Don't Teach in a Silo
I read this great quote from Pratik Dholakiya about the danger of working in a silo.
“Much as we believe that we are most productive in our little silos, the fundamental fact remains that humans are social animals. By denying the opportunity to collaborate and cross-pollinate ideas, businesses contribute to their own speedy demise.”
All too often, teachers end up working in a silo. Here is the drill: get to school, check-in (whatever that looks like at your school), go to your room and sometimes not come out until lunch. And where do many teachers eat? Their classrooms, of course, because they have to get things ready for the science experiment after lunch or check email at breakneck speed before they rush back to the cafeteria to grab their kids. Oh wait, what if they have to go to the bathroom, you ask? No worries, they just break Guinness Records for “Longest holding of the urine!” Yea! Give the teacher a blue ribbon!
But, as Dholakiya says, we are social animals and we need to collaborate in order to be our best. So, successful teachers all over the country are figuring out how to make time to cross-pollinate with their teams. In the elementary school where I used to be the principal, we actually cross-pollinated with a neighboring elementary school for every one of our professional development days. What a great way to see what other people are doing! And so great for Carolyn and I to be able to watch each other lead our teams. Sharing ideas can be intimidating, though, can’t it? What if someone thinks my idea is stupid? What if it takes more time than just doing it myself? What if I don’t get my way? All of these questions and many more just like it keep people from wanting to collaborate. And yet…many teachers (and educational leaders, by the way) have found that if they are willing to just be a little bit vulnerable, the changes can be beautiful. All of a sudden, I am sharing grain with another silo; sometimes we eat mine, sometimes we eat yours, sometimes we mix it up in one crazy grain-conglomeration. The point is that ideas shared can be so much better than always going it alone.
As a consultant who works with teachers all over the country, even the world as I just came back from working with the most wonderful, lovely teachers in Bogota, Colombia, I need to do the same thing. And as one of the biggest blessings in my life, so many of my colleagues and I truly enjoy sharing ideas. Dar happens to be one of my favorite traveling buddies. We just drove up to a Navajo reservation in Northeast Arizona to teach teachers up there about good teaching. The drive is long—about 5 ½ hours each way. I can honestly say that, during the drive up and the drive back, we never turned on the radio. Instead, we talked the entire time, much of it spent sharing ideas about upcoming trainings. Give and take, share and laugh, eat and drink, laugh and share, rinse and repeat.
One good idea from a single person can become a better idea when shared with a colleague. How can we encourage more of this collaboration? If we know it works to build teamwork, better ideas, and more productivity, it is incumbent upon us to facilitate more and more collaborative groups in every school in the country, no, even the world!
To finish with a silo joke, What did the calf say to the silo? “Is my fodder in there?”
“It’s still all about attitude”
As I prepared to write this week’s blog, I stumbled upon my blog from the first week in May, in which I addressed the need for a positive outlook. That was four days before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Moving out of what my sorority sister, Cindy Hobbs Janecka, called “Cancerland” in her book about her own breast cancer diagnosis, I am struck with how grateful I am that Dave and I were able to remain grateful throughout the process. I am not suggesting I was grateful to be diagnosed with cancer, but I am so grateful for: God, Dave’s support, the support of so many family and friends, a wicked sense of humor, amazing doctors, and, yes, parts that will remain perky well into my 80s.
Here is a look back at that post right before my diagnosis:
May 3, 2015
Dave and I are going to Cabo San Lucas in May and we are both in need of dropping two or three pounds. Perhaps the winter encouraged us to store up fat in case we got snowed in (no need to remind me we live in Tucson, AZ, thank you very much). No matter. We were ready to get in bikini shape.
We decided to try the Military Diet for three days. Basically the diet consists of eating tiny portions of very few, very low-caloric foods for three days. Dave said, “You are half my size. Shouldn’t I eat two eggs when you are eating one?” I just smiled and said, “Just think. You will likely lose double the weight I will lose.” I think he said, “That sounds great,” but I am not certain. J The goal of the diet is to jumpstart you in some better habits, not necessarily to eat this way all the time.
After contemplating this big life-changing event (as if we were going to move to Spain without the dogs for a year), we decided to begin this morning. They say you can drink all the water you want (yea!), so I began the day with a bottle of water instead of my regular packet of hot chocolate. Dave quipped, “Be careful. Your body might not know how to react to you drinking water. Go easy.” Oh brother. We then looked at our menu for breakfast and saw we could have one slice of toast and a half a grapefruit. As we spooned in the first bites of juicy grapefruit, Dave mocked, “Oh this might be too much for me. I’m already feeling full.” “Scoff all you like”, I said as I rolled my eyes. “I have to admit. I am really enjoying the taste of the grapefruit. The combo of sweet and sour is really nice.” Dave said, “I think it is all about your attitude.” We agreed that if you look at the grapefruit in an appreciative way, it makes all the difference in the world. No, it might not be as scrumptious and decadent as a sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast burrito, but if we kept eating those, we knew we would be on the short road to “no swimsuit for you” land. After breakfast, we went to play 9 holes of golf before coming back home to make our lunch, which consisted of one piece of toast and 4 oz. of tuna. Remarkably, a can of tuna is 7 ounces. How could they do that to us? We either open two cans and have leftovers or we only split one can. I asked Dave if we should open two cans, and he said, “No, let’s get wild and crazy and just split one can. Just think---we’ll lose more weight.” Good grief. More eye rolling from me. We both laughed and said we actually tasted the tuna more than we usually do. We could appreciate it more when it was such a small portion.
I began thinking, again, about our outlooks on life and our jobs. When we stop taking the good things in our lives for granted and try to look at the good in things, we actually alter our environment.
As I said last week, I just finished reading a Corwin publication called “Deliberate Optimism” by Silver, Berckemeyer, and Baenen. One of my favorite lines is:
“This negativity helps no one, and as one of our authors likes to say, ‘We are done with that.’ “
The authors talk about how to be deliberately optimistic in our work in education and they tell the story of how an “outstanding principal we know walks into the school cafeteria every day and shouts, ‘Whose school is this?’ The students and teachers respond loudly, ‘Our school!’ Building optimism means believing in our philosophy, ‘Our School, Our Team, Our Kids!’” I love this!! I might even use this line for tonight’s dinner. “Whose 3 oz. steak is this?” I might shout to Dave. “My steak! And I love my five Saltine crackers, too!”
Let’s keep remembering how to reclaim the joy in everything we do.
I love to learn new things. I better be upfront and say that a high school friend once taught me how to change the oil in my car and, now, I could not perform that chore if my entire life depended on it. So, maybe I love to learn new things when the learning doesn’t cause me to get dirty. But learning is dirty, in a way. Right?
Consider the following statements. Choose the one that best defines the way you look at learning.
*I can change my beliefs by changing my behavior.
*I need to believe in something very strongly before I will act on it.
*If I understand the reason for something, I will be more apt to do it.
*If something makes me feel good, I am good with trying it.
Without getting too down in the weeds, each of those four statements can be considered as a life-lens. How do you view the best way to learn a new skill? I have always had the belief that if I can apply a new learning to something already in my brain, the new idea will stick. Just like Velcro, I stand by the idea that I have little feelers in our brains just waiting patiently (maybe impatiently, in some cases) for new thoughts or ideas to drift by. If the feelers are out, I can attach the new learning. But if I don’t have a life experience or prior learning on which the new idea can “stick”, I very likely will not be able to keep the new learning in my head for long.
But I also believe, as many 12 step programs believe, that sometimes we simply have to fake it until we make it. Here’s an example of that:
Many school districts have adopted a new framework on which they are basing the observation and evaluation of teachers. In order for everyone to be “up to speed”, some training has to take place. People engage in the training much like our students do---some are willing, some are reluctant, a few are even belligerent. If the initial training is engaging and thought-provoking (which often includes learning a new academic vocabulary for the framework), many participants will leave with a new understanding of how they will be observed and evaluated. IF, though, the learning doesn’t stop there, and educational leaders and teacher leaders find ways to infuse the training into the already existing structure and system of the school, pretty soon people will begin using the vocabulary (maybe using words like “constructivism”, “metacognition”, “engagement”, and many more in more than simply a cursory manner. When learning moves from “faking it until we make it” to “this is a part of our school culture”, systemic learning has taken place. Does it happen overnight? No way. And an entire paradigm shift may need to occur before the new framework is totally successful. The paradigm shift simply must include, however, a culture of trust and vulnerability between teachers and administrative staff. And that takes some facilitation (preferably from an objective entity like a consultant or support team) about trust, building a culture for inquiry, and a belief that our school or district actually has the capacity to support one another.
I was blessed to spend time as a learner this weekend with fellow colleagues who consult with schools and districts about learning more effective ways to teach. The learners with whom I spent the weekend are people who have been or still are school teachers, school leaders, district leaders, and other roles. So, everyone comes from a different perspective and we may all choose a different statement from the above pool of choices on “how we learn”. But, at the end of the day, we are committed to helping schools achieve better collaboration, better teamwork, heightened trust, and learning for all. I am grateful to be a part of such a think tank, because the individuals in the group push me to think about my own thinking. I’m not finished, yet. I may never remember exactly how to change the oil in my car but I am forever changed by the learning and growing I do with my colleagues.
Just for today, perhaps we can be thankful for all the teachers and learners we have been given.
Change is hard...do it anyway
When I teach workshops on communication and trust, we often start with the notion of change. Making a paradigm shift can be the most difficult thing for most of us to do, mostly because we are such creatures of habit. How do you order your coffee? The same way you have since you can't remember when? I have a routine, maybe even just a little bit of a ritual, I go through when I get to the parking lot where I keep my car when I travel. From the moment I give the guy my frequent parker card to the time I sit down on the plane, I have a set routine: get suitcase that is filled to overflowing out of the car (maybe stuff one more thing in it, so the zipper doesn't want to close), get in the shuttle to go to the airport, tip the driver (after rummaging through my bills and maybe even organizing them from least denomination to greatest denomination---isn't OCD a kick in the pants?), head inside the airport, go through TSA pre-check security----WAIT!!! My routine has just come to a screeching halt! The TSA pre-check line is closed today! How can that be? Do they not realize I don't want to take off these boots because my socks may or may not have a hole in them????? How inconvenient!! I have to go through the regular line?? Are you serious? It should be noted that my entire quandary took longer than it likely takes to go through the regular security line in Tucson.
What's the point? Change is hard. Don't even get me started on how it rocks my world if the little cafe is out of Diet Pepsi. How will I ever be able to board the plane without my Diet Pepsi? Yes, I am talking about some serious first-world problems, here, but it begs the question: Why is change so hard for so many of us?
We are creatures of habit, so change makes us make a shift from what we might normally do. Even if the change is for the good, we may find ourselves resisting the change. I saw this video about DOGS WITH BOOTIES and couldn't help but giggle. Check out the resistance and maybe you will recognize your own mannerisms or those of your co-workers when faced with a new procedure or mandate. We often spend so much time fretting about the change, we miss the opportunity to simply do it and move on.
What can we do to lessen the pains of change?
1. Gripe then get to it. Maybe take a few minutes to grumble, perhaps alone or maybe with the company of your peers, but then someone needs to be able to say, "Okay, let's get to the solution." One of my favorite teachers says "Can't never could do anything." Exactly!
2. Consider the benefits of the change. One of my favorite examples of this is when, at workshops, participants grumble when we ask them to get up and change partners for the next activity. You would think we are asking them to give up their first-born child. What's the problem? They have nested in their first spot. So, I start out workshops from the beginning, letting them know they will be working with multiple partners throughout the day and asking THEM what the benefits of such a move might be. Knowing the purpose makes all the difference in the world. I always remind myself and others, "If we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always gotten."
3. Fake it 'til you make it. Anyone who has ever worked in a 12-step program has likely heard this saying. In practice, it means that even if we aren't firmly convinced the change will be good for us, we just take the next step as if we did believe in the goodness of the change. Take another step forward, and we may actually see some merit in the very thing we were resisting. The premise of this step is grounded in the notion that changing our behavior can help us change our thoughts and feelings.
My hope for you, today, is that if you can't embrace a new change, perhaps you can maybe keep the booties on until you see that they might just keep your feet warm.
You Are What You Write
I have a confession to make. When I was in college, I used to write mean notes on post-its and stick them on the door or desk of friends who angered me. My college roommates and suitemates can attest that my superpower was being a “poison-penpal”. But let’s be clear. There was no super-power to it, only a quick temper and a good supply of post-it notes. We joke about it now, but I often think about how long-lasting our words can have when we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
I have another confession (I guess it’s good to cleanse the soul at the beginning of the year, right?): I abhor grammar errors. I’m not saying I don’t sometimes make them, but when I see glaring errors in writing, my skin crawls worse than hearing fingernails on chalkboard (lesson for the under 30: “A chalkboard is a bit like a whiteboard, but we wrote on it with a piece of white chalk and it never got fully erased.”)
For the sake of fun, let’s play a little game. The game is called “Guess what these sentences have in common”:
Do you feel the long nails reaching for the chalk-covered board?
Now, how do you feel when I tell you that Grammar check only sees two errors in those four MESSES of sentences?
I’ve been accused of being a Grammar-Nazi, but, for the record, I want you to understand why I am so picky about grammar (and spelling, and word choice, and tone, and….and…and…and).
If I send you an email and it has errors in it, do you want to grade it? Maybe. Maybe not.
How about if you send me a vita when you are applying for a job and that vita has spelling errors all over it? You are probably not going to get hired. You likely would not even get an interview.
Now, just for a moment, consider that those sentences above are written by students who are trying to earn their Master’s Degree or Doctoral Degree, and you are grading their papers. What grade do you give? How much do grammar errors count versus how much does the content of the writing count? Some people say: If I can’t read the writing, I am not going to grade it. Some people say we need to separate the writing style (grammar, spelling, word choice) from the content and grade them separately. My argument is that if I can‘t read the content for all the writing errors, the content is all for naught. But I’m trying to get better at that, as some school and universities use a rubric to grade, and the rubric often counts content as much as style.
Even if the grammar is passable, sometimes the writing is still unbearable due to word choice. Consider Mark Twain’s quote:
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
― Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain
I get it. Those are subtle nuances. But what about the writer who repeats the exact same word over and over again?
Just for today, maybe we can focus on writing in the way in which we want to be remembered? Please?