As I come upon the 4th anniversary of one of the most major surgeries I have ever had, I find myself looking back at posts I shared on Facebook about my experience with breast cancer (and the ensuing reconstruction surgeries and “catapulted into menopause” experiences). I am happy to have shared the in-depth experiences, as I know that several people who are near and dear to me went to their doctor for their mammograms (one found out she had pre-cancerous cells that needed to be removed) after not going for a while. I praise God for that, and I will willingly share my journey with anyone who asks about it. Not only can it help others, but it is also pretty cathartic to me, as well. I believe sharing a tough time with a dear friend or a new friend divides the pain. I feel less pain, and they feel more comfort.
I would like to express, however, that I don’t believe that every single thought, feeling or experience needs to be shared with the general public. I am often AMAZED at how loudly and how much people share on airplanes (I don’t really need to hear the woman behind me share with her husband how mad she is at him for not remembering to pack Wet Wipes for the baby). Your feelings of anger for your significant other might better be shared in a private venue.
This morning hit the mother-lode, though. As I was standing in the Dunkin’ Donuts line, getting my Diet Pepsi, I was broadsided with the following conversation between a customer and the poor server:
Server: What can I get you, today, sir?
Customer: I want a turkey sausage croissant.
Server: Coming right up
The man paid for his food then watched her as she began to put it together.
Customer: Hey there, Miss?
Server: (turns around) Yes?
Customer: Was that turkey sausage made today?
Server: Ummm….I believe so….
Customer: I need to know if it was made yesterday, because if it was, it will give me the worst case of diarrhea. It gets so bad….
And….Shelly out. After I saw the look on the server’s face and heard the “Whaaaa…?” from her lips, I knew I had no business (or interest) in hearing the rest of that conversation.
Now, I am not saying that I don’t sympathize with the man’s bowel issues. I just don’t believe that everyone in the Tucson airport around Gates A5 – A8 needed to hear about his intestinal problems with day-old turkey sausage. What is the alternative, you might ask? How about simply not ordering a menu item that might or might not produce problems for you and the people on the plane around you? How about going to another restaurant just in case? Or….better yet, how about not sharing your fecal matters with the rest of us???
I was listening to someone tell their story, recently, about being married to a man that was a terribly sick alcoholic. She talked about his disease and how his behaviors had become slightly unmanageable. But the culminating story was how he went into a field full of cows with a large knife and came back to the house a while later, covered in blood. When she confronted him about the amount of blood on him, he simply answered, “I wanted to show my love for you by killing something for you.” Wowee!! Now there is a story that likely cannot be topped. I feel strongly that Dave loves me unconditionally, but he has never sacrificed an animal in an effort to profess his love for me. I believe pretty strongly that the kind of statement of love for another should not necessarily involve the slaughtering of an animal. But maybe I am judging.
I do, however, love hearing people share their stories (as long as it doesn’t involve diarrhea, for example)….so much so that Dave says that is why I got my counseling degree---so I could hear other people’s tales of relationships and to live vicariously through their interesting lives. I suppose you could psycho-analyze my reasons for going into counseling many years ago, but I truly love hearing people talk about their stories and love helping them figure out for themselves how said experiences might be affecting their current lives. Dave calls it being “nosy”. I call it being helpful. Tomato, Tomahto…
I’m grateful to work with groups of educators around the globe who are willing to share their experiences with trouble spots in their own work in an effort to grow in their practice. One of my workshop participants said, last week, “I have just met you and the rest of the people in this room, but I already feel I can be myself and share a problem of practice I seem to be having in my work.” That produces a feeling of exuberance in me that can’t easily be replicated. Creating an environment that is comfortable enough to share one’s own experience (and to get feedback on possible solutions) is a hallmark of the work I am blessed to do. I know that when I quit learning from my workshop participants, I will likely need to retire, but for now, that feeling is almost euphoric. I love the intimate (not in a creepy way) feel we share once getting to know each other through shared learning.
But please, oh please, don’t feel so comfortable that you need to share that the day-old turkey sausage produces explosive diarrhea. Some things are simply better left UN-shared.
I was teaching about 55 teachers in rural Saskatchewan, Canada this past week. Maybe I have mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating: I love it up there! Even though it was mid-October, the golf course at the resort where I stayed for two nights was still open. My morning runs were stunningly beautiful, if not a tad below freezing at the early hour I had to go. The first day in Nipawin, Saskatchewan, with 55 people, the ballroom had been set up with 15 tables (that could have each seated 6 people, but I have learned that fewer people at tables means more "intimate" work, so we only set up four chairs per table). The room was HUGE....and the acoustics? Yikes! I have learned to use my strong teacher voice, but this stretched even my own comfort zone. The large tables filled the room's vastness, and even though the intent was to use two big screens to show my powerpoint, we could only get it to project onto one. At the end of the day, I had very little voice left, and I had had to adapt several activities to allow for only table talk versus whole group sharing out (the participants simply couldn't hear one another). At the end of the day, my faithful colleagues from Prince Albert and I did a bit of reflecting and changed the look of the room entirely. We moved all the tables closer together and moved them all closer to ME! The next day was 1000% better (yes, I know that is not an actual mathematical term, but it's my blog and my perspective, so it remains my slight exaggeration).
Saturday morning found me at the airport in Saskatoon, headed to New York City for work with teachers and administrators (tomorrow and Tuesday). Our plane had to be de-iced, so we were a few minutes late getting in to Toronto, where I had a 90-minute layover before heading to NYC. But, as I got off the plane in Toronto, they called my name over to customer service and said, "We don't think you are going to make your flight so we booked on a flight that will leave in 7 hours." Oh no you didn't! I wanted to scream. I happened to have theater tickets to go see "Mean Girls" with a dear friend Saturday night, so getting in to New York at 8:30 p.m. was not going to be an option I looked upon very favorably. The customer service agent said, "Just get through Customs and then they can try to help get you there sooner if they can." Oh brother... So I booked it through Customs (thanks, Global Entry!) and found that my original flight was delayed by one hour anyway. "Yea!" I thought giddily, "I will still be able to make my original flight without any problem!" Au contraire, I was told (I figured I would throw in a bit of French, as this airline does all their announcements in French and English). They had already REMOVED me from the flight manifest for my original flight! I told them I still had over an hour before the delayed flight would even board, but alas, my seat had already been given away, they said. I was not a happy camper at this point, but I persisted in asking for what they could do to get me into New York in time for my "meeting". Tap-tap-tap went the gate agent's fingers across the keyboard, only interrupted by frequent bouts of her head shaking. "Stop shaking your head!" I wanted to scream. "Start nodding your head!" Finally, after her incessant tapping on the keyboard, she said, "I can get you on a flight that will get you into New York at 5:00, but you have to pay a $75 change fee." Wait, what??????? On one hand, I was ecstatic to be able to make it into NYC in time for the show (ummm....err....meeting); on the other hand, I was crazed! "You want to charge me a $75 change fee after you removed ME from my original flight???" I am happy to say I remained calm amidst this storm, and I did, indeed, make it to New York in time for my show.
Today, I moved to another hotel (one that is much closer to the school where I will be working for the next two days), and while I had an amazing view of the Empire State Building last night, I now have a view of....well, it's a view of another building. Yep, I am looking at bricks as we speak. The view has changed but my perspective has not. I got a chance to go for a five mile run this morning into and through Central Park, and then I walked (with my 62 pound suitcase and another 10 pound shoulder bag) a mile and a quarter because....I think I said, "It really isn't that far." THAT is all about perspective, too. Five miles this morning felt like nothing. 1.25 miles with a monster suitcase felt like I need a nap, now.
I still am super excited about the work I am doing for the next two days and so excited to continue to work with teachers and administrators all over the world who want to grow in their teaching practice. I have learned to take most travel issues that arise in stride, as most of them fall in the category of "I can't do anything about it", but when I CAN do something about wacko travel plans, I have learned to be assertive without showing the "crazy" I feel inside.
For today, perhaps we can look at what is going on in our lives and face it with a positive outlook. Say "yes" instead of "no" when it could make someone's day. Say "no" when you need to say "no" for yourself. See the beauty in the world versus viewing everything as just another brick wall you have to face.
I am about to embark on what will result in 10 days away from my dear husband and sweet Labs so I can teach in three different areas. This is neither the beginning nor the culmination of my consulting work this fall. I have been busy...but it is mostly because so many schools and districts are hungry for how to help their teachers help their students and how to help their school leaders help their teachers. That, in my humble opinion, is the recipe for success. It saddens me when I hear some of my Educational Leadership students (in my Finance or Shaping School Culture classes) say that they have never had a conversation with their principal about their teaching. When asked what their observations and evaluations are like, some can't even put their finger on what or how they are observed. "They just tell us they are coming to watch us teach; they come, then they send me the form to sign." Wait, what? Didn't that practice go by way of the use of real chalkboards? (Sorry if I just stirred up a controversy for those of you who love and adore your real chalkboards---there are other options available, now)
What excites me the most is when I can share new strategies with teachers on classroom management, questioning techniques, engagement strategies, or lesson planning---and couple that with sharing new strategies for school leaders to have productive conversations with their teachers. I was in Michigan last week, and Matthew (one of my amazingly thoughtful school leader participants) said, "It seems to me that the more objective we make our process, the more we actually build trust with our teachers, because the teachers can believe we aren't being subjective in our observations." I had to think about that a little bit, but it makes so much sense, doesn't it? Comments like that ran rampant in that workshop, as we discussed how we want teachers to build their own belief in their teaching abilities. Self-efficacy, as Bandura (1988) studied for years, is the notion that we believe we have the ability to master certain competencies like lesson planning, classroom management, etc. Sometimes, just like with our own students, teachers need a model or an educated "other" to point our certain pieces of data that can back up the notion that the teacher truly is competent.
I have the honor and privilege of also serving as a clinical supervisor for some student teachers in Tucson, AZ. I watched them all this week. One of them really struggled with classroom management the first week I visited her. The 1st grade students seemed to have more control in the classroom than she did, and it was a bit like the inmates were running the asylum. After the observation, I asked her some thought-provoking questions, and I offered her a menu of items that might help her in her own classroom management. She acknowledged that until she had the ability to capture their attention, she wasn't likely to be able to teach them anything of worth. I happened to agree. So, before I left her, I asked her to commit to three things she was going to try in the next few days. Two weeks later, as I watched her teach, I noticed a dramatic change. She would do a call and response technique (I always say, "It doesn't matter what it is as long as you can own it and it works for you), and the students would actually respond. She used a stuffed elephant to be the impetus for "only one person talks at a time, and it's only you if you are holding Mr. Peter". The students ate it up! I asked her how she felt, afterwards, and she smiled and said, "I feel so much better! I feel confident in my ability to continue to improve." I didn't tell her anything magical, but instead I asked her to own the new strategies she found helpful. Her own self-worth is improved and her confidence to continue to grow is obvious. Is it perfect? No, and I humbly and respectfully believe that teaching is never "perfect". My own teaching ebbs and flows. Sometimes, I feel like I am fumbling for words; other times, I feel as though the teachers or administrators and I are sympatico. But I always love the learning that I gain from simply being around educators. Whether it is a new resource they share with me or simply "talking shop", I love the continuation of learning. I pray you do too!!
So tell me: What, in the world of education, makes your day?
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).