Button Pushing Hyperbolic Subtlety

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Meet my principal–he’s anything but subtle. He’s direct. He’s hands-on. He doesn’t mince words. He’s critical and complimentary, sometimes both in one sentence. He says it like it is even when you don’t want to hear it.  If he’s mad, you know it by his body language, tone of voice, general demeanor, and occasionally even by the color of his clothes. He carries himself like he’s 7 feet tall, and when he’s got his game face on even taller.

A man like this you would not expect to take a less direct approach with a purpose, but of course, a man like this always has a purpose. When he feels he needs to take a different approach, he forgoes his usual candidness and engages in an approach that I’ll call button pushing hyperbolic subtlety.

Over the 3 1/2 years I’ve worked with him this button pushing has involved me talking too much at meetings, not listening to him, being hard-headed, making too many copies, not ever shutting down, working myself to exhaustion, being too busy in my lessons, giving excuses, being rude/disrespectful, and caring too much. Without the ability to laugh at my weaknesses, I didn’t find this button pushing at all funny. In fact, I considered this button pushing quite rude and often took each and every word personally.

Over the past 3 1/2 years, my response to this has ranged from pushback and defensiveness to reluctant compliance. For the longest time, I thought this was a  literal view of me as a loud-mouthed, paper wasting, self-righteous know-it-all teacher who was full of excuses who wasn’t going to listen to anything he had to say. While I tried to listen and be respectful, his delivery would often fall on deaf ears with me shaking my head in bewilderment at his audacity and judgment.

Over the past year, I’ve realized that this sort of button pushing picking on me is a bizarre sort of straight-faced hyperbolic statement that has a meaningful message for me to decipher:

  • Get your department to ease up on the copies. 
  • Listen more. Talk less.
  • Don’t try to do too much in a lesson.
  • Ground yourself.
  • Don’t pay so much attention to the problems of one child that you neglect other students. 

Most recently, though, I realized that his button pushing hyperbolic picking on me is his straight-faced humor schtick that should be met not with pushback, but instead with humor, introspection, and most of all action.

In a recent button pushing conversation, he told me that I plan by picking the technology I’m going to teach and plugging in my standards to fit it. I listened to him picking on me, got slightly defensive for a second, and then I told him I got his point. I walked away wondering what in the world a little annoyed but aware that he was making the point that technology should add to not take away from the lesson.  

Yesterday when the network decided to fail in my room only, I walked up to my boss deciding to have fun. I played the role of clueless damsel in distress teacher, “I just don’t know how to teach today. My computer isn’t working, and I had a great tech lesson planned that I was going to plug some standards into. Now that my computer doesn’t work–what will I do? I can’t teach without technology!”

He smiled and laughed. I told him how angry I had been about his pushing my buttons but that I understood what he was driving at about making sure my technology is instructionally grounded. With a “gotcha” sort of smirk on his face, he told me that maybe the message would have been lost if he hadn’t been so subtle.

My boss-on one hand, he’s a direct, candid, say-it-like-it-is type of guy.

On the other hand, he engages in straight-faced humorous button pushing hyperbolic subtleties that should be met with humor, humility, introspection, and action.

I suppose next time I feel as if I am not in a laughing and learning mood and if the message and humor are lost on me, I’ll just have to smile and say, “What’s your point, boss?  Get candid. I can take it.”

Sometimes, yes, I  take things too literally and too personally, miss the humor, and am so focused on the big picture that I miss the nuances in meaning. 

 

 

 

Mentally Tough Teacher

Discover. Play. Build.
I celebrate Ruth Ayers at ruthayres.com for encouraging celebration and positivity.

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Convincing myself for so many years that I was tough was counter-productive, counter-intuitive. Now I realize, being tough did not mean what I thought it meant.  Life continues to show me how wrong I’ve been and how wrong I sometimes continue to be.  Being mentally tough does not mean being mentally stubborn, dismissive, or arrogant. Being mentally tough is all about being present, letting go of my junk, living in the moment, and relying on God. Gordon writes of 20 ways to get mentally tough; I applied this to my teaching life.

 

20 Ways to be a Mentally Tough Teacher 

  1. USE SETBACKS TO REDEFINE YOURSELF. When you encounter a setback in teaching,  think of it as a defining moment and seek the takeaway that will lead to future growth and success.
  2. EMBRACE ADVERSITY–WALK THROUGH IT AND KNOW IT WILL LEAD TO SOMETHING GREATER. When you encounter adversity (behavior, motivation, management, conflict, whatever else), remember, the best don’t just face adversity; they embrace it, knowing it’s not a dead end but a detour to something greater and better.
  3. STAY POSITIVE WHEN YOU FACE NEGATIVE PEOPLE. When you face negative people (students, parents, coworkers), know that the key to life is to stay positive in the face of negativity, not in the absence of it. After all, everyone will have to overcome negativity to define themselves and create their success.
  4. WHEN YOU FACE THE NAYSAYERS, REMEMBER THE YES SAYERS.  When you face the naysayers (both young and old), remember the people who believed in you and spoke positive words to you.
  5.  WHEN YOU FACE CRITICS, TUNE OUT THE CRITICISM AND TUNE INTO FOCUSING ON BECOMING YOUR BEST. When you face critics (those who only see your weaknesses or who just don’t get you), remember to tune them out and focus only on being the best you can be.
  6. FROM YOUR HOUSE TO YOUR CLASS–WALK IN GRATITUDE AND PRAYER. When you wake up in the morning, take a morning walk of gratitude and prayer (from your doorstop, to your drive, to the parking lot, to your classroom). It will create a fertile mind ready for success.
  7. FAITH IS GREATER THAN DOUBT. When you fear, trust. Let your faith be greater than your doubt. Like Martin, recognize those fears, name them, cast them out, trust in God, and shed the doubt. 
  8. FIND THE LESSON IN FAILURE. When you fail (a lesson is unsuccessful, the test scores are not what they should be, an evaluation is less than satisfactory), find the lesson in it, and then recall a time when you have succeeded.
  9. ENTER THE BATTLE VISUALIZING SUCCESS. When you head into battle (that class, that student, that parent), visualize success.
  10. PUT YOUR ENERGY IN THE NOW. When you are thinking about the class or lesson or test that did not go well or worrying about the next class or lesson or test, instead focus your energy on the present moment. The now is where your power is the greatest.
  11. DON’T COMPLAIN–SEEK SOLUTIONS. When you want to complain about a student or teacher or parent or principal or standard or assessment, instead identify a solution.
  12. WEED OUT DOUBT. CULTIVATE POSITIVITY. When your own self-doubt crowds your mind and the tasks at hand seem too great, weed them out and replace them with positive thoughts and positive self-talk.
  13. WHEN DISTRACTED, CLEAR YOUR MIND & SEEK THE ZONE. When you feel distracted (when you are tired, sick, struggling or being evaluated), focus on your breathing, observe your surroundings, clear your mind, and get into The Zone. The Zone is not a random event. It can be created.
  14. WHEN ALL SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE, LOOK TO GOT AND REALIZE ALL IS POSSIBLE. When you feel all is impossible (that the bar is too high, the summit is unreachable), know that with God all things are possible.
  15. WHEN YOU FEEL ALONE, REMEMBER YOU’RE LOVED AND SUPPORTED. When you feel alone (just you and that daunting task of meeting each kid where he/she is and meeting all his/her needs and moving each forward), think of all the people (including the kids, parents, coworkers, family) who have helped you along the way and who love and support you now and realize you are NOT alone.
  16. WHEN YOU’RE LOST, PRAY FOR GUIDANCE. When you feel lost in your own school/content/class (in a lesson, a day, or a year), pray for guidance.
  17. WHEN YOU’RE TIRED, DON’T GIVE UP–ALWAYS FINISH STRONG. When you are tired and drained and the next break seems miles away, remember to never, never, never give up. Finish strong in each lesson, each day and each year. 
  18. WHEN YOU FEEL DEFEATED, SEEK THE STRENGTH OF GOD. When you feel like you can’t make it through the class (much less the school day, the quarter or the year), know that you can do all things through God who gives you strength.
  19. WHEN YOUR SITUATION IS OUT OF CONTROL, PRAY, SURRENDER–THEN, FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL.When you feel like your situation (the class, a student’s motivation/ability/behavior/work ethic, the standards, your resources, the evaluation measure), is beyond your control, pray and surrender. Focus on what you can control–let go of what you can’t.
  20. WHEN YOU FEEL PRESSURED, DON’T LET STRESS DEFINE YOU. INSTEAD REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE A TEACHER AND SMILE, HAVE FUN AND SIEZE THE MOMENT. When you’re in a high-pressure/high-stakes situation (when the next test ominously looms around the corner, and the daunting task of preparing the kids for this ominous task is haunting you), remember to not let that stress define who you are. Instead, remember why you became a teacher, and then, smile, have fun, and still enjoy each moment of teaching. Life is short; you only live once.  In spite of all that is thrown at you, quit counting the school days, and quit counting the days until that test. Be present to your students and to what they need.  SIEZE THE MOMENT!

 

At first when I encountered Jon Gordon, his positivity was too much for me, and I was critical of his writing, but now I see the difference that positivity makes, so as I read his blog, Tweets, and books, I try to reserve my cynicism. I enjoy the narrative, at times shaking my head at the naïveté of the protagonist, until I see how I am like a bit like the  protagonist and in need of a lesson. Then, I try to embrace my part in the story.

Like Martin, I feed the wrong wolf at times letting what others think about my teacher identity define who I am and/or get me down. When I see a negative comment about a moment in my classroom as a commentary on who I am anything but mentally tough. I do not want to feed the combative snarling, growling, and whimpering canine; that’s for sure.

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This is not who I am, who I want to be, or who I’m destined to be. Seeing the wall as unscalable,  I let myself be defined by what I think of myself and what others thing of me. When I try to climb the wall focusing on the obstacle without seeking God’s help, the wall is insurmountable.


 

Other writing about Gordon deals with  falls and setbacks/cha chas. Also, related to Gordon: Driving the Bus (9/9/14), My Greatest Asset will NO Longer be My Biggest Obstacle (9/15/14), Obligation or Opportunity (6/9/15), and From a Fizzle to a Finale (7/6/15).


 

The original list about being mentally tough:

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Tired Teacher Needs to be Inspired

Join other teachers each Tuesday,  and share a slice of your life.
Join other teachers each Tuesday, and share a slice of your life.

TIRED TEACHER NEEDS TO BE INSPIRED

The blog title sounds like a want ad, doesn’t it? I am a tired teacher who needs to be inspired. Aren’t we all? Working with passionate people who love teaching and learning is one of the best ways to fill my tank with energy and ideas thus rejuvenating  me no matter the time of year. Yesterday I spent the day with energetic and enthusiastic educators as a part of Paulding County TechEds. I was so into what I was doing that I forgot to slice, but I did blog, though, as part of TechEds at http://kidblog.org/class/techeds/posts  (to view my blog as well as great ideas from TechEds teachers, check out our posts–type 123456 as the password).

Teaching K-12 teachers I have never met is a bit terrifying. Last week I was given that opportunity/challenge and invited to teach a group of teachers from a neighboring district  teaching for the Kennesaw Mountain Wrting Project. My lesson was about infographics as a teaching and learning tool in the classroom; however, the delivery of my lesson was infused with tech tools. I’ve learned from my involvement with Paulding TechEds. I used Blendspace to house and present my content. I created an Infographic Symbaloo Webmix (a visual bookmarking site) to share links with teaching resources, sites for creating infographics, sources for quality infographics, and links for web tools used during the presentation.

I opened my lesson with a question about student/teacher attitudes for reading/teaching non-fiction using AnswerGarden. You may view the answers and submit your own here. Teachers explored ideas for using infographics in the classroom using a Thinglink I created using Kathie Schrock’s infographic about teaching using infographics. Then, I polled teachers using two digital assessment tools:  Plickers and Formative.  Teachers worked independently or with partners based on their needs (differentiation in staff development–I think they appreciated it).
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At the end of my lesson, I closed by polling teachers using Today’s Meet about what they would use from the lesson/workshop. The teachers responded as much about the digital delivery and tools they would use as they did about using infographics as learning and teaching tools.

Following the presentation, one of the teachers came up to me and said, “From all the lessons over the past two weeks, I got the most out of this because I know I will use it right away. Thank you.”

Following that the facilitator for  KMWP Area 2 (also the site director) said, “Thank you for what you said at the end of the lesson. That was powerful, and something teachers need to hear.”

Here is the gist of what I said at the end of my lesson:

I have taught for 18 years, and what I have found is that I need to continue to seek out ways to rejuvenate myself. A few years ago, I was a fellow for a KMWP Summer Institute, and that rejuvenated me and inspired me–yes, you could say I drank the Kool-aid. This past year I worked with TechEds. I couldn’t have used all the tech tools I used today without it. TechEds also inspired me as I worked alongside techy teachers as we struggled, learned, and celebrated together.  

As teachers, we have to continue to seek out new ways to be inspired and engaged. I applaud you all for being here this summer, for taking time out of your summer to learn and grow. Right now I know you may be more tired than inspired, but as the summer continues think about all that you took away from this experience, and let it fuel you next fall. If we as teachers aren’t engaged and inspired, our students aren’t engaged and inspired. Continue to find what will rejuvenate you, so that you can give kids what they deserve and so that you can be passionate about what you do.

I’m not usually an inspirational speech giving teacher, but sometimes the words are needed. And I could tell on that day, some tired teachers needed to be inspired. Alas, perhaps I was one of them.  In fact, perhaps I am always that tired teacher seeking inspiration.

Yes, here I write and continue to blog–I suppose this is its own digital direction in differentiation.  And, I know that you, my fellow bloggers and my fellow educators, continue to inspire me and meet me right where I am.  As we slice with Two Writing Teachers, we definitely celebrate the NWP concept of teachers teaching teachers. Thank you for all your words and all your support and for remembering that we are all tired teachers seeking inspiration. 

My Greatest Asset will NO Longer Be My Biggest Obstacle

 

These words were offered to me in an email from my principal, “You have such a heart for teaching and a will to be the best. It is your greatest asset and at times your biggest obstacle.”

I’ve read over the words again and again and thought about them quite a bit as well. A part of me wants to dig beneath the surface and extract the full meaning of the words, so I can kick myself around a bit more and reflect on the obstacle part. That’s what I’ve always done, reflected on the obstacles that prevent me from being my best self.

“I’m not balanced.”

“I can’t figure out what to do with my clutter.”

“I can’t focus.”

“I don’t sleep enough.”

“I don’t have time to exercise.”

“I don’t spend enough time with my family.”

“I’m not as good of a spouse as my husband.”

“I waste too much time.”

“I didn’t teach well enough today.”

“I am not teaching this right. The kids aren’t getting it.”

“I can’t seem to begin and follow through on routines.”

And the list goes on…

For years I have focused on what I don’t do well–reflecting on ways to change certain aspects; nonetheless, I still have found myself sometimes stuck in the same ol’, same ol’ mentality with cynical reflection serving to debilitate me instead of using this reflective nature to move forward.

Three things have me examining my obstacles in a new light:

  •  A book that resonated with me, The Energy Bus
  • A horrible, very bad, no good day of teaching (on which I was observed)
  • The loss of my friend Anni

Seemingly unrelated these three things have woven themselves together to help me gain perspective, vision, energy, and focus. I’m not sure I can articulate this yet; my mind is still trying to process this all.

I guess I’ll start with the book. I was reading this book for PD at school, The Energy Bus. At first glance, the book reads a bit like hopeful and sappy life narratives from Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul interspersed with Mitch Albom’s symbolic journey narrative of The Five People You Meet in Heaven all the while pontificating with zeal and energy the positive and motivational yawp of Tony Robbins and Norman Vincent Peale.

“Really–how cheesy!” I thought. The protagonist George is pathetic, down on himself, negative at home and work, and a rather unlikeable guy. I read online to find out about the 10 Rules for the Ride (click here to read my blog about it). After I read the rules, I felt pretty good about myself and felt like I could read it and learn about how I could avoid wasting fuel on energy vampires, but I thought I pretty much had most of it under control.

Also, I was feeling good about myself because I had shared recent teaching successes with my dying friend. When she told me that she always knew she put her money on the right horse years ago when she paid my tuition for my teaching degree, I relished in that. Like I’ve mentioned before (see post here and see post here), Anni had always seen my potential, my promise, and my best self.

Last week, I was trying to get my students organized, dealing with the thought of Anni dying, trying to work through the denseness of Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study lessons, and trying to figure out how to weave academic vocabulary into it all. Thursday came, and my class was basically reviewing some academic vocabulary while analyzing a narrative mentor text. I had swayed from the lesson in my notebook (the one I hand to visitors), my standards and writing on the board were not current, and my brain was unfocused to say the least. Of course, this is the day that in walks the principal. He goes to the back of the room and sits down. My students were gluing sheets in their notebook (sheets that we weren’t even ready to go over–I was just getting the sheets in there). Counting down for the kids to finish up gluing and thinking to myself, “This is not going to be good.”

I’m not on today. I still can’t figure out how to fit all that Calkins does into a day. I do not match what is on the lesson that is in the notebook, and the writing on my board is not al there.” I teach, but it’s my worst teaching of the day because I am floundering and falling apart like a first year teacher being observed not like a 19th year teacher.  At this point, I am having flashbacks to the Frantic Friday I wrote about a few years ago. Of course, the day wasn’t an epic fail; it just wasn’t what both my boss and I know I am capable of, and had the observation counted I guess it wouldn’t have been a stellar performance.

That brings me to the next day. I wake up with the thought in mind of being the “right horse” that Anni called me, and I try to give Anni a call only to find out that she is no longer conscious and on Morph 2. The thought of not being able to talk to Anni ever again was devastating. I wanted to tell her how much hope she had given me, and how I wanted to bounce back and be the right horse.  My day teaching was much better than the day before. Maybe because I was looking at each interaction a little differently and trying to be present to people in spite of what I was going through knowing Anni would soon die. At the same time, I was opening up to a few people about what was going on. Four students from previous years wandered down my hall to see my in the morning, and two others came by later to help me out with some anchor charts. I usually send them away, but that morning as if to give me energy there they were with smiles and stories I don’t even remember what.  Weird how people show up when you need them.

I came home sad for this world’s loss of Anni Moller and opened my book again. This time the narrative didn’t seem cheesy. This time I saw myself in the narrative. This time I perceived this idea of an energy bus being devoid of cynicism and skepticism. This time the book helped me to find myself.

Rule #2 Desire, Vision, and Focus Move Your Bus in the Right Direction. This wording is different than the wording I posted last week, and I do believe this rule is the place for me to start making sure my greatest asset does not become my obstacle. As I learned with mountain biking and cycling, if you focus on the obstacle, you will likely hit the obstacle and crash. I have a road rash scar on my shoulder and under my nose that proves that as well as a crooked middle finger on my right hand that proves that focusing on obstacles can cause the obstacle to have power over you.  When I focused on the dip on the trail, and when I looked at the grating where someone else had wrecked, both times—CRASH!

Well, what I see now is that I have spent several years focusing on obstacles that get in my way. My new plan is to focus on my vision for my life (including my health), my work, and my relationships and family. Moreover, I am going to focus my energy on what I want to do instead of what I don’t want to do as I try to build my dreams in my mind and focus on seeing these dreams and taking action on them. Then, I won’t be wasting time on,

“I can’t…”

“I’m not…”

“I won’t…”

“I coud’ve, would’ve, should’ve…”

With this new desire and focus on my vision where I want to go instead of a focus on what I haven’t done, my greatest asset will serve only as my greatest asset and will no longer have the power of enslaving me as an insurmountable obstacle.

Driving the Bus…The Energy Bus

Today I started reading a PD book with some other teacher/leader types, and it’s got me thinking…

Back in the day I worked in the restaurant business. With the fast-paced, tip dependent, high stress environment often came scathing humor poking fun of someone, usually a guest in the restaurant (sometimes the boss, too). When the humor was out of line, we would tell the jokester he/she was driving the bus. This was not Miss. Frizzle’s Magic School Bus destined for a scientific adventure. This was the bus destined for the netherworld. If a person joined the comedian as a sidekick, he or she would be appointed copilot. Many times I was in the role of driver or co-pilot.

20 years later, yesterday,I was given a book entitled  The Energy Bus, and I began wondering what bus is this I am driving now. The driver on this bus has the name Joy; her bus, however, is on a path of a higher purpose and being her copilot would be an honor.

When my principal handed me the book, he asked me who I thought I was–Joy or George? Okay, so I guess that was a joke for the most part. I think my bus is headed in the right direction–for the most part anyway.

The driver Joy is, well, the epitome of her name. On the other hand the “protagonist” George is not a good little monkey who is always curious. He is instead this beat down, cynical, downtrodden man who is negative about every aspect of his life. BLAH!

I have just gotten to the part of the book where Joy is inviting George to have the ride of his life and is sharing The Rules of the Road with him. Below are the Rules for the Ride of Your Life with my commentary.

Without digging into the rest of the book, I think I know my areas for growth. This is just growth related to work.

1. Some people are going to get on your bus and some people won’t. That’s ok. The people that get on were supposed to get on. The people that don’t were probably meant to get on another bus or perhaps they would have ruined your ride. Don’t take it personal. Just keep on driving.

For a moment, I vent and take it personally. Then, I drive on. Maybe I should just smile and wave to those who flip me off. This is easier to not take personally with students than with adults.

2. As you drive just keep picking up people along the way who want to get on your bus. Eventually you’ll have a filled -standing room only- bus.

Yup, I got this, especially with my student passengers. Of course, I don’t have this when wasting time on taking personally those people in #1.

3. If you waste your energy on thinking about the people who didn’t get on your bus that means you’ll have less fuel to pick up the people who want to get on.

See what I mentioned after 2. Yup. I can see this. As I age, sometimes I fear I’m becoming more cynical and nitpicky. Yes, I guess I am wasting my fuel.

4. It’s your bus. You’re the driver. Don’t spend your time and energy driving according to someone else’s travel plans. Of course you can seek directions and advice along the way but remember it’s your bus and your trip. Drive at your own speed and don’t compare your success to other buses.

Oh, I got both hands on the wheel, and I am navigating this bus. Sometimes I guess my bus has to hit a wall before I change directions, but at least I change directions. However, I do struggle with comparison. I have gotten a lot better at not comparing even thought we teach in a climate of comparison. We live in a world of comparison, and I know I am blessed with a wonderful life.

5. You have the best view. Many people won’t be able to see what you see. You have the vision for where you are going while others are in the back seat. Communicate to the people in the back and share your vision of where you are going so they will want to stay on for the ride.

I share my vision, and I think I have gotten better at communicating it with teachers, parents, and students. I’ve always worked hard to know my vision. I am, by nature, conceptual. Sometimes, though, I want to take a nap and let someone else drive.

6. During your ride, you will have many people get on and many get off. Don’t take it personal. The people who get off may have to get on another bus. Or perhaps they will make room for someone special who is supposed to get on.

There is that personal (ahem–personally!) thing again. Yes, I do believe I need to free myself from the desire to be liked by everybody.

7. Take a chance. Ask people if they want to get on your bus. The worst they can say is no. If you don’t ask people they won’t know to get on. The more people you pick up along the way the more energy you will create during your ride.

I think I do this, too, except for the few who have upset me personally. I don’t invite them along for the ride. Wonder if this book will say I should?

8. It’s ok to change destinations. Just because you used to want to go somewhere doesn’t mean you have to go there now.

Hmmmmm….I could change my destination at some point, but for now I’m where I need to be.

9. Post a sign. No Energy Vampires allowed. Sometimes you may have to ask someone to get off your bus. Gandhi said, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” Don’t let anyone ruin the ride of your life.

Hmmmmm…perhaps I create potholes on my drive.  Posting a sign is easy; however, I don’t think I have the authority to kick too many people off the bus. I guess, then, this goes back to not taking things personally.

10. Have fun. When you have fun everyone will want to ride on your bus. Most importantly, you’ll love the ride.
With students having fun is easy. With grown ups, having fun with most of them is easy. Sometimes, though, I struggle with those who don’t have fun, who don’t love kids, who don’t have passion.

Thinking back to the bus I drove and co-piloted in my restaurant days, that was a choice. And now I look at this bus, The Energy Bus, and have to reconsider the choices I make as I drive the proverbial bus, open my door to passengers, try not to take personally people who aren’t interested in riding along, and try to avoid crashing into ditches.

Slice of Me

Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/
Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/

My forlorn blog,

you have been neglected–

Life is too busy.

Tuesdays aren’t good for me.

I don’t have energy to write.

I make excuses.

Today  (well, yesterday now) I wrote–

I modeled an essay beginning,

I wrote for a few minutes with KMWP people,

I drafted a few emails–one amused me.

I typed the department orders in a spreadsheet,

I typed the spelling bee winners in a chart,

And now, blog, what do you want from me?

You want a slice of my life, too.

Who do you think you are–

You want a slice of me??!!??

 

My husband is in bed, alone.

It’s 12:40 AM.

I’m tired.

I am out of slices.

I need a few more slices in life’s pie.

Just take a knife to me–

cut off another piece,

Parcel out another portion of me.

The slices of my life

are sliced too thinly.

What more can I give?

What words can I write?

This teacher writer

will have to jostle the dormant writer

from hibernation

before she teaches next summer’s

Writing Project

or else

she will be living a writing lie.

Please have another slice–

there’s more of me.

There’s less of me.

I don’t know anymore.

Goodnight.

Good morning.

It’s all the same–

Is that the alarm?

I just fell asleep.

A new day arrives–

and I offer up

Another slice of life.

I Choose This

Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/
Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/

This is summer time–time for teachers to take breaks and hang out at the pool and refuel. An anomaly, I am spending my summer working with my local site of the National Writing Project and trying to plan ways to lead a schoolwide initiative.

Frustrated I can’t figure out how I am going to make this school-based initiative something that will work at my school. My head is swimming with ideas of all the good work that should be done at my school, but I just don’t know how I can make it all happen. This is my third draft–each one started from scratch. My writing group advised me to let go of my frustration and try to focus on what will work in my school setting and advised me that I’m trying to do too much.

What will work? Where should I start? What will be supported by administration and appreciated by teachers. Griping that night as I write, rewrite, and rewrite, I am unable to express my thoughts in a way that make sense.

Across the room, my educator husband reminds me, “You chose to do this. You signed up for it.”

I want to slap him, but instead I pound my fingers on my keyboard. Yes, he’s right.  I  accepted the invitation and signed up for the KMWP Advanced Leadership Institute (ALI), and at that moment I am wondering what I was thinking.

The next day as I am reading my draft to my ALI writing group, at  some point in my writing I call myself a “literary expert”. My writing group laughs. I mean face it, we all know I’m no Harold Bloom. While my group is discussing my piece,  the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project  Director of Institutes asks me how many years I’ve taught. When I tell him 16, he says we may laugh but that does qualify me as expert. I like the way that sounds, expert. Joining forces and working and writing closely with college professors and working together as teacher writers and collaborators  to better  teach children and college students–this is the real stuff of college and career readiness. Yes, I chose this!

After an arduous day of writing groups, research writing, and collaboration, I sit at a table at a local restaurant for beverages and appetizers among my like-minded KMWP middle school teaching peers. Our conversation moves quickly in many directions: YA authors, , DFTBA, TED Talks, pedagogy of grammar instruction (from grammar and diagramming to Jeff Anderson), close reading and Beers and Probst, applications to Gallagher’s book Write Like This, and school struggles. I am amazed to be sitting with three other women with whom this pedagogical dialogue is so natural and so invigorating. We talk of how these  conversations rarely happen at our schools and how few teachers follow research and pedagogy. We are all able to keep up with the conversation, and wow, it’s good stuff! Yes, I chose this!

I am in my niche among like-minded teachers who enjoy reading professional literature, who take instructional risks, who challenge the status quo. We might be nerdy. We might be curriculum geeks (that’s what my husband affectionately calls me). In other contexts, we might stand out as different, but at this table at this moment with my KMWP peers I am normalacy and not an anomaly. Yes, I chose this.

How could I choose anything else?

Building

Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/
Slice on Tuesdays at http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/
 
Grasping the blueprint,
I see it’s smudged,
and I find myself sitting alone,
struggling
to sift and sort
through the plans
and discern how
to best move forward.
 
If I build alone,
and you see what I’ve done,
will you want me to tear down the walls
and start again?
 
Maybe it would be easier
If you would take some time.
Sit down with me,
and together we could make sense of this blueprint.
 
As I pick up the hammer and begin to build,
I need to hear something—
whether support and affirmation
or criticism and redirection.
This will help us fulfill our vision,
and build a solid structure.
 
Building a house
that will survive the storms of the future
requires scaffolding.
Some work cannot be done alone;
even with a strong foundation.
This weight is too heavy
for me to bear alone.
I cannot be the lone carpenter.
 
Let’s examine the blueprint,
develop a plan,
join forces,
work together,
and build.
 

When Teaching Gets Tough: Getting Others to Change

Slice 5 of 31

This blog entry is my teacher homework for school. In our PLCs (professional learning communities) at school, we are reading When Teaching Gets Tough by Allen N. Mendler. In reading chapter 3 about working with difficult adults, I was asked to chose one of three sections to reflect on from the chapter.

“Getting Others to Change” is the section that most applies to me (this week anyway). This section begins by suggesting to have empathy for others, to be patient, and to commit to change. Finally, this section offers advice as to how to plant the seed of change with the main advice being, “When seeking change, it is sometimes necessary to be satisfied with singles because home runs are a lot harder to hit.” (77)

In anything I do, my inclination is to go boldly, be adventurous and make things happen quickly and successfully. Okay, so then, how am I, the bold adventurous spirit, supposed to be satisfied with a single? C’mon I played sports back in the day–my inclination is to go for the homerun.

Why should I be satisfied with the single?

  1. If enough singles are hit, the team will get around the bases and make a run.
  2. A single is like a small change, and it’s not drastic. A little change is palatable for people; a lot of change is overwhelming for many people.
  3. Smaller changes give people time to think, reflect, and carefully insitute a new practice.
  4. A little change at a time gives people the time and opportunity to see the good in the change and to buy into the changes.
  5. A little change won’t be seen as “one more thing” forced upon people.

So I guess the idea of moving forward more slowly and with more intentionality will do more to ensure the success of improving and impacting literacy. That being the case I am wiling to slow down and take my time. Winning the game isn’t about me hitting homeruns. It’s not about how pretty it looks and how many balls are hit out of the park. It truly is about how the team can work together and perservere. Yes, there will be times of no runs, singles, doubles, triples, and homeruns. As long as we are moving forward and working together as a team, we will achieve great things.

If I switch the sport and look at my challenges back in my day of playing basketball, I realize that my aggressiveness, rashness, and determination sometimes got me in trouble on the court when I fouled out. While I stopped the ball and sometimes kept the other team from scoring, this nature of mine caused me to foul out a lot and then I would land myself on the bench and would no good to anyone. I guess it’s not all about impacting change as suddenly and as drastically as possible; it’s about knowing how to become what your team needs in order to be successful.

While I get all this, I believe I may need a few chalk talks to remind me that “slow and steady wins the race” and that change needs to be focused and deliberate. Plus, I need to realize that a single represents success just as the homerun does and that as long as we’re moving in the direction of change, we are growing and developing and on our way to changing practices in a real and sustaining way.

Contrasts and Contradictions from Literature to Life

Image

Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC)

The challenge is to write all 31 days of March.

Day 2

A few weeks ago I wrote about the signpost of Contrasts and Contradictions from the Beers and Probst book Notice and Note. As I think about the contrasts and contradictions I find in literature and how much students can learn from them, I also think about how contrasts and contradictions teach us about much more than the plot; they also teach us about human nature and life in general. Schools and those of us who fill them are full of contrasts and contradictions.

Now, as I am writing daily and seeing the wise responses from slicers, I am taking a look at my thoughts and seeing the mass of contrasts and contradictions that happen all around me each day.

By nature, I am hard on myself. I cannot stand my weaknesses. When they are exposed, I shudder and beat myself up. When I messed up the other day by neglecting to get a sub for my district level curriculum planning, I feared angering my principal because the last thing I want to do is “chap his hide” (that is his expression, btw).

Apologetically and sheepishly, I approached him the morning I realized I had messed up the day of my district level curriculum planning and that I had no sub for that very day, and I offered him a partial solution.  Proactively and calmly (without anger–his hide did not seem chapped), he met my partial solution with a complete solution, by figuring out how to get me coverage for the day. The secretary who handles procuring last minute subs was out that morning. Even left short subs, he handled it with composure and didn’t get upset with me. I was waiting for some sort of chastising, some sort of comment of disappointment, but all I received was a calm “it is what it is” attitude and efficient handling of the situation.

When I met this new principal of mine, I thought I was getting one of those good ol’ boy social studies teacher coaches as administrator type of leaders, and I assumed he would know little about instruction and that he just wouldn’t get me. During my 20 minute meeting with him last spring as an incoming principal, he calmly listened and commented as I shared with him my two page bulleted list as to how I thought we could improve the school. While I was thinking, that he thought I was a neurotic and babbling teacher, he was thinking (as I recently learned) that I cared about the quality of instruction, that I was knowledgeable and passionate about my field, and that I was a person of action who would challenge the status quo.

As I was stereotyping him, he was seeing the good in me. During the summer, he called me and asked me to be his ela department head. Really, I thought he was just listening to the recommendations he was given. I had no idea what his thoughts had been from our spring meeting. 

The school year began, and he and I butt heads at our first meeting with both of us walking away wondering if we would be able to work together for all our contrasts and contradictions. The next day we came to terms as allies, realizing that we would need to deal with our contrasts in a different sort of way. And now, I would say we are more than allies, we are collaborators working to do what is best for students, and we work together to do what is best for kids in a symbiotic sort of way. I need his practical ways, his logic and common sense, his knowledge of how to slow down, step back and gain perspective. And he, well, he needs my visionary spirit, my willingness to take instructional risks, my passion for ela, my dedication to literacy and finding what works, and my content knowledge.Being that we are in middle school, we need the witty banter as well (yes, I must say this principal is not the average good ol’ boy–he is quick witted, knowledgable and proactive–in spite of what I originally thought). 

Yesterday he and I discussed my snafu, and he told me with all that I do well every day he can handle the occasional mistakes. I expected disappointment, but his words and actions contradicted that and showed appreciation for all I do. He and I  went on to discuss our visions for literacy and ways to bring those visions to fruition. He is showing me how to take a step back, get perspective, slow down, and get buy in. 

At the beginning of the year, I was truly afraid that he and I would not be able to work well together. What I once saw as a contrast and contradiction is more of a balance, and I am thankful for the people in my life who keep me grounded and help me find my way. I am beginning to realize that those people who keep me grounded are thankful for my visionary spirit.

I am also realizing that contrasts and contradictions are opportunities for change and growth.