Recently I was in a staffroom at a school where I was subbing. Someone mentioned having to spend the evening in the rink for hockey – it was going to be a long season! A younger teacher, who had recently returned from maternity, remarked that before she had children, her youngest is one, she had all kinds of time and energy but now, with two toddlers at home, she feels exhausted. She remarked that she could understand now why some teachers never make it past 5 years. At some time in the past I would have made a comment about children but now I don’t. See, when you mention you have 8 children, it makes almost everyone else feel like they shouldn’t complain, like there’s no more room. It takes away their story, usurps what they are feeling. It’s hard. I remember that time since my youngest is only 6. But things have changed, and, thankfully, I’ve learned a little bit.
Filtering the Influx
In the blog post The Coming Podcast Surplus, Seth Godin discusses how the growing number of podcasts means he doesn’t have enough time in the day to listen to what is being produced. I find myself in a similar predicament where there are more podcasts created than I have time to listen and I have to limit/select what I listen to because, as Seth says
I can’t listen to something new without not listening to something else. Which makes it challenging to find the energy to seek out new ones.
I also find the same is happening with blogposts. There are more being written than I have time to read. Even though I subscribe to an RSS reader and scan the titles, there is so much being created and I am limited to what I can read. I have to filter more than I did just a year ago and I don’t go looking for new input as often as I did. I rely on suggestions from others or something from my twitter feed or Flipboard.
As a blogger, I have found that although people may read what I write, they rarely comment anymore. I also have to keep in mind the amount of time it takes to read a post – many readers don’t seem to stick around if the post gets too long.
In talking with teachers I know, they feel the same and, with the continual implementation model that has landed and planted in education, and a new expert popping, they have less time to do these things than they did before.
Time for What’s Important
Today, a tweet with a link to an older post by George Couros Isolation is now a choice educators make appeared in my feed. As I read through the post, I began to think about how, in the two years since that post first appeared, my own situation has changed drastically
Then – I was in the middle of my last year of full-time administrating/teaching/coaching. With 6 children who had a full slate of extra-curricular activities, a wife that I like to spend time with occasionally, a school and staff going through transition, I found I had little time for other activities. We lived a 45 minute commute to my daughter’s hockey practice and I coached/reffed 400+ hours that year. Every day I wrote in a journal as a reflective practice, something I had begun in my first years of teaching as a way to describe and work through some of the many things going on around me. I didn’t exercise as I knew I should and there wasn’t much time for other things. I definitely didn’t have time to blog nor did I have a great deal of time for “connecting”. I was too attached to the events, too in the middle of the story, to be able to reflectively write for public. In the middle of a living story. As the young teacher had expressed, I was exhausted. But, despite all this, at times I felt like a failure – I wasn’t connecting enough!
Now – Two years later – I am a part-time stay-at-home-dad helping my wife raise 4 children, I sub a few days a week, work as a graduate student and spend time helping educators connect and grow through #saskedchat, #saskedcamp and visiting classes to discuss Digital Citizenship . I have time to reflect, to think about what has happened around me and time to filter events. I have time to do presentations, to speak with teachers about what they are doing, to listen intently to their stories, and make connections that, in the midst of the story, I couldn’t. As I read George’s post, I recognized how some of my own thoughts shifted about connecting. I have time to blog and see how it helps. I have time to listen to podcasts as I run, something I couldn’t do. I read from a variety of genres and topics and am challenged by topics of race, gender, colonialism, hegemony and their impact on society and our lives. Living in the midst, time was given to the priorities that were important – life connections.
I didn’t have time for a number of things, even though they were on my “I really want to do that” list because there were higher priorities – marriage, children, teaching, coaching, driving, watching my children as they played – all more important because those connections – wife, children, colleagues, community – were priorities. Priceless time spent driving with my youngest daughter and listening to her grow into a wonderful young woman. Priceless – worthy of all my time.
Take Away – Expecting people to do things without knowing their story and taking account of their experience is akin to asking all students to learn the same way. We’ve moved on. Expecting people to connect because of my personal experience is, well, selfish. I’m not listening to them. It works for me, now. Why, because of my circumstances. Even though 5 or 7 or 9 years ago I had used technology, I am now able to grow my connections and help other educators through that role.
The guilt is gone.
Did it need to be there? Why do we do that?
Listening in the Midst
As an educational leader I have worked with a number of different schools to shift negative school culture to one of collaboration and sharing where student learning was our primary focus, to transition new teachers into the profession and, with difficulty, to transition a few teachers out of the profession. I have worked with students, staff and community on a number of community-based school policies. I’ve learned the importance of relationships, learning, leading and following. One of the most important learnings I have had is to meet people where they are, walk with them, support them, challenge them to grow and learn but, most importantly, to honour their lives in their midst. To impose my idea of what is correct or right or the best on those with whom I am in relationship does not honour their stories.
George is correct, isolation is a choice.
I have met very few teachers who are all alone.
They might not be online blogging or tweeting but they have connections – a network of people who support them and to whom they turn to for support, ideas, inspiration, who they bring into their classrooms and the lives of their students, and who connect them with others in so many ways. They have young families, are dealing with life changing challenges and a myriad of other living in the midst and using their time for what is important in their lives.
I am fortunate enough to have had the time to be able to experience this, to learn from others as I they told me their stories. Yes, I have worked with some and helped them to connect, to grow their connections, to shift and change their teaching practices. But, I have also learned to honour those who have other priorities while supporting them where they are. They are worthy of my time and my experience.
I have 8 children. 4 girls. 4 boys. They, along with my wife, are my highest priorities because, long after I am no longer around, they will continue to change the world in ways I cannot begin to dream.
If it’s a priority, we devote time to it. Was I wrong?
It was another amazing #saskedchat tonight. Dave Burgess dropped by at the start of the chat to get things going. @MrALongstaff and @brettReis then took over and guided the #saskedchat ship through a great chat focused on Teach Like a Pirate. The participants had some great ideas and suggestions for building relationships with students in order to develop rapport and trust. Take a look through the archive for some great resources and fantastic ideas!
As our students are leaving school and entering a more global society, we have become more interested in how they are doing compared to others around the world. We compare them using various test outcomes, pinpointing where they’re successful and where they need to improve. These results then drive the data driven decisions that districts and divisions use to create outcomes and implement initiatives.
Many of the students in our school have been exposed to much more of the global scenery in recent years. They are touring much more, going on exchanges, meeting people from other countries and interacting with them much more than in the past. They have access to media that shows them the happenings in other countries, the plight of many global citizens and the impact a migrant population can have on another country. Yet, with all of this, there are many who still see it as “something out there” while they will continue to live like their parents with the same expectations. For some, this might happen. However, for a great many, this view of how things will work is severely crushed when they leave home and begin to compete in the economy. With many of them not really understanding that a job-starved economy doesn’t mean you can show up late, not do what is asked or disrespect others without there being severe consequences, they aren’t ready for what is coming. Yet, in a way, schools have set them up for this in many ways.
We have. In many instances, some of these students have been allowed to continue on their merry way as teachers have allowed them to move through the system. I’m not saying that it is just the teachers. When this type of thing happens, it a systematic function where all parts are contributing.
This is where our mindset needs to change from a “confrontational” mode to a “solution” focus. Instead of fingers being pointed as we look around, there is a need to be self-analytical and examine how we might have contributed. At the beginning, it needs to begin with the staff, being self-reflective practitioners, exploring their own expectations. It also requires the staff to state what the expectations are in the school. This discussion will be the cornerstone to future discussions about everything from curriculum planning to grading to parent/staff relationships. What are the standards that are important in the school?
No more standards!!
Now, I’m not going to give a list of “standards”. We all know we’ve enough of those! Instead, I’m going to look at what students might need to do well as they leave school. From here, you can decide the expectations you have for these.
- Communication skills – delivering their message clearly without misconceptions. Much of what we see happening around us is driven by communication. Those who are skilled at it move along much more easily than those who struggle. We all know someone who is very knowledgeable in their field but not a great communicator – hey many of my profs were like this! – and someone who, although not as knowledgeable, was a great communicator and was able to make advancements while the other person seemed to stall. Heck, read the paper and you’ll see examples of this all the time – scam artists are the extreme end of this. Teaching students to communicate their ideas in a variety of formats will be vital to their success. Doing it well may be the key to their success.
- Collaborative decision-making and work strategies. Groups are vital to progress – working together to create a product is found in nearly all professions – from construction to high-tech scientific work. Up until now collaborative – group – work has been “done” but there seems to be a lack of focus on learning those essential dynamics for productive collaboration. Really, I collaborate regularly on the weekend with mybuddies while watching a sports event – we have a group, everyone has a role, we have a goal and we usually achieve the goal by the end of the group activity – pizza is all gone, beverages are finished, guy hosting is in trouble with spouse and we leave him to clean up and kiss up. Mission accomplished. However, this isn’t the kind of collaboration that companies are looking for, unless you’re a tester of pizza or beverages. There needs to be direct instruction on effective and non-effective collaboration.
- Production of high-quality, new material. Instead of constantly re-inventing essays that can be copied, students need to be able to produce authentic and high-quality end results regardless of what they are doing. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t be able to keep my job if all I did was do D work. In fact, as we become more individually accountable in more and more professions, those who do not understand this will find themselves left behind. Yet the system really doesn’t encourage novel ideas or divergent thinking. Instead, there continues to be a dominate frame of reference that if you “learn” enough information and can then answer the questions on a test, this will do you well for life. Yes, gathering background knowledge is important but I think there are a few more ways to do this.
- Solution focus. Problems abound. You don’t have to leave your classroom or office to go find one. They’ll come to you. Mine usually have an attitude, are very unhappy and don’t want to talk. Problems aren’t unique to any profession. How you handle them will set you apart. Knowing how to move past blaming and side-taking and into solution seeking is a skill that students will need to begin to learn. It’s not that we’ll be seeking mastery here – I’m still working on this one! Instead, focusing on the strategies that are used in these situations will help students to see that there are more ways to solve problems than yelling, name-calling, fighting or worse. They may not immediately choose them, they will need guidance and patience, but they need to see them at work.
- A global narcissism. By this I mean that instead of looking at what’s good for me, we introduce ideas that focus on global perspectives. Students are mostly “me” focused, it goes with the age. However, by moving through that stage and bringing in more global concepts, the groundwork is there for later development.
- Accountablilty for actions. This is one area that I believe we need to work with our communities in order to create a dialogue about people being accountable for what they do. The reason I say communities and not individual parents is because some parents will not join the conversation. However, if there is a community understanding of issues, there is a greater likelihood that there will be a congruence between the school and the community. I often run into this incongruency when it comes to respect or individual actions. The community/school isn’t always at the same point of understanding which can cause problems in regards to certain activities or actions. In this way, actions that are deemed inappropriate at school will be seen as inappropriate in other community venues – the local sporting complex. No bullying/harassment means no bullying/harassment anywhere and not just at school.
These areas, I believe, are keys to helping students develop the skills necessary for becoming successful once they leave school regardless of what they choose to do.
Oh, one more thing. We need to expand our options for students who aren’t ready to be in school. There are a number of students who, for whatever reason, just are not ready to be in school, at least, school as it is now conceived. If there isn’t going to be changes to school structures, then there needs to be some type of option for those students who don’t want to be in school. They find it stupid, a waste of time, irrelevant….. making the life of those around them much more miserable than it needs to be, especially during the teenage years when things aren’t always that hot to begin with. In some way, these students need our most creative thinking and problem solving. Unfortunately, at this time, they usually receive the least. Suspension comes to mind. As an administrator, my options are pretty limited which I find frustrating. Yes, I could create something and work with the local community and the division. However, I have very little life as it is. That’s the rub – wanting to do something without it taking over. Maybe by beginning to discuss expectations, there can be a lead into something else. I don’t have the answer? Any suggestions?