I am in the midst of creating a graduate class I haven't taught before (or, I should accurately say, it has changed quite a bit since I taught it last). At first, when I saw the magnitude of the changes, I was grumbling a little bit. More work, I thought. I have to start over, I thought. I have a new book and new articles I have to read, I thought. The current situation is that Dave and I are on "family vacation" with our two Labs, L.C. (Elsie) and Kirby (Kirby) in Ruidoso, New Mexico (where it is typically about 30 degrees cooler than it was when we lived in Tucson and is about 100% drier than it currently is in Texas). I have thought to myself that I shouldn't have to put in so much work while on vacation. But then Dave reminded me, "You live for this stuff. You read educational books for fun. Why would you complain about that?" I dislike it immensely when he is right, but sure enough....he is exactly right. I am video-recording welcome announcements, using memes to enhance my discussion posts, and generally refreshing this course that was becoming a bit outdated anyway.
Renewal is good for us, whether it is spiritual, educational, or simply life renewal. Coming back to center or stepping outside our comfort zone can be good for the soul. In other words, change is good. After being a principal, which I considered to be the best job in the entire world, for almost 8 years, I resigned when Dave and I moved to Tucson almost 9 years ago. Since then, I have been doing educational consulting for schools, districts, and universities; working as a professor/doctoral chair at four different universities; writing articles and books; and so much more. I love every piece of everything I do. Do I miss being a principal? Some days I miss it with every fiber of my being. But I also have had many educational leaders tell me that, while I may very well miss having my own "family" of the elementary school at which I worked, I now have the honor and privilege of being able to watch good teaching and leadership occur all around the world and spread those great ideas I see and hear with the next schools I visit. I accept that challenge and welcome every new opportunity with tremendous gratitude.
Renewal in life is good for the soul, I think. While on vacation, we are taking L.C. and Kirby on hikes each morning. L.C. is our 1 year old yellow Lab athlete. She runs up and down the pine-laden canyons, doubling or tripling the amount of miles Dave and I hike. Every day is a new adventure for her, and she loves it! Kirby sticks pretty close to us but he enjoys his own journey, pausing frequently to sniff at new smells and leaving his business card at every few trees or bushes we pass. They get it, I think. They get the notion of embracing every new adventure life brings them with their own form of gratitude (sometimes consisting of a quick and quite cool shake-off after they traipse through a cool field or stream----good for them; not so great for us).
I hope and pray that you find your own sense of renewal in whatever form it may come.
My Communication Advice Column
My graduate students and I were talking about communication misunderstandings the other day----ones between administrators and teachers; between teachers and students; between teachers and parents; even between partners in a marriage; you get the idea. We talked about how easy it is to get into a communication vortex, but how hard it is to get out of it. We concluded (as did my research on trust between teachers and school leaders in my dissertation) that it comes down to how strong the relationship is between the two people, whether it is something that can be solved or will fester even further. I thought I would start an advice column for communication issues. Here is a sampling of some questions and answers that might go in the first edition.
Dear Communication Concierge:
My husband and I have been married for over 20 years. I love everything about him, but there is one thing that drives me crazy. He leaves dishes out on the counter after eating a bowl of cereal at night or drinking a glass of milk. What should I do?
Love My Husband Except...
Dear "Love My Husband Except",
Run for the hills! You've married a crazy person! If you insist on staying with him, you will need to be strongly medicated the rest of your life.
Just kidding. That isn't how I would respond. Instead, I would respond with something like:
How, exactly, is this dish impacting your life? Is it growing legs and following you around the house? Is it screaming out to you? If the answer to the last two questions is "no", then forget about it! Your husband whom you love "everything about, but" will put the dish away when it is time to start the dishwasher. Until then, please remember that the "but" really negates how much you care about him. Is such a little thing worth nagging your husband about? Does it go against your marriage vows? Very likely not. Keep the marriage strong and let go of the little things.
Dear Communication Concierge:
I am a 3rd grade teacher in an elementary school. There are five other people on my grade level. We plan together every week, which is great, right? I think so, too, but the problem is I've been teaching the longest time, so they should be listening to the wisdom I possess and plan the way I plan. They keep coming up with other ideas, though, and it makes me mad. What should I say to them?
More Experienced than Most
Dear "More Experienced than Most",
Quit your job now! Ask for a transfer! There is nothing worse than not being listened to, and you should likely not only be grade level chair; you should probably be Commissioner of Education in your state.
Once again, just kidding. That response is the antithesis of what this teacher needs to hear. Instead, I would respond with something along the lines of:
What a treasure trove of information and experience it sounds like you have. What a blessing, too, to have five other people with whom you can share ideas. You see, they may not have the years of experience that you possess. On the other hand, they have the benefit of coming out of college with fresh ideas, and everyone can use a fresh idea or two! You might begin by going to your next grade level meeting with a fresh new idea of your own---something you have found on the myriad of teacher websites that are at the tips of our fingers. You might share your idea, then allow them the space to share theirs without rebuttal or rebuke. You will likely find your excitement in planning and execution of lessons will increase rapidly.
Dear Communication Concierge:
I am a principal at a high school. I've been here for 10 years, and things have changed dramatically in education over the last few years. No matter what, though, I always have been very good at giving my teachers advice on how they can improve their lessons. I observe them teach, then I give them feedback on what they should do differently in their teaching. This is all meant to help them, of course, but they don't seem to appreciate it. I'm frustrated with their lack of gratitude for all I tell them.
Why Don't They Just Listen to Me?
Dear Why Don't They Just Listen to Me?,
Are you insane? Hasn't anyone ever told you that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason?? How about using those two ears to listen to your teachers talk about their teaching instead of spouting off about what YOU think they should do?? Better yet, why don't you turn in those retirement papers your Superintendent likely keeps sending you?
For the last time, that may be what I want to say to them. Instead, maybe I can try this on for size:
Your years in education have very likely seen you through teachers who come and go through your building. What we know about communication between teachers and administrators is this: if we want to encourage teachers the room to grow in their practice, they must be allowed to think through their own thoughts about the patterns they are seeing in their teaching. The evidence of teaching practices you observe when watching them teach allows them to make some comparisons (i.e. How did these lesson outcomes compare to what you originally had planned?), notice some repeated patterns (i.e. What are your noticings about the transitions between activities?), and so much more. The main thing to remember is that the learner (in this case, the teacher) needs to be the one doing the thinking and bulk of the talking in order to construct meaning in the conversation and, therefore, come up with some new ideas or validate some previously held ideas about their own teaching. Talking at people seems to not be as effective as allowing them to draw some of their own conclusions when presented with data from an observation.
While not perfect, perhaps, these situations might allow us to see situations through a different lens. In lieu of a Magic 8 Ball answer such as "Cannot predict now", we are very likely to find that heeding the advice of Communication Concierge might just change the trajectory of many of our relationships with others and eliminate misunderstandings and verbal roadblocks.
I'd love to hear your own example of a misunderstanding you've had with another person and how you resolved it. Who knows? Maybe Communication Concierge can assist if you are still struggling.
The sunshine after the rain
For the last week, it has rained...and rained...and rained. Dave has looked at me a couple of times like he was ready to leave me in Texas and move back to Arizona where we felt we always had sun. Even as we design our new home, Dave and Scott (our builder) have to rein me in on how many windows and glass doors I want in our house. I keep saying, "I promise I won't throw stones. Just make the house all glass!" But the last week has truly tested our ability to withstand stormclouds, rainy days that pour down torrential rain only to stop for five minutes and start again even harder. The thunder and lightning have freaked out the dogs and have frankly made us all stir crazy. Then this morning, we awoke to birds chirping and a glorious sunrise. We had plans with Denise and Mike (our dearest friends in the area and my best friend from high school) today for going to show them our cleared lot (and the stunning forever view it is going to provide) for our house in Bandera (cowboy capital of the world, in case this has somehow escaped your radar), then on to Camp Verde (which lived up to its name with the verdant green grass sloping down to the Verde River), where we had lunch outside on a sun-soaked patio, followed by 9 holes of golf in Comfort, Texas, which gave us multiple opportunities to laugh for hours.
Maybe it was just all so beautiful because we appreciated it after having so much rain. Even a glint of sunlight after days of rainshowers maybe becomes more appreciated than taking every sunny day in Tucson for granted. It all reminded me of my fervent love for Nichole Nordeman's song, "Sunrise". Take a listen if you haven't heard it (or haven't heard it, lately). I pray it's the balm that will soothe your troubled soul.
So many of my family and friends have been dealing with troubled times lately. It is difficult to watch, as we have certainly experienced those troubling times ourselves. Between dear friends diagnosed with cancer, others losing loved ones, planning the memorial/burial service for our dear brother-in-law, hearing about friends going through a divorce, watching friends watch their parents prepare for the end of their lives, seeing heartbreaking strife between family members, we are seeing so very many thunderstorms. But we have to remind ourselves of a time almost exactly six years ago when I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. We were devastated, of course, and we had to begin living one day at a time and even one hour at a time, as we weren't sure what the next doctor would tell us. But, six years later, we are on the sunshine side of that devastating storm that threatened our lives together. How did we do it? A whole lot of prayer, a huge reliance on our collective sense of humor, and reliance on family and friends to help when it was offered.
This morning, as I ran through the countryside in the hill country of Texas, where the wildflowers are in full bloom, the cows were lounging in the middle of a most beautiful meadow of the greenest of green grasses, and the deer were leaping over fences, showing off their dexterity, I ran just a little bit faster than I had the week before. Why? Because the sun does come out. Rays of light are everywhere....in my morning meditation that I share with three of my spiritual buddies; in the raunchy comedian/writer who I am listening to on Audible as I run; we are finding time to drive through the countryside of this great state that we haven't called home since the year after we got married; we are surrounded by dear friends and closer to family than we have EVER lived in our married life. We are blessed...and the sun has come out to remind us that after the long week of rain, we can appreciate the sun even more...if we just open our eyes, breathe in the fresh air, and listen to the birds welcoming the rooster crowing at the nearby farm.
God is good...all the time.
What is your sunshine? For today, I pray that you know that the rain you might be experiencing will end and the clouds will part, the sun will come out, and you will appreciate the light as though you haven't seen it for years.
Happy Communicating, friends,