Excuses

I’m really tired of excuses.  More exactly, I am tired of hearing, “It will be so much work.” “Our internet is unreliable.” “The computers are tied up for MAP testing and the iPads don’t always work.”  Wah, wah, wah.

This morning I suggested that our Wax Museum (ELA) Project be constructed in Google.  I’d been playing with the process during my free time and, of course, I found a way for the students to construct their project virtually. Again, we all understand that every environment has it challenges and yes, some are more challenging than others.

But I am reminded of one of Simon Senek’s perspectives: that the doers see the top of the mountain and not the mountain while the rest see the mountain a

I feel like that’s where I am.

I feel like I’m standing at the bottom of the mountain and all I can imagine is the vista from the top; what it must look like and how great it will feel to feel the wind in my face and the sense of accomplishment once I get there.

It’s not to say that I don’t know there will be bumps and delays and hurdles along the way, but the possibilities, the anticipated view is what draws me to the work.

So it is why I am looking for a new challenge.  There are seekers out there who, like me, seek the summit because of all the anticipation that comes with getting there.  The team building and the problem-solving.

Mountains… so much to do and so little time… which mountain do I scale first?

Talent Scouts

Last summer, as part of my personalized summer PD, I participated in a book study through Voxer and Twitter on  “The Multiplier Effect” by Wiseman, Alan and Foster.

While the book has opened up a new vocabulary jargon for me, (The Talent Finder, The Gatekeeper, etc.) it’s also allowed me to peer inside my own head; to ask myself, which one am I?

As with all things personality, I probably flex between them.

As I continued to read more on the Talent Finder v. The Gatekeeper, I concluded that most of the teachers I knew and have worked with who were customarily The Talent Finders were the Special Education teachers.

Once a Special Ed teacher, always a Special Ed teacher…

That statement is not a slap in the face to special education teachers. We know who we are. We choose to support the underdog for our vocation. Collectively, we are proud of our mission to reach each child, regardless of his/her strengths or weaknesses.

I’m a Talent Finder

I, like many of my counterparts, look to find the talent each student brings to my class. I’ve never really fallen into labeling my students. I think I avoid the labeling thing because it doesn’t serve me well.  My empathy toward the struggling student is home grown; I’d wished that a teacher would have befriended my children in a way that Coach White did (McFarland, USA). No one did, and I was disappointed. Perhaps that’s why I’m a Talent Scout; diligently seeking out those who would look beyond. Those willing to work with a group of diverse thinkers to find a better outcome.

Labeling children always seemed counterproductive and dishonest to me.  I learned this when I was an undergrad.  I was assigned a reading practicum in an elementary school in Paterson, NJ.  I saw first hand, for the very first time, how many hurdles some children have to overcome before they even set foot in the door. I think, too, that we think only the urban kids have a life full of hurdles, when, in fact, many of our non-urban students are struggling with parents who are divorcing, abusive, placing unreasonable parental demands on their children and sometimes students placing unreasonable demands on themselves.

But finding what each student brings to table? To find out what they were good at always made us both feel good about coming to class.

I want my students to want to come to class.

Although we have days that we may feel under recognized, I don’t want my students to feel that way, ever. I’ve realized that if I have helped a student feel better about themselves and his work, then I can go home feeling I’ve made a contribution that day.

If I can help them see what they’re good at, help know that I ‘see’ them, then I go home a happy camper.

Administrative Talent Finders

I had the opportunity to work with one administrator who was a true Talent Finder. He’s the one who inspired me, during my second swing through this career, to pursue administration and supervision.  He had great vision.  I believe great vision must be supported by a great communication strategy.  Twitter has helped districts share their story, share their work, enabling their communities to experience the great work going on in their buildings.

Being a Talent Finder means the teachers and administrators must value traits like multiple intelligence, integrity, grit, and be what Wise, Allen & Foster call “Talent Scouts”.

Administrator Talent Scouts who value talent diversity find ways to identify top talent and recruit them as well.

Talent Scouts who appreciate the talent of their staff and help them use their talents, build reputation that draw in top talent.  People want to work with Talent  Scouts; their reputation for supporting talent diversity makes them a natural recruitment engine.

What it Takes

An individual who has the executive skills of targeted task completion through collaboration and reflective abilities to self correct, who embraces a diversely talented workforce would make a pretty awesome leader.

In Education Leader, March, 2016, career coach Emilie Wapnick writes about a struggle I, too, have faced since I was a child.  Wapnick (2016, p 10) writes, “Asking ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ may seem like an innocuous question to ask young children to get them thinking about their future. But what does this question mean to children with a large number of interests?”  (Educational Leader, 2016, p 10) Wapnick “shares stories of people she dubs as multipotentialities “ in her TEDxBend Talk.

When a child can see many paths/opportunities, shouldn’t we educate all those paths? In the 21st century, single interest/focused individuals may face limited success because society is becoming evermore integrated and complex.  A single lens is longer be sufficient. Inclusive thinking must prevail at all levels.

In a meta-analysis,  Tracy Lovejoy  writes that the greatest predictor of leadership is not whether someone is a ‘good fit’ or whether she is ‘likable’ or ‘charismatic’. Rather, the number one predictor of effective leadership is finding the person who has demonstrated  social sensitivity (or empathy) and inclusivity.  Lovejoy writes, “Words like inclusivity and empathy can be met with skepticism and deemed to be soft, touchy-feely – or even behind closed doors derisively dismissed as ‘female’ or ‘feminine’. According to Science magazine, the ability to get things done (task completion), the ability to identify the tasks to be completed through thoughtful deliberation on a collaborative, inclusive course leads to the most effective teams. (I know, to the millennials out there… Act! Act! Act! is your mantra…) It appears being the first or loudest speaker may not be the best attribute to look for in a leader.

Also, self correction; projects take unexpected turns. Experienced individuals understand that progress isn’t linear. (It would be nice if it was, but it’s not.) Bumps in the road are inevitable; they must be anticipated and dealt with without losing sight of the true end and a self correcting leader has been there/done that.

Why are these people so hard to find?

Research suggests that they’re hard to find because we don’t have enough Talent Scouts in our leadership ranks.  But research also suggests that leaders who are Talent Scouts, who celebrate their most collaborative, most inclusive players, will have the most success in meeting the organization’s goals, drive each other to stretch to greater success levels than if they had worked alone.

Moving schools forward requires Lead Learners to be Talent Scouts; those who are open minded and offer Talent Makers an opportunity to make the organization the best it can be.

Thoughts?


 

Citations:

McFarland, USA [Motion picture]. (2015). USA: Disney.

Murawski, W. W. (2008, September). Five keys to co-teaching in inclusive classrooms. The School Administrator, 27. Excerpt From: Wendy Murawski and Lisa Dieker. “Leading the Co-Teaching Dance.” iBooks.2003, p.10

Wapnick, E. (2016, February). Beyond a Single Calling. Educational Leader. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar16/vol73/num06/DoubleTake.aspx

Why some of us don’t have one true calling. (2015, April). Retrieved February 27, 2016, https://www.ted.com/talks/emilie_wapnick_why_some_of_us_don_t_have_one_true_calling from TEDxBend Talks
Wiseman, L., Allen, L., & Foster, E. (2013). The multiplier effect: Tapping the genius inside our schools. Corwin.
Woolley, A. W., Chabris, C. F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T. W. (2010, October 29). Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/330/6004/686.full

Inclusion? Inclusive? Respect…

Inclusion? Inclusive?  Respect…

This morning, on my way to work, I was thinking about the notion (yes, notion…) of inclusion.  I’d spent a day and a chunk of change to attend a workshop on inclusion in the school community. I got to thinking…Inclusion? Inclusive?  What’s the difference?

Have you ever joined a new group?  They’ve posted a call for new members looking for fresh faces and fresh ideas and you think, “This might be someplace for me to contribute as well as to learn and grow.”

You put on your strongest face and brave the first meeting.  When you introduce yourself, you explain that you saw the call and thought you could… well… contribute, learn and grow.  You explain that you’ve been following the group or it’s chapter for some time.  You’re a subscriber to their values and beliefs and really feel open to the possibilities you can bring to the table. They appear enthusiastic and you feel the possibilities growing in your heart.

But along the course of the coming months, you see the leader of the group at other events.  The first time, you greet him/her warmly.  But he/she seems ceremonious in his/her greeting.  You think, well, perhaps he/she is busy with the events at hand. 

But the second, third time you meet/see this person out and about, you’re sure that he/she has seen you. And you see that look.  The one that comes from the corner of their eyes.  Their eyes avert yours and you begin to feel uncomfortable.  You’re not sure why.  Not sure why they would avert their eyes.  You’re not sure what you may have done.  After all, you only see this person occasionally and most often at the group meetings.


I couldn’t help but wonder: do we know that we do these things?  What is that about?  Do we do these to our students?  How does the ‘inclusion’ become ‘inclusive’?  When does inclusion become more than a model? 

As I pondered this idea, it occurred to me that inclusion moves to inclusive when respect is present. 

I know I’m not the first to see this connection.  In the workshop I mentioned earlier, the speakers spoke about the efforts they used to make inclusion their schools an accepted model.  The speakers talked about character education; building respect was tops on the list.

During the workshop presentations, the speakers, as you would expect, spoke about how each of us have differences.  They presented how their 4th graders worked with the pre-school disabled class.  The students spoke of the empathy and compassion they developed from understanding that disabilities are nothing more than strengths in other areas.  Again, as I reflected on the workshop, it was clear that the students were developing respect for the disabled students.

I wondered:  Does that respect carry over to their peers?  Are the students more understanding, respectful and thoughtful… more open to their peers with whom they are not friends after experiencing the positive outcomes from their inclusion experience? 

As well educated individuals, we are aware that research shows diverse teams perform better.  In  1999, (eons ago…) Stanford University Graduate School of Business published the results of Margaret Neale and her colleagues’ research on team diversity.  Not surprisingly, Neale, the John G. McCoy-Banc One Corporation Professor of Organizations and Dispute Resolution at Stanford Graduate School of Business and her team found that diversity is not only limited to color, gender or age. “Diversity is also based on informational differences, values or goals that influence what one perceives as the mission of something as small as a single meeting or as large as a whole company.”

So.. what does this have to do with the ideas of inclusion, inclusive, and respect?

It is human nature, I presume, to fear bringing someone into a group that could, in effect, derail your best laid plans.

Patton

My father, a successful entrepreneur, used to say to me, “If we’re all thinking the same, then no one is thinking.”  Thanks to the internet, I’m guessing he was paraphrasing George Patton’s famous quote.  Truthfully, this has apparently been attributed to many people, but I will always attribute it to my dad…

The idea of seeking out an opinion that challenges your ideas takes bravery. It is not used by leaders who are faint of heart or just want to get on with the process.

It is an idea, though, that sits in the back of my mind at all times and I think its most profound influence is that I am open to dissenting opinions, perhaps, some might say, to a fault.

But as a leader, I am always interested in the person’s perspective that least agrees with mine. This could, I guess, be perceived as a weakness; I might appear unsure of myself or my decisions.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I want to hear their perspective.  Not because I am humoring them; not because I am unsure.  Rather, because it is as my father had said, we can’t and shouldn’t all think alike.  He’d explained that being surrounded by ‘yes’ people was not what had helped him grow his business.  Quite the contrary. While he may not have embraced the idea proposed, he’d explained, it did give him something to consider.  What and how he chose to use the information varied. But, he’d said that it usually gave him something to think about.

Which leads me to my question: When is inclusion inclusive?

I would suggest that it stems from my belief that inclusion isn’t inclusive if not accompanied by the respect for the possibility that another’s ideas, talents, and experiences could find a flaw in my thinking, my plan. 

I explain this as my desire to turn the faceted apple to the light as many ways as possible in order to expose an unforeseen weakness or oversight in my plan.  It is only when I am certain that I’ve uncovered as many of these possibilities, within the given constraints, that I will commit my team to a new path.  (Even once committed, I am still listening for ideas that may tweak the path for the better.)

I believe that being open to finding that idea is one of the keys to effective leadership.  Respect for ideas (and the unlikely people that may bring them) just might be the twist your plan needs to be the most successful idea ever.

Reference:

  • “Diversity and Work Group Performance.” Stanford Graduate School of Business. N.p., 1 Nov. 1999. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

The Power of Intuition

It’s Saturday morning and I’m at my regular breakfast stop:  my kitchen counter with my computer at hand.  I’m watching some light Saturday morning news, which is my ‘brain break’ from the normal research and heavy reading I do during the course of a normal week.

A news story catches my interest.  A medical doctor is being showcased not to acknowledge how data drives his medical decisions (which  it does), but how intuition plays as big a role in an initial assessment of his patient.

As he said, ” When a patient walks into your office, and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you tend to pay attention even before you know… you just know.”

Meriam-Webster’s online dictionary’s simple definition describes intuition this way:  “a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence; a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why.”

I’ve only recently acknowledged that I’ve been intuitive my whole life. I’ve only recently become comfortable saying, “I just know…” My husband describes his intuition as the ‘little guy on his shoulder’. If the little guy on his shoulder says that there’s something going that he can’t quite put his finger on, then he knows he needs to proceed with caution.  (I wonder if intuitive people ‘find’ each other through their intuition?  I would never describe our finding each other as ‘love at first sight’; rather, I just knew he was a good man… even before I really ‘knew’ him…)

But I digress…

My question at the heart of this is:  Where and how does intuition fit into education?  Does leadership contain an intuitive ability?

As a leader, many of you have met someone for the first time, or entered a classroom and had an intuitive reaction.  Intuition sets off an alarm in your head.  You have this innate sense of possibilities… or struggles… in front of you.  You have no data… no evidence… on which to base your assessment.  But, there’s no denying you sense it.

I set out to find out what the research has to say on the role of intuition in teaching/learning and leadership.

Atkinson and Claxton (2000) say  that intuition is defined as “one component of the dyad conscious analytical thinking”  (p.74) and the “less conscious and intuitive processes” (p.82).  Through this lens, they examine the process of mentoring.  They ask: How do mentors balance between providing specific practical knowledge and good grounding in theoretical understanding to proteges or supervisees? Their work shows that the key to a new teacher progressing from a knowledge base to the skilled teacher is his/her ability to intuitively sense how to adjust to the students’ receptivity of the lesson.  The mentors’  key? The ability to develop strong reflective practices within the mentee so she can learn to trust her intuitions.

Marzano (2011) and Danielson (1996) would, to my mind, describe this as the ‘art’ of teaching and each has built the ‘art’ into their respective models. (Marzano, Domain 3) (Danielson, Component 4a).  No one would dispute that intuition can replace knowledge. However, I would assert that a teacher with knowledge but without intuition is missing an important skill; one that I’m not sure can be taught.

In my experience, intuition can be developed. In fact, I would assert it’s the real ‘education’ in education.

 In 1986, Donna Lynne Harlan’s doctoral dissertation reminds us that the 1959 Woods Hole Conference, led by Jerome Bruner, was convened to address issues that are still circling today.  Namely, that the battle between the progressive philosophy that education requires the use of unconventional thinking (intuition/guessing (1960)/having a hunch (1971)) and the structuralist view that focuses on performance and outcomes. Bruner (1977) said that student creativity develops when students are surrounded by creativity and discussions.  It’s the reason we are focusing on higher level thinking skills at all levels of education; we want our students to trust their intuition– to take risks in their thinking– to examine, in the light, those ideas that are lurking in the background of their thoughts– to be brave and put those ideas out there, into a supportive thoughtful environment where those ideas can blossom and spur other ideas for themselves and those around them.

As a leader, from the perspective of observer instead of the observed, these are the subtle talents woven into the evaluation domains that I am looking for: can the teacher take her knowledge and interweave her intuition to create thoughtful reflective students who feel safe enough to bring their ideas to the light? Can she encourage her students to be academically brave?

Knowledge can be gained.  Intuition?  It’s stuff dreams are made of…


Citations:

Bacigalupe, Gonzalo (2002). Inviting Intuitive Understandings in Teaching and Professional Practices: Is Intuition Relationally and Culturally Neutral? Review Essay: Terry Atkinson & Guy Claxton (Eds.) (2000). The Intuitive Practitioner: On the Value of Not Always Knowing What One is Doing [16 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 3(4), Art. 51, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0204514.

Bruner, Jerome S. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960

Harlan, Donna L. (1986). The role of intuition in the teaching/learning process. Doctoral Disserations

On Understanding “judgmental”

In my current In-Class Resource/Support role, I am sometimes conflicted about expectations between myself and my general education co teachers. Sometimes I find myself feeling judgmental.  It makes me uncomfortable to feel judgmental.   I’m trying hard to understand it. 

Being a curious sort, I went where anyone would go— Google.  I was surprised to learn that, like many things, being judgmental has several roots (or flavors, as I  prefer to say).

The flavor that fit me best was this:  I see people behaving in a way that I would not and because I resent their behavior, I become judgmental. Hmmm…

According to LittleBuddha.com:

Because you would be embarrassed to act this way, you resent somebody else doing it.

This type of judgment might reveal that you are not fully expressing yourself, hence you feel resentful or put off by others doing so, even if they do it clumsily.

( I don’t think the last part applies to me in this particular situation, but you can be the judge.)

Let me clarify:  One of my classes is watching the movie, “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee”.  We’re moving into the unit that examines the westward movement in the United States in the mid-1800’s.  The students don’t understand a ‘cowboy and Indians” reference and have no background in the strife that took place at that time between the federal government and the Indian Nations.  When I learned that we were watching this, I thought it would lay a good foundation as we prepared for the next unit of our curriculum.

If you’ve seen the movie, or have any back ground  (prior knowledge) reference to the westward movement, The Battle of the Little Big Horn, Col. Custard or Chief Sitting Bull, you are lightyears ahead of this generation.  (Is that bad to say?) 

I digress.  As we watched the movie, some of the students snickered and laughed as the Indians chanted and danced.  It made me uncomfortable, to say the least.  I waited for the general education teacher to stop the film and address the students, asking them to be respectful of another culture’s customs.  That although the dances and chants may seem odd or uncomfortable to them, part of the journey of the film is to introduce the students to lives and peoples who lived during this period of time.  (This is where the judgmental piece comes in.)

I began to feel judgmental toward my co-teacher.  Because I would be embarrassed to act this way, not correcting the behavior of the students, I resented somebody else not doing anything about it.

As I write this piece, I’ve concluded that before my class begins the next section of the movie,  I will respectfully prompt the students about expected behaviors, developing tolerance, and being respectful of that which they do not yet understand. Then I wondered, am I overstepping my boundaries by putting morale guidelines out for my students like those I would put out for my own children? Is it an appropriate action for me to take?

In a recent general television newscast, pretty plain vanilla and usually of little interest to me, a reporter spoke about the impact of the recent attack in San Bernardino; people were not going out (nope not me.), people were not traveling (nope, I’m not traveling because of the possible threats, I’m just not going anywhere…), people were shying away from people of other cultures (… hmmm, was this happening to me, I wondered?).

Again, as I write this, I flip back and forth between the two ‘conversations’ in my head.  As I flip, I realize that I think  part of my job is to teach tolerance.  I work in a public school where we say the  Pledge of Allegiance every morning. 

“….one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all…”

How can we have liberty and justice for all if we don’t have tolerance for each other?  In the grand scheme of life for which I believe I am preparing my students, we must learn to tolerate people for many reasons.

We may work with someone who is just plain mean, and that person may well be our boss to whom we dare not voice our opinion unless we have alternate employment opportunities clearly in place.  We may have a neighbor who has such different values that she just doesn’t think the ordinance about picking up after your dog includes her and her dog, too.  (At least here you can call the police…)

As adults and parents, we communicate levels of acceptable behavior so very subtly.  It is said in things we say as much as what we don’t say. It is one of those, “do as I say, not as I do’ kind of things that, as we know, doesn’t work out well. 

I believe it’s as hard to be a responsible role model today as it ever was.  We have eyes on us all the time.  We owe it to ourselves to decide what kind of legacy we want to leave in our children.  Lately, the environment has taken center stage.  As a new Congress takes its place in January, our fiscal legacy  and immigration will be front and center.  Some dinner tables and car rides will be filled with newscasts or discussions that create more divide than collaboration.  As responsible role models, (#RRMs, if you will…) how we discuss these issues may very well more important than what issues we discuss or what outcome results.

I’m reminded of the phrase, “If you see something, say something”.

Well,” if you hear something, say something”.  Be respectful.  Our children are always watching.

Cultivating Optimism

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 8.32.27 PM
 Joshua Graham

My friend and colleague Walter McKenzie caught my eye tonight with his blog post ,  “Unstuck”.  Then, as I cruised through my communities and connections, I came across a page of remarkable inspirational quotes.

I confess that I can be an tough mark for inspirational quotes. That said, not many of them really grab me.  But let one of them strike a note about my children or hit a string about a hurdle I’ve overcome (or am currently working on overcoming) and I’m hooked.

As an educator, I often wonder about the role of resilience, grit, problem solving skills.  But lately I’ve begun to wonder about optimism.  In March, 2008, Richard Sagor  wrote an article in ASCD Educational Leadership magazine about optimism.  I came across it recently as I organized my copies of the magazine on my library shelves.  As I read, I remember thinking the premise was an interesting one:  is optimism more important than resilience, grit or problem solving skills?  Is the student who is optimistic destined to be more successful because he/she expects to be?

It’s funny to me how my mind works.  Truth be told, I don’t think it’s that much different than most brains.  Things … ideas…suggestions…tend to get stuck in it and hang around without my even knowing it.  Until that is…when it collides with one of my other ideas that has also been hanging around quite unnoticed.

So it is with this optimism thing.  I got to thinking that a situation can’t change unless I (or you) want it to change. Until we take a deliberate action.  As we know, change isn’t something that rains down on us out of no where (although there are many days when it sure feels like that!)

Change happens because someone makes it happen.  The law changes.  The superintendent determines the implications for the district.  He/she hands it off to the principals and supervisors who hand it off to the teachers.  And the change begins.

Again… change happens because someone makes it happen.

What if you’re looking for a change but don’t really believe you’ll be successful?  Can change happen then?  Or does change actually take the energy of a truly optimistic view that if the change is actively and positively pursued it will eventually happen?

I didn’t think I’d quite embraced the optimism idea until I read Walter’s post: “Unstuck“.  I realized that I had been feeling stuck for quite some time.  I’d been reluctant to actively pursue change because I just didn’t think It would work.  There were so many things that blocked my way.

But a funny thing happened on the way:  I began to proceed as if it was inevitable that I would be successful.  Failure never occurred to me.  I proceeded as though on a mission.

My mood lightened. Work was easier.  People were easier.  Tasks were easier.  Life… was easier.  And change has begun to happen!

Now my question: how do I cultivate optimism in my students?  How do I inspire hope when they get knocked down so often?  Being a student is hard work these days.  There are those inspirational teachers that lift them up… give them hope.  And there are teachers who I think spend their nights figuring out how to take the wind out of everyone’s sails…

As I reflect on this idea of cultivating optimism, I think I will listen more to my students’ small voices… those small voices that talk about what they’d like to do in the future… what they want their future to look like and then focus on how I can make our work connect to those goals on a more visible basis every day for their eyes to see and not just mine.

*  *  *