Author’s Note: I am experimenting with two new ideas for this week’s reflection.
First, my responses to the seven questions were all dictated into my phone with speech-to-text, and captured into my Evernote, while out on the morning’s #MentalPaws hike. They were then copied and pasted into my WordPress site where I made corrections to anything that wasn’t captured correctly.
Second, I am including a “Takeaway” prompt to each question in the reflection. I am usually thinking of my responses to the questions at the same time that I write them or type them – or in this case… speak them :-) By having a takeaway, it will give me a chance to dig deeper when I re-read my responses in hopes of creating a little nugget of “learning cement” that I can distill my thoughts down to. A hat-tip to Chris Bailey‘s book “The Productivity Project”, which has a takeaway at the beginning of every chapter, which is where my idea got its inspiration from.
1) OBSERVE – “Looking back, what pleasant surprises did I discover this week?”
My pleasant discovery was the Pomodoro Technique for productivity. “The Productivity Project” talked about it in a chapter on single-tasking – which <SPOILER ALERT> is actually a chapter on mindfulness. I’ve used it with recognizable success this week – MoVe talk copy, PowerSchool Learning setup, blog posts, pin board creation for Kindergarten. But I have noticed that it doesn’t work as well at certain times of the day. For instance, outside of my “biological prime time” (read the book to learn more :-) when my energy is low, my focus is much harder to maintain. Maybe this is just a matter of strengthening my attention muscle (again, read the book to learn more!)
Takeaway: Find the right time of day, and projects for, carving out intentional focused attention time for. Not all work may benefit from the productivity technique.
2) REFLECT – “What lessons did my work teach me that I could build upon next week?”
My lesson for this week is more about my personal needs as educators. I intentionally decided this week to limit the number of times I went in and out of classrooms. During Week 0, I tried to make sure that teachers would have lots of time to build the foundational relationships with their students that we stressed to them they should do. I did not want them to go into panic mode when an administrator walks in – we have a number of new teachers and Learning Coaches this year, so they have not yet been introduced to the philosophies and purposes behind our Learning Walks and Instructional Rounds. Further, my relationship with students tends to be a bit different than the ones they would have with their homeroom teachers, as I’ve been with these students for many years now. We have all our antics that we do, the running jokes that we tell, and plenty of goofing around that occurs – I’m proud to call myself the biggest Kindergartener on Campus, and my MVIFI team calls me Wingnut for a reason :-) Needless to say, I can be a bit of a distraction to kids when I come into a room. I hoped that by creating less of distractions during Week 0, teachers and students could focus on each other more.But I realize though is that I need time with the kids too. My relationship building during Week 0 was primarily with teachers outside of student settings. But I need some student settings
But I what I realized though, is that I need time with the students too. My relationship building during Week 0 was primarily with teachers outside of student settings, but I need some student settings too. As evidence, I think about the highlight of my week being the chance I got in Kindergarten to run a fine motor skills center with pin boards. – similar in theme to these, but not exactly like them. I didn’t know any of these students, so this was my first interaction with them outside of carpool. We had a riot, and not in the distracting sense! :-) We talked about the sounds that the pins made as they pushed through the paper and into the foam board. We asked questions about why the paper still felt smooth on top of the holes, but had “little mountains” on the back where the paper was pushed through. We noticed that the lasercut cardboard letters smelled “like a campfire”, and how we could make both small holes and big holes on the lines we trace. It was a real bucket-filling moment for me, and at the same time, I hopefully modeled some teacher behaviors that encourage the curiosity and natural inquisitiveness that all children are born with.
Takeaway: Always remember, that teachers got in to education because they enjoy working with students. Even when those teachers become administrators, they still need time with the kids.
3) FOCUS – “Are my short-term efforts and my long-term goals still aligned?”
I still believe my short-term efforts are aligned with long-term goals. I said earlier, I spent a lot of time working with individual teachers and teams to support their work. Granted, a lot of it was on a technical bend with the preparation for this year’s use of PowerSchool Learning. But even then I hoped to model a sensitivity towards agency for the faculty. Maybe it’s not complete agency, but instead, it’s a sense that their input is valued. Connecting it back to that idea of ownership >> buy-in from my last reflection, we had conversations about how our grade level weekly announcements that we communicate to parents should change. It all stemmed from a simple open-ended question that I asked: “As teachers, what do you think is most valuable to communicate to parents about next week’s learning?” The idea behind this question was to really drive the notion of less is more by proving we can get down to what’s most valuable. The other thought is that we could help drive a desire to want to know more lastly I hope was to recognize that we were trying to cut down on
It all stemmed from a simple open-ended question that I asked: “As teachers, what do you think is most valuable to communicate to parents about next week’s learning?” The idea behind this question was to really drive the notion that “less is more” by asking ourselves what is most valuable to communicate. Further, we could help drive a desire to want to know more because we could help set parents up for meaningful conversation with their children that truly started with questions. Lastly, we delivered a message to teachers that we were trying to cut down on a number of checklist-like items that we ask teachers to do, in exchange for working on matters that are more meaningful and valuable to them and their learners. Hopefully, this models for our teachers different elements of agency around what it is we asked them to do. And if Ron Ritchhart theories on Cultures of Thinking is true, then the behaviors and cultures we model in the school for teachers will find their way into the classrooms for students.
Takeaway: Everything we do, teaches. Even the things we don’t do.
4) BE PRODUCTIVE – “What could I have spent more or less time doing?”
I could have spent more time asking the MDE team to wrestle with some questions that we’re facing with regards to a new configuration in Studio(i) for integrated “maker” classes in the Lower School in Middle School. A quick bit of background… we are trying to figure out the best way to start arranging Studio(i) to help teachers and students navigate the space, and more importantly, to become more comfortable with what learning looks like that space. Juliette Minutaglio had a great insight that she shared when we first started wrestling with this during Preplanning. She pointed out that, “The problem we were facing wasn’t about this space,” as she waved her hands around her to indicate Studio(i). “It’s about this space,” she concluded as she pointed to her head.
Despite that incredible insight, we weren’t able to land the plane on a HMW that would drive our reorganizing of the Studio. And when we left, we just said we’d keep thinking on it.
But what I need to continually remember is that as a team leader, people can be working on these kinds of problems even when I’m not there – or when I personally am not ready to wrestle them at a particular moment. I suppose that the insight there isn’t all that amazing. But it becomes pretty important when you think about asking your team to work on something that’s important to the entire team. Imagine how simple it would have been to just act upon the thought I had, of just posting a question to our Slack channel and asking people to cognate on it. Based on what I’ve learned about neuroscience, even if they weren’t focusing on that particular request, being exposed to a question and a request to work on it would have ensured that the problem was constantly turning around in their heads. Their subconscious mind would have been thinking about the question without them even knowing about it. Then when it came time to put fingers to keyboard, or to verbalize with the group, they would have had something more to share beyond just a first impulse.
Summary Leverage the strength of the teens you lead more effectively even when they’re not together as a team.
Takeaway: Leverage the strength of the teams you lead more effectively, even when they’re not together as a team.
5) HAVE COURAGE – “How did fear and uncertainty affect what I did and didn’t do?”
This question continues to befuddle me. It makes me wonder if I’m thinking about it the right way because every week I struggle with what response to make to it. Maybe it’s my self-assurance coming out as my number one StrengthsFinder trait. Maybe it’s my fear of being seen as incompetent manifesting itself, as postulated last week. Maybe it’s just me not being mindful enough. I wonder what actions I could take to help me identify why this is, or to clearly indicate that nothing is wrong with me :-)
Takeaway: I would make a terrible Yellow Lantern. #iamageek :-)
6) CLEANSE – “What mental clutter can I clear?”
I don’t think this question is intended to be an opportunity to list all your accomplishments from the week. It’s not supposed to be a bragging box to show off all the check marks on your to-do list. I think the intention behind it is to reflect on what item(s) has/have been most on your mind, and how you have been able to chip away at it or address it. So if that is the frame, I would suppose my response would have to be directed at home life.
All that happens on the Homefront is very important to me, and I have been thinking hard about how this year needs to work differently than last year… primarily because of work changes made by my wife, and the new grades that my kids find themselves in. I know it’s only the first week of school, but I can start to see how our family flow is going to happen at home, and more importantly, how the connections we have as a team of six are going to work. Open lines of communication, hugs and kisses, goofy times for games, and meals together are all starting to give me a sense of where they’ll land among the many changes in this coming year.
Takeaway: Family first.
7) BEGIN ANEW – “What is the first logical step for next week?”
I see two logical first steps for next week, but both of them relate to the start of the Lower School’s experiment with the integration of maker-centered learning. The first is a reset of the Studio to get it into a place that is (1) presentable and (2) allows the more intentional work of redesigning the space to take place. The second step is to start the educational relationships with teachers as we begin to imagine integrated learning.
Oh, and third… send out that Slack message from Question #4!
Takeaway: The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
The genesis of this reflective post comes from an experiment that Bo Adams invited a group of MVPS leaders to be a part of. His hypothesis in the experiment revolves around the idea that the process of regular reflection by learners, student or faculty, can produce remarkable positive learning results. That, in and of itself, is not a new belief.
Where the twist comes in is making it a regular occurrence, as opposed to just after a major event – or in a student’s case, when a project, test or unit of study is completed.
Essentially, what if regular reflection was an “assignment”, or some other form of home learning? How might this practice of reflection become habitual and motivated by intrinsic value? By doing this as lead learners, what empathetic insights might we gain to better enable us ask others to take on this practice? Or might we discover that we shouldn’t ask them?
To guide our reflections, Bo shared with us these seven questions shown to the right.
They are based on a post written by Mark Chernoff on their site Hack Life. I highly recommend reading the post to help unpack the thoughts and motivations behind these seven questions.
Well, consider this post my way of getting my homework done so I can participate in the class discussions to follow. :-)
Images in this post, but not shown in the Image Credits section, are my own.