I've heard it said, many times, "How we handle adversity is how we handle everything." In other words....wait...I really don't know for certain how you interpret this quote, so I'm going to just leave it right there until I have several people respond with their answers.
Just kidding, that wouldn't be much of a blog would it, and I have been a bit negligent in the weekly blogging, so much so that I have received a few "pokes" to post again. Here goes that!
For me, that quote means that I am, at the base of my soul, Shelly. I have learned many times in many ways that I have to rely on some power greater than me to make good solid choices (GIGO---good in; good out) in order to keep spiritually, physically, mentally, relationally, and even emotionally fit, as I can't do this deal alone. I need help from a Higher Power to be my best self and not turn into Sherlinda (my evil twin).
With all that is going on in the world right now, I can't help but think that we should be banding together MORE rather than pointing fingers at one another and bonding LESS. And yet, that simply doesn't always seem to be the case, and I fear that my Higher Power likely weeps when He sees what all manner of messes we (me included, for sure) can make in this world when we forget that we are, indeed, on the same struggle bus (or boat, if you are irritated with me for mixing my transportation analogies).
I do want to say, though, that I believe we are in a position to work together for the greater good. One of me has pretty fine grain size; lots of us working together for a common good has pretty powerful implications and a much larger grain size. But what does that really mean, logistically? I'll just stop the blog here, because I really just want to hear your answers to that questions. Okay, just kidding. I really do have thoughts I want to share about that.
I am currently teaching a Master's level course (to teachers who are getting their Ed. Leadership degree and may someday become school leaders) on Finance. Sounds pretty sexy, doesn't it? Not really, right? However, I have seen these 22 students and me form a learning relationship in the last two weeks (the courses are all 6 weeks long) that is pretty darn cool. They are saying things like, "I dreaded taking Finance. I'm not great with math. My mind is totally changed now" or "I keep telling my wife how rich the conversations are in our classroom discussions, and she keeps making fun of how excited I am about Finance!" I just told them this morning that I am kind of falling for them (not in a creepy way, mind you). I always make sure that I let every classroom of students I teach (whether it's for a university or facilitating a training for educators around the world) know that I believe, with every fiber of my being, that teaching is likely the most complex and hardest jobs in the world. That is not to say that it is easier to be a school leader. It is simply a different sort of complex.
I love watching the "coming together" of groups so much so that I believe it is one of the biggest highs there is. I may get some kudos for that (or maybe 1/100 of a jewel in my crown) from my students/participants, but the reality is that the group synergy (with each other and with the teacher/facilitator/professor) is what sets us on fire. Discussions become richer, eyes are opened to new and different ways of viewing things, debating is done with total respect and listening to what the other person has to say (versus simply lying in wait for the person to finish talking just so you can jump on their view and poo-poo their thoughts). I have even seen this vitriolic type of behavior on a Facebook user group I belong to that is simply for principals to share ideas. The other day, one person asked a totally legitimate question (asking for suggestions on a particular leadership issue), and all of a sudden, it looked (on that page) like a divisive war had broken out, in which there weren't going to any winners or losers.
In other related crazy wonders of the world, I was checking in on one of the many Labrador Retriever websites to which I belong. One person, again, asked a pretty "softball question" about Labs, and you would have thought the question had been, "If I'm going to shoot my dog, do I do it in the heart or the head?" Wake up, people!! We are all in this together. Nobody is getting out of this world, alive forever. How about helping instead of hurting? And I get it. I truly get it. Hurt people hurt people. What does that mean to you? I'm just going to stop blogging so I can your "take" on that last sentence. Okay, just kidding. I have every intention of telling you my thought on that. When we feel comfortable in our own skin and feel that we are doing the very best we can to be traveling the road to progressing toward what we are intended to be, we don't tend to lash out at other people. For Pete's sake, people, put on your own oxygen mask now so you can begin to help others! If you are wandering around in your pile of poo complaining about how horrible your plight is, I invite you to step outside the pile and start washing off.
That is, I think, the essence of what I am feeling about the current class I am teaching....that adorable sounding Finance course. We are listening to one another's views; they are taking in feedback I am trying to give them and giving them anecdotal examples, snippets of advice; we are growing together and not against one another.
And for that, I am eternally grateful.
I challenge you, just for today, to figure out how you might work on working together to help someone else instead of lashing out at someone with whom you disagree.
I belong to a group of school administrators on Facebook. It's a great place to share questions and get different perspectives from people (school leaders, aspiring leaders, teacher leaders, etc.) about different topics. I'm always baffled by people who say social media is the devil. The reasons they give are typically something like, "It perpetuates the negative". Ummmm...no, Facebook (or any other social media outlet, for that matter) is not the problem. The problem lies in the way we, as humans, choose to deal with other people, particularly people with whom we disagree.
I make it a point to model the art of disagreeing respectfully in all the professional learning opportunities I facilitate, as well as in the courses I teach in which graduate level students are asked to participate in discussions. The most boring discussion threads are when everyone simply writes, "I agree with you! Great post!" or even the opposite "Wrong, wrong, wrong" (we have all seen things like this (and much worse) on Facebook, right?). I want to hear juicy conversations (not in a creepy way, of course) in which we listen to others' opinions, and then we state our beliefs with sentence stems (that I will often put on a Powerpoint slide or write on a whiteboard at the front of the room) like, "I agree with _______ because ________. I was also considering ___________" or "My thoughts differ a bit from those of _______ because _____________". I always say the "because" is the most important part.
Just this week, I facilitated a group of educators on what effective teaching looks like. We participated in a protocol that I call "Agree/Disagree" or "Point/Counterpoint" or "Take a Stand". It doesn't really matter what you call it, but these types of skills are so very important to becoming the type of learner/citizen I believe we all internally want our students/citizens to become. I have always tried to remember this question myself, "Do I want to be right or do I want to make it right?" In other words, am I just biding my time while you share your opinion on a topic, while I am loaded for bear until you finish your statement, just so I can jump on it with all the reasons why you are wrong.
So, the other day, we engaged with this exercise with about 25 teachers and school leaders. I put a statement on a slide that said, "A good lesson can be taught without questions." I asked everyone to take a stand, either nearer to the Agree sign if they really, really agreed; nearer to the Disagree sign if they really, really disagreed, and stand somewhere around the middle if they felt ambivalent (or, more often than not, they felt it depended on the situation). I should note, here, that my group was from a First Nations community school in very rural Saskatchewan. They engage in much land-based learning and often have elders who come and talk to the students about stories from the past, the history of the land on which they live, how to ice fish, etc. Some of the people who stood nearer to the "Agree" sign said things like, "When an elder teaches, we are taught to be respectful and not ask any questions, but it is still a good lesson." I could see, out of the corner of my eye, a couple of people at the other end of the line shaking their heads. I chose one to express their views. She said, "I understand what ______ is saying. However, even when an elder is teaching or storytelling, we want the students to be asking themselves internal questions." We determined the words "good", "lesson", and "questions" were fraught with ambiguity (what does "good" mean to each person? what constitutes a full "lesson"? and Who is asking the "questions"?). What an astute group! What was interesting to me was the willingness of a couple of people who, at the end of the activity, said, "I first said I agreed with the statement, but after hearing ________'s reasoning, I would love to be able to move to the other end of the line". Wow! Someone was able to show the humble willingness it takes to say, "I don't have all the answers and I am open-minded enough to change my mind if I hear viewpoints from others that I hadn't thought of." This activity was pretty special to me and to the participants, as well. I think we could use a little of this in our everyday lives, don't you think?
Today, in this school administrator group, someone posed the questions, "Does your district require principals to gather lesson plans from teachers every week? Do principals have to give feedback to the lesson plans?", as he was honestly trying to decide if it was something he wanted to do. So many people had such harsh things to say, I was amazed (wait....isn't this a place to lift each other up and not judge?) ! Some of the responses were just simply a resounding "No! If the principal doesn't trust the teachers enough to do their job, I would quit if I were a teacher in a school like that!" or "I know how to teach. I don't need to write out a lesson plan in order to prove I know how to teach" or "NO WAY!!" These responses and so many others really made me think and reflect (and I did that for about 15 minutes before I responded to the gentleman who had been asking for help). Here is what I wrote:
It is incredibly interesting to me, as a lifelong educator (teacher, counselor, principal, professor, educational consultant, mentor, etc.), that the notion of teachers writing out plans and school leaders reading those plans could somehow violate trust or be a deal-breaker. I found the complete opposite to be true. The lesson plans should be written for YOU, as the teacher. As a former principal (and now an educational consultant for teachers and administrators in districts all over the world), I liked seeing the lesson plans so I could find out more about the teachers' thinking while planning. Often, I might pose a question like:
"In what ways do you decide on how to group students for particular activities?" I tried to broaden it, not just for this particular lesson but about their "teaching" in general. This also led to great discussions in person. Teachers loved to talk to me about the "for your use" questions. It gave them another way to think about their thinking (that metacognition piece that we know is so important for ALL of us as learners). I love it when people ask me questions like, "Given the number of participants you will have and the types of discussions you want them to have, how might you arrange the room for optimal learning?" This shouldn't be scary, "gotcha" intended, or based on an assumption that teachers don't know how to teach. It's yet another way to talk about our own teaching. Build a culture of trust in schools, and educators (and students) will no longer feel that "gotcha" or "waste of time" piece. I still write out lesson plans for PDs I am going to teach, so I can remember to ask some really cognitively juicy higher-order questions, so I can ensure my structure and pacing would work for the time I had allotted to teach, or so I can ensure I remember to mention an important point I reflected on from the training the day before. The district in which I was a principal was a union-district (lest anyone wonder); my teachers still loved being asked about their practice in a non-threatening way and advocating for their own teaching. Build a culture of trust, and life-long learning will be the norm. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Shortly afterwards, the original "question-asker" (my technical, academic vocabulary for the day) replied to me, saying:
Your response provides so many details that may help solve a mystery that I have been living with in my school. On the one hand many teachers comply by sharing with me their factory produced lesson plans every Sunday. On the other hand, other teachers would skip or only submit their lesson plans under consistent pressure and repeated requests. Time , or lack of it, was the thing to blame most of the time. My classroom visitations have taught me that teaching in the classroom is minimally related to lesson planning. Your response has opened my eyes to an ingredient that I have been missing: shared/ exchanged reflections on what the teacher intends to teach. Long term mutual trust will surely help me as a leader and help teachers take pride in their thinking but also increase their effectiveness and productivity.
Thanks a million!
All the while, people were still posting things like, "Should we even allow people who are not principals write posts in this group?" Seriously??? So many aspiring administrators would jump at the chance to read solutions to everyday leadership problems, but they sure might not feel welcome now. What about teacher leaders (grade level chairs, department heads, etc.) who still are in pseudo-leadership roles? Can't they also benefit from these discussions (as long as they are civil and not resembling something like conversations between the Hatfields and Mccoys)?
I have faith in the education system, so much so that I want to be an advocate for all who are a part of it. My advice for district office personnel as well as school board members? Get out of your offices and come into classrooms at the schools you represent. See how hard these teachers and administrators are working to improve the teaching craft and the learning and reflection for students and all others who are willing to continue to grow and learn.
After asking the question last week about what teachers believe would help with their own retention in the education field, I got a lot of comments, both in person, via text, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Many moons ago, Frederick Herzberg introduced his Motivator-Hygiene theory (which, to this day, still has me stymied about the use of the word "hygiene" in this context). He theorized that employees in the workplace fell into two categories: hygiene and motivation (Herzberg, 1964). See? I told you it was more than a minute ago. I was but a glimmer in the eyes of my parents at this time (please refrain from ageism comments...it will just make me sad). While he found that what he called "hygiene issues" (such as salary) decrease employees' dissatisfaction with their working environment, "motivators", such as recognition and achievement, tended to make workers more productive, creative and committed. I am curious if this is still the case, or if it has changed in the last 50-some-odd years.
What I do know is there is no shortage of teachers who are speaking out (and loudly, in many cases) about their frustration with district office (or central office, whatever you call it in your area) personnel being out of touch with the frustrations and challenges that teachers are facing. I have so appreciated the candor with which teachers have expressed their exasperation and disappointment, as it directly informs the work I do, both in working with administrators and school leaders around the world and in teaching the courses required for educators to get their Educational Leadership master's degree. In one course I am currently teaching for Grand Canyon University, the question was posed asking potential/future school leaders what their interactions with their supervisors have been like. The responses range from, "What interactions? Our administrators are so busy putting out fires, there is no time for interaction with teachers" to "COVID has changed the dynamics somewhat, but our district leaders have no idea what I do in my own classroom". The blessing is that some of my students (teachers from all over the country) have noted that their administrators engage and interact with teachers on a consistent basis.
While there are a good number of administrators who are asking how to get teachers to show their students that they are there for them in this time of need, the frustration from teachers seems to surround the notion that, "We are told to be the light and saving grace for our students, but we, ourselves, are drowning out here, and no one is sending us a life raft." I noted that many teachers say things like, "My district administrators have never been in my classroom. They are out of touch" and "I want to become that administrator who goes into classrooms on a regular basis. My school leaders seem to be so busy telling us why we have to wear suits and ties and dresses and heels, they are out of touch with what we really do."
So, what makes a great leader? I have been asking this question since I completed my dissertation in 2012 on "Character and Competence", in which I asked teachers (and got over 550 responses) what they valued in their principals more: character or competence. Stephen M.R. Covey (Stephen Covey's son) had mentioned in his book "Smart Trust" (Covey, 2012) that he believed character and competence blend together to build a trusting relationship between school leaders and teachers. I was curious to find out if one of the two of those was more important to building trust than the other. What I found out was that those teachers who trusted their building leaders trusted the integrity of the leader a bit more than their competence. What does this mean? They remarked things like, "I'm fine if my principal doesn't know the answer to a question. We all know they don't know everything. So quit acting like you do, and simply tell us you will find out the answer....and then follow through." I've encompassed several responses into this "answer" above, but I do believe the teachers are craving feedback and reflection conferences and support from their supervisors, with integrity and effective communication (which, in many cases, simply needs to be taught---that is one of my favorite jobs).
A fortune cookie I read today said: "A leader is a person you will follow to a place you wouldn't go to yourself." Yessssss!! This speaks volumes, I believe. If Herzberg's theory holds true, teachers would love to have increased pay, for sure, and I don't know one teacher who would say, "Nah, I'm good. I'm getting paid enough. No need for more." But the pay is only a part of the solution, I hear and see. Being supported, having qualified substitutes when the teachers get COVID (yes, teachers get sick, too, although many of us have been known to say, "It is WAY more trouble than it's worth to simply go into school sick than to try to prepare for a substitute when you are vomiting or coughing up a lung"), and simply knowing the district has their backs on COVID restrictions that (inevitably) tend to change on a dime (which, by the way, is what principals say is taking up so much of their time---dealing with the ever-changing COVID protocols). When I was a principal, I used to say to my supervisors, "I don't mind being given a directive. What I mind is being given a directive, then once a parent calls to complain about the protocol we are following, the district administrator(s) caves in and backs the parent versus the teacher or principal, making me look like 'change for a nickel'."
Educators need so much grace right now. What does it take to be a leader teachers will follow into unchartered territory?
Thanks so much for everything you do!! I need those students with whom you are working to grow up to be knowledgeable and compassionate, as Dave and I will need some of them working at the assisted living facilities (or working in in-home care for us) in 20 - 30 years.
Covey, S. M. R., Link, G., & Merrill, R. R. (2012). Smart trust: creating prosperity, energy and joy in a low-trust world. 1st Free Press hardcover ed. New York: Free Press.
Herzberg, F. (1964). The motivation-hygiene concept and problems of manpower. Personnel Administration, 27(1), 3–7.
Toby Keith sings these words, and they couldn't be more pertinent to the education field than right now. So many people are writing blogs and talking about the pandemic of teacher resignations that many say are due, in part, to the COVID pandemic. If the goal of 2021 was to get students back to face-to-face classrooms, the goal of 2022 seems to be to get teachers to stay in the profession. A teacher friend of mine just told me that, as much as she loves her special education students, if one of her own children wanted to go into the field of education, she would do everything to talk them out of it.
So, I'm not here to write a blog about the problem. I'm here to ask teachers to tell us exactly what they need. While handing out hot beverages seemed to work for Sheldon on "Big Bang Theory" (it was the only thing he knew to do when someone was ailing), I don't think a gift card for a Caramel Whipped Coffee (I know; I'm not a coffee drinker, so I'm showing my ignorance about names of fancy hot beverages) is going to solve this predicament. I have the pleasure and honor of working with public and private schools and districts all over the world, and while I hear gratitude for the strategies we work on to make teaching and learning more effective ("this is the only workshop that has ever given me strategies I can take into the classroom tomorrow" one teacher in Nebraska told me a few weeks ago), I still feel as though what I'm offering is falling short.
I was listening to the song "Hammer and a Nail" by the Indigo Girls, and the lyrics say:
"I gotta get out of bed and get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose
Had a lot of good intentions
Sit around for fifty years and then collect a pension
Started seeing the road to hell and just where it starts
But my life is more than a vision
The sweetest part is acting after making a decision
I started seeing the whole as a sum of its parts"
To get the full extent of their message, listen for yourself by clicking the song title above. I do believe sometimes we think ourselves in a jail, meaning (to me, anyway) we dither around about a topic instead of truly doing something. A chin in my hand engaged in a thoughtful pose (I love that line) takes up brain space but it doesn't really DO anything. Think tanks typically don't solve problems; they talk about problems. Let's do something to solve this mammoth-sized issue.
More of the lyrics say:
My life is part of the global life
I'd found myself becoming more immobile
When I'd think a little girl in the world can't do anything
A distant nation my community
A street person my responsibility
If I have a care in the world I have a gift to bring
We all can do something or we can do nothing. I truly want to do something, so I'm asking educators to tell me (and my readers) what will help them. When we think one person can't do something, we stay immobile. My hunch is that teachers really need:
*support from their school leaders and the community at large
*taking non-emergency paperwork off their hands until we get out of this mess
*engage them in professional learning that they can truly use, not some new "program" or "curriculum"
*respect the tremendous efforts they are putting forth
Now, what specifically does this look like and what else should be on this list? Tell me, and I will share it on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I want to help. As the Indigo Girls say, "If I have a care in the world, I have a gift to bring". So many things, for my dear friend and former administrative assistant (when I was a principal), Cindy Dooley, and me make sense in song lyrics. When we worked together, one of us would say something, and the other would turn it into a song lyric. Oh, what fun we had, doing the hard work that needed to be done.
I'd love to hear what you believe is needed to help teachers want to stay in this amazingly complex but incredibly gratifying field, whether it is through a song lyric or simply words explaining your idea for a possible solution. It doesn't have to solve everything; it may just be a small part, but even small parts put together create a "whole".
Please hear my sincerity in asking for your ideas.
Desmond Tutu, who passed away last week, was one of my heroes. In an interview, he was asked how he could remain an optimist even when bad things were happening all around the world. He negated that notion that he was an optimist, but stated that he was rather a "prisoner of hope". He felt like optimism was too wishy-washy, while being a prisoner of hope meant we continue to do the right thing (with compassion, integrity, and goodness) because we innately KNOW that things will get better. I've always been an almost apologetic Pollyanna, thinking that very way. Now, after hearing Desmond Tutu's interview and hearing our priest in church this morning talk about this notion of being a prisoner of hope, I think I need to quit being apologetic about my belief that things will, indeed, get better. And, in truth, it really isn't just a belief. I am charged with and commanded (and even imprisoned, to use Tutu's words) to know that hope is eternal. Amidst COVID, death of family members, friends being diagnosed with cancer, bi-partisan craziness, political views that not only split sides of the House but also split up families, and so many more tragic events and happenings, I still know that things will get better. When the stock market takes a nose dive, I know it will turn at some point---it has to.
So, how has being a "prisoner of hope" impacted me?
1. I freak out, talk it out, then give it up:
I have been known, a time or two, to want things to be perfect (I want to get to where I need to go on time, I want to be the perfect presenter, I want to control when something is going to be delivered, and the list goes on ad infinitum). I know when this happens that it is typically a direct result of being out of sync with my faith and serenity. When I notice it happening (for example: trying to tell the gate agent that I have to get home, as if that is going to make an airplane magically appear or magically get repaired or cleaned), I know what to do. I simply need to take a deep breath, say the Serenity Prayer, then hightail it to the nearest airline lounge, where I can get re-booked, etc. In a perfect world, I'd love to skip the "freak out" part, but I am genetically wired, I'm afraid, to go that route first.
2.Be the calm for someone who cannot:
One of the biggest ah-ha moments I've had in my life is that, when I am freaking out somewhat about something I can't control, the best thing I can do to overcome this warped feeling inside me is by being the calm for someone who is currently unable. For example, when I am teaching a group of teachers or administrators, things don't always go as advertised. Sometimes, the technology isn't working the way it should; sometimes, the materials are not ready or are put together correctly; sometimes, the room we thought we would be using is unavailable, and we have to punt with a space that is less than ideal for engagement. That is the real world, and if I am going to serve as a model of what good teaching looks like, I surely had better be prepared to go with a plan B (or C or D). Being the storm does me no good, nor does it do the learners in front of me any good.
I have found that, even on an airplane, when there is turbulence, and I am seated next to someone who is clearly not comfortable with air travel, I can be the voice of reason ("there is always turbulence when we begin to land in Tucson because of the mountains. It is nothing to worry about").
I pray I can remain a prisoner of hope for the entirety of my life. It sure beats the alternative.
I hope you can do the same!
I have watched this video of a children's musical program a few times, and every time, I glean just a little bit more. Take a gander and tell me what you think. The Lord does take care of his flock, as the good shepherd. Maybe sometimes, the flock members just wanted to take care of Baby Jesus.
What are your take-aways (no pun intended) from this?
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of you. May you celebrate in whatever way you see fit and relish the time with family and friends.
What did you think of when you saw this title word? No, this isn't a personality test. I'm just curious what immediately jumped into your mind. Was it a Stop sign? Was it M. Night Shyamalan's movie with the same title, in which Joaquin Phoenix's character is told to "Swing away, Merrill" to combat the alien? Was it synonymous with "coincidences"?
I have always thought that signs can be really funny. I've been talking with students in one of the classes I teach about how the vision and mission of the school often are not made apparent to the school employees. And if they are, it is often in a perfunctory manner. For instance, before I became a school principal, we had an accreditation visit. Every staff member, we were told, needed to know the vision and mission statements. The solution? Put up signs with both the vision and mission written on them in the staff bathrooms. While 80% of our staff members were female, the question was brought up about whether we needed the signs both behind the toilet as well as on the wall opposite the toilet (already, this concept is going south, right??). My question about initiatives like this is, "To what end?" Say I get "quizzed" by the accreditation police, and I can spout off the vision and mission as quickly as I could recite the names of the girls in my pledge class in college (don't test me on that one----I can do it before a lit match burns out). What does that really mean? That, in my humble opinion, is a waste of a sign. Words without meaning are just minutia, aren't they?
When I was a principal, the staff members at our school were AMAZING. For the most part, we all got along famously, but there were a few times (as in any natural habitat) when tensions would rise and conditions might get heated. We all pitched in to ensure harmony was restored when this happened, but you just can't totally get rid of "snarkiness", can you? One of our dearest staff members was known for prayer (behind closed doors and only with people who wanted it, of course), putting encouraging notes in mailboxes, and spouting off a little "Woo-hoo" when she came in a room and saw someone. She and I jokingly said that "Woo-hoo" just uplifted us just a bit. It couldn't hurt anything, could it? Au contraire. Much to my surprise, I walked into the mailroom one day to find a note stuck on the bulletin board (among important school board notices, flyers about where to get free glasses for students in need, and new cafeteria protocols) that read: "No more 'woo-hoo', please!" Yep, you heard it here, folks. A call to arms had been made to dismantle any more 'woo-hooing'. I promptly took that sign down and put it in the circular file before too many other people could see what nonsense was permeating our bulletin board. But really??
As I travel a good bit for work, I often see signs that make me giggle. I saw one sign, while driving in a northern state, that said, "WARNING: touching wires could cause instant death" and underneath, it said, "$200 fine". Wait....what? I'm fairly certain that, if I do not heed the warning, that fine is going to be left unpaid.
Another one is "This sign is currently not in use". Ummm....I think it is in use, telling me that it is available, right? Things that make you go "Hmmmm....." I love them! I've included one more funny one as the introduction to this blog. I am so grateful for humor.
Now, seriously, let's talk about those less tangible signs we feel we should pay attention to---you know, the kind that people often attribute to coincidence but are quite possibly prompting us to think more deeply about our own lives and their conditions. For instance, after someone is arrested and convicted for some deeply disturbing act, neighbors and family members are often heard saying things like, "I never saw any signs that he was troubled".
I, personally, made a plea to God about 25 years to give me a sign if He thought I should quit drinking alcohol. I had been thinking about how important alcohol seemed to be getting to me. I figured if God thought I should quit drinking, He would send a sign. The next day, I was in my car, when all of a sudden, a song came on the radio called "That's Why I'm Here" by Kenny Chesney. I had never before heard it, and I actually still rarely hear it. But there it was....a song that quite obviously is about a man who is telling his wife he has started going to AA to get his life back on track. Literally, what could be more of an obvious sign, not just tapping but poking me (hard) on the shoulder, by God? What did I do? Changed the radio station, of course. Surely that wasn't a sign....and it would be 6 more months before I made the decision to turn my will and my life over to God to help me see that I had an allergy to alcohol. I know what you are likely thinking: What idiot couldn't see that sign's significance? The answer is: "this idiot".
Just like many of us who find ourselves seeking a solution to a troubling life problem, but we simply can't see the solution for all the muddled mess (or maybe the "pity committee") in our brains. It's so very easy to armchair quarterback this one (Dave is going to be so proud of me, not just for using this sports reference but using it accurately!)....when it is someone else.
Signs that are set forth right in front of us are often ignored because we're too busy with other stuff, we simply ignore what is right in front of our faces. I hold a personal belief that there truly are NO coincidences. If I run into someone (not literally or with my car, for Pete's sake---everyone just settle down) I haven't seen in a very long time (or reconnect with an old friend on Facebook), it is highly likely there was a significant reason for that. The problem is: I have to be open-minded and look up long enough to be aware of what is happening right in front of me. As someone who is a 7.5 or 8 on a "risk-scale" (based on 10 being the most risky person ever), I have experienced a niggling feeling when entering a situation in which I likely have no business being; and if I continue along that path, despite said niggling sensation, my guardian angel (if you believe in such things) is likely sighing heavily while she puts her head in her hand, shaking her head in disbelief, and muttering, "Seriously??".
So, maybe the message this week is to pay attention to our surroundings: the people in need, the people who are there for us, the solitude we have been searching for; the signals from our body saying we need to slow down and rest a bit or we're in for bigger trouble soon (oops! wait! that one can't be for me, I'm sure, despite the fact that I have been run down and feeling crummy for the last two weeks after 10 days on the road for work). Listen and watch for the signs, and stick around to watch the miracle occur.
I sure would love to hear your own experiences of "signs" on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Please consider posting a response to my post.
I recently got back from traveling for work for 10 days, during which time I think I may have gotten a really bad cold. Upon my return (wait for it---you might be about to enter the TMI section of my blog), I immediately had to do a colonoscopy prep (one of my questions for God is going to be, "What in the world....?") followed by the colonoscopy and an endoscopy. I just asked if they would ensure they do the endoscopy first. The answer? "Oh we always do that first then go straight to the colonoscopy." Wait....you don't really mean "straight" to it, right????? The day after that, we left for Tucson for a wedding. I have taken a nap every single day since we have been home. Might I add that I never take naps? My doctor (who Dave made me an appointment to see without asking, as he was not pleased with my slight "overdoing life" scenario) said, "You are likely dizzy, nauseous, run down and lacking fluid because your body is trying to tell you to slow down. It's probably best to listen to it." I started crying, which is just one more indication that, although I absolutely ADORE my work (the colonoscopy, not so much), 10 days is a long time to be on the road.
Listening to my body reminded me of how important the skill of listening is, in the first place.
I travel a lot for work. A lot.
So I hear a lot of things that people say in airports. I was awaiting a flight the other day, and I just heard an announcement, "If you just went through security, and you are missing your beaver cap, please come back to claim it." I'll be honest; the announcer had a tough time saying it without laughing aloud, I could tell by her voice. Anyone missing a beaver cap? It might or might not be in the Denver airport.
I hear couples on the airplane, fighting about what toy they should have brought for their 1-year-old to play with during the flight. It sounds like:
Husband: I told you we should have brought the Plop and Play (okay, I'm making up that name---I have no idea what toys 1 year olds play with).
Wife: No, she won't play with that for very long. It makes too much noise, too.
Husband: The Plop and Play is good for her! Remember how much she liked it when....?
Wife: No!!! (voice gets increasingly louder) We brought the Roll and Rock (okay, I made up that name, too, in case you hadn't guessed) and that is better!
Husband: You have got to be kidding me. We have talked about this before.
Meanwhile, in Jakarta, people are likely hearing this conversation go on.
Southwest Airlines paged a man by name a little while later, then said, "Wait. What just happened?" I am not sure about you, but I really never want to hear someone at an airline say, "Wait. What just happened?"
The other day, I stood waiting to board a flight for Calgary. The two gate agents were standing there talking as if passengers weren't right there. One said, "I don't know why the flight crew doesn't just start boarding these people." The other one said, "I know. I get off work after this, so let's get these people on the plane!" Ummm....."these people" are hearing every word you are saying. Helloooooo?
I suppose much of this has to do with technology, as many people I overhear are talking on their cell phones, which somehow must give the illusion that their conversations are private. And, by the way, if you are in the public bathroom, maybe your cell phone conversation could wait.
Overheard recently in a restroom in the Phoenix airport:
Person on toilet: I'm going to the bathroom but I wanted to tell you that I will be getting on my flight soon. PAUSE, then, more loudly: I SAID I'm going to the bathroom but I am about to get on my flight! PAUSE, then so loudly that the men's restroom likely heard: I'm in the BATHROOM!!! Why can't you hear me???
I have a sweatshirt that a dear friend gave me a few years ago that says, "Is it any coincidence that LISTEN and SILENT have the same letters?" I'm wondering if some of us could take a lesson from my sweatshirt. Listening is so very important in professional and personal conversations. But the listening we need to be doing should focus on truly hearing what the other person is trying to tell us, not what our own agenda is dictating. "Generous listening" is what one of my workshop participants called it two weeks ago. I just love that phrase and am trying to practice it in my work and my relationships.
Just for today, perhaps we can work on that together---generous listening. But we might also want to work on remembering that people are hearing what we say, even when we think our conversations are private.
I've had Brene' Brown's book Dare to Lead for about a year now. Finally, while Dave was on a golf trip this week, I decided to read it. She said she wanted it to be a book someone could read on a flight from L.A. to New York. I liked that notion. I've been wrestling with a couple of things in my own life (nothing major; just the normal "life" stuff) over the past year or so, as so many of us do, periodically throughout our lives. You know, things like:
*I didn't get the job I wanted
*I can't get pregnant
*My boyfriend left me
*I got fired from my job
*My child didn't get into Harvard
Obviously, there are so many other life-issues that come along that seem to wreck our world for a brief (or sometimes, not-so-brief) time. While I have always had a fairly optimistic view of life and life lessons, I am still a bit shattered when things don't go as I had liked them to go. For instance, I had an amazing experience with some administrators who were working on building trusting relationships through conversations with their teachers about teaching. I am in email contact with a lovely and uber-talented high school teacher who allowed us to use her as a proverbial "guinea pig" to model how conversations about teaching should include questions that not only ask about the particular lesson being taught but more about teaching, in general. What a reflective and metacognitive teacher Meredith was. I was so impressed and so appreciative.
Two days later, I was teaching some high school teachers about some innovative ways to add engagement strategies to their teaching repertoire. We were talking about how brain functioning and memory affect learning, and we played a betting game about some True/False statements about the topic. Most everyone seemed to enjoy the activity, but as a facilitator, I am able to see everyone's reactions, and I saw two teachers roll their eyes then whisper to each other. Even while I continued to teach, my mind began conjuring up the possible reasons for the eye roll...not to mention wanting to say something snarky like, "What would you do if your own students rolled their eyes while you were teaching a lesson that you had worked so hard to make engaging?" By the time I was finished teaching, I had at least a dozen reasons built up in my own mind about why these teachers didn't "like me", including:
*They don't like the way I look (I got my hair cut recently, and the stylist cut it too short)
*They think that people from Texas are not bright
*I use chimes to get attention, and they think that is baby-ish
....and the list goes on.
Now, mind you, none of these may be what the teachers were thinking. They may have just said to each other, "Can you believe those parents that came in and verbally attacked us yesterday?" and then rolled their eyes at that. But, Brene' Brown says that, somewhere in our brains, we make up stories to "fit" a situation. She even did an interview on this topic several years ago with Oprah. She talks about how we are hardwired that when something negative happens, we make up these stories to make sense (even if those stories are one-sided and worst-case scenarios) of the event.
I am wondering if we aren't doing that same thing with our friends and family in the current political and cultural climate of our country right now. For example, we hear a news story and our go-to reaction is to make it "fit" our negative views of what is going on in the country/world. I am much more attuned to this than the personal affronts I feel might be happening to me. Take, for instance, someone who posts a current event on Facebook and makes a commentary (for or against, but mostly against, in my experience). Why can't the event just "be"? Why does it need a positive or negative reaction to it? Are we truly just hardwired to make that event either fit into or against our worldview? I believe so, as it seems that people tend to respond to the said Facebook post with a "rah-rah" agreement with the poster's views or an all-out attack on the poster's views. Why can't the event just "be"?
Brene' Brown suggest that we make up "first drafts" of stories about events when we don't have the full information. I believe this to be completely accurate (her views fit into my worldview---see what I did there?), as most name-calling and arguing tend to happen when people don't have the full story (and, folks, this is with our family members and friends!). I've been wondering for awhile what might happen if we all made a pact to only respond to someone's posting of a current event on Facebook with a respectful "I believe...." statement. What if nobody was allowed to name call or trash another's opinions but instead were only allowed to state their own personal views on the issue (not "against" someone else's --- only their understanding of their own view)? What might happen then? My hunch is that, first of all, there would likely be fewer posts on Facebook, but those that were posted would not wind up with people being at odds with one another. We might simply leave the reading of other peoples' beliefs with "Hmmm...that is interesting; I never thought of it that way". No harm; no foul. Then, I would necessarily not need to make up stories about things which I have little information, other than hearsay. I might even be inclined to learn something new if I were willing to listen to another's opinion with the goal being to "understand" not "to be understood". Stephen Covey (2004) said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." Something to think about....
Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead. Vermilion.
Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. 25th anniversary edition. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
I honestly cannot count the number of times I have discussed this belief of mine with administrators and teachers, lately. Through my own consulting work with schools and districts, along with my teaching work with graduate students and doctoral students at Grand Canyon University and Walden University, I have touted this belief by carrying the proverbial flag with this saying on it.
What do I mean? When I conducted my own dissertation research on what teachers value or "trust" in their own administrators, many teachers responded with statements like, "When my principal acts like he knows everything, but he honestly doesn't know a thing about my content area, it comes off as ridiculous in a post-observation conference" or "I know my principal has areas she is not strong in, but she'd never admit that to us. She wants us to think she knows everything. Well, guess what. She doesn't." Amen, and pass the peas! (Okay, don't pass the peas to me, as I have a strong dislike for them, in full disclosure).
So, are we just supposed to tell everyone what we don't know, in the hope that they will say, "That's okay that they are incompetent in several areas"? While that extreme is not necessary, it sure would beat the falsehood that some administrators display in words and actions, acting like they have more answers than the teachers who they observe and coach. Instead, why not ask questions like, "What might I expect to see in this physics lesson? While physics might not be my forte', I really am looking forward to learning more about this content, myself!"
I was working with a teacher the other day who talked about her lesson that I had observed. She was so brutally honest in saying, "I noticed from the observation notes you gave me that I talked WAY more than the students did, and when I did ask them questions, it seemed to me to be a back-and-forth between me and a student then me and another student." We talked about how a "soccer match format" of discussion (in which students pass the "conversation" to each other rather than simply kicking it back to the teacher) might be more effective than a ping-pong match between student and teacher, student and teacher, over and over again. I noted that I was so impressed with her ability to reflect on her own teaching, and her response was, "This is great, being able to talk about my own teaching and reflect on how to do things better. I have been teaching quite a while, but I still have a lot to learn." I told her I hope I never stop learning, as it only makes us better educators to continue the learning process. We agreed on that, for sure.
My own vulnerability to honestly ask out of curiosity, "Oh wow! I've not seen that technique before. How might you use that in your own teaching?" and truly listen to the response is a way to ensure that teachers know I don't have all the answers. I love the notion of continuous learning and hope to always be able to show that vulnerability doesn't equate to weakness but instead enforces the opposite concept: that when I show that I don't know everything, people are more willing to open up about their own gaps in practice and opportunities for growth.
Now, I'm going to go read more about how to work on my own questioning strategies, because I have more to learn....always! Check out one of favorite quotes ever, above.