The certainty of uncertainty
What things do you know for absolutely certainty? Many will say "Death and taxes". No fair. Overused. How about your faith in a Higher Power? I have a strong faith in a Higher Power (I choose to call Him God). But if you ask me what He looks like, what Heaven will be like, I am pretty certain I am uncertain. The times I have gotten in the most trouble is when I KNEW my viewpoint was right and the only one anyone should consider. By the way, if anyone reading this has a nice way to distract Dave (my husband of 25 years) from reading this, I will pay you in Labrador Retriever hair (sorry, but it's the only thing I have loads of, on hand). You see, I want to be right. I want to know that I am right so I can be looked up to as the person who has the "right" answer.
The problem with this attitude, however, is that the longer I live, the more I realize that the more I think my way is the highway, I am only limiting myself. Our priest suggested we actually place ourselves in a box when we think we are the only ones with the correct answer. Naysayers may be already saying, "But, Shelly, we know 10 X 10 = 100." Yes, you are correct! All of us who believe this multiplication fact are correct. But....is there only one way to get to that answer? Many of us of a certain age were trained (and yes, I mean to use that word) to simply memorize those facts. We knew them as facts. But, years later, we see the value in understanding how and why multiplication works so we can apply the concept to even harder problems, ones that stretch us. And wowee! is it not a trip to be in the classroom of a teacher who is allowing students to teach each other the ways they came up with an answer to a problem. What I see in those classrooms are some holdouts----some kids who believe (and I don't know for certain, but I am certainly guessing strongly that their parents told them this) that it doesn't matter HOW you get an answer, as long as you are RIGHT.
The longer I live, the more I want to go back to school. (Once again, ix-nay on the ave-Day.) Dave has made me promise I won't ask to go back for another doctorate, and I likely won't...but it sure doesn't keep me from thinking about learning more and more and more....maybe taking some classes on things I didn't REALLY learn in school.
When I hear political discussions (is "conversation" a misnomer or what??), lately, all I can think is that we have so polarized ourselves, we can't see the forest for the trees. My tree is the only one that belongs in the forest. But what about everyone else who has a vested interest in another tree in the forest? Yes, I have pretty firm foundations on some things I believe, and they come in stark contrast with some of the pretty firm foundations of some of my friends' and families' beliefs. But, I will admit (as much as I hate to admit this) that the more I open my mind, the more I grow.
When working with a group of school leaders earlier this month, one of them asked me a question about building trust in schools. Well, now, don't get me started on that topic, because that is my baby. I spent three years doing my doctorate with a serious emphasis on teacher trust in principals. Corwin Press published my book called Building Trust in Teacher Evaluations that continued the conversation that my dissertation started. When the administrator asked if I thought it was possible to build trust in a school where trust had been lost, especially in light of the tremendous pressure that has (and still is, in many places) been placed on teacher evaluations. I realized that his question made me think, long after I had left their school district site. I ended up writing an email, explaining some ways I think it is possible to restore trust in a formerly distrustful environment. But do I know for sure?
Here is what I know for sure----nothing. Just kidding. I know a few things, I think. One of them is that my own wisdom lies in asking questions of others and actually listening to what they have to say. Saying I have all the answers is not simply a falsehood but a recipe for distrust, because most people realize that simply cannot be true.
For today, I am going to focus on reminding all of you to not tell Dave I am not always right (kind of kidding), but also to focus on continuing to ask questions of people with whom I might not agree. I may learn something new and they may, too.
In the meantime, happy communicating to all!!!
Dave would most likely tell you that what I learned most from snow skiing was "It is not any fun to be carted down the hill wrapped up like a frozen banana after you have torn your ACL." That is not what this blog is about, by any stretch, but he is right that the day I tore my ACL was not one of my finest moments (darn it when he is right).
One of the things that you have to navigate while learning to ski (or coming back to it after being away for awhile) is the looming chair lift. I will never forget the first time I got on it, I thought to myself (and likely said outloud), "Well, that wasn't so bad." Oh crum!! Guess what! The chair lift, at some point, ends its trek, and you will be summarily dumped out at the top of a mountain. Nope, the high mountain didn't intimidate me (yet). It was the act of getting OFF that chair lift. It scared the stew out of me. That's when I noticed it----signs along the way stating, "Keep your tips up." What!?! What in the world does that mean?? I found out quickly what it didn't mean when we got to the top of the mountain, where we were supposed to exit. Along with a bunch of guys yelling at me, "Get off quickly! Hurry!" they were also yelling those words again, "Keep your tips up!" Before I could ask, "What does that mean?" a ski lift operator had yanked me off the lift where I promptly did a face plant right after he threw me to the side so the next people would not mow me down as they kept their tips up instead of having their tips of their skis poke directly into the snow and catapult them forward (which would have happened to me had it not been for Yankie-Yankster who pulled me off the lift).
What does "Keep your tips up" really have to do with my blog that is typically about communication, motivation, and trust? I think it is so pertinent in that the piece of advice that keeps people from face-planting into the snow (most of the time) also is a pretty positive look on life. When things are going rough and you just feel like looking down, do something different. Face forward, stay alert, and keep your outlook upward. So, my best friends from college, Dave and I always tell each other: Keep your tips up.
We talked about it a bunch this weekend, as it is even more important as we get older. Jen Hatmaker and Nichole Nordeman added to our girlfriend weekend this weekend when we went to see their Moxie Matters tour. One of the things that Jen said that was so great for me to hear when she was talking about how we all go through pain is that "People who don't transform their pain, transmit it." Ain't it the truth? She also asked us to consider, for ourselves, what needs to stand in the gap while we are transforming pain into recovery? I think "keeping our tips up" is a good start, but having a tribe of women and friends who have your back can be the biggest "tip up" experience ever. I know for certain Dave and I could not have survived my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment without help from our friends. They helped us keep our tips up!!
Just for today, consider what it is that you need (signs, someone yanking you to safety, a yell from someone, or maybe just a tribe who supports you) to survive whatever pain you are going through.
And remember----happy communicating!
When our hearts are open...
Dave and I have begun to go to a new church. I was raised as a cradle Episcopalian, until I wasn't (parents quit going to church, parents divorced, etc.), and then I became quite the eclectic church-goer. My dear friend, Christie, would ask me to come with her to her Lutheran church several times in middle school and early high school. Another Kristie friend took me with her to her Baptist church and got me into a youth group. My dear friend, Tracey, taught me a bit about Judaism, and then along came Liz, whose family was most decidedly and unwaveringly Episcopalian. I began going to church with them (which I secretly loved mostly for the donuts and the trip to La Posada Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio after church most every Sunday). But I also got involved----in Altar Guild, in getting to understand the liturgy, and finally by going through Confirmation. Later in life, I joined the Episcopal Church in Niceville, Floriida. I served as a youth group leader for 8 years; I served on the vestry; I sang in the choir; I sang solos for weddings, funerals, and services; I served on the Search Committee for a new priest; I served as a reader. Let's just say I was involved. Fast forward to today----a time very different in the Episcopal church. Things are definitely different in the small church Dave and I attend from the bigger Episcopal churches I grew up in. When we were in church yesterday, I began noting (silently, mostly, although Dave did shush me once or twice when I asked him if he had noticed the same things) differences: here, there are no kneelers. WHAT??! How can one get on their knees to pray and to confess one's sins if there are no kneelers? (I did it after communion yesterday----knelt right down on the tile floor and my knees haven't forgiven me since). I noticed that people don't tend to bow when the cross is brought in during the processional. I noticed that the Bible is not brought to the center of the congregation where the Gospel "should be" read. I then began to notice that I was noticing the things I thought were wrong or different from the way "these people" do things. I almost couldn't stifle my giggle, as I heard Reverend Debra say, "When our hearts are open, this is how we are transformed." Oh crap. Now I have to say a confession for being snitty, but wait....there is not a kneeler on which to do my confession. They actually stand (*shock*) to say the Confession of Sins.
I started thinking of all the changes that happen in our world and how we react to them. As an educator, first, my examples are mostly about education. As I travel the world talking to people about new ways of looking at changes in education, some people simply are going to be resistant to change. Everett M Rogers, in 1962, wrote about the stages of adopting some new idea. The stances were:
But I also saw this diagram about change that I really liked about responding to change that makes a bunch of sense to me.
I see this time and time again around the world. There are people who are ready to embrace a new system of teacher observation and evaluation ("The one we used before simply did nothing to help the teachers grow" is what I heard the other day) and others who say, "If the wheels weren't falling off of it yet, why are we changing?" If we don't have a good answer to this question, we are in trouble. Luckily, we do. The point is that change can propel each one of us in a new and different direction that makes us think, if nothing else, about the way we were doing things before. If I, for example, have always taught my workshops in tables of four and I am all of a sudden confronted with a U-shaped table formation, can I make it work? Of course! And, often, that new formation gives me and the participants a new perspective on ways of learning and doing.
But what of new technology? So many evaluation/observation systems are now coming part and parcel with invitations to put those observations and evaluations into an electronic platform. What happens with the observers and teachers who say, "Using paper and pencil has always worked for me. I don't want to change" or "The chalkboard was fine, thank you. I don't need a Smartboard in my class". But what if....just what if....that technology could make your job easier? Would you still draw a line in the sand and say "This, I will not do"? As for the observer, I say, "If the district is using a technology platform and you are still collecting evidence the paper and pencil mode, you are causing yourself double work, as it still needs to be entered into the electronic system." As for the teacher who says, 'I don't want a Smartboard," I say, "What if the use of the Smartboard could keep your students cognitively engaged in ways they never had been able to before?" Wouldn't that make your life easier, in terms of behavior management, etc?
I admit that when Facebook updates something, I sigh a semi-heavy sigh and ask to myself (because no one else cares), "Why couldn't they just leave it alone?" But technology is changing faster than I change my toothbrush or my sheets. Why not roll with it and perhaps learn a little something new?
On that note, I am preparing for the arrival of my 86-year old dad in a couple of weeks, who asks me (every single time we are together), "Now, how does this Facebook thing work again?" Dave suggests it might be like teaching a pig to use a stopwatch. Not happening. That's okay. I will adapt and keep my mind open to new possibilities. I hope you do, too!!
What do you practice everyday?
Clearly, my next blog will need to be on "When you find out one of your favorite quotes you thought Aristotle said was not actually his quote." Shoot!! Never mind that. Apparently, Will Durant in his book, The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers, was talking about how Aristotle had talked at length about virtue and said "these virtues are formed in man by doing the actions", to which Will Durant summarized, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." It sure would make it sound a lot cooler if Aristotle had said it, I suppose, but I think they are pretty great words to live by, nonetheless.
So, what do you practice everyday?
I have some habits that are not great that I practice, which may or may not include a current one of eating five Werther caramels right before bed. A friend just asked me, "Do you brush your teeth afterwards?" The answer, regrettably, is backwards, as I brush my teeth beforehand, then get in bed with my stash to binge on Werther's and Grey's Anatomy. Trust me---don't try to find a connection. You won't find one, except they both give me comfort as a nighttime ritual.
However, I do have some practices that have fared well for me over the last many years of my life.
1. I get down on my knees every morning and ask God to direct my will and my thinking for that day. My faith in a Higher Power convinces me that if I simply start my day in this manner, I will NOT be perfect (by any stretch---you have only to ask Dave to find out the answer to that) but I may indeed be more inclined to become more of the person that God intends me to be.
2. I am vigilant about giving the clients for whom I work 150%. That means I begin working in advance to prepare customized materials that meet their needs, not mine. It also means I share my passion for teaching and learning and convey that, not only to teachers but (sometimes especially) to administrators. I expect at least 100% engagement from clients and promise to deliver 150%. Okay, I know some of you are asking, "What does that even mean --- to give 150%?" Honestly, I don't know. All I know is that I feel such amazing satisfaction in following the Covey habit of "Begin With the End in Mind" and creating a day of professional learning that will not only meet but exceed the district or school (or even country) needs. At the end of the day, I can honestly say that 90% of the time, I call Dave to say "This was the best group ever!" or "This was the best day ever!", to which he calmly replies, "Not every day can be the best day ever", to which I kind of calmly reply, "Why not?"
3. Gratitude --- It is so very easy to complain about the flight that is delayed or cancelled (or the gate agent literally shuts the door as I am running up to catch the flight---I'm not bitter, really; well, maybe a tiny bit). It is so easy to lament over what I have lost after going through breast cancer (and I may have myself a good little cry every great once in awhile). It is extremely easy to get frustrated with people who say they are interested in adopting a dog we are fostering, only to find out they have not been completely honest with us. BUT....if I take each of those silly scenarios and pick it apart, at the end of the day, I can count it all joy. Missing a flight is not the end of the world. In fact, as a frequent flyer, I am so grateful that my preferred airline takes care of me and already has a hotel lined up for me with food vouchers as well. I'll get home when I get home. As for the cancer scenario, is John Legend going to sing "Your Body's a Wonderland"? Perhaps not, but for now, I am cancer free. And lastly, each foster dog we take in and for whom we interview potential adopters, is getting a new lease on life. No use in worrying about the people who aren't on the up-and-up. We weren't going to adopt out a foster love to them anyway. Only the best for these pups who need forever/fur-ever homes.
So, what do you practice? Before you answer, take a moment or two to watch this amazing video by a pretty brilliant little dude who has something to say on the subject of what do you practice