Monday, July 22, 2013

Discovering Resiliency

Teaching Resilient Students in the age of the Common Core

I was recently reminded of how important it is to be resilient. As the title of my blog indicates, I am a happy camper. I am most relaxed when I am unconnected, unplugged, sitting around a campfire with family and friends. So it was with much anticipation and excitement as my husband and I loaded our travel trailer, hooked it up to the truck and headed out on the highway. We were headed to a favorite spot, Rock Creek, about 300 miles away in Central California. I had recently participated in #aledchat on Twitter regarding developing resilience in our students. Resilience is defined by Merriam-Webster as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. So I was driving along Highway 395, pulling our trailer, contemplating how we could ensure our students are resilient—able to adjust and recover from misfortune.

And then it happened. One of the trailer tires blew! In my rear view mirror I saw rubber flying up next to me on the highway, felt rough bumping, and heard “thump, thump, thump, thump”. I carefully pulled over on the side of the highway. For those of you unfamiliar with Highway 395, it is one of those two lane highways where cars try to blindly pass slow moving trailers, praying a semi truck isn’t barreling toward them in the other lane. I had Death Valley off to the right and Mount Whitney off to the left, cars speeding past, and NO spare. I can almost hear your many voices, “you drove hundreds of miles without a spare tire?”. My husband and I quickly assessed the situation, realized the shredded tire was far beyond repair, and decided we needed help. I fought through spotty cell service and finally reached AAA roadside assistance, explained the situation, and a tow truck was dispatched. It wasn’t going to be that easy. The dispatched company called to let me know that unfortunately, they were more than 30 minutes away and more importantly, they didn’t have a tire to fit my trailer.
The Blow Out!

Panic started to set it, as I paced back and forth along the trailer, out in the desert. No spare, no help on the way. My much calmer husband began listing options. I chose option #1. We called a tire shop in Bishop, CA, inquired about trailer tires, and more importantly, the availability of a spare rim. As if he were an angel sent from above, my new best friend Paul from Simpson’s Tires responded with a resounding yes….he had a rim and a tire. What he didn’t have was a free mechanic or truck and was not able to bring me the tire. We unhooked the trailer, left it stranded on the side of the highway, drove to Bishop, picked up the spare, drove back to the trailer, called the tow truck company and three hours later we had a fresh tire on the trailer and we were back on the road. After a second quick stop at Simpson’s Tires to pick up a 5th tire (now the spare) we reached our camping spot high up in the Eastern Sierra’s where relaxation set in.

It’s in that relaxation spot that I again thought about resilience. I had just recovered fairly easily from misfortune. I didn’t let that setback define my summer vacation or my camping experience. How had I been able to recover? I took stock: I had resources to recover (cell phone, credit cards, a AAA membership with RV coverage). I had support (a husband who is very good at making lemonade out of lemons and never, ever sweats the small stuff). I had confidence based on prior experience (I have had worse car troubles, I have had flat tires before). Resources + Support + Confidence from Prior Experiences = Resilience.

Do my students have those necessities? I realize some of my students have much greater misfortunes than a flat trailer tire. They have loss of a parent, due to deportation, death, or imprisonment. They have illnesses and abuse. They have unimagined poverty. They also have poor grades, low test scores, and sometimes difficult relationships with staff. They will also face the Common Core. They will need to persevere through difficult and unfamiliar math problems. They will be expected to read, analyze and respond to unfamiliar non-fiction texts. Have we given them the resources they need? (digital devices, a variety of sources, printed texts). Will we provide enough support? (online discussion boards, peer problem solving groups, positive relationships with teachers). Will they gain confidence in themselves? (experience safe failure, multiple attempts). Will they be resilient as we send them off to high school?

One final note…for those of you who think that one flat tire in the desert doesn’t prove you are resilient. How about two? That’s right! On our way home I made a 2nd call to AAA for assistance after another trailer tire blew. This time was much less dire however, thanks to a recently purchased spare! Two flat tires in four days in the desert in 110 degrees…no tears. I think I am resilient.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

I met the smartest person in the room at ACSA.

My reflection of my week spent at the ACSA Colloquium for New and Aspiring Principals, July 2013
I know you must be familiar with buying apps, songs, or books on iTunes. This past week, I purchased 8 books. On Tuesday I purchased and downloaded 5 books in under 6 minutes. I was at UCLA for the ACSA conference, so I was fortunate enough to be using the super fast wifi provided by the State of California. I was sitting in the conference room surrounded by 100 school administrators. I was sure they were all much smarter than me, and I was thinking, hoping, that if I bought every single book mentioned at the conference, I would be as smart as the people around me. After all, I have recently read Mindset by Carol Dwerck, and I have a growth mindset. I can learn, if I have the right materials (books), and if I put in the effort. So I bought these books; all of them. I downloaded all of them to my iPad. Downloading has its distinct advantages; if I download the books, no one in the room is able to see me walk up to the book table and come back with 8 new books in my arms. Maybe most of the other people in the room already owned the books, read them, and had sticky notes and highlights throughout. How embarrassing if I were the only one “needing” all of these books. So, I sat at my table group and took advantage of the superfast wireless and got them ALL!

Tuesday was the first full morning of the conference. Monday had given me a taste of what was to come, but this was our first full day. I was eager and ready to learn! The speakers were amazing. Dr. Anthony Muhammad discussed the will to lead (my biggest aha moment of the conference was I do, indeed, have the will, desire, and hopes to lead) and healthy and toxic cultures. I took pages and pages of notes in my spiral. Then we went to small groups to discuss.  Our small group of 11 circled up and talked through the amazement. I listened and I shared. I starting realizing how much each of us was sharing. What were the needs of each of our schools? What were our deficits? We talked about the “Recipe for Disaster” (inappropriate preparation, poor support system, and task overload). How could we have only known each other for a day and share as honestly as we did about our own leadership and our own schools? Boy these people were smart. As each person shared, I thought “this is possibly the smartest person in the room”, but then the next person would share. Wow. They were all the smart ones. We had heard from Dr. Muhammad about getting our school on all one bus going in the same direction. Tuesday afternoon I thought to myself, “I am on a leadership bus, going the same way, with some very smart people”.

As the week continued we heard from speakers in small sessions, Kyley Ybarra and Susan Mills, and we continued to hear from speakers in our large sessions, Pam Robbins, Dr. Sharroky Hollie, Erin Kominsky, and Jeff Eben. All inspirational, but all very practical, logical, and smart. After each presentation, there was ample time for reflection, large group discussion, and small group discussion. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it didn’t matter who was the smartest person in the room. What mattered was, the smartest person in the room was the room itself. The sharing. The collaboration (which I learned is co-labor, right?). What matters is the strength from the connections, the common passion about our schools, our students, and our teachers. (you notice I didn’t write passion about our test scores?) Together this room of 100 school administrators was strong, empowered, and certainly on the right bus together. Leading and caring. How smart is that?

*I filled my spiral with notes and ideas, but I also had a separate place for these big takeaways:

·         Help the teachers learn from each other.

·         Don’t forget to praise the first follower. They are truly a leader.

·         Put together a small group of diverse people who can discuss ideas—not always educational in nature. Big ideas can come from such groups.

·         Students learn to behave the same way they learn curriculum—through explicit instruction

·         Be a transformational leader—lead a person into better behavior rather than being satisfied with identifying and criticizing current behavior

·         Frustration is natural and human. Frustration is the feeling of anxiety as a result of the inability to perform a task.

·         Healthy school culture is where a staff member raises their hand to say “what do I need to contribute to help solve this problem?”

·         Responsiveness is a journey

·         Create fertile soil for good seeds to grow

·         Go where the students are

·         Engagement is like playing jazz

·         Who are the students at my school who are saying “amen” at the Catholic mass?

·         Be a more appreciative listener

·         Trust matters

·         Norms are not just for meetings.

·         Turn that window into a mirror

·         How many wins have you had today? (just writing it makes me cry)

·         We are in the hope, dream, and love business.