Do you want to hear what people are saying about you?
Wow, this is a tough one, isn't? On one hand, we want confirmation that we are on the right path, that we are doing the right things, that we are saying the right things, etc. On the other hand, feedback can sometimes be tough to take. If, for example, it is unexpected or unsolicited or even disconcerting, it can be a little painful to take.
What about not getting that job that you wanted?
What about having a significant other leave you?
What about a friend losing touch with you?
When I was a principal in Florida, we conducted "climate surveys" every year. Parents would fill out surveys on how well they felt we were doing as a school---questions pertaining to academics, how the front office staff made them feel, how they felt their children were treated by the staff, how they felt I was doing as a school leader, etc. Of course, we wanted, hoped, and prayed that 100% of our parents would feel like we were doing a 100% job well done. But that isn't life, is it? It is a universal truth, I believe, that many people who fill out surveys only do so when they are disgruntled. Have you done the same thing? If everything was great with customer service at an establishment, you ignore the request to fill out the feedback form. But by golly, if you had a problem, that company is going to hear about it. Blessedly, our climate surveys showed that our parents were almost always very satisfied with what was going on at our elementary school. We typically received about a 60 - 75% response rate (which is what you expect, even if you invite people to a wedding or party) and the satisfaction, overall, with our performance was always in the upper 90th percentile. Amazing, right? We certainly felt so. However, I would obsess on the few that we would get back that wrote comments about feeling I was unapproachable ("What?! Everyone approaches me! How can you say that?!" I would think to myself), feeling the teachers gave too much homework ("Who does that? They are almost always quite cognizant of the limitations of work at home!"), feeling someone in the front office was curt ("What?! We have the best office staff EVER!"), and on and on it would go. The problem was that I was focusing on about 10 surveys out of about 250 - 300 that were filled out. Such is my obsession.
Fast forward to today, when I now do professional learning for teachers, administrators, and university faculty around the world, along with teaching graduate and doctoral classes for different universities. All of the participants/attendees/students are asked to fill out an evaluation at the end of our time together (whether that is for 3 hours or a semester). I am quite pleased to say that, typically, about 90 - 95% of the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Unfortunately, I hyper-focus on the 5% (or even the ONE person) who say(s) anything negative. In one workshop I taught a few years ago, the one negative comment was, "You should serve Starbucks coffee instead of the stuff that was served." Ummm....I don't make the coffee; the catering staff did, and what in the name of Labrador love do I have to do with the coffee? I am here to teach! Along the same lines, I had a graduate student who wrote, "Dr. Arneson grades like she is married to the rubrics." Ummm...did you miss the wedding announcement? Wait what? Married to the rubrics? No. But do I follow them pretty explicitly when I grade? Yes, and you should, too, if you teach.
Fast forward even further to this week, when most of my workshop participants answered "agree" or "strongly agree" to every question asked on the evaluation form. But one commented, "The presenter talks a lot". You caught me. I do. This one hit home, and I will admit that is one of my growth areas---filling in space with words, even when silence is perfectly acceptable. I tell what I think are funny one-liners that go along with the content, but not everyone wants to hear that. While two people stayed after one of my workshops to tell me that they appreciate (in a workshop that was 3 hours long and late in the afternoon/evening) how my sense of humor and my silly jokes kept them engaged the whole time, apparently I am not everyone's cup of tea, and some people would rather me simply press forward with the workshop content than to make a joke or embellish on a point I'm making with a specific anecdote or example.
Let's review: 90% are completed satisfied, with even a few raving about how much they learned and how it energized their practice; one said I talk a lot. What do I obsess on? The one! It reminds me of when I was a principal and read that the 5% of problems take up 95% of our time. But that, my friends, is a choice. I can choose to focus on the one or two comments that don't rave about my hard work, or I can file those comments in the back of my head (maybe even keeping it in mind when next I present as something to note) and rest my head easily on my pillow at night at the knowledge of a job well done (by myself but also particularly by the participants themselves).
Feedback is important; of that, there is no doubt. How do you take it in? How do you process it? In what ways do you allow it to grow your practice? In what ways do you keep from obsessing over it? There is a great saying that goes, "I'm an egomaniac with an inferiority complex", and I think this is so true for me, at times. I either am confident I can do something or I don't believe I can do it at all. Finding that accurate balance is the great goal in my life.
I hope and pray that you are able to find it as well.
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 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.
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,
As an Episcopalian, I cannot hear those words without saying, "And also with you". I have grown up responding to those words, and now, I am going to admit a truth. Who knew you were coming to True Confessions, right? Until this morning, I didn't really and truly think about what those words really mean in the broader context than simply a liturgical and lovely "call and response". When I want to tell someone that I am praying for their peace and serenity, I think deeply about the words I say, but this? I have said the words for years without truly thinking them through. This morning, as Dave and I sat in church, we listened to the sermon about Jesus seeing that He had clearly frightened some of his followers by coming back to life and breaking bread with them. In their fear and disbelief, he said he wanted them to not be afraid and to be at peace.
I want to have peace...within myself, my family, my work, and in the broader worldwide community.
In order to live in peace with myself, I have to do certain things to keep at peace. I pray each morning, I read a daily meditation, and I talk to other people who are seeking the same peace as I am. This may seem like a ritual, and it is in some ways, but I can keep it green by talking to new people, reading new prayers, sharing my thoughts on a meditational reading, and remembering that what I do in private, so I must do in public. In other words, I can't "preach" peace while screaming at one of my students, even if I may, every great once in a while, lose my temper and have to take a big ole' (that's how we say it now that we're back in Texas) deep breath. My own brain is a pretty dangerous neighborhood to walk around in, left to my own devices. So, I rely on my faith, my spiritual advisors, and other loved ones to help me discern what is and isn't God's true desire for me.
In order to live in harmony with Dave, he simply needs to listen to what I say and do it without argument. Just kidding! We have learned and are still learning (after 29 years of marriage) to listen to one another and know that, at the end of our conversation (whether it's about politics or how big the study is going to be in the house we are building), we want to come out on the other side in peace and love. I have always been baffled by how we can show our best selves at work and then rip into the ones whom we most love. I suppose it is the nature of letting our guard down, but it is simply wrong. I should be my best self for Dave, as he is the one I chose to spend the rest of my life with...and we re-up that decision every year. I pray we keep doing that for the next 40 years or so.
How do we remain peaceful at work when all around us is chaos? I am amazed at how many changes have been made in the field of education over the last year or so. I work with some districts who don't know from week to week if they are going to switch from face-to-face teaching to online teaching or vice-versa. What do the COVID numbers show? You might as well turn over the Magic 8 ball...it will surely say "Reply hazy. Try again later." So many people are blaming one person or organization when truly, COVID is a bit tougher to wrestle than even the weather. School administrators are darned if they do; darned if they don't when it comes to school closings. But what if we offered a bit of grace to those in charge? What if we honestly said (and meant---that might be the kicker), "Peace be with you"? I feel certain that students, teachers, staff, administrators, and parents alike would all benefit from a little peace in life right now. I supervise student teachers, I teach graduate students who are getting their master's degrees in educational leadership, and I mentor doctoral students who are trying to get their educational dissertations completed....all during a pandemic that has so vastly changed the landscape of school as we knew it that it makes our heads spin. And yet, they are still working diligently to tap into the field of education to find out what they can do to make it better than ever. I conduct webinars in which people are laughing (not the crazed clown laughter, either; I mean honest to goodness laughter) at each other and my silly jokes and the mistakes we all make. It makes me realize that we all must be finding some modicum of peace in our lives through an unpeaceful time.
And finally, what about the world around us? Would I really mean it if I said that peace is evident in every crevice of our country? Surely not. In fact, I find myself shaking my head at some of the posts I read from my own friends and family members on social media that are filled with hate and vitriolic attacks on one another. I find myself wondering if it is best to ignore those curse-filled comments (I take any cursing off my own page, but I certainly can't control what others say on their own feeds) or to take a stand for peace. I want for peace to "be" with each one of our interactions, even if we disagree. I was amazed at responses I saw to a post that had some suggestions for how we might speak to each other if we wanted to show we were actually listening to one another's beliefs (i.e. "That is an interesting opinion; I want to think about that some more" or "I've never considered that before..."). The response was something to the effect that we need to question everything everyone says. Wait...what? I wonder what would happen if we all operated from a place from Stephen Covey's habit of "Begin with the end in mind", with the "end" being we simply want peace. Do we want to be right or do want for things to be right between us? I admit I have often wanted to be right. I'm just wondering at what cost that belief comes when I know I don't have all the right answers, anyway. If, instead, I want peace, that seems it shouldn't come with such a high price. And yet...
Just for today, I will truly examine what it means to say "Peace be with you" and "And also with you", and to honestly mean it from the bottom of my heart. How about you?
...and leave the rest.
This is a common phrase I hear (and say) in a group to which I belong. The premise is, of course, that you might just hear something someone says that you don't agree with (insert loud gasp of shock and amazement). But what if, instead of arguing about who is right and who is wrong, we simply allowed everyone to speak what they believe is good or right for them, and let the rest go? It seems that 12 step groups have that phenomenon down pat. Why can't the rest of the world try that on for size? The Indigo Girls put out a song many moons ago that contained the line, "Everything that I believe is wrong with you is wrong with me." What does that mean? For me, it means that when I am criticizing someone's belief about politics, religion, the "right" airline or hotel to use, the "right" coffee shop to frequent (my Nextdoor app was going CRAZY about coffee this morning, which I found to be amusing because I don't care for coffee, anyway----want to swordfight about that??), etc., others are very likely critiquing my critique. So, what to do? In social situations, I have learned that the phrase "You might be right" or "Hmmm...that's an interesting perspective I hadn't considered" works great. I truly believe that if I step out onto the proverbial dance floor with the crazy-making opinions, I am doing precisely what I am criticizing other people for doing. And yet...I still get swept up by the music, sometimes, and want to jump out onto the dance floor. For what? Do I really believe that all my words of wisdom are going to change someone's mind about whether or not to get vaccinated or whether they should fly ABC airline? No more than someone is going to change my mind. But I have learned (through a protocol we tried at church a couple of years ago called "For God's Sake, Listen!") to listen to someone else's point of view, and while I don't have to agree with it, I can certainly consider it and where they are coming from.
Why can't we all just get along??, I wonder. But even that very question seems fraught with controversy when people talk about its possible "origin". Here's what I do know. I am truly a hodgepodge of every person with whom I have been blessed to have in my life. I love Chinese food because my closest friends in college "made" me try it for the first time our freshman year, despite my protests. I love musicals because my high school choir friends and I would use the songs from the current musicals of the time in order to audition for the drama department's musicals. I love Labrador Retrievers because Dave and I pored over books about dog breeds when we first got married before deciding on a breed that would change the course of our lives forever. I adore James Taylor and Kenny Rankin because my mother and I listened to their albums when I was in middle school and high school. I likely do not have many "original" likes/dislikes/thoughts. Most of them have surely come from somewhere or someone whose path I encountered. But what if I would have said, "I will never eat hot and sour soup. That sounds nasty"? I would have missed out on so much goodness.
Even with workshops I teach to teachers, school leaders, professors, and my own graduate students, I find myself saying, "If you take nothing else with you from today, I hope you will remember this nugget...." And I hear, sometimes, that they did remember that nugget, and it makes me happy. All I have to do is show some willingness to listen and learn from others, and I might very likely grow in my own wisdom. And if something really gets under my skin? It is likely something I need to take special attention to, as it is likely something that is going to teach me a lesson down my own spiritual journey.
Just for today, consider what you nod your head to and what you vehemently shake your head at. Perhaps you might consider taking what you like and leaving the rest.
In virtual church this morning, we read the verse from Isaiah 50 that says "The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher." As a lifelong educator, myself, I ponder that quite seriously. Do I believe that the tongue of a teacher is a gift and talent I have been given? Yes, and I believe it is also my responsibility to use it for good and not for evil.
I have watched so many educators deal with turmoil this past year with grace and courage. What kind of courage? Some people have criticized schools and teachers for not wanting to "get back to work". Just what do these critics think teachers have been doing for the past year? I assure you that eating Bonbons is not part of that equation. "But teaching online has to be easier. You can do it in your pajamas" spout some of the critics. Pajama bottoms or not (well, don't take that phrase out of context----stick with me), teachers have had to learn (and teach their own students) an entire new way to conduct the business of school. From learning and implementing new digital tools (both quickly and with fidelity, I might add, so to minimize wasted time that should be used to teach and learn), to dealing with students and parents who struggle with getting on Zoom in the first place, to going back to school face to face one day only to be told "Nope, we have to go back online---we have three cases of COVID in our building", it is enough to make a teacher's head spin (and maybe even spit out pea soup in the spinning).
What can these critics be thinking? I wonder to myself and aloud to you. Imagine trying to corral 28 Kindergarten children into their seats, when some are still really YOUNG Kinders, and trying to keep them focused on you while you teach at the front of the room. You must constantly use proximity to remind them to focus on the board or on the other student who is speaking. Now, change the game: the Kinders are no longer in the classroom. They are on Zoom----some with absolutely no adult supervision, because, well....Mom had to go to work. This is not a myth I'm creating---this is real life that I have witnessed through watching teachers and student teachers teach all over the country. The students who have the capacity to maintain some semblance of attention while the teacher has them identify words that rhyme with "dog" hold up white boards or write on virtual white boards. Those who don't quite possess that necessary maturity are essentially in the outfield picking daisies. Seriously, they are seen petting their cat that walks between them and the computer; they are heard yelling at their brothers or sisters; they are trying to listen while someone in the house has loud 70s disco music blaring in the background (you can't make this stuff up); and you are trying to teach while all this is going on!
Without ever deviating from their primary purpose of keeping students' learning first and foremost, these teachers have given up their "free time" (that is a misnomer, by the way, as most teachers do not possess free time) to talk with parents about how to turn up the volume on their computers or to work with students with special needs one-on-one as a classroom setting on Zoom simply doesn't cut it for some students' learning abilities or to adapt lessons that are meant to be taught in person but have to be quickly adjusted to virtual learning.
How about if we all remember that teachers have been given a Goliath sized task, and they, like David, have a small slingshot in their hands. But they are making it work, trust me. I am blessed to see it happen on an almost daily basis, and it makes me so proud to be an educator.
Is COVID wreaking havoc on education right now? Yes, COVID is real and affecting people all over the world. I'm so grateful vaccines are becoming more readily available. Dave and I are both getting our first vaccines this week. But it will be awhile, I am guessing, before school looks the way some critics think it should look.
How about if we support teachers and educational leaders instead of criticizing them?
How about if we focus on solutions rather than being constant naysayers?
How about if we use appropriate language and words on social media instead of calling one group of people horrible names just because they might not believe the same things we do?
How about if we model for the children growing up right now how to have civil discussions without using foul language?
For me and my house, we will choose to eliminate any posts on social media that use foul language (I always try to remind people that using such language simply shows a lack of vocabulary----of all the words in the English language, you still revert to cursing?), and I will forever remind my connections that we are trying to do the right thing and stay positive about solutions.
I work with many student teachers, teachers who are getting their master's degrees in Educational Leadership, as well as with teachers and administrators in districts all over the country. To say I am blessed to get a peephole view into the "life" of education on a daily basis would be a massive understatement. The one common theme I see in so much of the work I do is resilience. Resilience was a major topic about which I studied when I was getting my master's degree in counseling. In a much newer version of his work, Frederic Flach (2004) talks about how resilience "describes the psychological and biological strengths required to ...master change" (p. xvii). I have always said that I love change. In fact, about every seven or eight years, I have begun or at least added on a new residence, job, responsibility at my same job, etc. There are certain points in life in which shifts occur. Flach calls these times of shift bifurcation points. Those might include marriage, death of a spouse, parent or child, new job, retirement, etc.
But I also believe there can be spiritual bifurcation points. One for me was my decision to quit drinking. I truly had a spiritual tap on my shoulder that said, "If you want to ensure you retain your marriage, career, lack of moral bankruptcy, integrity, etc., it might be wise to stop doing what you are doing". I grew up in a home in which alcoholism ran rampant. My mother went into a treatment center when I was 9 years old and was a recovering (we never say "recovered") alcoholic the rest of her life, until she passed away in 2005. My dad may never have said he was an alcoholic, but instead said he was "just an old drunk". My own recovery didn't require me to lose a home, a car, a license, a husband; but those were all "yets". If I had stayed on the path I was on, I might very well have ended up with any of those consequences. As a child, life wasn't picture perfect, by any means. But lots of people had rough childhoods. Why do some people come out of those bifurcation points in jail, with misery, or even having committed suicide? Why do some people come out of those situations with only minor scrapes and scuffs on their knees? Flach says it has to do with that resilience that can be helped with a few characteristics, two of which I always like to talk about and focus on. In order to come out of a major traumatic situation without it causing lifelong destruction to one's self, two factors might be:
*a relationship with a mentor of sorts (someone who has your back and believes in you)
*a sense of humor
I have been so very blessed in my own trajectory of growing up (still in process, by the way) to have mentors too many to count or to thank. These mentors have come along "just in time" in many cases (a 5th grade teacher, Claudia Edgerton, who saw that I needed a relationship with her just as much as, if not more than, I needed to learn about fractions. She wrote me little notes that acknowledged the difficulty of being a child of recent divorce and all that entails. While there have been so very many others in the 40+ (let's just leave it there, folks----just move along) years since then, I'd like to focus on that one, as it relates to our role as educators. In working with my graduate students, I frequently hear things like, "I wish I had a principal who cared about me as a person". I also have had student teachers who appreciate the connectedness they feel to their cooperating teacher and to me. They say it helps them feel like they can talk just as much about their growth areas as they can their developing strengths. Some of my workshop participants talk about how they wish they had a principal who would talk with them instead of simply talking at them. In other words, they want the relationship piece.
For all you educators out there, who teach pre-school to doctoral courses, I am not talking about being friends with our students. On the contrary, I tell my graduate students, "I don't mind if you are really mad at me for being tough on you when I grade your papers. I would mind, however, if you left this course thinking your writing was appropriate to become a school administrator when it is not. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I didn't help you become the best educational leader you can be." Sadly, too many students tell me that they have always gotten every single point on every single paper up until the course they are taking with me, and it is a shock to see the specific feedback (not always stellar) written directly on their paper. I cringe when I hear students (with whom I talk to on the phone or on Zoom calls to establish that relationship, because they won't care a bit about what I have to say if they don't know how much I care about what they know when they leave me) tell me they have never had a professor write on their paper. Wait,...what??? How can you learn from your mistakes if you don't know what those mistakes are?? I love hearing the words similar to "Thank you for caring enough to be tough on me. I knew my papers weren't great in my last class, but the professor didn't say anything so I got used to being mediocre. You've made me realize I don't want that for myself, and I don't want it for my own students or the teachers who I will end up working with when I become a principal."
Every once in a while, I have students drop my course, stating they didn't know it was going to be this much work. While it makes me sad, I take great solace in those other students who start out the first week of class, mad as hornets about their grade on their first paper; talk through the requirements and high expectations; and then come out of the course, writing me thank you notes that bring genuine tears to my eyes. Some of those students are "forever" relationships; ones that ask me to help them with resumes; ones that ask me to watch them teach, virtually, and model what a reflection conference should look like, etc.
Every single day, teachers of today are being asked to change in ways that truly have become bifurcation points for them. Digital learning for Kindergarten students is a strange, exotic bird that requires a new type of food, feeding schedule, etc. And so it goes. But I see so many resilient educators and educational leaders who not only are demonstrating the ability to "roll with the punches" but are also even able to do it with a sense of humor. The stories they tell me about how their students, after only seeing them on Zoom, see them in the grocery store and say, "Wow!! You are tall!" (because height has no meaning on Zoom) or the fact that the line of 2020 is likely going to be "You're muted. Take yourself off mute"---those stories are what keep us sane and ready to handle new changes that come our way. Resilience....I pray you have some measure of it.
Just for today, I would ask that you examine when your major bifurcation points have occurred, how you remain resilient, and how you can be a source of strength for others.
Wow! What a year 2020 was, and 2021 is shaping up to be an interesting year of change. Of course, COVID brought so many changes to us, and to educators for so many reasons. One of the coolest things that I have seen is the way teachers have stepped up to the plate and have accepted the changes with such grace. I am sometimes amazed at how the general public can criticize teachers for "not wanting to go to work" or for "not doing their job", when these same people may not even have kids of their own or know anything about what it is like to be in the field of education. It raises my hackles, I'll admit, as it simply shows ignorance. "Do you have any idea what teachers are having to do in this virtual 'baptism by fire' time??", I want to yell. But, in truth, it wouldn't do any good, as I won't convince people who don't know the truth. And, instead, why don't I spend my efforts helping educators do what they do best? It is such a pleasure to work with teachers on getting more comfortable with online learning. We spend time exploring digital tools, talking about the challenges and solutions, and discussing how these changes have likely altered the landscape of education forever. I feel so grateful to be a part of that world, working with several universities and teaching workshops all over the country as well.
Now, our own big change is a move to Texas. We have lived in Tucson for the last 8 years, and we had truly begun putting down roots here, including Dave's retirement (a.k.a. known as "golfing"), a wonderful church community, volunteering, fostering for a Labrador Retriever rescue organization, and so much more. While we have loved it so very much, we felt like it would be a great time for a change. I'm hopefully going to be teaching a bit more at Trinity University (my alma mater for my Bachelor's degree), in addition to continuing to mentor doctoral students, teaching at online universities, and teaching virtual workshops on increasing student engagement, etc. Dave and I bought a piece of land in the hill country of Texas about 14 years ago, and we always said we would build on it "one day". Apparently, that "one day" has come and we are going to build a home on that land. While we are super excited, we also know that change is going to be hard. It will be made a bit easier living in close proximity to my aging dad, my (almost 3 year old) niece and her whole family, and my best friend from high school, among many other friends and family. And Dave will surely find a golf course or two on which he can play several days a week, while our own two Labs will enjoy being able to spread out on some acreage around our new home.
What does change mean to you? How do you adapt to it? I am looking forward to hearing your responses!
Dave has a long history of making fun of me. Some things that seem to make so much sense to him escape my reasoning. While sports are a big part of his life, I not only don't do so well with most of them, my care factor isn't truly present, either. I would like to point out to all of my professional colleagues that my faux pas (yes, I had to check, and faux pas is actually singular and plural, and I, unfortunately mean it in the plural form) have not yet extended to my professional work.
Dave's history of laughing at me started only a few years into our marriage, when we were flying somewhere, and I looked out the window to see a plane flying pretty close to us. "Shouldn't we be farther away from that airplane over there? It seems dangerously close." Dave looked then smirked at me, "That is the wing of our own airplane. You're safe, sweetie", and he patted my shoulder.
Compound that with my lack of understanding of how, as Dave calls it, "water can run uphill". When we would drain the hot tub that was on the second floor porch of our house in Florida, the water would come from a hose that was down at the lowest point in the hot tub and go up then back down to drain out on the grass below. I never quite got the "physics hang" of how the water could get up and out of the hot tub. Dave sometimes still mutters, "We should have dated longer."
While most people are looking forward to watching the Superbowl for the football, I typically read or do work for an upcoming workshop while the game is on, looking forward only to the commercials and Superbowl food. Hey, at least I know that there are quarters versus innings in this game. I just don't really care.
I figure everyone has a superpower and everyone has their own kryptonite. In fact, I started playing a "game" with friends and family this past year. When gathered together, I would suggest we play Superpower. One person is in the Superpower chair in a circle, table or group. Everyone else, in turn, says what they believe that person's Superpower is. For example, Ryan is the most loyal and dedicated dad and wife to his beautiful family. Dave is "Mr. Justice and Fairness". Cid has dear friends in likely every state and country in the world because she is so friendly and fun-loving. Robin has the capacity to stay calm in the face of situations in which most others would panic. I challenge and encourage you to try this out with a group of family and friends. I assure you that everyone in the group will not soon forget the experience.
I can remember the names of my workshop participants after seeing/hearing their names one or two times. Dave can remember the phone number we had in the first house we owned in Dallas. And truly as patient as Dave is to try to remind me to "turn-turn" with my torso when swinging the golf club when I still am swinging mostly with my arms, I can only say, "I hear the words you are saying to me; my body just doesn't seem to understand them." And all Dave can do is shake his head. I believe my real Superpower exists in being able to laugh at myself, though. When Dave gave me a set of golf lessons, I thought, "This will be great!" I was soon out on the driving range with the female golf pro from our golf club. To say she lacked a sense of humor would be generous. At one point, she told me to get out my pitching wedge. I looked in my golf bag and couldn't find anything that would indicate it might be a pitching wedge. I finally gave in, pulling out a club asking, "I can't find it. Would it be this E club?" The look of disdain on her face will not soon be forgotten, as she reached over, turned the club and said, "It's a W----W for wedge". I promptly burst out laughing (that IS funny, after all), and she promptly...did not.
So, I will be here as moral support for Dave this evening as we watch the Superbowl...or maybe I'm here more as comic relief.