1) OBSERVE – “Looking back, what pleasant surprises did I discover this week?”
How quickly teachers can fall in love with their students.
Our entire Week 0 is dedicated to building relationships – they are foundational to learning after all. To witness the number of hugs, smiles, cute notes scribbled in kid-writing, songs sung, and so many other gestures take place in just one short week fills a persons bucket.
A mentor of mine, Dr. Theresa Pulos (former superintendent of the Clyde-Savannah Central School District) talked about this idea a lot. She often asked her teachers, “Have you let yourself fall in love with your students?” Her message was clear: Those are just warm bodies in those seats, they are people. And not just any people, but students – YOUR students. And you don’t teach them out of some sense of obligation that emanates for a “job”. You guide them with a sense of care that comes from love – a human connection.
In a place that believes so much in human-centered problem-solving, seeing the bonds between teacher and student form fills the bucket indeed.
2) REFLECT – “What lessons did my work teach me that I could build upon next week?”
In our Pre-Planning schedule for this year, the MVIFI team decided to conduct an experiment. We created a design thinking FlashLab experience that would provide participants with a chance to get to know a division colleague a little better than they might have already, but to go one step further – they would actually fabricate a “personalized piece of swag” for that person. So instead of just stopping at the pipe cleaners and popsicle stick prototypes, they’d get a chance to make something at a far higher resolution than normal – the goal of this being to help teachers realize that design thinking is as much about product as it is process, and now that we have the spaces to offer this type of work… #greatthingscanhappen :-)
Feedback from the experience thus far has been excellent, with teachers telling us how much they wanted their gifts to be both special and personal. Many went and added something extra to make sure that the personal touch was special.
Some divisions have already exchanged gifts, and the reactions were just what we’d hoped for.
I’ve seen this intense pride and desire in a designer to actually make a finished product for their user as excellent as they can, a number of times before. One time was with teachers attending a workshop I ran at the Martin Institute. Another time was with middle school students when we made adaptive toys for students at the Mary Cariola Children’s Center. In both of this instances, the designers refused to do anything other than their best work because they knew who their creations were for – the designers had fallen in love with their users.
But those were with adults and middle school students. Would the same results occur if done with elementary students? Would we see the relationship between designer and user emerge again?
I already had strong suspicions that it would, because I’ve done similar designer/user work with my students before – a typical week in class has a progression where I prompt my students to first make something for me, then for themselves, and then for someone else near the end of the week.
What would make this particular experience different however, would be the time frame. Normally, we would have a few days to get to know our user. For our Week 0 experience, students would get about 25 minutes. This was the variable I was testing.
Students would tell each other stories about their favorite part of the summer – something they did, a place they went, someone they saw, something they got… anything that was a highlight of their summer. Then, students would try to physically recreate something from that story that would let their user feel that highlight all over again.
After a four-minute interview between storyteller and interviewer, another four-minute interview with roles swapped, and then about 15 minutes to build with Legos, the same deep user/designer relationships had formed that I’d witnessed with the older groups. Students wanted to use more than Legos to add specific details. They wanted more time to “get it just right.” Hearts were broken when they found out that they wouldn’t be taking their creations home – and it wasn’t the one who got the gift that was upset, it was the one who gave it!
— James Tiffin Jr. (@JimTiffinJr) August 17, 2016
Knowing how quickly, and how strongly, a human-centered connection can be formed with some of our youngest students certainly informs my work for the coming school year.
3) FOCUS – “Are my short-term efforts and my long-term goals still aligned?”
I haven’t yet completed my goals for the coming school year. I’ve gone through our goals workshop, but I haven’t put it in final form. I feel comfortable with that too because so many of the authors and researchers of the books I’ve been ready say that waiting is a good thing:
- Steve Johnson talks about the “slow hunch” as being a key aspect in the natural history of innovation
- Benedict Carey discusses the value of “percolating” in terms of the mind’s ability to learn and be creative
- Adam Grant went in to great depth regarding how procrastination can influence a person’s ability to original
But it isn’t that these authors are saying that things can be put off until a later day simply because you want to. They each talk about how the mind continues to work on ideas even when you are consciously engaged with the idea. Your mind becomes more perceptive, and receptive, to information related to your idea as time passes, which makes the idea mature more fully. Plus, associations and lessons learned from those that “go first” makes is more likely that your idea will be more successful overall.
So, it’s not that I’m putting my goals off… I just haven’t landed it (verbally) yet. I know that I want to a goal related to my administrative responsibilities, and my role as a leader of various teams. There is valuable work here for me to do to help our school move further towards fulfilling our mission.
4) BE PRODUCTIVE – “What could I have spent more or less time doing?”
It’s hard to answer this question regarding Week 0 because it is such an unusual week in a school. As I said, the week is dedicated to relationship building with students, but it also means offering support, encouragement, and helping hands to the faculty as they begin to orient to the arrival of new students. There is also the behind the scenes work that has to be done to enable everyone else to do their work. It is hard to say what I would have cut from this past week, though I could have certainly added.
Perhaps that needs to be part of my goals work… a stronger commitment to pruning, instead of just adding. Hmmm… #percolating
5) HAVE COURAGE – “How did fear and uncertainty affect what I did and didn’t do?”
This is more about how I’ve overcome my fear and uncertainty that had been a source of hardship in years past. That might not align with this question exactly, but it’s my reflection so I can do what I want, right? :-)
It is no secret that I’ve always struggled to ask people for help. If you didn’t know that about me, let’s sit by a morning campfire with some Earl Grey tea and I’ll tell you the tales. Taking the dogs out for a long walk is another chance you’ll get to hear me go into details. In a nutshell, I have trouble asking people to do things for me because I know they their own things to do. Plus, their’s the soccer goalie – mathematician – oldest child ego thing going on :-)
But this week, I tried to break out of that mindset.
I needed some paperwork done, a schedule reviewed to see if a better arrangement could be found, and for some information to be both gathered and delivered. I asked our Executive Assistant Alex Blumencranz for help. She did it better than I could have.
We had a part on the laser cutter fail, and I need to troubleshoot it for warranty purposes… but our Lower School Book Celebration was getting ready to happen. I asked our Media & Maker Manager to come in and lend a hand with the students while I was on the phone and “under the hood.” It worked out great, giving Juliette another lap with the students and the machine – plus it was something that I’d reflected on previously.
And you know what happened to me after all of these requests for assistance that I had to make? Nothing. I survived. I didn’t get a reprimand because I couldn’t do the job myself. I didn’t loose stature amongst colleagues because I asked for help. I did feel a little personal guilt, but that was quickly squashed when both Alex and Juliette reminded me that part of their job is to help me do my job. Gotta remember that going forward :-)
6) CLEANSE – “What mental clutter can I clear?”
In my present state of mind, this question is about getting answers to the questions that I’ve had banging around in my head. That “clutter” was specifically questions around faculty that have shared responsibilities between the lower school and other departments/divisions. Rather than just guess and wonder and “step softly” so as to break as few eggs as possible, I set up meetings with the other supervisors to discuss and collaboratively determine what shared supervision would look like.
The idea to have a meeting about this is no huge break through – making decisions is one of the things leaders do, especially with other leaders. But to finally have resolution to this is some clutter I’m thankful to be rid of.
7) BEGIN ANEW – “What is the first logical step for next week?”
The whirlwind is never far away at Mount Vernon. I need to get ahead of it, and with my work on creating a personal schedule for tackling the essentials and making space for margin, the first step has to be getting my Rocks & Sand schedule put on paper. I have just as many responsibilities as last year – arguably more. Being able to fully attend to all of the initiatives we have going is going to take commitment, and a schedule with sacred times will help me do just that.
Another big step for next week is getting on the same Basecamp page as my MVIFI team. Admittedly, I don’t use it as much as my teammates, but part of that is because I never sat down to ask folks about the norms regarding how we would use it. Some discussions at the end of the summer brought to light how my use of the project management software was not the same as others. As a teammate that cannot always benefit from the face-to-face interactions that take place the MVIFI collab due to my presence on the other campus, electronic communication methods are often the only means for getting/giving updates on projects. Creating ways for me to stay on the same page regarding meetings that I have to leave, (informal) meetings that I didn’t even know took place, or sharing new items that we are working on are all going to play a big part of this year as we get underway with the 2016-2017 school year.
So steps for Monday:
- Commit a personal schedule to paper and share it with teammates
- Add an agenda item to the MVIFI Unweekly meeting regarding shared understandings of Basecamp work and meeting discussions
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.