Facing Change: What’s Your Approach

On Friday our 8th grade students took a big step in their journey toward high school.  They joined Lincoln Middle School 8th graders for presentations from the various Choice Schools they will have the option of applying to, for enrollment next school year.  This is usually the time in their journey when a number of students begin facing a certain amount of anxiety. It’s not high school that is necessarily the scary part (although I’m sure it is intimidating for many) but the inevitable change that is staring them in the face.  Change itself is hard and many of our students have been at KTEC for a long time, many of them their entire school career, this transition won’t be easy!

I can’t say I’ve ever met someone who finds change easy.  It rarely feels good leaving the known for the unknown. Change can be big or small, quick or slow, expected or out of the blue.  No matter how it happens, change is difficult. I was reminded of this recently when I read the book Who Moved My Cheese?: An amazing way to deal with change in your work and in your life.  This wonderfully simple book is full of great lessons on change that helped me clarify my thinking on change and how to approach it in a rational way.

This book takes a concept (change) that is a challenge for many people and, through a short story, offers a user-friendly guide to successfully navigating the maze of change.  Like any good book, this one was adapted into a movie (the book is better, as usual!) that can be seen here if you’ve got 11 minutes.  While the short movie gives you the general message of the story I think reading the book was a better experience because it gave me the time to pause and reflect as I went along.  The story includes seven important lessons. I’d like to share those lessons with you today but need to offer a little context first.

In the story, the main characters live in a maze.  They eat Cheese, which symbolizes anything we think we need in order to be happy.  For the mice in the story, Cheese was cheese. However, for us humans, Cheese could be anything from a rewarding job to a happy family or being a homeowner, anything that we think we might need to be happy.  As the story plays out and the characters learn important lessons, one character writes the lessons on the wall of the maze – the literal ‘handwriting on the wall’. Here are the seven big lessons from the story:

  1. Change happens (The Cheese will keep moving)
  2. Anticipate change (Get ready for the Cheese to move)
  3. Monitor change (Smell the Cheese often so you know when it is getting old)
  4. Adapt to change quickly (The quicker you let go of old Cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new Cheese)
  5. Change (Move with the Cheese)
  6. Enjoy change (Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new Cheese)
  7. Be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again and again (The Cheese will continue to move)

(Johnson, S., 2002, p. 74)

As our 8th graders begin to think about change in their life, it’s a great time for us to reflect on how we deal with change in our lives.  I’d like to encourage you to contemplate how you manage change in your life, both your personal life and your professional life. Feel free to start by watching the movie from above.  Better yet, if you’d like to borrow this book I have a copy in my office that I’d be more than happy to share (it’s super short, less than 100 pages and like size 18 font!)

Change is difficult for everyone.  Acknowledging that is the first step.  From there we must recognize how we currently face the challenges that change brings, then we are able to adapt and grow from there.  I talked last week about reflecting and thinking about growth, thinking about change is a great tool for doing just that!!  

Here’s the book if you’re interested:

Johnson, S. (2002). Who moved my cheese?: An amazing way to deal with change in your work and in your life. New York: Putnam.

 

Tis the Season…For Reflection

I’ve been at KTEC for one month now,  in some ways it feels like only yesterday when I started but in other ways it feels like I’ve been here for years!  The past four weeks have been a wonderful experience and I’ve learned a lot in a very short time, with much more to go.  I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting throughout this process and will continue to do so moving forward. I appreciate all of the feedback I’ve received from you as a staff, whether written or through conversations we’ve had in person.  Please keep the feedback coming, it helps me grow and I love it!

Usually I write about reflection in the beginning of January, after New Year’s, when everyone seems to be reflecting back on the past year and setting goals for the next 365 days (366 in 2020!)  However, I’ve realized that waiting until January is too late. If we are going to truly stop and reflect in an authentic way, it will take time. Reflection isn’t as easy as looking at yourself in the mirror one time and then walking away, reflection is a process.

I would like to challenge you to take the next few weeks to stop, multiple times, and reflect back on the beginning of this school year.  To really do this effectively I would recommend setting aside about 15 minutes, twice a week for the next three weeks. Use that time to make notes for yourself about the good and the bad, think about what could have led to those specific moments/days, and then plan for future successes.  Here is how I would recommend going through that process.

Session One:  Create a list of your biggest successes this school year.  Include notes about very positive school days, lessons, and student/parent/colleague interactions.

Session Two:  Create a list of moments that stick out to you as less than ideal. Consider risks that you took but didn’t turn out as you’d hoped, lessons that flopped, and student/parent/colleague interactions that could’ve gone better.

Session Three:  Focus on the “why” of list one.  Why did those positive moments happen?  Why was your role essential in creating that positive experience?  Why was this moment so positive?

Session Four:  Focus on the “why” of list two.  Why didn’t that moment/day go as you’d planned?  Why will it be different the next time? Why is it important to try this again?

Session Five:  Using list one and the associated “whys”, think about how you can create additional positive experiences like those you’ve listed.  Create a list of successes for the future, be specific and make notes about how and when you’ll ensure these occur.

Session Six:  Using list two and the associated “whys”, develop a plan to try these again and improve on them and/or develop a plan to avoid these pitfalls in the future.  Be specific, focus on what you can do to create success.

The process of reflection is essential in all that we do.  By taking 30 minutes over the course of each of the next three weeks to think back on the start of the school year and plan for success in the future, you will give yourself a road map for returning in January.  One of the biggest reasons that people regularly fail at meeting their New Year’s Resolutions is because they don’t properly reflect and give time to developing a plan for success. Give yourself that time, develop your goals through an honest reflective process, and make all 366 days of 2020 amazing!!

 

Power of Positivity

Last week Tuesday I offered our staff a challenge, to send students to me with positive office referrals, and I couldn’t have been more grateful for the way that they stepped up!!  I was swamped with positive office referrals all week. If anyone saw me at all it was probably when I was dropping a student off in their classroom after calling home with them, it was a busy week but it was awesome!!!  In just four days our staff wrote positive office referrals for more than 10% of the school! WOW!

Take a second and think about the impact that this had on our community over the last four days.  10% of our students had a positive call home, their families got to celebrate them, teachers got to celebrate them, and their classmates got to celebrate them.  The power of positivity is a real thing, you could feel the positive energy flowing through the hallways by the end of the week.

With just a day and a half left with students before a much needed break I know energy levels are low and patience is wearing thin.  However, I’m going to ask our staff to stay focused on the positive and keep those positive office referrals coming!  

Short week, short post, but if you’re interested in learning about the impact of thinking positively then give this TED Talk a try, great stuff!

 

You’re a Champion!

Yesterday we said goodbye to my wife’s parents after a wonderful weekend showing them around Milwaukee, eating great food, and catching up.  As soon as they were out the door my wife started digging through the two suitcases of memories that they brought her from storage. There were old dolls, her baby blanket, and lots of old notes, projects and assignments from her school years.  While watching and listening to her sort through all of those artifacts it struck me at how many memories she had of specific projects, teachers, and classes going all the way back to elementary school. She made positive comments about numerous teachers, laughed as she remembered the fun times with classmates, and continuously reflected on how much she enjoyed school.  It was a great reminder of the impact we are having on our students every single day!

In education we don’t always get to see the payoff.  Sometimes it takes years for the lessons to take hold and for students to really see their learning.  20 some years from now there will probably be a former student of yours laughing and smiling as they look back on their time in your class.  Not only is the work you do helping our students learn important skills and academic lessons for their future but you’re also creating a love of learning and fostering a sense of curiosity that will drive them for the rest of their life! 

Every day you are giving your students a gift that they may not be able to appreciate just yet, but you give it nonetheless.  You are all champions for your students, each and every day you work hard to ensure that your students have every opportunity to be successful.  You make a difference in your students’ lives. It is inspiring to see all that you do for them!!  

If you have just eight minutes to be inspired today please watch this Ted Talk by Rita Pierson.  You may have seen it, over 10 million people have, but it’s worth watching again (I think I’ve seen it at least 10 times myself).  She is inspirational beyond words and may just give you the boost you need on a Monday morning 🙂

Taking Care of Number One

With two weeks in the books at KTEC and as grateful and excited as I was after one week I think I’m probably 10 times more so after week two!  It is such an energizing experience to join a community that cares so deeply for their students as well as building a positive culture inside of the school.

All of that being said, I know that we are in the middle of the time of year when everything as an educator is harder.  You’ve been working tirelessly for two and a half months, the Halloween sugar high is wearing off, the holidays are fast approaching, the weather is getting colder, immune systems are being tested, and patience is in high demand…and what’s with all this snow?!?!

For many educators this is the most challenging part of the school year for all of the reasons above and many more.  It is the time of year that we let down our guard and our willpower flags.  This week I want to remind you that the best and most important way to get through this time of year is you – taking care of you!

Yesterday I was texting with a good friend and former colleague who is a principal in Paris and he was telling me how ready his staff is for the upcoming winter break. Remember, you are not alone, teachers around the world are hitting the proverbial wall right about now, it is completely normal!

We all take care of ourselves in different ways.  Personally, going to the gym and cooking are the two things that best help me relieve stress as well as help me stay physically healthy.  To unwind I like to read, spend time with family, and watch sports (Go Pack!).  I know many of you probably have different ways to relax, destress, and keep yourself healthy.  This week I’m hoping to remind you to focus on those things, they’re SO important at this time of year!

If you have 12 minutes  to invest in yourself today (or any day) I’d highly recommend watching this Ted talk and then taking the remaining two minutes to set a small goal for yourself related to the conversation…you’ll be thankful you did!

Reflection as a Tool

The end of the year is a busy time and there is certainly no shortage of things to do.  So, I’m not going to ask you to do anything new right now! However, I want to encourage you to take some time for the most important tool for professional growth that is available to you…reflection.  

Reflecting on our professional life is what allows us to grow as educators.  I realize that most people don’t think they have time to sit down each and every day to reflect on their work, but it certainly would be valuable if you did!  Taking time to reflect about a particular lesson or unit allows for immediate and relevant feedback. In many cases you won’t teach that lesson or unit again for a whole year, what specific information will you be able to remember a year from now?  Taking the time to stop and reflect will cement the ideas you’ve had about how to improve your lesson or unit.

“Hey Bret, that’s a great idea and all but we’ve only got one week of school left, right?”  Exactly, and that’s why I’m mentioning this now. Reflecting takes time and it is something that, if not scheduled, will be hard to commit adequate time to.  So, make a plan now and commit to setting aside 10 minutes at the end of each day or during a prep period. This time will not be wasted, I promise. You’ll begin to see the payoff very quickly.  Taking time to stop and reflect will help you to grow as a teacher and improve the learning experience for your students.

I strongly recommend taking the time to reflect after each lesson and making those notes for yourself to look back on in the future.

Some things you might reflect on after a lesson:

  • What went well with that lesson?  
  • What could be improved?
  • Did the kids have any feedback about today’s lesson (the content:  i.e. it was really hard, really easy, etc)?
  • Did you try a new strategy or activity today?  How did it go? What can you do better next time?
  • Were my students engaged throughout the lesson?  If not, where did I lose them? What can be done to prevent that next time?

As you go through the process of reflecting on a daily basis you’ll improve and it will become second nature.  When it comes time to teach those lessons again you should start with your reflection notes and then look at the lesson with those thoughts fresh in your mind.  Going through this process not only helps you to grow in the future but you’ll immediately begin to grow as some of the reflections will be ideas you can implement in your very next lesson.  

Plan the time to reflect and hold it as sacrosanct, don’t give it up for anything!  I promise, you’ll be glad you did!!!

Relationships and Adaptability: Tools of the Revolution

Last week we enjoyed videos and performances by our Year 12 students as we got ready to send them off to their next chapter.  As I watched those videos and thought about the high school experience through the eyes of a Year 12 student, I tried to figure out what they felt like they learned in their time here.  I’m sure if you asked them formally they would mention things like Physics or English but those certainly aren’t the things they focused on in their videos.

Relationships.  Without a doubt, relationships were the main focus of each of the six videos shared by the Year 12 students.  They celebrated the strong bonds formed over the last few years. They recognized the ups and downs, rejoicing in the unity of their particular cohorts. The power and strength of those bonds built through hard work and resilience demonstrates just how important it is for the success of students to have strong social-emotional skills.  

Our counselors have recently done a lot of work to help incorporate some of these skills into the every day curriculum.  That work is an essential part of our school’s mission but also to the what we’re trying to accomplish academically. Students who “demonstrate integrity, respect and empathy toward others” and “respond with confidence and reason to an ever changing world” aren’t created by studying a textbook, doing lab experiments or writing research papers.  These skills lie deep within the social-emotional lessons that our students need to learn. Kudos to the work our counselors have done recently to integrate more of these skills and lessons into the curriculum, there is still more to do though and the work must continue.

The other thing that came through in the Year 12 videos, albeit more implicitly, is the idea of being adaptable.  Many of those stories start off highlighting the nervousness of being put into a new cohort, working with different people and being completely out of their comfort zones.  Over time, however, as they learned to adapt and find their place within their new classes, these Year 12s showed an incredible ability to adapt and make the best of the situation.  I see this as more than being resilient. Resilience, while very important, means bouncing back from difficulties and continuing on. What I saw in our kids was more than that, not only did they bounce back but they adapted as needed to continue forward…a very big step!  

As teachers, we can learn a lot from these students.  It’s important to remember just how crucial it is for us to build relationships with our students, who are constantly changing and growing.  Additionally so with our colleagues, developing a program that meets the needs of a diverse range of learners doesn’t happen in isolation, building strong relationships with colleagues creates a positive work environment.  I frequently stress the importance of positive relationships (I would argue they’re the most important thing in a school) and it was interesting to see our Year 12s focus on their importance as well.

Generally speaking, younger people are less set in their ways and more adaptable than their more experienced (older) counterparts.  As we learn, grow and gain experience in the world, it is important to remember the we must remain flexible in our thinking. Being able to adapt is the hallmark of a successful educator.  We are in a professional field that is entering the early days of a revolution, more than 100 years of doing the same thing has proven insufficient for success in education. We, as the leaders of that change, must adapt and grow to ensure the success of our students.  

We’ve got a little over two weeks left and we’ll be doing a lot of celebrating and reflecting during that time.  Take a few minutes every now and again to think about all that our students have learned over the last year. Additionally, think about how we can adapt to improve the learning process for them next year and beyond.  It’s an exciting time to be an educator, the revolution is coming, what will be your role in the process?