The Snare of Comparison

Anne Schwartz has started a  , and while I’m not promising to blog every day, I will attempt to be more consistent in my blogging agin.

Reflection is a two edged sword. It is important to do, pause, reflect, evaluate, make changes, repeat. This is the process of life and learning. The problems come when we insert “look at what someone else is doing” into the process. On one hand, it is important to observe others at work and think about what makes their practice theirs, the trouble comes when what we are doing is measured against what they are doing, and graded accordingly.

Every time I present at a conference, I do this. I started submitting proposals and presenting in 2014, my first being CMC North in Asilomar, CA. That presentation went very well, it was a high school level presentation, and I had been teaching HS for 10 years before doing that. I felt confident about what I was presenting, it was something I had worked on in my own classroom for quite a while, and was excited to share it.

I have since become a district level elementary math specialist, and have been presenting the last two years at the elementary level. I’m struggling with this a little bit, because I haven’t tested some of these ideas in my own classroom. I do work with teachers, and do model in their classrooms periodically, but it’s not the same as being able to try something, evaluate it’s effectiveness, and try again. I feel like I’m flying somewhat blind here.

I had a conversation on twitter last night about submitting a proposal to NCTM Annual in San Antonio, TX for next year. I did finally submit one, but I’m a little trepidatious about it. Tina reminded me that trying again is how we get better.  I know this, I’m fearful of wasting teachers’ time while I work on figuring this out. With the students, if I made a mistake I could correct it the next day or the next week. In presenting at conferences, I don’t get that chance, they see something that doesn’t help or they don’t like and make up their minds to “never see that speaker again”.

This is where I begin the comparison. I look at some of the “tried and true” speakers, the ones who’s sessions everyone loves to attend, who always have something valuable to say, do it with flair and can make you laugh at the same time, and think, “I’m just not like that”. And, I’m not.

I was very successful in my HS classroom. My students succeeded regularly, I saw test scores increase consistently, I heard students speaking the language of mathematics and feeling confident about what they knew, and taking risks with things they hadn’t seen before. Colleagues would tell me, “I can tell which students came from you, they are able to think critically”.

I have seen some wonderful changes in the elementary classrooms in the last two years, and have had discussions with teachers and principals that help me to believe that I am making a difference at this level,  I just don’t have the classroom and the direct connection to students that allows me to gauge the growth like I did in the past. This causes me to question my effect at this level, and hence, my right to present at conferences at this level, and yet, it is something in which I hope to become proficient. Is that enough reason to continue, and hope that I am not wasting anyone’s time? I hope so.

Advertisements

Owning the Difficult Decisions

It’s been quite a while since I reflected here. I had been trying to write once a week, and when winter break came, I found myself exhausted, frustrated, and ready for rest. After break, upon returning to work, I started with a positive attitude, and a new direction in mind. This was quickly depleted after a week of grading Interim Comprehensive Assessments that our students took before break, and having my calendar changed several times by others who were “dictating” to me what my priorities are and how I should attend to them.

I found myself trying once again to follow the dictates given to me, get everything done, and tell myself I was supporting teachers in doing so. Instead, I found myself angry; angry that I couldn’t do what I know to be important in creating strong learning communities in our elementary classrooms, and angry that I couldn’t do what I was originally told my job description was, to support mathematics learning in our elementary schools.

I had a discussion with my immediate supervisor and our director, was told I couldn’t possibly support all our sites and teachers, and we can’t always hear what we want to hear. I then attended a training session for principals on a math support software program our district purchased and heard the principals being told that I was going to be the support for implementation and learning. I found myself feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place, and starting to have conversations about whether or not I was really effective where I was, or if I should be doing something else. I have tried to balance my work and life, and found myself having to skip the things that mean so much to me and have a large part in my becoming the teacher I am, my twitter chats, because I can’t possibly do everything that I have been told are my priorities during the day. Because of meetings, workshops, and other things I am required to attend, I have limited time to actually support sites, plan for math lead meetings (another post), and currently, observe classrooms at sites to complete a criteria for success rubric required because of our new math adoption.

I had reached a point where I was leaning toward moving back into a classroom next year, for no other reason than I knew I would feel successful there. I know that I affect learning for students in a positive way when I am in direct contact with students. I am not at all sure that I affect student learning in a positive way when I am not in direct contact with them at this time, and this is something that I am going to be required to show in some manner with artifacts and student outcomes. This is obviously something that is important to me, and something I have been striving to do, but is currently causing me a lot of stress.

I reached a point where I knew I had no control over any of this. I had to let it go, and just focus on what was right in front of me. This past week I found myself on three different sites, for different reasons. In my interaction with the administrator at the first site, after our discussion when I stood up to go, she came around her desk and said, “I need to give you a hug. Thank you so much for being the wealth of information you are.” I almost cried right there. I did walk out with a little spring in my step that hadn’t been there for quite a while. At the next site, after classroom observations and a discussion with several principals and other personnel, the principal stopped me as we were all leaving. We had a short conversation and her parting words to me were, “Thank you for doing the work you are doing. You are fighting the right fight, and you need to continue to do this.” Again, I was nearly in tears, and walked away with many thoughts and reflections from that. The last interaction was simple. I was at a site to meet with a group of teachers, and before we started the principal leaned into the room and said, “Thank you for being here, and for being the great source of information you are.” Deep breath, we’re about to have a meeting.

I’m not a fighter. I am someone who cares for others deeply, does all they can to build them up, and encourage them to be all they can be. When I have to confront others, my heart races, my palms get sweaty, and I have to constantly remind myself why I am confronting them and standing for the things I do. I like to encourage, support, and build. I don’t like to have to speak to others using strong words. A co-worker said to me Friday, “maybe that’s why you’re here.” Hmmmmm. OK, I’ll bite.

My focus is students. Their learning, their success, their emotional well being. Pure and simple. If I have to fight for that, I guess that’s what I need to do, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me, no matter how often I tear up and how much my heart races. Even if I say stupid things in my anxiety, make mistakes about how I speak to others, and forget things I wanted to say because I get hurt or angry in the interactions. I am still learning, and in the end, it’s about the kids. They are worth anything I might have to experience.

Intentional and Practical Professional Learning

Today on twitter I had a short conversation with a colleague about professional learning. It went like this:Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 5.00.18 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 5.03.40 PM

Recently I have found myself frustrated about what I view as a fixed mindset on the part of many of our teachers. I am working hard, both by myself and with another PD provider at our district to create meaningful and timely professional learning for our elementary teachers. They are wanting time to work together with other teachers from the district to walk through our new curriculum and discuss the problems and successes that others are having. I have taken this to heart, and have been working with K-2 and 3-5 math leads from each site monthly. I have changed the topics and plans for these meetings based on the needs I am hearing from teachers, as well as the discussions that come up during these meetings.

I have also created a google survey for all teachers asking what their immediate needs are, and based on those responses have been working with our Lead In professional development center to create time once a month for teachers from all sites to come together and participate in training on things they are requesting, work together on lesson planning and problem solving, and discuss their concerns and needs with teachers from two of our sites who have been using our new curriculum for the past 1-2 years and get ideas from them on organization, prioritizing, and how to facilitate classroom conversations. We ask for feedback from each of these meetings, and no matter how much we use this and try to meet needs, there are many unhappy teachers.

I have found myself creating a mindset in the midst of planning some of these sessions, asking myself questions like, “Why work so hard at this? Many of them are not going to find this valuable.” “Why do they show up if they feel there is nothing of value happening at these sessions?” You get the idea. I’m glad to have had this conversation today because it reminds me that I am in charge of my mindset, and I definitely want to be one with a growth mindset. I have learned so much in the past two years on twitter, blogging, and sharing my ideas with colleagues in meetings, professional development settings, and at conferences. The feedback is something I take very seriously, and stretch my thinking by using it to plan my next steps. It is often difficult to separate all this when we are so close to the heart of the work happening, and it helps to have someone on the outside push us and ask the hard questions.

I need to continue to work hard to meet the needs of our teachers and not take their responses personally. I need to continue collaborating and talking with my colleagues on twitter, in my professional development capacities, and reflecting on the work I am doing and striving to make it the most meaningful I can. I need to support the work to prioritize needs for our teachers also, as some of them are feeling so overwhelmed they are struggling to make those decisions for themselves, and help them to problem solve these things and find solutions that will help them feel more successful in the classroom.

I have to continue to grow and learn myself, so that I can be a strong support and encouragement to the teachers with whom I work.

Encouragement

The blogs that I have had the opportunity to read the past 2-3 weeks during the #edublog challenge have been inspiring. I love reading and learning about the work that others are doing, and how that work affects the learning of our kids. This is my second year at a district level coaching position, and I’m beginning to feel more confident about interacting with the teachers and encouraging them in their work.

Sitting in on planning time with grade level groups has been amazing. Often they will start by asking me questions. I am getting better at giving answers for the ones that are simple, to begin the interactions and to help relieve any discomfort or anxiety that might be a hindrance to accomplishing work. After this, the conversation usually starts as we begin to look at the upcoming week and discuss the lessons and outcomes the teachers are hoping for their students. It gets easier here for me to begin asking the questions, and allowing teachers to think about what they would like to accomplish with their lessons, and what will be productive and not overwhelming for their students. As these conversations play out, teachers begin to realize they do know what they need to be doing, and that they do know their students, their needs, and their strengths. It is a wonderful time of “ah ha” and “I’m glad we talked about that, I was worried, concerned, afraid, etc.”

These “ah ha’s” are often more exciting for me than the ones I would see in students in the classroom. I know these will be affecting the learning of a classroom full of learners, and that teachers are beginning to feel confident about using the new program, their own learning and teaching, and the conversations and learning of their students. It is so powerful to see these changes occurring in the confidence of our students and the teachers. They still look at me as they are making decisions, as if they want my approval. I try to stay with, “I like, I wonder, and How will you know” and let them be the final say on what they plan. They will feel so much better about what they are doing that way, and be more confident as they move on through the program.

Last month was so stressful, as we all fought our way through understanding and becoming comfortable with the change in instruction, the increased time needed for planning and learning ourselves, and focusing more on the teaching and learning than the newness of the program and the struggles to implement. There are still struggles, but it is noticeably decreasing, and teachers are beginning to enjoy the fact that they are learning things that the didn’t understand before, and they can celebrate kids seeing new ways of thinking and understanding the math themselves.

This feels so much better this month, and I look forward with anticipation to the changes that each month brings.

This post is a part of Kathy Perret’s #EduCoach Blog Challenge. You can read more about it here.

Constantly Learning and Growing

This year our district has adopted new math programs at all levels. At the elementary level we have adopted Bridges, from The Math Learning Center. It is an inquiry based program, encouraging students to think deeply about mathematics, numbers and their relationships. We changed to this program from enVision, which teachers were constantly saying they disliked and wanted changed. Of course, the change is huge, and now teachers are struggling with time to plan lessons, and the lessons themselves which require facilitation of mathematical discussions and learning by investigation, rather than “I do, we do, you do”. Also, teachers are requesting more training, which can be helpful and yet, not what I really think they need.

In response to the cries for help and challenges we have put a couple of things into place. I have monthly meetings with “math leads” both K-2 and 3-5 from each site where we discussion implementation, assessment, lesson facilitation and other topics as they arise from teachers. We also have Lead In Napa in our district, an “in-house” professional learning program through which I am conducting monthly collaboration times with teachers from all sites on a rotating basis: K-2 and 3-5. So far we have had one 3-5 meeting which was very successful and have a K-2 meeting planned next week. We already have quite a few teachers signed up. It is exciting to see teachers coming together across the district to collaborate, share their experience and frustrations, and talk. The best thing is I’m hearing from teachers across the district that they are feeling heard.

The last thing I have been working on lately is getting out to sites to sit in on their grade level PLC collaboration time to answer questions, clarify expectations, and make face to face contact with teachers. This seems to be having the greatest impact. When some of these teachers start talking about how hard this is, they look at me, see me listening, and actually stop themselves a lot of time and begin to ask questions about how to make things work. I have offered to do model lessons and co-teaching with many of these groups, and have been taken up on the offer. Not only do I get to support teachers, I get to play math with kiddos. Best of both worlds.

It’s often difficult to work in a leadership position, but can be so rewarding.

This post is a part of Kathy Perret’s #EduCoach Blog Challenge. You can read more about it here.

New Curriculum Excitement

We just completed our fourth week of school. Our district has new math adoptions K-12. Grades 6-12 are doing well. They knew about their adoption last year, were working in May and June to organize, pace, and collaborate around their new materials and focusing their energies on the changes required. K-5 is a completely different story.

Our adoption was finalized in June. Teachers were given on-line access to materials during the summer, Trainings were scheduled for the first week of August, and for a myriad of reasons many teachers did not make it to these trainings. We are experiencing the same difficulties that every district across the nation is experiencing, staff turnover, lack of subs, and PD scheduling difficulties. We scheduled a second round of training this past week, but could only schedule a total of 70 teachers for this. A handful were called back to class because of sub issues, and we still have approximately 20 teachers who have not been to a training at all. I’m actually feeling pretty good about this, since we have 340 teachers at the K-5 level in our district, but it’s never a good thing for a teacher not to have some introduction to their new materials. Especially if math causes them anxiety, and the new materials require inquiry based learning and constructivist teaching.

That’s where we are. I have felt overwhelmed the previous three weeks, with trying to get materials to sites,  responding to teacher emails from teachers who suddenly realized that they probably weren’t going to be able to just jump into this curriculum without some introduction, and many other issues. Labor day weekend gave me the opportunity to reorganize my thinking and priorities. This week I made it a point to talk to site level coaches, get into classrooms and encourage teachers, sit in on grade level planning, help teachers to prioritize their learning and teaching with the new materials and routines, and be visible. The results were amazing. My stress levels decreased, and anxiety levels are decreasing at sites. I am going to address teachers at two sites during staff meetings this coming week, and sit in on full day planning for grade level groups at two sites. I still have five more sites to visit, but we are getting there.

My first math lead meetings will be on the fourteenth and twenty-first of this month, and on September 23 our PD support team called, “Lead In” is working with me to schedule a 2 hour support and collaboration time for grade 3-5 teachers across our district during early release time. We will attempt to do this each month for both primary and intermediate grade level teachers. My hope is that they will see this time as a valuable asset to them, time to problem solve with other grade level teachers and have support available for questions around inquiry and the facilitation of classroom discussions. What seemed like an overwhelming prospect three weeks ago is beginning to seem possible, with the support and help of other teams in our district.

I’m excited about our fist math lead meetings, two teachers have stepped up to share their expertise in a portion of our new curriculum, and we will be working on problem solving and collaborating on how to answer questions and support teachers at individual sites.

More to come.

Non Verbal Messages

For a number of years I was a constant fixture at Al Anon meetings. If you are not familiar with this, it is a 12 step program for friends and family of people who have addiction issues. I found that I also have an addiction issue. I have an addiction to helping people. This may not seem like a problem to a lot of you, however, for me it is. I care so much about people that I will do anything, give anything, and give up anything for the people around me, to the detriment of both them and myself.

I took a WPI last year for work. All of our leadership take this. It helps us to see where our strengths and weaknesses are as leaders, not so that we know if we should be leaders, but to help us identify things that we can use and things that we can improve upon in our leadership. One of my greatest weaknesses once again, I care too much.

I learned a lot about myself and social interaction in Al Anon. I learned about the messages I give to people, not with my words, but by my actions. I learned that if I continue to answer the phone, answer messages, get up and take care of things until late in the night, people will continue to expect me to do that. I learned that if I take care of financial, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs consistently for people, they will continue to expect me to do that. I learned that if I allow people to change my schedule, determine what will and won’t work for me, and redirect my path, they will continue to expect me to do that. I learned that if I give my quiet time, my exercise time, my rest time, my reading time, my TV time, my walk time, or any other time that I have set aside for me to others, they will continue to expect me to do that.

I learned how to take care of my self in Al Anon, and still love the people around me, which is extremely important to me as one who cares a lot about people.

Last year I began a new position in leadership at our district. It was a tumultuous year, as I was feeling out the boundaries of my position, learning about the people around and above me in this new arena, and learning about the expectations for me. The year ended very busy, and started this way again this year. I did not have a lot of time in the summer to relax and refresh, as the busyness continued in attempting to take care of the needs of the teachers. I learned a lot last year and began this year feeling very excited about what I could possibly accomplish. I attended our first meetings in which the expectations and design of the year seemed to indicate that my objectives and the district objectives were on the same track. I have more confidence this year, as I made a lot of connections to the teachers and administrators in my arena last year. Most of all, I had a plan for this year, which I did not have last year.

I used the techniques I learned in Al Anon to help me. I scheduled myself for time to work and reflect, time to visit the 19 sites I deal with, time for the multitude of meetings that I am required to attend, and made sure that I was covering the bases for my position and the district objectives. I was feeling pretty good about where I was heading. My schedule was full, and I knew I was going to be busy, but I was ready for it. Frankly, I’d rather be busy than not.

Things changed. I’m adaptable, I’m ok with this. I made adjustments, worked hard to follow through, had many things added to my plate that were taken off other plates, made more adjustments, committed to my teachers and administrators and prioritized, and reprioritized, and reprioritized. We have just finished the third week of our school year, and I am feeling overwhelmed. I attempted to speak with my immediate supervisor and heard things like, “you shouldn’t be doing that”, “you need to organize your time better”, “the meetings are a priority”, “you have to get to sites” and some other things that made me feel like a petulant child. I went home very angry.

I spent yesterday doing some things around my house, taking care of my husband’s immediate needs as he was having a difficult day, ignoring emails that streamed in non stop, and thinking about what I do and don’t have control over. Basically, I reverted back to my 12 step program, and began at the top. I had allowed people, circumstances, and my fear of failure to once again dictate what I should and should not be doing. Once again, I need to prioritize and remember my right to say “NO” when things do not work for me, and determine what things are important for me.

Most of all, I need to take care of me, my time, and my needs. I learned long ago that no one else is going to take care of me, I need to do that, and let people know by my actions what is and is not acceptable in their actions toward me.

I need to lead by example. I’m going to the gym.