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.

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Intentional and Practical Professional Learning – Part 2

Our district Teaching and Learning team is taking part in Cognitive Coaching training. This is a series of eight professional days, two at a time spread over a series of months. Today was our 3rd day of this training. I’m finding these very informative and practical for my practice and my personal learning. Today we were discussing questioning. After writing a previous post here, I realized I left quite a bit unsaid and unaddressed. While I definitely need to be monitoring my mindset both in planning and facilitating professional learning, there is so much more that needs to be considered.

Questions are hugely important on so many levels. Our facilitator left us today with this thought:

 “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.

You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”

Naguib Mahfouz (Nobel Prize Winner)

Now I would definitely like to be counted among the wise, in which case, I need to be asking the right questions. Not only of others, but of myself. So, while I work on planning professional learning for teachers, it is important that I ask the “What” and “How” questions. These are questions that allow me to assume positive presuppositions, and “are designed to stimulate thinking, not action”. (Cognitive Coaching Seminars) Stimulating thinking is what provokes us to action, and allows us to reflect on what we do or do not know, and to push our thinking to the point we can begin to find solutions and ideas which become actions. Often these are the types of questions we would be using in working with colleagues and other practitioners, however, I find that I sometimes need to be inviting when delving into my own thinking. I need to be intentional and honest with my personal and professional reflections in order to push myself to deeper levels of learning.

This is where I become a better developer and facilitator of professional learning. By asking the right questions, reflecting on the “how” and “why” of what I am attempting to share, and pushing my thinking beyond the normal stages of planning, I can develop habits of mind and practices which will allow me to plan, execute and model a more cognitive level of professional practice. This is what I meant to be saying in the previous post when I commented that I needed to continue learning. I have to push myself beyond my comfort level, especially if I am going to ask colleagues to push past their comfort levels.

I am blessed to have many colleagues, both in my district cohort and on twitter, with whom I can think through projects on which I am working, question my thinking, and verbalize my frustration when things don’t seem to be going the way I had planned. They are willing to push me by asking hard questions and encouraging me to ask them of myself. They also work with me to interpret responses to survey questions that are asked of teachers with whom we work to provide a deeper and more valuable learning experience. This in turn, is a precursor for me to ask questions of the teachers in the meetings and professional development situations I facilitate to push them to the next level of learning.

Hearing is important and necessary, but it is the questions that lead us to learning.

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.

The Parent Trap

Our county office invited parents out for a night of “Common Core Mathematics”. We are a district of approximately 20,000 students, so, lots of parents. Earlier in the week they had reported to my colleague and me that 65 parents had signed up, and they did not know whether they were parents of primary or secondary students. We had decided to split the group, I would work with primary parents and she would work with secondary. When I arrived to set up that evening, the director told me that they now had 90 parents registered to attend. OK, that works.

Dinner was served first. My room started as a set up for 60 parents. Throughout dinner more table and chairs were added. I think the last count for my room was 75, and I know my colleague was spilling out of hers. We were excited, lots of parents who were wanting to hear about how to learn with their kids this new way of looking at math.

I had an agenda. I told parents that if this did not meet their needs I would work with them to do my best to meet their needs. I was ready, I am working with parents. I started with a 1st grade lesson. I was the teacher, they were the students. The lesson went well, we were working with some domino cards and discussing different ways to create the number 6 by having them predict which number would be under a covered section of the domino, showing me ways to create 6 on their fingers, making connections to addition and subtraction, talking about their predictions. Then the fun started. I passed out this student page, and the parent trap began. Unfortunately, I slipped into it, a bit. I asked parents to review the page, and think about what they notice, and what they wonder.

I asked for things they noticed first. Several talked about the dominoes, how they were arranged, the example above and how they were seeing different ways to show numbers and addition. Then I asked what they wondered. Hands went up, and the hijack began: “I wonder why there are blanks all over the page, and if there’s a really good reason for it. I wonder why I have to solve the same problem so many times when I already know the answer. I wonder why I’m spending time doing this, when I could be working on addition in the “normal” way and still learn how to do it.” You get the idea. I thanked them for their wonderings, and then tried to get the focus back on the work itself. At this point, there were approximately 5 parents who felt they had the floor, and when I would ask questions, they would steer the conversation back to things like, “Why did my kid not get full credit even though he knew the answer?” “My kids are doing ok, why change what we are doing,” etc. You know the drill, the “I hate Common Core” crowd. I admit, here’s where I got trapped. I allowed this to happen for approximately 10 minutes. I then brought it back around, and we were able to look at a fourth grade lesson.

Here’s where the magic happened. We went through the lesson. Parents were telling me about the pattern, what they saw and felt would happen in other rows, challenged each other, really rich conversation. Then one parent said, “Isn’t this just a ratio?” I walked over to the chart paper I was recording their conversation on, and wrote the word “ratio”. I then asked what others thought. Once again, “Why didn’t you just tell us this was a ratio, and explain how to do it?” I then did a quick, direct teaching lesson on ratios, what they look like, the fact that they are a relationship between two different numbers, they can be represented in three different ways, etc. Then I asked, “Which one of these lessons gave you a better understanding?” AH HA! The first one of course.

One parent asked, “How would you do the last problem?” I handed out grid paper, and we talked about how kids would approach the problem. Then I pointed to the number 280 and said, “What do you notice about this number?” A parent told me that it was 28 x 10. I agreed that there would be someone who notice that, would have a sudden “ah ha” about how to solve the problem, and would explain that to the class. My last big question to the group, “Why do we cross out a zero at the end of a number when dividing by 10?” The responses, “Because we were told to. Because it works.” I asked, “How many knew when they were learning to divide, that crossing out the zero meant you were dividing by 10?” Two hands went up.

Enough said.

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

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.

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.