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!!!  

What inspires you?

What inspires you?  

I’d like you to think about this question in a few different ways.  

First, think about it in a general sense – What inspires you to get moving?  To get things done?  To be productive?  For me, the biggest inspiration for me to get on a roll and really be productive is actually getting something done.  I know that seems obvious, so let me explain.  When there is something big that I need to get done, whether it’s a research paper or a big project around the house, the easiest way for me to get the inspiration to tackle those big tasks is to accomplish a small task first.  Typically, I’ll wash some dishes, fold some laundry, or vacuum the house.   The feeling of accomplishment is enough to inspire me to keep going and tackle the bigger project that previously seemed daunting.  What inspires you to get going?  Music?  Coffee?  Exercise?  Everyone has their own inspiration…what is yours?

The next way I want you to think about the question, “what inspires you?” is in a deeper, more existential sense.  What inspires you to continue being the person that you are?  What keeps you moving forward?  I don’t know when this started or where it “came from” but for as long as I can remember I’ve always been inspired to learn.  I find joy and excitement in new experiences, learning about people, trying new things, and learning about other ways of thinking.  (Side note: I was never really inspired by school but that’s probably a topic for another day!) For many years, traveling and living overseas allowed me to continuously be inspired as I engaged with all the new people, experiences, and different ways of thinking.  Recently I’ve been inspired by Clayton and learning how to be a parent…I’ve learned more in six months than in 10 years of living and traveling overseas!!  What drives you?  Some people are inspired by money, fame, or power…others by giving back to their community, their religious beliefs, or politics.  We’ve all got something…what makes your ears perk up when you hear someone talking about it?

Lastly, I want you to think about what inspires you at work.  What keeps you coming back?  What puts that twinkle in your eye and a smile on your face?  As an educator it has been a couple things for me over the years.  At first I strictly fed off the energy of the students.  Seeing their faces, watching them learn, and seeing the light bulbs go off when a difficult concept finally clicked, this drove me everyday for years.  In fact, this still drives me a lot of the time!  However, when I have a really good philosophical conversation about education I’ve realized that it will light a fire inside me that burns for a rather long time!!  I’ve been lucky to have had some amazing colleagues over the years who have pushed my thinking, helped me open my mind, and encouraged me to see things differently.  I’m inspired by those people and the conversations we’ve had to this day, there are many lessons that come back around quite often!  I’d imagine as educators you’re all inspired by the students as well, it’s really the driving force behind the work we do.  Are there other parts of being an educator that inspire you?

As we begin the second semester, take a minute to reflect on what inspires you.  Once you’ve identified that, focus your energy in that direction.  There is nothing like being inspired to excite the mind and energize the body!!  

Physically, but NOT Socially, Distant

As you know we’ve been doing a lot of planning in preparation for an eventual return of students to our building.  The vast majority of that planning has been logistics – hallway traffic flow, room setup, cafeteria capacity, parent drop off, etc.  One of the goals with each of these logistical topics is to do our best to maintain a safe amount of space between people.  A term that has become rather popular to describe the process of creating a safe amount of space is “social distancing”.  It is a term I’ve come to despise, mostly because when taken literally is it the exact opposite of what we should be doing right now! 

The space that we need to be creating between humans is not “social” in nature but rather “physical”.  We should be (and I will be) calling the process of ensuring a safe amount of actual, physical space between people “physical distancing”.  We need the opposite of “social distancing” right now, we need to be “social connecting”.

COVID-19 has led many people to feel isolated and, in some terrible cases, actually be isolated from other humans.  If I had to guess, and if one could somehow quantify it, these past 10 months have been devastating for the overall mental health of the world.  We have all been isolated and kept from our normal social interactions in some way, shape, or form.  I’m sure we could all share stories, either our own or of friends and family, about the emotional struggles suffered during these times of stay-at-home orders, remote schooling, and reduced or even canceled family gatherings.  The last thing we need right now is to further socially distance ourselves!

As we move forward you’ll hear/read the phrase “physically distance” with regard to our efforts to maintain safe amounts of space between each other here at Gifford.  I would also like that phrase to remind you that we need to be working hard, for ourselves and our students, to connect socially (while remaining physically distanced of course).  Many of you have been working hard to create a remotely-social environment for you and your students.  I’ve seen a lot of opportunities for students to hang out remotely at lunch time, during office hours, before school, and after school.  I love joining in on the wide variety of morning meeting rituals that create valuable opportunities for students to share and connect with you and their classmates.  All of these examples help create a socially-connected school community; that is who we are and who we will continue to be once we move beyond the need to be a physically distant community. 

This week we can return to the building for the first time since Thanksgiving and I’ve never been more mindful of the need for social connection.  Working remotely has been very challenging for me and I can only imagine the same is true for many of you.  While we will continue to observe safe physical distancing measures, I want to encourage you to create opportunities to engage socially with your colleagues.  Wear your masks, stay safely distanced, but connect with others.  While we work to physically distance, I’d like us to also work to socially connect (safely, of course!)  Gifford is strong because we are a community, a tightly knit community…we must work to persist as such despite the importance of physical distancing.

Starting Over in Schools?

I recently came across an opinion piece in the New York Times by Dr. Jal Mehta, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  In this piece he discusses how schooling might look different (or should look different) when the need for virtual learning goes away and we return to face-to-face learning.  Dr. Mehta specializes in helping schools transition from rote learning to getting students to a deeper level of engagement with their learning and he believes that, “It’s looking as though all schools should be able to open fully in the fall. The pandemic — and the pause in institutionalized schooling — has helped us to see what should change when that happens.”   

Dr. Mehta’s piece is part of a series called Let’s Start Over from the New York Times, which takes a look at what the “new normal” may look like in various sectors and aspects of society.  

I’m going to keep it brief today because I think Dr. Mehta’s piece is much more worthy of reading than anything I could write!  While I don’t agree fully with all of his ideas, there are certainly some very thought provoking points to consider.  I’ll include a few of the highlights (he goes deeper into each of these points) but strongly encourage you to have a look at the whole thing…and then I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on any or all of his ideas!!

“The first lesson that the pandemic has revealed is the limits of one-size-fits-all schooling…When we reopen schools, could we do so in a way that creates different kinds of opportunities for all kinds of students — introverts and extroverts, fast processors and reflective thinkers?”

“A second lesson is the necessity of making schools more human.”

“A third critical issue is that we cannot set the needs of students against the needs of adults.”

“Fourth, there is the question of how to catch students up on what they missed during the pandemic.”

“There has been considerable attention to the health crisis, and some to the economic crisis. But there hasn’t been a serious commitment to the corresponding educational crisis. We need to rebuild and reimagine schools. We now have a chance to do both.”

Resolutions 2021

Happy New Year!!  

It’s been a long time coming and it’s finally here…2021!  While we’re not out of the woods yet as far as “C-word” is concerned, we’re hopefully seeing the light at the end of the tunnel get brighter each day.  That hope fills me with excitement and helps energize me when I think ahead to what this year may bring.  

I’ve thought about resolutions in the past and even successfully stuck to a couple over the years. If you’re anything like me, you’ve learned through your own trial and error that sticking to resolutions is really difficult.  Three tricks that I’ve learned and now use as a basis for my resolutions are: resolutions need to have an element of regularity included, they need to be things that don’t require you to fundamentally change who you are, and they shouldn’t be “all or nothing”.

Resolutions work best (at least for me) when they are essentially a repeated goal…a small, manageable, daily goal.  Two of the years in which I was most successful at sticking to them, I made resolutions that fit this description.  One year I committed to taking a picture and reflecting on something positive in my life each day.  This took me 10-15 minutes each day.  The other year I committed to 10 minutes of mindfulness each day.  The short time commitment made it manageable and the regular nature of the goal forced it into my daily routine.  These goals were small and manageable (in terms of time commitment) and happened every day, eventually becoming so ingrained in my routine that I didn’t have to remind myself to do them. 

These two goals didn’t force me to immediately change who I was but they did, over time, lead me to grow as a person.  I’ve found that if you aim for a goal that forces you to fundamentally change who you are immediately, then you will eventually lose the will power necessary to maintain your goal.  For example, the ever popular New Year’s diet that I’ve committed to oh-so-many times never seems to work.  Asking someone who loves food (like me!) to completely shift their eating and exercise habits on a dime can only last so long…until their will power is exhausted.  These previously mentioned goals did, however, lead me to change as a person over time as the habit of focusing on the positive moments in life and practicing mindfulness regularly changed the way I viewed the world and my place in it.  

I’d be lying if I told you that I completed each of those resolutions each and every day!  For the daily photo, there were certainly a few days sprinkled throughout the year where I was scrambling at the end of the day or perhaps (shh!) I used a picture from a different day.  When it comes to mindfulness practice, I still do that most mornings but there have been times when things pop up or the snooze alarm gets slightly abused…and that’s okay!  By giving myself permission to have an “off-day” I don’t totally ruin my resolution, which allows me to jump back on track the following day without ruining the momentum.  

As you think about a New Year’s Resolution for 2021 I’d encourage you to remember these three tips.  Make goals regular and manageable (daily is best), don’t try changing your entire life cold-turkey, and give yourself the grace to miss your goal for a day here and there (don’t let this become a habit though).  Even if you’re someone who chooses not to set a resolution as we enter 2021, think about how this can impact your work with your students or even your PPG.  If you’re realistic, focus on the baby-steps, and allow for a slip-up or two, then you will have a much more realistic chance of meeting your goals and maintaining your resolution!  

My resolution for 2021 is to build up to an hour each day for making myself better.  I know that I can’t start at an hour right out of the gates, it’s just not going to happen.  So, I’m committing to at least 15 minutes for the first two weeks and at least 30 for the next two.  I’ll adjust as necessary moving forward until I’m at an hour regularly.  This time is going to be for exercising, trying new recipes, reading (I’ve fallen off completely since Clayton was born), researching and doctorate work, and other activities that will help me be better mentally, physically, or otherwise.  

Finally, I’ve realized that if I share my goal with people I have a much better chance of sticking to it, especially if others ask me about it and hold me accountable!  So, please ask me about how my goal is going at some point…it will give me a boost when you do!! 

Early Reflections on 2020

It’s that time of year, the time of year when you (hopefully) start slowing down to give yourself a break and enjoy some rest and relaxation.  It’s also the time of year when many of us reflect on the past year and begin looking ahead to the next one.  As I’ve been reflecting on the year that was 2020, there’s been a lot to think about!  However, as I look ahead to 2021 and think about how I want to work to improve myself in the coming year, I keep coming back to something I saw on social media recently.  

A friend of mine shared something that really struck a chord with me and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.  Reminders for Hard Days really hit me when I first saw it and it rings true every time I look at it.  The funny thing is, that each time a look at it, a different item hits home the hardest. 2020 has been hard for so many reasons and at any given moment it seems like (at least) one of these reminders is spot on. I liked these reminders so much, I print   ed them out and put them on the wall in my office at home (I’ll do the same in the building once we’re back there!) 

As the calendar turns to 2021 and I think about how I want to grow for/in the new year, I’ve decided that these reminders as well as What to Tell Myself When I Get Discouraged will be the inspiration for my New Year’s Resolution.  I’ve come to the realization that some of the hardest days of 2020 were days when I felt discouraged for one reason for another.  In the past I’ve focused on mindfulness as a resolution as well as focusing on the positive with daily reminders of the small things that make each day so beautiful.  Yet, despite all of that practice there are still moments when life (especially in 2020) seems to be a bit heavier than one would like.  

Over the next couple weeks I will continue reflecting on the past year and I will, no doubt, come back to those reminders often as I do so.  If you’re in the mood for some reflection over the winter break, I’d encourage you to do the same.  2020 was a crazy year but it doesn’t have to be a lost year.  There are many lessons we can learn from this unforgettable experience.  

Enjoy the holiday.  Relax, unwind, and spend lots of time away from your computer!!  2021 is a new year and it’s going to be the best year of all time!!!!  

St. Nick and the Power of Believing

This past weekend many of you likely celebrated St. Nick.  An interesting side note, this tradition is much more popular in the Midwest than other parts of the country, likely due to the local/historical connections with European countries like Germany, Poland, and The Netherlands.  Anyway, St. Nick has always been the big kickoff to the Christmas season for my family.  Another tradition that has developed in my family is watching The Santa Clause, which gets my vote for best Christmas movie!  This weekend, as my wife and I watched Bernard and Charlie try to convince Tim Allen that he actually IS Santa, I began thinking about the power of believing.

For those of you who haven’t seen this movie in a while (I don’t even want to think about the possibility that someone hasn’t seen it at all!) I’ll refresh you quickly.  Tim Allen’s character doesn’t believe in Santa, and then he becomes Santa.  He struggles with the new reality he is facing but eventually embraces it (I don’t think that’s a spoiler!)  Some of the other characters have a hard time believing in Santa as well but, by the end, those who are able to truly believe are rewarded for their belief.  So where am I going with this?

As educators we work very hard, investing a lot of time, energy, and emotion into our students.  However, on occasion, we lose faith and stop believing that a particular student CAN be successful.  We lower our expectations, we stop investing emotionally, or we work to “get them through”.  This doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens.  We don’t do it intentionally, but we do it.  If we’re being honest, it’s natural.  With all that is demanded of us as educators, we do the best we can to meet the needs of all of our students but sometimes we subconsciously lose that faith.

What happens, however, when we don’t lose that faith and we continue to truly believe in those students who would likely slip through the cracks?  That’s when the miracles happen.  It may take a long time, it may never happen, but when it happens it changes lives.  It changes students’ lives, it changes teachers’ lives.  When I got into education it was because I wanted to be a coach and thought it was a natural connection.  I stayed in education, however, because of these students…the ones who needed someone to believe in them!  These are the students I’m still in touch with today, they’re the ones who message me when exciting things happen in their life, and they’re the ones who give me the faith that ALL students can be successful.  

I’ve gotten to know this staff and community over the last 4+ months and I’d be shocked if there were any kids being left to slip through the cracks.  The hard work and support of our students has been next level this school year.  Thank you for believing, truly believing, in all of our students, always.  The joy for learning that I’ve seen as I visit classes, the smiles each morning, and the tireless effort from each and every one of you this year helps strengthen my faith in education.  Our students are lucky to have such amazing teachers working to ensure their success!!!  

Make these last couple weeks before break the best weeks of the year so far!!  It’s been a crazy journey this year but we’re here, staring down the winter break…it’s the time of the year for believing 🙂