"Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan. "
In my work as a consultant, I find myself facing the occasional question from observers and administrators who want to know if they should "count against" the teacher for not having all the pieces and parts to a good lesson plan. As someone who believes in the process, not just the product, I want to know more. One principal said, "Well, if I have to give them a grade for how well they plan, and the teacher comes in to a pre-observation conference with a lesson plan that doesn't "work", should I count off?"
First of all, OUCH! I still blanch at the words "count off", although I understand that some districts have had to send reports to the state that require some sort of numerical score. But if we are in the business of helping teachers grow, then might we want to consider using some other concept than taking off points?
Second of all, the question itself assumes that the lesson plan is the end-all, be-all, which I believe is a bit of baloney. The lesson plan may be the written piece that is required of teachers (as an artifact, something to put in their "bucket" (really?), or simply a box-checking exercise), but what I really want to know is what the teacher is thinking about planning. That metacognitive piece we encounter when someone talks about their thinking is the really juicy piece, isn't it? For example, I talked on the phone with one of my doctoral students this morning about her dissertation. She kept saying she was stuck on how to respond to some comments made by one of the committee members. I asked her to pause, forget about the writing and simply tell me what she was thinking about her study. For the next two minutes, I heard the most passionate, energized explanation of a doctoral study that I have heard in a really long time. When we ask people to tell us their thinking, it takes the mechanical. rote part out of it and puts the personal, passionate part back in it. When I am planning to teach a workshop on how a district can build trust (this is my reminder that I need to do just that this afternoon for a school district in North Carolina), I start out asking myself, "What does the district say are the big deals on which I need to focus?" Those become my outcomes. From there, I ask myself, "After six hours of training that day, what would let me know they have achieved those big deals?" Then, and only then, do I go back to the beginning of the day and begin thinking about what activities, tools, and strategies will I use to accomplish all that.
Finally, I wonder about the aspect of taking points off for a teacher who, through their own thinking about the lesson, decides the lesson might be enhanced by adding a different summative assessment or by grouping students differently. Call me crazy, but isn't this exactly what we want teachers to do versus checking a box that says "lesson plan turned in"? Also, if my first try at a lesson plan isn't all I want it to be, don't you want to encourage me to re-vamp it for clarity and maximized student learning? After all, I may have passed my driver's test on the first try (Dave questions whether this is true, but I promise it is---I am a rock star at parallel parking!), but many did not. However, at the end of the day, the people who took two tries to master all the skills necessary to get a license still were awarded a driver's license. There is no mark on there indicating "Susie Q didn't pass on the first try. Stay away from her at red lights." Why, then, would we do something so demeaning and unproductive to teachers?
I had the distinct privilege to work with some teacher leaders who were learning to teach about what good teaching looks like to teachers (say that three times, fast) this week. We worked with a 6 hour training. The teacher leaders got to experience a "You do it, we do it, I do it" model. The first day, they watched an "expert" train the group and simply took notes. The second day, they co-taught with us, and then we gave them some feedback. The third day, they taught the entire day and we gave some more coaching feedback. I couldn't help but think that this is such an amazing way to learn a new skill, as the focus ended up being on talking about the process rather that simply focusing on the product. It was an honor to be asked to teach alongside then to watch teacher leaders learn how to "own" the content themselves. I believe we could all do a much better job of that in the work we do in schools. For instance, when working with new teachers on a grade level, why not try this process:
First week: lead teachers talk through the lesson planning process as the lesson plan is written out, modeling that think-aloud, metacognitive piece.
Second week; have the new teacher take a piece of the planning but do it alongside the lead teacher, talking through all the bumps in the road ("but what if I run out of time?" "How do I remind myself to pace the lesson?" "What are some strategies I can add to my engagement repertoire?")
Third week: have the new teacher plan a lesson aloud, getting coaching and feedback from the lead teacher throughout the entire process, debriefing after the planning and also after the execution of the lesson, itself.
Will this process take more time than whatever way we do it now? (i.e. lead teacher does plans for the first few weeks and just hands them to the new teacher; worse yet, the new teacher is simply supposed to sink or swim on their own). Yes, but as Harry Wong argued, if we put the footwork into the first few days or weeks, we don't lose that time, we gain the rest of the year. TRUTH!!!
So, as we move into summer days, perhaps we should be thinking about how to coach and help teachers in the best way possible. I would love to hear your ideas! Please add them to the comments below!
I was working with one of my doctoral students on her dissertation the other day. She has a great idea for her study but she couldn't figure out what her "theory" or "framework" should be. I asked her one simple question that she wound up saying helped her immensely. "Whose work has influenced you?" All of a sudden, she began talking about the guru in her field of study until she paused and I said, "That's it! Now write down what you just said and about whom you said it. Read more of her work and base your study on her theories."
With Fathers' Day on the heels of that discussion, I started thinking about how influential my parents were, along with so many other people, in my life. Just take a look at my former bookshelf behind my picture up above, and you will likely see names like Stephen Covey, Harry Wong, Todd Whitaker, Randy Pausch, and so many others who have had an impact on me.
From the time I came out of the womb, my parents had music playing in the house or they were playing the music themselves. My tiny little mother could tear it up on her baby grand piano like nobody's business. My dad played saxophone and clarinet (until a couple of years ago, by the way), and even sang a cover of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" at Dave's and my wedding that had everyone looking around to see if Louis Armstrong, himself, was in the room. We listened to lullabies, classical, jazz, contemporary, and practically every other type of music in the world. Today, I use music to enhance my teaching when the opportunity fits. No accident, right?
Claudia Edgerton, my 5th grade teacher, wrote me notes and gave me encouragement when my parents were divorcing, and I am now friends with her on Facebook. She truly was one of the biggest reasons I became a teacher, and this lovely woman who cried while reading "Where the Red Fern Grows" to us was truly the reason I knew my students with Emotional Disturbances would want to read if they found a book that spoke to them.
A year after Dave and I got married, we were taking care of my mother when she was diagnosed with cancer in her larynx. Over the next several years, I watched Dave take care of my mom---mowing her lawn, picking up groceries for her, repairing household issues, and loving her. He didn't have to do it, but it was his sense of wanting to make things better for people that inspired me. I now make sure I always return my shopping cart, pick up dog poop, and open the door for folks who can't. What an amazing influence you have had on me, Dave.
Who inspires you? Who has influenced your life? your hobbies? your line of work?
Just for today, I challenge you to take a moment to thank the folks who have helped you become who you are, today. Other than those I mentioned above, I would never begin to create a list because I would most certainly leave out hundreds of people--hundreds of people who have helped me do the right things for me so I could do the right things for other people. Hundreds of people who have shape my choices for the work I do and how I do it. Hundreds of people who might say I helped them but helped me more by becoming the person I think God intended me to be.
At the funeral of one of the dearest and best music teachers ever known to man, I sang a bit of the song "For Good" from the musical, "Wicked". I think it summarizes precisely how I feel about the people who have changed me for good.
I was teaching a group of highly motivated school leaders and coaches near Phoenix the other day. They were engaged, they were asking questions, they were laughing, and, as we regrouped after lunch, I told them I think they are my favorite group ever. I then told them that I often call Dave from the airport or my hotel room to tell him, "You aren't going to believe it. It was such an amazing day. They were such great participants! This may have been my best group ever." Dave now responds with, "This group simply can't be the best group ever. You just said that last week about another group." My participants in Phoenix said, "Call Dave and tell him we were your very best group ever." I laughed and said, "You're so funny that you think he wouldn't be out on the golf course right now." (every "now" is more like it). So, the next day during our training, one of the school leaders gave me this shirt they had screen printed the afternoon before (this is obviously a person you want on your school team, right? She gets things done!). I was so very touched. And I can't wait to go back and see them again. And again. And again.
I may have mentioned a time or two that I love what I do. But I also love what I did before...and before that...and before that. It is possible that I didn't always love working in fast food, but I still usually loved the people with whom I worked.
I am truly grateful to love what I do, as I am well aware that not everyone loves their work.
I was thinking about the themes that have created this "I love my job" blessing throughout my life, and I thought I would share them with you.
1. Laughter is an integral part of the day. From the first year of teaching students with emotional disturbances, I found that laughter would be the thing that sometimes kept me from crying. Those 3rd, 4th and 5th grade kids in inner-city San Antonio were tough, but hearing Mario ask me, "Miss...you look stressed. Do you want a sammage?" when he meant to say "massage" made me giggle every time. As an elementary guidance counselor, I experienced one of my sweet 5th grade girls run into my office, throw up into my sink, then turn to me as she is clutching her stomach and ask, "Mrs. Arneson, what's it want?" That one still makes me (and Cindy Dooley, the best administrative assistant on the planet) laugh. Laughing with colleagues and participants and doctoral students is what makes a great day even greater.
2. Passion for the work is palpable. Not only do I believe in the power of teaching, I also love watching for it. One of my participants, Stuart, told me the other day, "I dreaded coming to this workshop. I didn't want to spend all day doing this. But I am a changed man. I am on fire!" We joked and said he not only drank the koolaid, he is making his own koolaid and setting up a koolaid stand for all the kids in the neighborhood. We all need something about which we can be passionate. For me, it is the power of working with people to create something better than it was before. If I can leave a conversation, work group, training session, teacher observation, conference with one new idea for my own growth, the time has been a huge success. When I was a middle school guidance counselor, one of the assistant principals noticed I was spending a lot of time learning all the names of the 8th graders with whom I worked. I laughed and said, "I think I have more success saying, 'Jeremy, come over here. Remember how we talked about how unsafe it is to try to tackle your friends in the hallway? Save it for the football field." than saying, "Hey, hey, hey, you all need to walk in the hallway!! Hey! Hey!"
3. Acceptance that not every moment is perfect. I got to my training site the other day and realized I had left my computer at my hotel. I had to drive all the way back and was almost late for my training. Guess what! The day turned out just fine. Teaching is hard work. It doesn't pay enough. It can be a challenging and complex mess, fraught with politics and major frustrations. Yes, yes, yes. All of that is true. But if we get caught up (and worse yet, stay caught up) in the "woe is me" attitude, we will likely burn out pretty quickly in the field of education. I invite everyone who feels a little bit of that to say it aloud, whine a little bit and then figure out the next right thing to make our chosen field just a little bit better. I have to remind myself that I chose this! One of my favorite kindergarten teachers with whom I worked a few years ago, used to start every year saying, "This group of kids is so tough! They are going to be a handful." I would joke with her and say, "I'm recording this and playing it back to you in October." Why? Because by October, she was never saying that anymore. The problem, we discovered, was perspective. She was, as we often do, comparing this new crop of ants (I mean kinders) to the group of mature kiddos who had just left her nest to fly off to 1st grade. We have to accept that there will be bumps in every road in education. Just put your seatbelt on and hang on for the ride!
Take a moment to think back on what all you accomplished this past year. What gains did your most challenging student make? How were you able to solve communication issues with that parent who has never been satisfied before? What were some new learnings you had about the metacognition about your lesson planning? What new engaging strategy did you try that worked so well, you now have eight new iterations of it?
Even as I write this blog, I am getting excited about leaving tomorrow for my next workshop in Michigan on Tuesday and Wednesday. I plan on laughing with my participants, putting a note on my computer at night to remind me to take it with me and get on and off my passionate soapbox a time or two. Just another day in the life of a teacher looking for the best day ever!
Dave and I were in Palm Springs a few months ago, enjoying a celebratory trip for Dave's retirement (which means he was playing golf at every golf course he could!). When we checked in at one of our destinations, the guy at the front desk asked, "What other plans do you have?" We responded that we were just looking forward to enjoying some relaxation. His response made me laugh. He said, "Sometimes, you just gotta sometimes." What that actually means, I am not certain, but Dave and I have adopted some thoughts on our meanings of it.
1. Sometimes, you just need to avoid overplanning vacation time.
2. Sometimes, you need to do something completely different.
3. Let go, and let God!
Fast forward to this week, when we are immensely enjoying a family vacation, which is translated into a doggy vacation for us. We drove from Tucson, AZ to Ruidoso, NM, barely leaving Interstate 10 (did you know you could drive from California to Florida without ever leaving this one highway except for gas, restroom, food and hotel stops?) with the two older Labs and one young pup in the back of our SUV. We went from Tucson's 108 degree temperature to Ruidoso's 65 degree temperature---quite a blessing in June. We used to live near Ruidoso, NM, so we were excited to be back in this neck of the woods (which, to be perfectly honest, is Arneson for "we couldn't wait to eat green chiles at every meal"). But other than that, we really didn't have any plans---quite the first for control-freaky me. We said, "Sometimes you just gotta sometimes" and employed #1 on the list above. In fact, that is the one decision we did make: not to over-plan our vacation; instead, we wanted to take it one day at a time and see how the days unfolded. What happened this morning was indicative of that rule. We got up with nothing on our agenda and wound up driving up to the top of Sierra Blanca (the mountain which houses America's southernmost snow ski resort). Having gone snow skiing here many days in our past, we thought it would be fun to go up here in the summer and take the dogs for a hike. While we were saddened to see so many acres of trees eaten alive by bark beetles, we enjoyed so much watching for wildlife, wildflowers and wild Labrador Retrievers bounding through the meadows and forests.
What an incredibly beautiful morning we had, followed by a pretty surreal view of a guy hang-gliding off the mountain on our way down. Not overplanning allowed us to experience the beauty of the earth, something I firmly believe we all need!
Since that was so successful, we decided to try for #2: doing something completely different.
This afternoon, we let the dogs take a nap (they were utterly exhausted after their hike) and Dave and I went to the horse races at Ruidoso Downs. It might be a bit embarrassing to admit, but we may or may not have said things like, "Are those numbers the odds or the horse numbers?" and "I want to bet on the pretty gray horse." Okay, honestly, both of those items may be attributed to me, but Dave was there, too. We had so much fun, although Dave tells me I simply look at watching movies, playing golf and horse racing as excuses to partake in diet coke and popcorn. So?? We had such a great time together, too, which made it all the more fun! Doing something different provided the opportunity to enjoy each others' company while enjoying new adventures.
Finally, "Sometimes you just gotta sometimes" means, above all, "Let go and let God." If I try to micromanage every little thing without allowing the beauty of life to come along, we may never have had the best experience this afternoon. When we got back to our condo and let the dogs out,we realized the folks staying next to us were sitting on their back porch just watching us play ball with the dogs (and working on training Kirby). They said (the neighbors, not the dogs), "Do you guys train dogs for a living?" When I said, "No", the 15 year old daughter said, "You should. You're really good at it", to which her twin brother and little brother nodded. How sweet is that! Dave and I quickly decided we should let go and let God by allowing the three kids to do their own dog training with our pups. We gave them each a few dog training treats and a couple of simple lessons and watched, along with their parents and grandparents, as the kids mastered some simply dog-training tricks with our dogs. The looks of joy on these kids' faces when they were able to get one of our pups to "sit", "lie down", "stay", "free!" or "heel" were reward for us as much as the dog treats were for the dogs. The mom and I ended up talking about education, as she has been a PE coach at her school for 19 years and loves her students like they are her own kids. We both shared our passions for education---something I could do all day!
All in all, I would say the vacation has been a total success! Now, what will we do tomorrow??
Just for today, perhaps we can remember that we "sometimes just gotta sometimes".