One of Google's philosophies is innovation is not instant perfection. My principal has been telling us that over and over for the past year and a half. The value of believing that statement and living it are finally starting to sink in for me.
By nature, I'm a planner. I like to know what is going to happen, when it is going to happen, what I need to do to be prepared and ready to go, with a few back up plan...just in case. Of course, being a teacher I also have the ability to be flexible and responsive and I'm actually pretty good at it. Yet in times of change or new ideas, I tend to spend too much time trying to anticipate every possible thing that could happen, what could go wrong (even completely illogical things), what could go right...just classic over thinking. What often ended up happening was I would paralyze myself out of fear of what I couldn't anticipate. "Simple" things, like setting up my classroom would take me forever. I'd procrastinate for weeks throughout the summer thinking, drawing potential room maps, rethinking, changing my mind...paralyzed because I didn't know exactly how I wanted it. Even though I knew that no matter what my final beginning of the year decision I'd end up rearranging by October anyway!
As my principal's constant reminders of "innovation is not instant perfection" and his encouragement to take risks began to sink in, things started to click. Too often in school (and in life) we don't want to risk innovative change or new ideas because we don't know what is going to happen. That's the beauty and the frightening part all wrapped up in one. It could flop or it could be magnificent. No matter how much anticipating we try to do, there are always going to be things we never saw coming.
I think the answer is to give it a try. As long as you have put good thinking and research into it and brainstormed with other forward thinkers, at some point you have to jump in. Do this while knowing you have to be flexible and responsive. You initial plan will not be instantly perfect...but how will you create perfection if you don't start somewhere?
Next year our school is undergoing a structure change. This structure will better support our goals of personalized learning, flexible grouping across the grade level, deep teacher collaboration, and a slew of other goals. We have an innovative staff who are connected to best and next practices, but change is change and it is tricky.
Today I led a professional development/planning/brainstorming session for one of my newly combined teams for next year. We began with team building and looking at all of our strengths and communication styles. We talked about how we deal with conflict, our ideals for communication, and the things we need to feel part of a collaborative team.
After laying the groundwork for this new PLC, we began envisioning the future together. We talked about our hopes and dreams as a team, for the learning experiences we will create together next year, and our dreams for all of the students. After this brainstorming and dreaming process we stepped back into the nitty-gritty of getting there. As kindergarten and first grade teachers, they knew this required a lot of steps back...there is a lot of groundwork to lay as students learn how to be learners in a group, how to ask questions and find answers, how to notice and share what they are learning...the list goes on.
It is my first year in this coaching role, so I am learning how to be on the facilitating end of the professional development! In reflecting on the day today, I see so many parallels to when I was in the classroom.
First...wait time. As the facilitator I felt myself wanting to jump in and move them along anytime there was silence. Yet as I bit my tongue and waited through that uncomfortable part, often some of the deepest thinking or best questions arose.
Turning questions back to the group was huge as well. I'm trying to squash the notion that I have the answers, I know what's best, or that there even is a right or wrong answer. Our new structure creates the framework for flexible grouping and teaming, but there is a lot of flexibility within it and I wanted the team to realize that today. My hope is that they had a change to wrap their brains around it and think about how to make it their own. I could talk and talk about how I would do it or how I envision it, but come September, they are the ones in the classrooms every day. By turning a lot of the wonderings back to the group, great conversations happened.
I am excited for the progress we made and the ideas that were arising today. The teaming, communication and collaboration are off to a good start!
The excitement of kids who are hooked by a book is contagious. It is an amazing privilege to introduce a child to their newest favorite character. Reading aloud is one of my favorite things to do. It is an opportunity to genuinely demonstrate your passion for literature, your love of great characters, the deep thinking you do as a reader, and the lasting impact a book has on you. In my classroom I read aloud multiple times each day.
This year I moved into an instructional coaching role and I no longer have my own classroom. I am in classrooms as much as possible, but I really miss reading aloud. I miss the continuity of making connections with a class over multiple books we have read and shared together.
This morning our kindergarten teacher called and asked if I could come down and read aloud while she made a phone call. I jumped up from my desk, grabbed a stack of my favorite books, and crossed my fingers that these kindergartners hadn't met Piggie and Gerald yet.
As I sat down in front of the 28 sleepy-eyed six year olds early on a Monday morning, I dramatically pulled one of the books and said, "Have any of you met Piggie and Gerald before? They are my favorite!"
"I have those books at home!" one voice exclaimed, while the rest of the pack leaned in curiously.
"I know I won't like it," said a boy in the front row (who doesn't think he likes anything).
"Let's give it a chance...I think you might change your mind," I said as I cracked open I Will Surprise My Friend.
Laughter, predictions, connections, and inferences filled the air as we read through the book. I was thrilled to so quickly become part of this literary community. This book brought us all together and gave us a space to think and laugh together.
Once we finished the first book, my little friend in the front row spearheaded the begging for more. Together we read one more and I left them the stack of my beloved books.
Piggie and Gerald gained a few new friends today. I'm glad I had the privilege of introducing them.
Each day in first grade last year we began with a community circle. It was a time for the entire class to come together, share, and begin our day together. With 28 first graders it took a lot of front loading and practice to ensure that we could sit to listen to 28 of our friends and to make sure our none of our sharing went on too long. With practice and many friendly reminders, we were making progress as the year went on.
By December we were perfecting the art of community circle and my friendly reminders were becoming less frequent for the class, except for one student. He became my sidekick, so that I was able to keep him close and provide constant reminders to listen to his classmates.
One day, as we were about halfway around the circle, my sidekick uncrossed his pretzel legs and knelt next to me. I patted his back and whispered, "Let's listen to our friends." He listened for a few more minutes and then suddenly bellyflopped into the middle of the circle. "I'm an orca whale!" he exclaimed as he flopped around the middle of the circle.
proximity doesn't fix everything
teaching requires thinking on your feet, as there are many situations you could never predict (but they make hilarious stories later!)
I have always said I hated change. Looking back, I think I worked pretty hard to avoid change at all costs. About two years ago I took what felt like a big risk and I chose change. I chose to go take a position at a new school that professionally held many opportunities and possibilities for me. It was terrifying to leave my safe surroundings, familiar families, teachers I had developed collaborative relationships with, and all of the students I loved seeing every day. For one of the first times in my life, I made a decision that felt like what was best for me and I chose change.
The last two years have slowly sent me into a flurry of choosing change, both professionally and personally (in actuality, it is probably a slow pace, but it is quite rapid given my track record). I've taken a new position within my school, begun to find my voice and my confidence, and realized that I get a say in how things go in my life. These things have not come naturally to me up to this point. I definitely am a work in progress as I move through my life differently now.
Choosing change was the first step in this journey. Embracing the unknown, rather than fearing it has helped me move to this place. I'm excited by how it has gone so far and I am anxious to see whats next.
When it comes to snow days, I'm as excitable as a child. Any forecast or possibility of deep snow sends me running to put a spoon in the freezer and to flip my pajamas inside out...snow day possibilities need all the help they can get. Growing up in Wisconsin didn't afford me many snow days when I was a student and doesn't provide me with many now that I am a teacher. So snow days are definitely something to be savored and celebrated.
On potential snow days, the excitement wakes me up much earlier than I would have awakened on a regular school day. I watch in anticipation, fingers crossed as the schools closings scroll across the bottom of the screen. Once I know that school is cancelled, I settle back to relish in my excitement and sleep in on the unexpected day off. Sleep usually escapes me these days and I spend the early morning hours watching the snow coverage and catching up on blog reading. Snow days are a forced break, a necessary and unexpected slow down.
This winter we have had very little snow. I have just reached the point in winter where I am ready to let it go until next year. I've worked through my snow day envy and am anxiously awaiting warmer temperatures, spring days, and bright sunshine. Of course, our one (and most likely only) snow storm of the year decides to show up today. On a Friday at 3:00. No chance of a snow day, just piles of wet, slushy, heavy snow. Flip flops are feeling very far away today.
Tomorrow I won't have to wake up early to check the news. I don't have the same anxious anticipation tonight. I do know that it will be a beautiful site to wake up to. The tree branches are already coated in thick white snow. Tomorrow will still be a chance to slow down and regroup.
You gather your friends and your ghost hunting tools, sneak into the basement during lunch recess and hunt the ghosts. All to keep your school safe.
A noble plan....in theory.
A handful of elementary school boys secretly patrolling our basement with their homemade tools (i.e. handfuls of plastic knives embezzled from the cafeteria) during recess were discovered today. While their intentions were harmless, (unless you're a ghost!) sneaking around and "weapons" are not allowed at school. Luckily their teacher is a genius at making expectations clear, while validating the kids' feelings and thinking. Looks like an opportunity for inquiry around non-violent ghost hunting!
Today was a good day. I got into classrooms, worked with kids, helped launch the new lunch line routine, attended a productive meeting, planned a staff development morning, made it (on time!) to an after school appointment, went back to school for a parent community night meeting, worked out, and now I'm writing this blog! Today I feel like no task or commitment is too big or insurmountable.
I needed a day like today.
Las week ended with a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day.
I did not wake up with gum in my hair or miss out on a prize from the cereal box, but nothing was going right. Everyone had questions and needed things from me at the same time. Everything felt overwhelming.
Luckily, it was the end of the week and I spent the weekend relaxing, regrouping and preparing to face the new week with a positive attitude. Today that paid off.
The first year of my teaching career I had a student who consistently challenged me, while continually teaching me how to be flexible and responsive. She was a bright girl, with fantastic ideas and a caring heart. When she became frustrated, overwhelmed or tired, she struggled to control her emotions and her responses. The organization of my meticulously planned lessons (scheduled down to the minute...like they had to be in college) was threatened daily by her outbursts and meltdowns. I was 23 and had never encountered a student quite like this before. Up until this point I had found comfort in being well planned, organized and being able to anticipate how everything would go (for the most part!)
One day early in the year, I could tell a meltdown was approaching. She ignored my multiple requests to take a break and utilize her sensory break bag. My one-on-one attempts at processing the situation with her did not seem to be getting us anywhere. My next strategy was to give her space to make an appropriate decision. Her response to me giving her space was to invade mine. For the next 15 minutes she followed me around the classroom as I moved on with the rest of the class. In her fist she grasped a newly sharpened pencil, threatening to stab me. I was pretty confident that she wouldn't actually stab me, which made it a little easier to carry on as though I wasn't thinking about the chances of the pencil becoming lodged in my arm. The rest of class watched me nervously, but followed my lead and carried on with their math (although I'm sure they had visions of my possible impalement as well...)
Finally, she grew tired of her empty pencil threat, set down the pencil, picked up a piece of chalk and drew a dusty white line down the arm of my navy blue sweater. "I hate teacher girls who....who wear blue!" she announced as she completed the line and stomped back to her seat and began working on her math.
The class and I breathed a collective sigh of relief as this meltdown ended quickly compared to some of our past experiences. At the end of the day she skipped to the hallway and gave me a quick hug in passing. "I love teacher girls!" she exclaimed.
The ups and downs of my classroom that year constantly challenged everything I had been taught about being well planned and organized. I learned that planning and organizing definitely has its place, but the beauty in teaching is the flexibility and responsiveness that everyday requires.