news. Which do you want first?" When I was a principal in Florida, I read a book to the staff called "That's Good! That's Bad!" by Margery Cuyler and David Catrow. We talked about how almost every piece of news we get could have a first impression but if we consider it a bit longer, their might be other implications that are maybe not the same. Good lesson for our students, too. Check it out!
So, back to my worry. I was on a flight that would be connecting in a large city. I didn't have much time for the connection so let's just say I was ready to take off. Unfortunately, the plane was not. Well, the plane was fine but the pilot announced that the runway we were going to be using had over 20 (yep! I didn't mistype that) aircraft lined up to take off on it, and it was going to be awhile. An audible frustrated sigh emitted from most every passenger in my neck of the woods.
But sitting next to me were a dad and an eleven-year-old girl (we ended up talking quite a bit, so I'm not just making up her age). The girl had never flown before. First flight. Do you remember yours? I do mine. It was on Southwest Airlines from Houston to San Antonio (to call that a short flight would be a massive understatement) and I was so excited about taking off, I could hardly stand it.
So there we were, waiting for the rush hour of aircraft to dissipate, while all this time the sweet girl is sitting wide-eyed, staring out the window in awe. She kept asking her dad questions. We had some time, so the three of us began talking as well. She was fascinated by the idea of flying as often as I do (that's good), and I didn't want to burst her bubble by telling her the dew comes off the flying rose fairly quickly (that's bad). See how the book works?
So, while everyone else is frustrated with the late take-off (one gentleman even said aloud, "F*** this; why can't we just go??") That's bad, in case you are wondering, particularly since he did not say "Fancy this" and remember, we are all sitting near this sweet girl who has never flown before. Furthermore, what is Fancy Guy thinking we should do---cut in line??
The pilot finally comes back on and says, "The bad news is we are still 20 deep to get to this runway. The good news is they are allowing our plane to head to another runway to take off in a different direction. We are taking it!" (I assume he must have read the children's book, as well!) ;)
We were all thrilled to hear this, but all I could think was: While everyone else is so frustrated with the late take-off, this 11-year old "newbie" is wide-eyed and smiling from ear to ear.
Once we started taxiing the other way, she asked, "How long will we taxi?" "Does it feel funny when you first go up in the air?" "Will it start going faster and faster when we taxi?" She'd ask her dad then she'd ask me. I loved it!! I told her it was the sort of experience you can't explain but she would talk about it for days and weeks to come.
The look on her face when we took off was priceless! Other people breathed a sigh of relief (we were finally on our way, after all), but that sweet 11-year old was breathless and still grinning and giggling. Once we were in the air, she asked her dad if she could take pictures of the clouds.
All this reminded me of one of the stories from Randy Pausch's book "The Last Lecture". He used to work at Disney before he became a professor at Carnegie-Melon University and later passed away from cancer. He said the Disney workers would always get asked, "What time does the park close?" The employees were taught to NOT say, "The park closes at 10 p.m." but instead say "The park will remain open all day until 10 p.m. tonight!" I love that! Same premise, different words. One is "That's bad" and one is "That's good".
And between a first time flight and a trip to Disney, it's about the wonder of it all, right?
Just for today, perhaps we can find the wonder in all we do!
Danger, danger, Will Robinson! Fair warning that this post may sound a bit like a soapbox address, as it addresses an issue I am currently seeing on social media: focusing on the negative.
It all started, once upon a time, when a friend posted about a certain airline ("I'll never fly that airline again. They delayed and made me miss my connecting flight"). One of her friends backed her up, "I know. That happened to me on the same airline. I won't fly them either." Oh, how I didn't want to jump in the controversy, but, having a bit of experience with air travel the past four years, I know one thing for certain: all airlines get delayed; all airlines have maintenance issues; and all airlines have on-time departures and early arrivals at times.
That post got me thinking about how some of these same people give a restaurant one chance. If things are not 98% up to their standards, not only do they refuse to return to the establishment but they often talk poorly about the food, the people, the...everything....based on one single visit.
How am I about to relate this to education?
I recently read a colleague's post on social media---an article that totally trashed a leading educator's book on classroom management techniques, questioning skills and strategies to encourage participation in classrooms. My first response? Instead of relegating a book to the rubbish bin, how about instead looking for any pearls of wisdom we might glean from it? For instance, what about the teacher who is struggling with a particular sort of teaching behavior? For example, in my work in all types of schools (from Bogota, Colombia to NYC to rural Washington State to schools on Native American reservations, teachers often struggle with "How do I start my class so that students know I have high expectations of them from the get-go?" I work with several superintendents who say, "We can tell them generally to get better at their routines and procedures" (we, as Danielson consultants call that 2c "managing routines and procedures), "but what we really appreciate is when a consultant/facilitator can actually model those explicit teacher moves that help the teacher learn some new strategies to add to their toolkit". I think the previously trashed author offers some of these---is it the end-all, be-all? Of course not, but neither (In my humble opinion) is poo-poo'ing some strategies some really great strategies that might add to a new or seasoned teacher's repertoire.
I feel that this "throwing out the baby with the bathwather" has become a rather popular tact, in social media, in conferences, at faculty meetings, and I'm not sure of the logic. In a recent keynote and subsequent workshop I taught in the Upper Peninsula, one participant said, "It is so refreshing to have someone not just tell us what to do or what not to do; what's bad to do or what's good to do. Instead you are modeling effective strategies for us. I'm picking up all of them, but some others may just take one or two." Now, how is that for solution-oriented??
I often share with participants in my workshop that it would be so easy for every single one of us to consider our teaching situations terminally unique---so very different than anyone else's. Instead, I suggest that they look for each piece of learning as an opportunity to adapt for one's own teaching situation. Obviously, it's easier to say, "Well, that would never work in my building..." or "You don't know the kids I have in my class". But, I wonder if we do that, are we simply setting our profession up for poo-pooing every idea we come across---making us even more vulnerable to going back to operating in our own little silos?
Just for today, perhaps we could take a look at a publication, resource, airline, restaurant, conference, or even professional learning opportunity and search for one strategy we can either use or adapt for our own needs?
A special thanks goes out to my dear new colleague, who is a band director, and said to me, "So many workshops I go to focus on the general classroom educator. I always look for ways to adapt those strategies to meet the needs in my bandroom or on the marching field."
In so many districts, I see professional development still being done as a "one size fits all". One of the things we are trying to do more and more is differentiate the learning for particular needs. For example, even in one 75-person faculty, we might ask participants to line up in order of self-chosen level of proficiency on "questioning and discussion skills". Then, it is quite easy to number off and have people seated at "like-minded" tables. The discussions around certain new learnings might then be a bit more tailored to the group. Is there also merit in mixing things up? For sure! I just did a keynote presentation in one district for three hours on the first day of a district-wide "summit", then participants got to choose their own day and a half professional learning on topics such as new technology, engagement strategies (that was me!), and several more. In this manner, teachers are advocates for their own learning.
I could continue with my own experiences, but in the interest of expanding the expertise, I want to share a blog I read on Humanizing Teacher Professional Learning. Check it out and let me know what you think!!
On Fathers' Day, I figured I would ponder a bit about the things my dad taught me and how they have affected me. I must first admit I am not the ideal daughter. After all, I make sure I still send a card to my 85-year old dad but I may only see him a couple of times a year. So, this post is not meant to profess my daughterly goodness, but instead to talk about what I will always remember about my dad.
1. Work hard and play hard. As a band director his entire working life, he gave his all to teaching high school students how to march. He spent hours and hours poring over marching band formations, hand-drawing the drills (no web-design back then), and "drilled" into us the image of hard work and how it pays off, as his shows won many 1st division ratings over the years. When I talked to Daddy about it, he said, "I always tried to make it fun, though, for the kids and for the audience. Other bands may have been more precision-driven, but everyone always enjoyed the versatility of our shows."
2. If you love something, truly love something, keep doing it for as long as you can. Honestly, my dad could still likely play clarinet and saxophone better than most people half his age but he finally "retired" from his multiple jazz bands, big bands German polka bands and quartets with whom he was playing a few years ago. Ironically, or maybe not so, he has reconnected with many of his former students. One student told my dad he was the strictest disciplinarian he had ever had. Another credited my dad for his love for music.
3. Don't hide your talent under a bushel. Although he might not have been a church-going man after I was a young kid, he knew this verse well. When he could perform and make other people smile, he did it. I would guess most people can't remember what food was served at Dave's and my wedding, but I'll bet most everybody can remember my dad channeling his inner Louis Armstrong to sing "I Want a Little Girl" and "What a Wonderful World" and so many other tunes for our wedding music.
4. Sometimes you have to be quiet, especially when fishing. I will admit I didn't really enjoy the being quiet part but I always loved the time spent with Daddy, as a little girl. We'd sit in a canoe or on the bank of the Chocolate Bayou in Southeast Texas and talk about...who knows what? Who really cares what? We were spending time together.
5. Patience pays off. After doing instrument repair for so many years, Daddy realized he loved that intricate work so much he parlayed that love into building model ships. He watched a VCR tape (I know, it's been a while) of how to build a ship then he set his mind to it and did it. The family members have all reaped the benefits of his work, as well, and I love the idea that he is still working on ships. In fact, when I called Daddy an hour ago, it took him a minute (or maybe a couple of minutes) to get to the phone because he was in his "Shipyard", as he calls it, working on a Spanish Galleon.
Just for today, I hope you remember the life lessons you have been taught by someone important in your own life. They matter.
...so why try?
I came across this great post on Facebook and simply had to steal it for this week's blog. Do not fret. I let Dr. Steele know I was stealing it.
The article is called
"Things That Principals Know About Great Teachers".
Read it and add your own thoughts about what principals know about great teachers.
Not long ago, I woke up from a dream, singing a song...a song I had never heard before. I told Dave about it and then, just as quickly as the song had come, it left me. I have often heard songwriters, poets, writers, (and creators of whatever else) say they keep a notebook by their bed to write down lyrics, words, pictures, or ideas as soon as they come to them. Alas...a golden opportunity missed because I forgot my memo pad.
Have you ever been in an art museum (or simply passed by a Jackson Pollock or Kandinsky painting) with someone who said, "I could have done that when I was five years old"? My response is always something like, "But he DID do it"
If I have a great idea and I don't act on it, who is to blame? Me!
Check out these cool new inventions of 2017 to get your brain churning.
What are your ideas in education? Thinking about innovations in learning makes me smile. There is not much more exciting than coming up with or finding a new idea that makes your already good teaching even better. Maybe it's a new storage idea for the materials you keep on each team table in your classroom. Maybe it's a new engagement strategy that will get students up and moving around while they explore new text.
Whatever that new idea is, you likely got it from your own creative brain or from the creative ideas of other educators. Check out this website that lists 16 other websites that are great resources for teachers.
What strikes me the most about good ideas is the fact that they should be shared in order for their true success to be realized. After all, a good idea kept in a precious treasure box is not nearly as beautiful as a good idea shared with others. I love this quote by Steven Spielberg:
When I was a kid, there was no collaboration; it's you with a camera bossing your friends around. But as an adult, filmmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself. Steven Spielberg
Good ideas are meant to be shared, I believe. So, how do you do it?
Start a blog. Tweet out your ideas. Start a googledoc you can share with your teammates. If you gain one new idea, aren't you better off than you were before?
Just for today, consider the impact of a good idea that never came to fruition. Now consider the impact of a good idea shared with others. After all....
For parents of younger or older kids, have you ever heard your child say, "I hate working in groups. I wish the teacher would just let us work on our own!"? In working on earning a doctorate in education in a cohort of 25 people, those words may have been said once or eighteen times. Why? Mostly, I think the soundbyte comes when someone feels like it is too much trouble to work in a group and the member believes the task could be more easily accomplished on their own. Sometimes, I believe that the frustration arises, however, from the belief that my way is the best way and other cooks are going to spoil the proverbial broth. In my first year of teaching, one of my favorite lessons I did with my students who had specific emotional disorders was a puzzle they had to put together (each student got two pieces and their two pieces did not fit together) by working with two or three other people in their group. Without cooperating, the task could not be accomplished. Even my elementary students could see the value in taking turns or putting their piece out in the center instead of grabbing another person's piece. The entire act of giving and being vulnerable versus taking and demanding made sense in this simple exercise. I like to believe that some of them still remember that "lesson", but perhaps that is wishful thinking.
This weekend, I had the bi-annual honor of working with colleagues on incredibly important education topics. While there was some time for hearing someone talk about a particular issue, the bulk of our time was spent in work groups, aimed at solving difficult tasks and real-world educational concerns. The experiences made me think about the expectations we often have in our schools of our students who work in groups. In fact, we feel those expectations are so important, we adults work with collaborative norms (in my terms, expectations of how we are going to play in the sandbox with others) :)
What are those for you and your own work with groups? What is important to remember when working with other people, even if it is working with a family group on painting a room in the house or writing a lesson plan with your 3rd grade team?
I feel pretty strongly about a few but I would sure love to hear your favorites, as well:
*Pause before commenting
*Press the hold button on your own agenda
*Be willing to honestly hear other people's views
One of the things that I love most when working with others is when I (or one of my fellow thinkers like Lynn Sawyer) can honestly say, "I came in thinking X, but after hearing what you have to say (Y), I can feel soapbox beginning to shift and shake." Isn't that what learning is all about, after all? I have often thought, "If I am so busy standing firm on being 'right' and getting you to hear my 'rightness', I may miss something you have to say that might be just as right, or even 'righter'." (best not to grammatically censor that last sentence). But, honestly, if all I want to do is hold my opinion up as the correct one, or have everyone see me as being right, then I may miss out on a unique opportunity to be a learner, and learning happens to be one of my favorite things to do!
I found a really great article on Collaborative Learning from Cornell University that gives some really great thoughts and ideas about collaboration that we can likely use with young learners, adult learners, and work groups.
Just for today, perhaps we can consider how we play in the sandbox with others, and consider tackling a behavior change that might impact our own learning and the learning of others.
Have I mentioned before that I travel for work a bunch? A great deal? Too much, at times? (Oh wait, that was Dave saying that.) It is usually not boring to travel across the US or to Canada, Mexico, and South America. Remarkably, my travel the last two weeks had been without incident. All planes were on time, if not early; all passengers seemed to be well-behaved; all flight crews seemed to be in good spirits.
Not so, today. I am traveling up to the Yukon Territory to work with the Yukon Department of Education, and have a couple of hops to get there. My first flight left on time and touched down about 30 minutes early. Yep, you heard it here folks, 30 minutes early. But sit back and listen to the rest of the tale.
We came to rest on the tarmac a little way from the gate. The captain said, "Since we are early, there is still a plane at our gate. They should be gone in about 20 minutes." Okay, well, being early can't pay off all the time, now, can it? So, we patiently waited and the passengers began talking quietly among ourselves. "Where are you headed?" "Hawaii" "Hong Kong" "Tokyo"
About 25 minutes later, we headed to the gate. People who had been tense before began to relax. A gentleman (at this point, he still was) behind me said, "Okay, I can still make my flight." We arrived at the gate and the unmistakable thunk you hear and feel of the plane stopping completely signaled all of us to bolt from our seats (as if getting up sooner will get me off the plane sooner). But alas, as we waited...and waited...we began to have the sinking feeling that this would not be Captain's last announcement. "Uh....folks...just to give you an update...the ground crew is having a tough time getting the jetbridge to get to the plane. They've called in supervisors to help." Everyone on the left side of the plane looked out the tiny little porthole windows to see three faces up against the windows in the door of the jetbridge, looking at the plane as if it were a foreign object. It reminded me of a thought I used to have about fish tanks----who is looking at whom?
Twenty minutes later came a new update: "Uh...folks....just to give you another update...the ground crew parked us on the wrong line by the jetbridge and we are going to need to be tugged over....(muffled chuckle heard from the flightdeck)...about one inch."
"One inch!! You gotta be kidding me!" (Sometimes I take narrative liberties and alter the language to make it family friendly. I may or may not have done just that with the last quote. Several passengers were outraged. Although we had landed 30 minutes before we were scheduled to land, many were now in danger of missing their tight connections, some to international destinations. As the minutes ticked by, it became apparent that getting a tug over to our gate was going to take a bit of time. People began ringing their call buttons to make suggestions: Let us just jump off the plane! Get that rubber slide out! I'll sign a waiver if you just let me jump to go catch my flight! and the hits just kept coming. After the tug came and pulled us over, people got up again and began jockeying for position again, although maybe not quite as much in "ready position" as before. Here came the jetbridge towards us, when it stopped...again...a foot from our vessel.
"No way!" people began calling out (that is the tame, G-rated version)
The captain came on again: "Uh...folks...I am really sorry to tell you this, but the jetbridge still can't attach to us. The tug is coming again to move us over to the next line."
The man (no longer so gentle) next to me called out, "There is a perfectly empty gate right next door. Why can't we go to that one?!!"
Suffice it to say, after arriving 30 minutes early, we got off the plane almost two hours later. A guy going to Idaho in preparation to help with forest fires missed his flight. A couple headed to Kona to help take care of the man's ailing mother missed their flight. So many more I didn't hear about... What would be the result? The airlines had to re-book over half the passengers on the plane. Luggage had to be re-routed. In some cases, hotel reservations and car rental reservations had to be altered or cancelled.
One inch! How can one inch have such an impact on so many lives?
All I can think is: that is one little blip in the universe.
How often does one little thing impact so many other things in our lives or the lives of others?
I came across this amazing and beautiful video about the wolves that were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. The story is so incredible because of the layers of impact the wolves had on the entire ecosystem in the park. Check out the "How Wolves Change Rivers" video to be amazed, as well.
After watching it, I challenge you to take a few minutes to think about how each thing we do and say in our lives impacts other beings. If this is true, perhaps we should consider our actions and communication a bit more before making choices.
When I was up in the Yukon Territory a week ago, I had the chance to visit a Wildlife Refuge and Preserve. Dave asked, "Isn't that like a zoo?" Hmmm....at first I thought maybe it was just how I was viewing it, but then...no. The difference is that all the original tenants in this 700 + acre site were rescued from nearby areas. Yes, some of their babies have since been born in captivity but the fact is that some were injured and wouldn't have lasted out in the wild. And, by the way, have you seen that wilderness up there? I'm not certain I could last very long out in the wild up there.
So, I had the chance to tour this great place with a newfound friend from one of my workshops. We walked 2 - 3 miles through the natural habitats of so many different animals. Animals, by the way, that are quite different from our Tucson locals of javelina and bobcat.
I knew right away that Christine (my knowledgeable guide and fun friend) was a kindred spirit when we stopped to watch some muskox, and she asked, "Do you know what I think they would sound like if they had human voices?" Yes!! As a former principal who had over 30 different puppets that found their fame on the weekly news program we did for the kids, I was no novice to creating voices for animals.
We laughed as we decided those muskox had just had their hair done, had put on their long shabby coats and were going to walk into town to join friends for tea. They didn't move too quickly, and it was likely because they had too much coat on for the weather or for their bodies. I get that. My mother used to do that, too. It would be late springtime in Florida--upper 80's outside and she would be wearing her long coat to take Peaches, her long-haired Chihuahua, out for a walk.
Next stop was the habitat that housed the lovely ladies of the Mountain goat community. With their thin faces and their high heels, I somehow pictured them saying, "Well, hellooooo!!" a la Mrs. Doubtfire. I can just imagine they are thinking, "These heels have no place on these hills."
When we got to the area that housed the Arctic fox, I fell in love. While we saw two little guys in there, with their delicate features against their perfectly white fur, one was perfectly content to lie down in the sunshine, while the other little guy was in play mode. I kept thinking he wanted us to come and play with him. He'd run one way in front of us then ran back the other way, as quickly as he had come. I imagined he would talk a bit like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and would have a thing or two to tell people about the necessity of being punctual.
But maybe the little guys that had the most impact on me were not in this refuge but rather all along the Alaska Hwy, as I drove from Whitehorse west towards Alaska. I would go for 30 minutes without seeing another human or vehicle, but not so with the little ground squirrels, or sik-sik. I am guessing that my estimate of 40 would only be an understatement. But the funniest thing is where they were. As I drove through this rich wilderness, these little guys would be on the shoulder of the road, looking amazingly like they were waiting for GroundSquirrel Bus Line #9. They'd turn their heads to watch for oncoming traffic then as I approached, almost lean over on a hip like they were saying, "Come on. A guy's got places to go." They made me laugh out loud. But I did wonder if they had to report back to their buddy's family members when someone didn't make it. "We lost a guy out on the road today."
I get it. I know I am being quite anthropomorphic throughout my blog. But the fact of the matter is: that happens to be my only point of reference and they are pretty hilarious.
Just for today, I am hopeful you are enjoying the wonders of the world, whether your are on the road or in your own back yard.
A friend and I were talking about ways of knowing (I am about to read “Tell Me So I Can Hear You” by Eleanor Drago-Severson and Jessica Blum-DeStefano to find out even more) the other day. Sue said she believed I was a self-transformative “knower”, which I took as a huge compliment after learning more about the ways of knowing. Here are the descriptions below:
I suppose the self-transformative knower couldn’t be a more accurate description of me, as I try to use everything that happens to me and around me as an opportunity to learn something from it. In fact, Dave calls me such a learning geek that he has forbidden me from going back to school to get any other sort of degree. Hmmph…. Fine. But that won’t stop me from using every single thing that happens in my life to be my “next degree”.
This past week, I had arrived in Seattle for a two-day workshop (learning, not teaching). Several colleagues were attending, as well, so we had gotten rooms at nearby hotels. The evening I arrived, Ron texted to see if we should car pool to the venue the next morning. The texts went like this:
Ron: Have you arrived at the Hilton?
Me: Yep, working tonight in my room, so I will meet you tomorrow morning.
Ron: We’ll meet for breakfast at 7:30 and head over about 8:00
Ron and I are great friends, so imagine my surprise when I didn’t see him the next morning. At 8:00, I texted, “I don’t see you down here. Did you leave already?”
Ron: We are here.
Me: I don’t see you.
Ron: Where are you?
Me: About to drive to the training.
When I arrived at the training location, Ron and I connected, only to find out we were staying at different Hilton chains. Well, so much for easy communication. After laughing about the miscommunication (and Ron asking if he was going to play a starring role in my blog---yes, Ron, hair and make-up will be with you, shortly), I considered how easy it is to miscommunicate. Nope, not blaming it a bit on smartphones, texting, social media, etc., as no matter what we use, the human is still there, ready to mess it all up. It just struck me as funny how easy it is to misunderstand and misconstrue. Why? I think it is because we are coming to the communication experience with our own set of assumptions.
For that reason and so many more, I view communication not as a one-time deal (i.e. “Let me tell you something so you can understand it the ‘right’ way”) but rather an entry point into the relationship. Or, maybe, the relationship is the entry point into the communication experience. Either way, it’s not a one-and-done.
Case in point: while working this week with incredibly knowledgeable, dedicated and inquiring folks, I re-discovered the power of how we say something. I asked the group to be patient with me and not to be offended if I asked questions about some systemic issues within the school district. I made the point of saying I was not coming in to tell them the “right” way to do things but simply to ask how they felt like their current process was going. After two days of working together, they shared that my inquiries helped them determine some new ways of looking at their own work. I believe we will be working together for a while to come. Why? It’s about the communication, the transformation, and the relationship.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of getting to see some of the Yukon wildlife, up close and personal, at a preserve. My brilliant guide and new friend, Christine, was likely exhausted after 2 ½ hours of walking with me, as each and every animal, plant and scenery change we witnessed was simply fodder for my curious questions: How does the preserve know when the animals are ready for re-release into the wild? How do the first nation folks know how to use the spruce for healing? What time of year do the golf courses open? (oops! Slipped in a question on behalf of Dave) What is the moose population in the Yukon? 70,000, which is twice the population of humans…AND 25, 000 of the 35,000 people live in the Whitehorse area. Wowee!!
Some may call it being nosy, I like to think of it as curiosity and a product of being a self-proclaimed nerdy learner. I like to look at everything that happens to me as an opportunity to learn something new.
Just for today, perhaps you can take a potentially not-so-great situation and see what you can learn from it!!