….except for a fork in a restaurant in Chinatown, maybe?
I learned that the hard way, again, today. I have many skills but eating with chopsticks is not one of them. I believe that I offended the folks in the restaurant, like asking for A1 for a steak in an upscale chophouse. I believe there is a direct correlation between the authenticity of the Asian restaurant and the look of disdain on the faces of the waitstaff when confronted with someone who is chopstick-inept. “Could I please have a fork?” I asked. “She need fork” the waiter YELLED. “Wait, wait, whoa, whoa….I don’t think they heard you in Shanghai” I thought to myself. This is regrettably not the first time this has happened to me. You would think I would learn my lesson and simply bring a fork with me when visiting Chinatown. Not so, apparently.
But there is a time and place for everything and sometimes it is just time that it takes to get us to a place of understanding. A dear friend and colleague of mine sent me a text this morning. It said, “Sometimes in life a friend recommends a book ( you are the friend, Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” was the book”) but when you start the book you quickly realize that the book just isn’t for you and you can’t get into it. Then one day, many days later or in my case YEARS later, you pick up the book again and realize it relates to EVERYTHING.” Isn’t that the truth? Not just because it was my suggestion or because “Seven Habits” was so important to me, but isn’t life like that? Sometimes it just takes us a bit of time to see or hear something someone says.
My best analogy to this is the teacher/principal relationship and communication in the observation process. The observer collects some data that can be shared with the teacher and makes some suggestions in a reflection conference. “What are some ways you might group your students?” “Have you considered….?” Whether observers are really good at asking open-ended and invitational questions matters a good bit, but even if there are suggestions that teachers might need to hear, sometimes the hearing doesn’t occur because defenses are up or the teacher is frankly just not ready. But every once in a while, a few hours later, a few days later, even a few months later, the teacher might say, “Well, now that I think about it, that suggestion/advice might just work.” It’s as if the mind becomes open when someone is not steamrolling us into the thought. Battering rams don’t work as well as finesse, right?
Just for today, maybe we can consider how we word our messages to others. But also, we might want to consider that just because it looks like someone is not taking in our advice or suggestions doesn’t mean they never will (how about that for a quadruple negative?) Consider that the seed might just be planted and if we don’t trample all over it, it might just blossom into a full-grown flower. After all, this might not be the time for the person to hear us, but later might be a better time.
My friend, Michelle, concluded her text by saying, “Sometimes, we are just not ready for what everyone else thinks we should be ready for…a little self-reflection.” So very true. I am fully aware that I am not ready for chopsticks but I won’t rule out that someday I might be.
Educators all over the country often lament “I have no problem with teachers being observed and growing from that observation but some of the evaluation practices are just plain crazy.” I would agree. Take, for example, the practice of an observer collecting evidence in a teacher’s classroom then not sharing feedback with the teacher before going in to observe again! Not only does this practice not make good sense (after all, how can the teacher be expected to grow in practice if we are not sharing evidence of the need to grow?) but it also sets up a detrimental lack of trust in the observer and the entire process. We need to take a lesson from “Frozen” and simply let some of those practices go. Traditional evaluations might have taken the form of: administrator evaluates teacher, administrator fills out form, teacher signs form, we all go about our business. But we need to “let it go”.
It’s time for a lesson from “Aladdin”. If we want evaluations to look more like a true collaborative observation process, we need to establish “a whole new world”. If traditional systems looked like evaluations being done to the teacher, the new world should be about collaboration and recognizing that the teacher often has more knowledge about the lesson than does the observer. However, what a gift it can be to have someone collect evidence on practice in order to make some shifts and adjustments for the greater good. As a consultant who often co-trains with fellow colleagues, this is a luxury if it is done well. After a lesson, we can debrief with questions like: How did the grouping work? What might be some possible ways to encourage whole-group sharing of answers in a group of 100+ participants? As long as we recognize that both parties have contribution to the process, this whole new world can be a real win-win.
While “Brother Bear” might not be as well-known as some other Disney movies, one of the songs “Welcome” hits the spot when it comes to collaboration in a new evaluation system.
The lyrics say:
There’s nothing complicated about the way we live.
We're all here for each other, happy to give
All we have we share
And, all of us, we care.
It’s time we put some practices in place that encourage this collaborative belief. Let’s work toward the common good of helping teachers (and administrators, for that matter) grow in our practice, we all win. What does it take? Give and share ideas for improving student engagement, listen to each other’s good news about improved respect and rapport in the classroom and the hits will just keep coming. We can make this reality, not just an animated dream world if we make it a priority.
I had the privilege to spend a weekend with other Corwin authors and consultants last weekend in California. While most of us spend many days on the road teaching, training, consulting and presenting, this weekend was meant to "feed us". We had opportunities to hear some incredibly engaging voices from within Corwin, including Jim Knight, Peter DeWitt, Yong Zhao, and so many others. Some of us even got a chance to present to Corwin authors and consultants for the first time about our books. I presented to my colleagues about my newest book. What a treat!
One of my favorite parts of the weekend was listening to Mike Soules, the President of Corwin Press talk about the 25 year anniversary of Corwin. In a humorous and poignant fashion, he told the story of Corwin and how we were all a part of it.
Another favorite portion of the weekend was attending the morning session in which David McCune, the director of Sage Publications (the "mother" of Corwin) told us all about the evolution of Sage and how Corwin came to be. If I had any notion that he would be doing some publisher sales pitch, I was proven wrong from the moment he stepped on stage and asked each one of us to write down on a piece of paper the answer to this question:
What do you do?
I invite you to take a minute to do the same. Write down your answer before continuing to read.
I immediately thought about what I am: I am an author and consultant. I am a trainer and presenter. But at the end of the day, when I think about what I do, I thought about how whatever role I am in, I am impacted by other people everyday. I would be nothing without my colleagues with whom I co-present. I would be useless without those who respond to my tweets and blogs. My work as an author would be futile were it not for readers of those books. I'd certainly look pretty silly presenting a workshop without the wisdom of participants. So, after a bit of thought, I landed on: I learn alongside other educators.
Just for today, perhaps we can think about what we do and how we are impacted by others in our lives.
"Nothing new that is really interesting comes without collaboration" James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA
While you might be a little disturbed by the double-negative, that statement resonates so nicely with me. Last weekend and this weekend alike, I am able to fill my own bucket by spending time with fellow educators/consultants/authors/lifelong learners. And I have to admit....I love it!
Collaboration is beneficial for so many reasons, and that is likely why we need to focus on improving and increasing this skill among ourselves and also among our students and teachers with whom we work. Imagine a world in which we are alone and we simply go about our day as an island. Hmmmm....many of my colleagues are likely thinking, "Ummm....Shelly, that is called teaching." Many teachers go into school, and after signing in, head to their rooms where they close the door and only exit to run to the restroom (if they are lucky) and to take the kids to lunch.
I suggest if teaching is like being on an island, we need to provide ferry service from one island to the next. In other words, we need to provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate and share ideas, just as we want them to do with their own students. When we are shocked by students sitting in rows as we enter a classroom, we have to realize that some schools operate the same way for teachers. No interaction, no chance for shared thinking, no collaboration.
So, how can we remedy this? PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) shouldn't just be a thing we say we do to check off some box for a district report. We need to gather together to talk about learning on an ongoing basis. If we don't take the time to share our thinking about student learning, we are likely to get what we have always gotten---single-minded, repeat performances in the classroom.
Another great opportunity is to have what we used to call Thinking Thursdays (but I've heard from many sources that other days of the week work just as great, too :) ). The idea behind Thinking Thursdays was for one teacher to invite teachers to his/her classroom after school. At that time, the teacher might share a fun new idea they have tried with some degree of success. For example, Shelley shared how she used hula-hoops to represent Venn Diagrams to her kids. Everyone shares thoughts on how they could use the same idea in their own teaching, asks Shelley questions, and even might share in a light snack.
The point is we need collaboration to continue to grow. What are your great ideas for collaboration with others? Please share them with me in the Comments section of my blog or via Twitter or Facebook. I am planning to do just that with fellow consultants this weekend, and I hope you are able to do the same.
In coaching instructional leaders and coaches, we often talk about the power of words. How we say something matters. After all, "Why didn't you use groups during this lesson?" sounds a bit more daunting and negative than "In what ways do you use groups in your teaching?" So, I'm going to tread cautiously when I say I had the "opportunity" this week to go up to Montana for work when what I really felt is I was thrown into the frozen tundra for work this week. :) What I can say with no reservation is that I got the chance to practice some patience and courage.
It all started on Monday morning when I arrived at the Tucson airport to head up to Montana via the Denver airport. I was almost lamenting the fact that I had a long, two hour layover in Denver before I would head to Great Falls, Montana and drive two more hours north to my teaching venue for the next day. Lament long layovers no more is my new motto, I think, for after boarding the flight to Denver from Tucson, the captain said, "We have a weight problem" Well, howdy-doo, don't we all after eating our way through Christmas? He continued by stating this amazing fact: "We have to move some of the luggage from cargo up to the cabin and call it passenger weight." Ummmmm....I might not be the brightest tool in the shed, but isn't the weight still on the plane, whether it is down in cargo or sitting next to me on an empty seat? Oh well....I have enough to worry about. Let's just get this going.
An hour later (not exaggerating), he said, "Uh, folks, good news: we have the weight issue solved. Bad news: there is now a ground stop in Denver due to operations." My two-hour layover quickly turned to no layover and ultimately, once we arrived in Denver, I literally had two minutes until the flight was supposed to leave for Great Falls. But always remember: I'm an optimist so I RAN to the gate to see the gate agent walk back from the jet bridge. I'm panting my question, "I can still get on, right?" That pitying, sympathetic look I got from her was almost my undoing as she shook her head and said, "I'm so sorry, but they have already completed the weight and balance" No, no, no, I thought. I waited for you, dear airline to which I have a great deal of loyalty, for over two hours. Surely you can wait for me for five minutes! But, alas, that is not the way it works, so I all of a sudden had seven hours in the airport until my next flight that would put me in to Great Falls at midnight.
Perhaps this would not be a problem if that area of Montana had just gotten 18 inches of new snow and there was ice all over the roads. So, Dave made me promise I wouldn't drive the two hours to my venue until the next morning. I even received an email from my school district contact saying they may close school the next day due to the weather and bad roads.
But the next morning dawned with a brisk 2 degrees and only "snow and ice cover" on all the roads I had to drive to the school. Yikes!! Have I mentioned I am from Texas and we don't often have to deal with this situation in Florida or Arizona where we have lived the rest of my life?
My drive was precarious, at best, with my hands remaining at 10 and 2 the entire time. I slid across the road too many times to count (is there any number of slides that would be okay?). I was dressed warmly but was still freezing in the car. I was sliding on the road. And then, I looked out the window to see a group of horses standing in the way-too-snowy-field. I swear one of them looked at me and mouthed, "Lady, quit whining. We are out in this stuff all.the.time."
My gratitude at arriving at the school to teach great teachers that day was only surpassed by my gratitude at making it back to my hotel that night after the two-hour return trip. Four hours on the road in snow and ice, and I almost cried with gratitude. I had arrived alive. It's all about perspective, right?
For today, why not make a conscious effort to look at life with a fresh, optimistic perspective? It sure beats being miserable and might just be a great way to start the new year.
Why do people make New Year’s resolutions in the first place? I saw a quote the other day: Some people call them New Year’s resolutions. I just call them my to-do list for the first week of the year. The notion of making a resolution is likely usually grounded in some desire to want to do better than we did the year before. After all, we don’t wake up in the morning with the idea that it would be a good idea to make bad decisions. We want to do better than we did before. Trust me when I say I feel this way every time I try to play golf. Please, I almost beg, let me hit the ball. Please let me not embarrass myself. Or, if the dreaded happens and we end up having to play with another couple (for me as a newbie golfer, this is a fate worse than a dentist appointment), “please let me not embarrass Dave”.
We had lots of family visit over the Christmas/New Year’s holidays and we all talked about what we hope the new year holds. For some, it’s a fresh start from a not-great relationship, for others, it’s a move to a new home and all that entails or a pending retirement (which is filled with all the excitement that entails). I subscribe to the idea that maybe instead of making a new year’s resolution, I should instead live one day at a time to the fullest. Each day, I want to ask God to help me be the kind of person He will be able to say “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Let me be the first to say I don’t always live that way. I worry, I project, I regret, I worry some more. But for all that worry and fretting about that which I cannot change, I seldom get further ahead than when I simply take the day (or even the moment) one step at a time---for what it is. That doesn’t mean I exist as an ostrich, sticking my head in the sand. Eating a mouthful of sand while saying, “Gosh I wish things were different” just seems a bit silly, doesn’t it? And yet…I think I have done that a time or two. Wishing and hoping don’t make things happen for me, in my experience. Getting off my hind end and making a step to improve my lot (and particularly my attitude about my lot) is the action that usually helps me feel better. This action, coupled with getting outside myself and doing something for other people, has a remarkable way of making things seem a bit more palatable in my life.
So, whether it’s playing a better round of golf (which, by the way, is going to require a continued and possibly never-ending bout of golf lessons) or simply engaging in less approval-seeking emotions or actions, I think I have two things I need to do:
*accept things I am unable to control
*take action and do something about the things about which I can do something
Hmmmmm….and I guess I should also tack onto those the ability to be able to tell the difference, so I am not banging my head against a wall with worry about the things on which I could be taking action nor am I running around like a crazy person trying to manage things to which I have not been given “management rights”. Neither is helpful.
Do you see a bit of a pattern? Yep, I do, too. Simply practicing the Serenity Prayer will, for today, take care of all my self-made problems.
So…just for today, perhaps I can employ not just one but all three of the tenets of the Serenity Prayer even in my golf game.
And for you? What will it take to make 2015 the year of the best you?