Hammers and Nails

The conversations around social and emotional learning have been a focus both at the district level and on our campus this year, specifically the ways in which we help struggling learners.  In fact, our district created a brand new arm of support services specifically around this concept and to support schools as we work with struggling students.  After a conversation we had as a staff, a teacher passed along a book that she had used the year previously that changed her mindset and practices she used in class to support her kids.  It wasn’t long into the book that I came across this quote from Abraham Maslow.

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Pretty good, right?  Let’s look at this from two different perspectives:

  1. If we only have one tool, no matter how creatively we try to use it, it likely won’t be completely effective.  While I’m sure you could show me the several ways you can use a hammer the reality is it makes a painfully inadequate wrench.  If you’ve ever tried to take a bolt out with a hammer you have likely ended with a hot mess and bolt that is no longer useful. Perhaps it’s human nature to avoid real change; we sometimes try to stretch our current practices beyond their limits as opposed to engaging in new learning.
  2. When folks only have one tool, they discount the idea of using anything else.  If all you’ve ever used is a hammer, and the hammer has always worked, why would you even entertain picking up an allen wrench?  If the hammer doesn’t work, then there must be something wrong with bolt that has a hexagonal socket, right?  Wrong.  Just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it is always the right tool for the future.

So this is what I’m left wondering: why is it so hard for some folks to figure out there are times to set aside the hammer?  Maybe it’s pride, the hammer was always the right tool in the past and for that axiom to hold true it must always be the right tool in the future.  Perhaps it has something to do with fear, some adults can’t manage the idea that after so many years of knowing what to do they might find themselves in a place that requires new learning.

I do want to add this, and it may infuriate those of you who have been nodding emphatically while reading this so far: let’s be careful that we don’t let the pendulum swing too far and decide that there is no such thing as a nail anymore.  A hammer might not always be the right tool, but sometimes it will be exactly what we need, let’s not lose sight of that fact.

It seems like there are no easy answers when it comes to working with humans, especially those ages 4-11, but we will continue to do the best we can, fill our toolboxes with all the right tools, and remain #conditproud.

Dan

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#shadowastudent

As you ma have heard, I had the opportunity to participate in the #shadowastudent experience with the other principals form the Bellaire High School feeder pattern on October 26. For just one day I became a 3rd grader and from 7:30am to 3:20pm I lived the same experience as the rest of our students.   I didn’t go into the day with any preconceived notions or any special agenda, and here are a few big ideas I came out with.

  1. A rolling stone gathers no moss. I was sitting, standing, kneeling, on the carpet, at the small group table, on the floor with classmates, walking the room, and working with a teacher outside the class. If movement is the key to learning then I had it in spades! I didn’t check the number of steps that I took, but I suspect it would have been significant.   At the end of the day I had a sense of satisfaction; what I believed to be true on my campus was largely confirmed and the idea of flexible learning spaces and movement was one of them. When we designed our new building this is what he had in mind and it was gratifying to experience it in action.
  2. It was real. Third graders don’t have poker faces, and if there was some sort of dog and pony show going on because I was in class that day they would have been the first ones to ‘tell’. What I experienced was exactly what they usually experience and the smooth transitions and unspoken understanding of expectations clearly indicated that this was just another day in 3rd If I had heard someone say something like ‘why are we doing this’ or ‘we’ve never done this before’ I would have know something was up, this was never the case.
  3. What’s next? At the groundbreaking for our new school 2 years ago our trustee, Mike Lunceford, mentioned that our school had been living 21st century teaching and learning for a while and we were finally going to get a building that matched that. I found myself reflecting on this idea as I finished my day. The teaching and learning that I saw, during my day as a student, was a better version because of the physical space that we now have.   The pedagogy was sound, but I keep wondering ‘what’s next’? Perhaps it is a latent fear of stagnation that I have, but with out new building come new possibilities, so instead of settling for a space where our current best practices can live, I’m wondering how we can push our practices forward for our students. At the end of the day, I believe this was my biggest takeaway, not a solution, but rather a new challenge to consider.

As a quick aside, having the experience concurrently with the other 11 principals in the feeder pattern allowed some interesting conversation and reflection the following week. I’m not sure where this little experiment will go, but I’m grateful for the opportunity.

For a little entertainment value check out my pictures from the day on my twitter feed @texasbuckeye.

#conditproud

Dan

We all get it wrong

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pressure we put on ourselves to be right.  I’m not sure how we arrived at this point but it seems to me that the fear of being wrong is more motivating than the satisfaction of getting something correct, and I don’t think that’s healthy.  We need to spend more time getting comfortable with the idea that our answers won’t always be spot-on; the better we get at that, the more we are going to grow as people and as learners.

I recently watched a TED talk by Kathryn Schulz, a self proclaimed Wrongologist who encourages us to embrace the fact that we will always get it wrong, at least to some extent.  What I thought was the most impactful part of her talk was when she explained an association that is cemented, often at an early age, and it is this: getting something wrong means there is something wrong with us.  As adults, we know that’s not true, but it’s tough to derail that train of thought once it has left the station and sadly that will likely happen at a young age.  

I’m not sure how we flip that mindset altogether and get our young people thinking differently about being wrong, but there are a few ideas I would like our Condit cats to embrace before they leave us for middle school.  

The first is this: getting something wrong doesn’t mean you will always get everything wrong. A mistake doesn’t guarantee anything, the way you feel about it and the way you react to it will dictate how things go in the future.

The second reality I would like our kids to embrace is that being right doesn’t mean that everyone else is wrong.  Our current presidential election has me thinking about this aspect quite a bit; it saddens me that election rhetoric has led so many people to think of the world in binary terms.  School, and the world, is a complex place and if we spend our time marginalizing those who don’t see the world exactly as we see it then we begin to close our minds to possibilities.

Finally, get used to being wrong.  You are going to say the wrong thing, get a bad grade, have a mark on your chart, and put your foot in your mouth…maybe all on the same day!  This is going to seem contrary to many people reading this, but it is a gift to have our kindergarteners struggle and deal with getting things wrong.  The uncomfortable truth is that 5 year olds will often deal with being wrong much better than 25 year olds, and the sad reality is that we are doing it to ourselves.  The more we make wrong a bad word, the worse we make it when it eventually happens.

So what do we do about all this?  I figure we embrace our experiences, celebrate our missteps, chart a new path forward, and help our kids to know that even after that bad grade and after that mark on the conduct chart that the sun will rise, the earth will continue to rotate and life will go on.  The sooner they learn that, and the more regularly they embrace that, the better off we will all be.

#conditproud

Dan

Becoming a Marigold

A teacher recently passed along an article entitled Find Your Marigold, and while the post focuses two types of teachers that a first year educator will likely run into, I find that that premise holds true when we talk about our school community.

I was surprised to learn, through the article, that marigolds are a nearly ideal companion plant; place them next to others and their partner will thrive. While I’m no gardener, the theory sounds plausible. As a professional educator I can attest it is absolutely true. As in most walks of life, there are going to be some people that will build you up, make you feel like you belong, and inspire you to greatness. These gems are what the writer calls marigolds. Find them in your life, cultivate your relationship, and eventually aspire to grow to be a marigold yourself. Simple.

Sadly, there are other folks that will do the opposite. Apparently, planting next to a walnut tree has the contradictory effect; walnut trees essentially poison anything that grows around it. If you are looking to grow you should avoid these folks at all costs. These people focus on the negative and seemly look forward to the failure of others.

I think this analogy extends beyond teachers, so here comes the big question: are you a marigold or a walnut tree? Take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions.

Do you instinctively fear the new, or do you look forward to new possibilities?  Are you quick to look for shortcomings, or do you regularly search for the common ground?  Do you find sharing your gripes more satisfying than seeking the perspectives of others?

In many ways this connects solidly to Habit 1: Be Proactive. Perhaps this is nothing more than choose your own weather, but I suspect there is more to it. Being proactive is about private victories, taking care of yourself even though it may reflect on others. Becoming a marigold is about shaping the life of others; it is a very public way of creating a culture for those around you. Choose your weather to create a positive personal change, become a marigold and help create a positive vibe in others.

Unlike trees and plants, we all have a choice. In reality, a walnut tree can’t grow into anything other than a walnut tree, but each one of us is in control of ourselves and can have a significant impact on those around us. My advice: be a marigold, be awesome, and watch as your companions are better off for your decision.

#conditproud Dan

Embracing the new

I would ordinarily start an August post with the time honored traditional Welcome Back, but that doesn’t seem to fit this year. While we are certainly gathering mostly the same people to the same general spot in our community I think we can all agree there is so much we are unfamiliar with.

The opening of our new building has been a unique experience; I wish I would have placed a camera on my shoulder during our Snow Cone Social as children and parents alike took in the learning commons for the first time. I’ve never seen looks of such joy and downright giddiness in my nearly 20 years in education. We all knew that we were going to have a very special building on our hands as we open our new campus, but I don’t think we realized how happy it was going to make us. We are 7 days into the new school year and the positive vibe shows no sign of weakening 🙂

I recently stumbled across a quote that reads every day brings new choices. I like this. We champion the 7 Habits of student leadership on our campus and I want all of our learners to understand that each day brings new opportunities to find the right path.

I found this quote to be germane to the decisions that we have made, and continue to make, as we grow into our new building. We make plans that we think will work, and then we adjust to the new realities of those decisions. We put systems in place that make sense on paper, and then we rework those systems to ensure ease and safety. We place the furniture in the places that we think will work, but make sure to put wheels on everything just in case!

I am going to extend this quote and say that not only does every day bring new choices, but every new situation. I appreciate everyone being flexible as we sort out our new routines and I have been impressed by everyone’s positive attitude as we tweak the systems we have in place. I can’t thank you enough for rolling with it.

This is going to be a very special school year and I look forward to experiencing all the new, together.

#conditproud

Dan

It is what it is

I think it was the hall of fame coach Bill Parcells who issued the response “it is what it is” during a post-game press conference. Since that time this refrain seems to have become the perfect way to end a conversation about nearly anything, particularly when explaining why something might not be working well. I’m going to be honest, I don’t like it.

The whole idea reeks of give up. It’s much easier to simply shrug something off that should be adressed  than actually putting in the work to make it right.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. When I was growing up I’m certain I was told to ‘leave well enough alone’ and isn’t this the same thing?  I guess good enough was…good enough.

I’m not sure when my change in perspective happened. There was a time that I thought ‘it is what it is’ was genius; a great way to avoid talking about an issue that was likely uncomfortable.

In my relatively short time as a campus leader I’ve witnessed, first hand, the dangers of avoidance.  Somethings never ‘is what it is’, its what we allow it to continue to be until we choose to do something about it.

Lets choose to do something about it.

Work on your return game

Has anyone ever told you that Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it?  It’s a fairly common refrain that I wish I could change and it all hinges on one small word.  I don’t like the idea that nearly all of my time is spent reacting.  When I think of what that means I think of knee jerk, emotional, shoot from the hip decisions – not the state I want to find myself in if I can avoid it.  Maybe an instantaneous, dangerous situation might call for a reaction, otherwise I would to respectfully suggest we change that word to respond.  Responding is all about measured, thoughtful, proactive discourse that addresses the root cause of an occurrence.  Reactions have a way of making things worse, responses can often prevent something from happening again.

When I’m responding I’m shaping the path forward and addressing the cause of a situation; when I’m reacting I’m providing a quick reply to a situation.  Herm Edwards, former NFL player and coach had a terrific rant on one of the morning shows and it all surrounded don’t press send.  In Herm’s case he was chastising a player for a poorly thought out tweet that he had sent.  His rant boils down to my essential point, simply reacting has a high percentage of getting you in hot water; responding usually involves stop and think time.  When I receive an email that I feel like I need to reply to RIGHT NOW…I usually don’t.  Providing time to absorb and reflect will usually allow me to respond in a way that I’m proud of instead of reacting in a way I might regret.

When I was an assistant principal I remember a conversation I had with my predecessor, Mr. Bowyer, about decision making.  We were talking about instructional arrangements for the upcoming year and he told me about a time when, on the last day of school, a few teachers came to him with a suggestion that was a bit of a departure from the ways things had been done in the past.  Fred reacted.  The idea sounded pretty good at 4pm on Friday when everyone was packing to go home and he told me he regretted the decision that entire next year!  From that point on he always told me he doesn’t make decisions on the last day of school.  What I took from that conversation was that when a decision doesn’t allow space for conversation or reflection it’s best to make time for further consideration.  Hungry?  Tired? Early? Late? If there is a time when you don’t feel like you are ready to make an important decision, don’t.  Most decisions we have to make can wait until you’ve had a snack 🙂

Speaking of returning, while we are only days away from enjoying the hazy, lazy days of summer we will be walking into our brand new campus before you know it.  August will bring all manner of excitement, and a new building will require us to design a new normal.  While we will do our best to anticipate things like traffic, circulation in the building, and normal ebb and flow of the day, some of the decisions we will end up making will be in response to the way we use our new school; in some cases we’ll wait to see what patterns establish naturally instead of reacting to each individual circumstance.

Thank you for a tremendous 2015-2016 school year, it has absolutely flown by and I am extraordinarily proud of all that we have accomplished.  Enjoy your summer and if there is anything you need send me an email, I’m usually close by and and quickly react respond.

#conditproud

Dan