True Resilience is Different

I’ve been a collector of quotes for a long time and a few of my friends share good ones with me because they know I appreciate them.  Over the holiday a friend shared a quote with me that really hit home and has been on my mind for the last few days so I thought I’d share it with you.  The quote comes from a book called Unbound by Steph Jagger. It is a memoir that I’ve yet to read but if this quote is any hint as to her writing then I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy the book too.

“Strength isn’t necessarily defined as our ability to get up when we’re knocked down. Nor is resilience found in our ability to continue getting up – over and over again.  That’s just sheer willpower; that’s called being stubborn as ****.  True resilience is different. True resilience is found in our ability to get up, to create space for a message we may not want to hear, to listen like we’ve never listened before, and then act on that message – even if that means changing the way we’ve been hurtling down our path in life for decades.”

The part of this quote that speaks to me the most is Jagger’s definition of true resilience.  The idea of creating space for a message we may not want to hear is very challenging for most people but it can be truly transformative when we do it.  Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to hearing something that may be tough to swallow takes confidence and courage.  To be truly resilient we need to not only get back up, but we have to be willing to hear feedback about what caused us to be knocked down in the first place.    

Similarly, the act of listening is challenging to many people as well.  It is not a natural skill for most people and it is something that takes practice, conscious practice.  We should all aim to, as Jagger puts it, “listen like we’ve never listened before” on a regular basis.  I don’t think that what she’s suggesting is something that you can do constantly, it is something that takes an extra, conscious effort.  Listening is a skill to practice and continue improving through time, without that skill you can never complete the process of becoming truly resilient.

The final piece of Jagger’s definition can’t be achieved without the first two pieces, being open to feedback and being able to listen well enough to hear it.  Jagger’s definition of true resilience concludes with being able to act on the message you received in the first two steps.  That action, however, may not be very easy.  She acknowledges this in the final part of that quote; sometimes the things we need to change are things that are very deeply rooted in who we are…change on that level is darn near impossible for most people.

Regardless of how difficult change may be for anyone, if they’re open to hearing challenging feedback and if they can truly listen like they’ve never listened before, then I believe that anyone  has it in them to pursue the necessary changes they may identify within themself after completing those first two steps.  

You’re all strong.  You all have a tremendous amount of willpower and the ability to continue to get back up.  Are you already or what would it take for you to be, as Steph Jagger defines it, truly resilient?

Which Blob Are You?

With Spring Break on the horizon it’s a great time to stop and check-in with yourself.  Take a few moments to step back and think about where you are and what you need/want during your time away next week.  One of my favorite tools for doing a self-check is the Blob Tree.  Taking the time to reflect and explain why you are identifying with a particular Blob is where the true check-in happens.  From there, you can begin to think about what you need or want to either stay locked in on that Blob or to begin feeling like a different Blob.  

I love this tool because there are no black or white answers.  No matter which Blob you identify with the most, you need to explain (to yourself) why you are identifying with that Blob.  There are no right or wrong answers either, this is merely a tool for checking-in with yourself at the present moment.  

At about this time last year I hung one of these in our apartment.  Amy and I used it often, to pause and check-in with ourselves and each other.  Being cooped up in a one bedroom apartment, both working from home, pregnant, and in the middle of a pandemic, we moved from one Blob to the next quite frequently.  We used this graphic as a reminder that it was okay to do so.  The Blob Tree represented all of the mental space we were allowed to occupy and the Blobs and their numbers gave us a common vocabulary for communicating, even in the hardest of times.  

You may find this tool silly but I think you may also find it very useful.  As a tool for working with students I find the Blob Tree to be very handy. No matter the age, students will find a Blob that they identify with.  It could very easily be used as a way to check-in with your students in the morning, at the end of the day, or any time in between.  For many, they will identify with multiple Blobs at once.  That’s okay too.  Sometimes we are feeling a range of emotions and limiting ourselves to one Blob feels constrictive, multiple Blobs are allowed 🙂   In either case, as a teacher, you may find it helpful to know which Blobs your students are identifying with at any given time!  

Take a few minutes to check out the Blob Tree.  Which Blob(s) do you identify with today?  What do you need/want to either stay with this Blob or move to another?  Imagine the different ways this tool might be useful for you, your students, or both.  

Don’t Forget the Positive

Last week I had a TED Talk shared with me.  I’d seen it before but, like most TED Talks, watching it again was a really good reminder about something that is important to me.  Alison Ledgerwood shares some of her research that highlights the importance of positive thinking and goes on to share a low effort, high leverage tip for increasing our positive thinking.  

I think that no matter who you are or how positive you tend to be, this video is worth the time (10 minutes) to watch.  Understanding how our brains work when it comes to positive versus negative thinking is incredibly important.  I’m inspired to focus on the positive parts of my day just as she suggests.  

Amy and I are going to work to incorporate time to ask each other about the positives in our day instead of the old standby, “how was your day?”  The person who shared this video with me is one of my mentors and also one of my best friends.  Every time I’ve shared the dinner table with him and his family we’ve gone around the table and shared the best part of our day with each other.  I never realized it at the time but that practice is precisely the sort of thing that Alison Ledgerwood would suggest.  Whether you choose to watch the video or not, give that idea a try with your family, you’ll see the beauty immediately and I’d wager you’ll keep doing it 🙂

The Margins

This weekend I saw a tweet from a former colleague from my time in Ecuador.  He’s now teaching via a virtual program, which means he doesn’t get to work with students face to face at all.  He mentioned that what he misses the most is “the margins” and it got me thinking; that’s exactly where all of the best parts of being an educator happen, in the margins.

“The margins” may look different at each grade level or in each classroom but I see them as the less structured times, the times when there isn’t a formal lesson happening, and when the kids may not realize they’re actually still learning.  What they’re learning may not be written down in the state standards or formalized in a curriculum but it’s the stuff that will endure.  They’re watching and listening, they’re following the lead of their role models (probably you!), and they’re learning more about themselves than they’ll ever realize.  The margins are a beautiful place filled with quick notes about life’s lessons and the seeds of relationships that will continue to grow.

This phrase, “the margins”, is new to me and I love it.  It’s the space, I’ve realized, where most of my interactions with students take place as an administrator.  Whether at lunch time or recess, before or after school, in the hallways during passing time or while lined up for the bathroom, the margins are where I have a prime chance to build relationships with students.  The margins, just like the margins on an essay, are the blank space around the academic day; the perfect place for informal learning and extra opportunities.  

I’ve never really sat down and thought about my time in the margins before.  As I reflect on the concept of “the margins” I realize that they have been something very important to me ever since my first year as a teacher.  As a teacher I would eat lunch with my students frequently, I’d play basketball or soccer at recess, and I’d walk students home to carry their tuba or meet their families.  I did all of these things because I wanted to get to know my students and build relationships with them, building relationships has always been a priority for me but I never realized how much of that work was done in the margins until now.

My margins have changed over the years but how I spend my time there hasn’t.  

Where are your margins? How do you spend your time in the margins?

Living Through History

Last week we made history!  Welcoming students back to the building last Monday was perhaps the best day of my career.  It was exciting and it was hectic, it was energizing and it was exhausting.  Many of you told me about your first day jitters and I was right there with you, but in the end the energy our students brought to the building was incredible and it helped us all overcome that nervousness!!  

As we head into week two, we welcome back our 7th grade students and prepare for parent-teacher conferences.  Before we jump ahead to this week though, I think it’s the perfect time to step back and take a breath.  What we just did last week was incredible.  We welcomed almost 1000 students back to the building for the first time in over a year, think about that for a second…it’s wild!  

I want to encourage you to stop and just think about last week.  Think about all of the happiness and positivity that our students brought back to the building with them.  I watched kindergarteners skip down the hallway and listened as sixth graders laughed with friends they hadn’t seen in person in almost a year.  I watched light bulbs go on over kids’ heads as they learned new concepts in Math and listened as students used evidence to defend their argument in Social Studies.  I watched as a finger patiently followed along with the text during a read aloud and I gave our more air-high-fives than I can count.  And while I’ve seen and done all of these things countless times before (except the “air” part of the high-fives), each moment like this was extra special this past week…it was, easily, the best “first week” ever!!

So, before week two begins, take a moment to step back, breath, and appreciate all of the history we just made.  Focus on those moments that you couldn’t get in the remote setting and appreciate them for a few minutes.  (If you’re a 7th or 8th grade teacher, take notice of all those special moments as they happen for the first time over the coming weeks!!) 

Then, once you’re done reflecting on those special moments, congratulate yourself.  You did it.  It was your hard work, perseverance, and dedication to your students that made all of those moments special.  Your efforts made the return to in-person learning possible and exciting.  Your dedication to your students and the relationships that you built remotely are what made last week such an overwhelming success for the whole community!!  Thank you and congratulations!!!

Making History

Tomorrow we will make history.  

Tomorrow we will welcome more than 1000 students back into our building for the first time in almost a year!  At the same time we will continue engaging more than 400 kids remotely.  Throughout this pandemic we have heard (and probably used) the phrase “unprecedented” too many times.  The opportunity to open our doors tomorrow and welcome our students back into the building after almost a year away is certainly unprecedented and it is exciting too! 

Throughout this pandemic you have been asked to do things that have never been done before on multiple occasions.  Every time that request has come, you’ve responded and shown over and over why this staff is so amazing!  Tomorrow will be another of those moments but I hope it is also a chance for you to receive some of the much deserved payoff that comes with being a teacher.  The energy that students bring to a school is unmatched.  No sporting event, concert, or parade can match the excitement, spirit, and joy that comes with a school full of students!!   I know that energy will help me to begin replenishing that “bucket” that has been drawn down throughout this year…soak up that energy and let it fuel you!!!

Our students are lucky to have such an amazing group of educators waiting for them to arrive tomorrow, whether in person or remotely.  While there will be some bumps in the road as they learn to navigate their way through our new version of what school looks like, it will be exciting too!

Thank you for all that you do for our students…it can’t be said enough, you’re an amazing group of educators!!!  Soak up the energy tomorrow and enjoy the process of making history!!!

Making Teams Work

This past weekend was a “doc weekend”.  That means I had 16 hours of classes.  It also means that I had a lot of interesting conversations and interactions with classmates that made me stop and think (versus the normal “goo goo, gah gah” conversations that I have on the weekend with Clayton!)  One of those conversations from this weekend was especially inspirational because the topic was something I’ve focused on a lot over my career (and life)…teamwork.  

Throughout my career in education as well as with my background in sports, teamwork has always been a big focus.  This week’s conversation centered around the roles on a team and working to help make sure that everyone is comfortable in their role, while also meeting the needs of the whole team.  We’re all members of a team (maybe even multiple teams).  We all have a role on those teams, sometimes that role is assigned and sometimes those roles are assumed.  How team members work together dictates how successful the team will be as a collective whole.  

On a sports team it is often easy to know what role each team member plays.  Usually everyone is assigned a position, there are plays that dictate what each team member does, and coaches tell team members how to contribute.  However, in the context of the real world there aren’t always coaches who tell everyone what to do, we often have to figure it out within the team.  Working together as a group to set norms and expectations helps create a space for people to explore their role and support each other.  Starting from a “safe space” of understanding, each team member can identify their own role on the team.

I’d like to challenge you to take a few minutes and think about the team(s) you’re on and what role you play on that team.  If you’re not sure (that’s totally fine!) take a minute the next time you meet with your team to ask how you can best help.  Identify areas of need within the team and think about how you can contribute in those places.  Everyone is going to fill different roles on the team, that’s a good thing.  If everyone had the same strengths and played the same roles, then your team would only be strong in certain areas.  By accessing everyone’s strengths and communicating amongst the team you will be stronger and better equipped to face challenges together!  

It’s Time to Cut!

It seems like we’ve been planning for re-entry for years now!  In reality it’s been months but we’ve gone through so many iterations for some plans that it seems like we’ve had the same conversations hundreds of times.  We’re getting to the point where it is time to implement our plans and start letting the rubber meet the road. 

I think we all know the saying, “measure twice, cut once”.  This advice is meant to reduce mistakes by checking your plans before making final decisions.  At this point, for many things, we’ve measured over and over again.  It’s time to start making some cuts.  

Tomorrow, after our health presentation, I will be sharing the re-entry plan that will be submitted to the health department as part of our re-entry process.  There are a lot of pieces to it and they’ve all been measured many times (there are also still a few things that need to be added, it’s a living document).  As we start making some “cuts” we are hopeful, yet confident, that our measurements have been well made.  However, we’re also aware that we will need to make some modifications and additions as we go.  

There is often a fine line with projects at this scale and with this level of importance.  That fine line lies between measuring too much and not measuring enough.  In some ways I feel like we’ve measured some of these procedures too much.  I have to, however, remind myself that throughout that process we’ve found mistakes, identified areas of concern, and made improvements at almost every step in the process.  As we begin to “make cuts” and take on the implementation stage we will be looking to revise as needed but not completely start over, in order to maintain the integrity of the overall plan.  

In the classroom we often try new lessons and take risks.  We plan and try to anticipate the potential pitfalls.  Inevitably some lessons are a huge success and others need some modifications midway through the lesson.  However, it is the very rare lesson where we just throw it out and totally start over.  Our hope with where we are in the planning process is that we can avoid the need to start over.  Modifications will happen but hopefully we won’t have to abandon anything completely!!

We are less than two weeks away from students returning to our building.  I appreciate all of the support you’ve given to this planning process and will continue to give as we move to the implementation phase.  Your willingness to engage in conversation, raise your hand with questions and concerns, and offer potential solutions has made the planning process much more manageable (especially for someone who’s never seen this building “operational” before!)  

We’ve measured twice, now it is time to cut!  

Coaching The Super Bowl Everyday

Between the cold weather and the ongoing pandemic there wasn’t much to do but hang out in the house this past weekend.  Over the last year we’ve found ourselves hanging out around the house a lot and because of that we’ve also spent a lot of time on Facetime connecting with family and friends.  This past weekend both Amy and I connected with some of our best friends and compared parenting stories.  One of my best friends had his first child about three months before Clayton was born and Amy’s best friend’s second child is only four days older than Clayton.  We did what new parents do and compared notes, re-lived milestones together, and shared tips with each other.  Something that struck me after talking with both of our friends was how different all of our kids were. Even given a difference of only four days, the milestones and other “achievements” of the last six months were all very different!

I was thinking about the differences between the three kids when I started watching the Super Bowl preview shows and listening to the analysts talk about all of the different “weapons” on each of the teams.  They were going through a rather in depth analysis of what it took to plan for each of these “special” players. As a wounded Packers fan I eventually tuned them out and began thinking about how all of this compared to being a teacher.  Teachers really are similar to professional sports coaches in a lot of ways.  Just as coaches have to game plan, teachers have to think about each student, their strengths and weaknesses, and plan to take advantage of their strengths and work to support them in their areas of weakness.  

While teachers are similar to professional sports coaches in a lot of ways, there is one big difference – teachers aren’t coaching the most elite students in the world.  Just as I realized when Amy and I spoke with our friends this weekend, every child is very different and they all develop in very different ways.  Teachers need to prepare for students who have a wide variety of skills, resources, and backgrounds.  Some students are on grade level while others are somewhere above or below grade level.  Differentiating to meet the needs of a classroom full of students is much, much harder than game planning for Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes!

The Super Bowl is great entertainment and I’m thankful for the distraction.  However, I’m 1000 times more thankful for all of the planning, practice, and coaching that you do for and with our students every single day.  We’ve all been through the craziest year imaginable and things are about to get a lot more interesting.  With you at the helm, however, I’m confident that each and everyone of our students will have success.  No matter what their strengths or weaknesses, when they reach certain milestones, or if they’re remote or in-person, I know that you’ll meet them at their levels and help them to grow and meet their goals!!  

Thank you for preparing for a Super Bowl each and every day!!

Making the Move to “Zoomers” and “Roomers”

Ever since we made the decision to return to a remote/hybrid/concurrent format with students my mind has been working overtime trying to figure out what that is going to look like.  I know I’m preaching to the choir with this one, you’ve all been doing the same thing!  

This weekend I turned to Twitter to see what others are doing.  It’s always helpful to hear what other teachers who are already in this boat are doing with their kids.  To start off, even though we don’t use Zoom, I like the way many of them refer to their students as “Zoomers” and/or “Roomers”.  I’m not sure “Meeters” and “Roomers” have the same panache but I imagine many of you are much more creative than I am and will come up with something that makes sense and has cachet!  

I wanted to share some of the (potentially) more applicable tips that I found.  I’m very aware that not everything is going to work for everyone.  Every teacher is going to approach their “Zoomers and Roomers” a bit differently.  So, with that said, here are some tips from other teachers around the world (in no particular order):

(Important note: In some cases I’ve included a Twitter handle to give proper acknowledgement of someone’s ideas.  I, however, don’t know any of these people…I just thought they had good ideas worth sharing.  This is not an endorsement of the Tweeter, but rather the idea they shared in one particular Tweet.)

“Design for the (Zoomers).  Every time I struggle, it’s because I haven’t kept that starting point in mind.” – @HansDoerr…something along these lines was mentioned many times.

“Reach out if you need help immediately.” – @OCTDickinson

“Have (Zoomers) confirm that they can see and hear. Mix it up to call on both types of learners.” – @jc4_ed

“Instructionally pace yourself!” – @rhonore36

“Try to maintain it as one social space, one class, and not treat (Zoomers) and (Roomers) as separate.” – @yerfologist

“Clear and specific procedures for (Zoomers) and (Roomers) is key.  I often present these side by side.  What does this look like if I’m (a Zoomer) or (a Roomer)? This gives the students clear guidelines for how to be successful.” – @IamMissRamos

“I wish I had my students practice where to find things.” – @MrsIverson801

“The 1st day is the hardest and you can do it!!” – @Teacherkknudson

Here are a few more things that came up multiple times in all sorts of different tweets:

Give yourself grace.  Give yourself permission to make mistakes.

Have a student keep an eye on the Google Meet/chat to make note if someone has raised a hand or asked a question.

Be intentional about calling on both groups of students.

Remember that Zoomers may not be able to hear all of the discussion in the classroom.  Repeat questions or statements made by Roomers.

Have a clear agenda and share it daily.

I know there are a lot more things to consider but I wanted to share some of the good ideas I’ve seen.  As you come together with your teams and continue this planning process, please don’t hesitate to share good ideas you’ve had for adapting to the “new normal”.  

As always, thank you for all that you do to help our students find success. It is inspiring to see all of the work that you do and all of the growth our students are showing!!!