Saturday, December 24, 2016

Caring Enough to Remember

Hi again, everyone, and happy Christmas Eve.  I hope you're not reading this.  I hope you're on the couch in a pile with your family--your kids, your partner, your dog.  Whatever.  Because it's Christmas Eve.  Time to shut down. 

I've not shut down yet.  I will, though.  In 103 minutes we'll go to my mother-in-law's house for a great dinner, and then we'll hunker down at home and not leave until Monday morning.  Ahhh.  I wait for this shutdown all year. 

Not yet, though, because last week I wrote about priorities and how what we care about can get in the way of what we should be caring about. I ended that post by promising a few ideas about how I make sure I’m remembering the important stuff—and how you can, too.  

So: 

Lists.  Whether it’s an old-fashioned composition notebook, Reminder app on your phone, or a well-managed Google calendar, writing down what you need to remember—in other words, things you need to care about—is always a good idea.

Find perspective through people who do care about the issue.  If you don’t value something, there is certainly someone who does.  Talk with them.  Walk with them.  See why it matters.  Walking a few steps in their shoes might shift your priorities—or, at the very least, hold you accountable for caring for it. 

Address calendar conflicts directly.  If you need to be two places at once, make sure you communicate the situation to whomever won’t have your attention.  That way, they don’t assume you forgot about them.  They’ll know you simply have to be somewhere else. 

Constantly audit yourself.  What are you forgetting to take care of?  Are there things you aren’t attending to, because you don’t value them?   What needs to become a bigger priority? 

Make a recurring month-by-moth list.  I have a list, organized by month, to help me remember things that are important to the mission of running an efficient and well-organized school.  I add to it as things change over time, and refer to it often.  It helps me remember the things I do not care to remember (or can’t remember because they only happen at a certain point in the year)  A glance at December’s list shows me 32 little things I must remember, such as:

Remind custodian to block No Parking lane before holiday concert. 
Complete classified evalutions by December 15.
Reconcile budget.
Check on January picture day.
Review indoor recess protocol.
Plan January PD date.
Plan, purchase, deliver staff gift.
Office lunch? 
Plan spring evaluation schedule. 
Meet with AP--revisit goals. 

Own it.  If you do forget something you should have prioritized, be truthful.  “I didn’t make this a priority, and it slipped my mind.  I will do better next time.  I apologize that I didn’t support you in this.” 
 
These are some tricks I have to make sure I don’t forget important things that I really should remember to do.  I never, ever want someone to think, “My principal doesn’t care enough to remember certain things.”  I want them to think I care about all of it… all the time.  



Saturday, December 17, 2016

You didn't forget...

You didn’t forget.  You just didn’t care enough to remember.

Those were the wise words of my junior high math teacher.  He said it all the time.  In the context of forgotten homework, forgotten classroom routines, forgotten report cards and backpacks and lost pencils.  He didn’t use it in a passive-aggressive way—which certainly could be done, and would be a mistake, given the power of the words when used without judgment or manipulative intent.  Like Mr. Pim.  “You didn’t forget.”  (Insert gentle shrug.) “You just didn’t care enough to remember.”

It resonated with me because most of the time, he was exactly right.  I knew, even then, early in my teens, that I’d never forgotten anything that really mattered to me.  I had forgotten things I didn’t care about.  In school, certainly, but in other stuff, too. 

It’s about the value we place on things, and how that value establishes our priorities.

I grew to use the saying myself.  In my twenties, I used it, together with tears and anguish, when a boyfriend forgot I needed him to attend an important staff gathering and he bought tickets for a country concert—with another woman.  Who eventually became his girlfriend. 

I used it in my thirties, when I myself was a middle school teacher, and wanted my students to evaluate their own academic priorities. 

I have used it as a mother.  I said it this morning, in fact.  My son told me he’d forgotten to feed the cat.  “It appears you didn’t care enough about this task to remember.  How can we make your chores more of a priority for you?”

And I use this phrase in a constant conversation with myself.  I have a lot of things to juggle every day, and there are a lot of ways to split my time.  Sometimes, the things I have deemed less important become things I forget to do.  They just slip my mind.  Yet, when I don’t take care of those things, I sometimes come off as scattered and flighty.  Like I can’t remember stuff.

But there’s a dirty dark secret about some parts of my job.  I should care about every aspect, but I don’t.  I can’t.

An example:  I don’t really care about our monthly custodial inspections.  That’s when one of our directors comes out to our school and walks around the building with the custodian and I (“white gloving,” they call it).  We look at every surface in the building.  We follow a checklist and assign a score to classrooms, restrooms, windows, desks, small-group meeting space, the library, the gym, and every other nook and cranny in the building.  These inspections are valuable in many ways:  they give us a standardized score for how our custodians are maintaining our school; they give us specific areas to celebrate and specific areas to grow; and they keep us accountable and focused.  But the inspection itself?  Mind-numbing.  When I tag along, like I’m supposed to do, I look at my watch approximately five times a minute.

To be clear:  I care very much about our custodians, and about having a clean school, and about accountability and assessment and comparing scores and goals and all of that.  I do.  I just don’t care about the white-glove inspection.  Give me the scoresheet at the end of the daggone thing, and I’m good.

But that’s not what I’m paid to do.  I’m paid to participate in such things.  I’m paid to make them a priority. 


So:  How do I attend to things I don’t care about?  How do I make sure I remember the things I need to remember?   I’ll share some specific ideas next week.  See you then!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Beowulf, revisted

Ever been part of a class in which you studied Beowulf?  I have.  Twice.  The first was in high school.  We read an anthologized version that had been heavily edited and contained lots of bold-faced explanations in the margin of the textbook.  The second was in college, when we read the real thing.  The whole thing.  And we talked about it.  For days and days and days. 

Just to set the stage, here: Beowulf is the oldest surviving poem known to man. It’s hard to read.  Really hard.  That sucker has almost 3,200 weirdly placed lines telling convoluted story of Beowulf’s long and awful battles with beasts and demons.  I remember nothing about it—just utter, full-on bewilderment.   It’s a miracle I survived the ordeal.

If it were a text vs. reader matchup, this reader lost.  Both times.

Here’s the truth:  Beowulf humbled me.  A lot.  Both times I read it, I had been feeling pretty smart.  I could quickly comprehend most texts I came across, and could talk at length to friends and teachers about meaning, theme, purpose, point of view, and all the other story elements we rely upon when we talk about texts. 

Not Beowulf.  I couldn’t seem to dig my way through the thick writing, the metaphor, the rising and falling action.  I relied solely on the text’s margin notes and Cliff’s Notes for a fighting chance in my battle against this poem.

Most of us, even those who weren’t English majors, have the story of the text that humbled us.  The one we just couldn’t grasp.  For some of us, it was Shakespeare.  For others, like me, it was an epic poem written hundreds of years ago.  It may have been philosophy—Socrates, maybe, or Plato—that stumped us, no matter how hard we tried or how much we were told it’s a Large Part of our Grade.  We’ve all faced off with a text—and lost. 

I recently stumbled across a college literature anthology.  I flipped through the pages, landing on Beowulf.   I skimmed through, feeling embarrassed that I’d never really understood it.  I wondered if I might have a better chance now, having grown in confidence and experience as a reader, and knowing how to hunt down online resources and supports. 

So in a valiant display of fierce defiance, I dug in.  I’m two decades beyond when I last laid eyes on the piece, and this time, knew what to do. I read, and I read again, and I read again.  I consulted websites and library books.  I found blogs and websites to talk me through the story.  In time, I came to a peaceful, if begrudging, sense of understanding.  It was hazy, but it was there.  There was not a great epiphany of understanding—no “ah-ha!” moment, no elation, no conquering fist thrust in the air.  But there was respect:  I recognized that the poem held layers and layers of brilliance, especially when the context and setting were considered.  And the story was actually pretty good. 

I finally feel I can put it away for good.  I also feel satisfaction: I did it.  I saw the light at the end of the poem, as well as I needed to, anyway.

I have talked a lot about the times it is best to abandon a text, but at the same time, I believe there are texts we shouldn’t abandon forever.  There may be some real good to come out of trying again.  Maybe it’s the gift of understanding and mastery.  But it may also be a gift of humbleness, resilience, and respect.


Final score?  Beowulf—2.  Me—1.  But my win is the one that counts.    

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Questions to Ask

A few months ago, I wrote this post—about how reflection only works if we put ourselves in front of a mirror and take a really close look at ourselves, without letting blame get in the way.

I heard from some teachers and school leaders who asked for specific questions they could consider when looking in that mirror. 

Here’s a start.

When thinking about successes:

How did the momentum begin?

What was your role?

What was the antecedent to success?  In other words, where did it all begin?  

What are next steps?

When wondering what areas need improvement in your work:

Look at the people you work with.  Do they seem negative, frustrated, or unable to move forward?  Why might that be?

Are people talking to you—repeatedly—about a particular need or concern?

What makes you fill with dread?  What are you avoiding because solutions are murky or difficult? 

When thinking about traits you’d like to foster in yourself and others:

Make a list of your favorite character traits.  Install them into this sentence (I use "loyal" as a character trait in my example, because I looooooooove loyalty):

What does (loyalty) mean?  To whom are you (loyal)?  Who do you feel is (loyal) to you?  Why?  

What kind of people surround you?  Are they people who make you a better and bigger person--or an ineffective, marginalized one?   

When you are struggling in your job, and aren’t sure why:

What are you loving right now?  What is "filling you up"?
What is making you uncomfortable?

Are there ways that you—or others around you—could work more efficiently? 

Are you balancing your work with your life?  Are you doing the things you need to do to keep you healthy? 

What commitments have you made?  Are they the right commitments for you, for now, for the people you love?  Are you honoring them?

These are just a few questions to get you started on trying to figure out what is working and what isn’t.  It’s not easy being a teacher and a school principal, especially these days.  Pointed, focused  reflection on how we’re doing can help us keep balanced and tuned into our own success and challenges. 



Overwhelmed? A Look Within

A few weeks ago, I spent the afternoon with a team of teachers interviewing applicants for an open teaching position. While I am relentless...