Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Begin with Self

I am swirling inside the centrifugal force of transformation, my own and as witness to others. The dream for some of our emerging school leaders has been sitting in the distance, out of focus, made fuzzy by the demands of the day to day work in school, blurred by precepts and concepts that evolved from the desire to shift the landscape from the “crooked room” ** of education to an upright one. Their desire to create a just world for our Kids through education – to help them discover their Learning Mind.

But these leaders began to feel dis-ease, out of alignment, and frustrated with how this deep desire devolved into telling and yelling; they got swept into trying to change their students’ behavior and culture before addressing their own. They couldn’t name it, but they felt it. Then, this past weekend, I brought Bidyut Bose (BK), PhD, to 18 emerging leaders to help them reflect on themselves, to find ways to sustain themselves in this urgent work they do, through training he calls TLS (Transformational Life Skills). BK has been working with many different cohorts over the years including urban school teachers, and Kids in Oakland, California’s juvenile justice system, to help them find ways to respond to stressful situations, rather to react to them; to heal students before trying to teach them. And to heal ourselves as part of the process: to stop, breathe and notice ourselves.

After a four hour session with BK that included neuroscience; naming stressors, things that sustain us and things that nourish us; learning and practicing breathing and other TLS, yoga-inspired protocols, I could feel that the mind and spirit of the room had changed, the quality and depth of which happens too rarely. In their newly discovered sense of self, they immediately rushed to figure out how to influence their colleagues to adopt tools that actually take 5 – 15 minutes to engage in. How quick they were to siphon from their now overflowing cups to their overstuffed plates, adding to their burdened, stressful lives. I asked the participants to figure out One Thing they would continue to do for themselves and One Thing they would introduce to their students. Begin with self. They silently engaged in this exercise for the next 10 minutes.

The next day, they packed their things, flew back to all parts of the country, and hit the hard ground running, leaving the powerful weekend behind them.

We often wonder how many of the things we offer our emerging leaders they actually use when they re-enter their schools and immediately get swept back into the urgency of the work. This time, it’s very clear. During our individual coaching calls this week, I discover that they are each still steeped in aspects of the TLS they breathed deeply into: from practicing it themselves to introducing it to their students. And they continue to be transformed by the experience they had. The vision for their schools has shifted, sometimes slightly, sometimes dramatically. Regardless of the level, it has become much clearer. Here is one of the articulated visions from a leader we will call Celia, who is an instructional elementary school coach.

“I identified and made myself aware of my biggest dream: To make our school a place where we heal before we teach and truly engage children in critical thinking, and have excitement about learning.” The elegance of the universe gave Celia the opportunity to practice immediately on Monday morning. She reported that she heard a colleague yell at a third grader. I asked her why people yell at third graders. She thoughtfully reflected and said: “They are frustrated with themselves for not being prepared enough. And when students don’t change their behavior.”

She then reported that, with her new tools and insights from the TLS training, she approached the student and chose to listen to him: heal before teaching. “What’s going on Quinton?” He told her that he can’t sleep at night and has gruesome, graphic dreams; that since his father left and his mother went to jail, he’s afraid his aunt and grandmother, with whom he lives, will also go away. He’s on high vigilance all night and falls asleep during class. This eight year old unburdened himself and shifted into engagement with Celia who is deeply dedicated to straightening the crooked room of education. She asked him what he’s interested in. “Science,” he offered. Celia called his aunt and received permission to bring Quinton home late because she wanted to take him to buy a science book.

The next day, Celia asked him how his night was. He excitedly reported that he loves his new book and fell into a deep sleep. Quinton let go of his nightmare and Celia, in this moment, was living her dream. We then talked about a third grade class that was so difficult, that a very seasoned teacher walked out. She described a chorus of “whining:” “Why should I have to give the pencil back to Jondre; he stole mine first” kind of whining. I suggested to her that 3rd and 4th graders become very aware of justice, and this is one way they express it. Perhaps she could introduce stories or films to her teachers about justice to use with students; teach the children other ways to respond to unjust situations; then engage in role plays to practice. “I had never thought of it that way. Justice! Never thought that this might be what they were expressing.” Celia was lit. On fire. Ready to see her Kids in a new light and teach to that.

We ended our call breathing together. And I’m still swirling in the transformation, living my dream out loud.

**Melissa Harris-Perry. Sister Citizen: Shame Stereotypes and Black Women in America

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

State of the Union

"Stop teaching to the test: teach with creativity and passion."
-- President Barack Obama, State of the Union address 2012

Monday, January 2, 2012

Lead a School and Lead a Balanced Life? Probably Not

I love the symmetry of today's date: 1/2/12. It feels and looks balanced. It brings to mind perhaps the most common coaching question I'm asked: How can I do this work and live a balanced life? My first response is: What does a balanced life look like to you? My second response is: people who are drawn to mission-driven work,who are compelled to shift the dominant paradigm of injustice, aren't the kind of people who lead a balanced life. But we CAN lead a healthy life. We can make the usual New Year's resolutions: eat well and exercise. And we can:

We want urgent school leaders around for a long time, so surround yourself with funny people (Kids are very funny), notice when you feel compassion (for yourself as well), and do something kind for people who help you lead a healthier life, and for people who could use a good laugh.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Science and Power of Gratitude

Gratitude: Robert Emmons, PhD, says that gratitude requires reflection and contemplation. He reminds us that the etymology of “thinking” and “thanking” are the same. In order to feel grateful we: Recognize Acknowledge Appreciate. Interestingly, he also found that in contrast to people who wrote down five things they felt hassled by, the people who wrote down blessings they were thankful for slept better, had more energy, suffered less illness, exercised more, were more optimistic about their future, and felt better about their lives.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Force Field in the Classroom

I recently had the privilege to observe Alex Jarrell teach at KIPP Central City Middle School. It was immediately clear that his Kids are engaged in taking responsibility for their learning, work independently, are infused with a love of learning and a desire to think critically, and have respect for community. When I pressed him to think about how he creates this environment, one he refers to as a Force Field, here's how he describes it. (Posted with his permission):

  • Treat kids with respect

  • Select rigorous exciting text to read: They feel successful reading

  • Scaffold praise
     First, I praise them when they have gone above expectations
     Then I only praise when kids show critical thinking

  • Model enthusiasm and zest

  • I know every kid can learn

Please post specific things you do, and the way you approach teaching and learning, so our other amazing teachers can build their repertoire too.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lazy or Imaginative?

Teaching, coaching and leading to deficits is lazy and unimaginative. Teaching, coaching and leading to assets can be transformational and brings out the best in your teachers and in you. As John Saphier of RBT (Research for Better Teaching) reminds us, teachers stay on their jobs longer and do better when they can be creative and know they will never be humiliated.