Turning Off Your Brain

Back in the day, as a new teacher, I found myself waking up at night, unable to go back to sleep. Student dealing with big issues at home? Or a different student making bad choices at school? Or what to do about that class that is spinning in the wrong direction?

My brain would click on and start spinning. And for the most part, it would be fixated on things that were beyond my control. But, for a while, that wouldn’t matter: my lack of control – something I could acknowledge at 3am as my brain was spinning – wasn’t enough to stop the ideas bouncing around my head early in the morning.

Eventually, I got to a place where I knew that my brain was wrapping around things beyond my control. I was able to train my brain to let things like these go, to trust that I was doing what I could and the rest would take care of itself.

And I slept better. Woke up and went back to sleep. Didn’t spend a couple hours with my brain unable to turn off, despite the early morning hour.

Now, as a new administrator, I’m feeling those same things I felt as a new teacher. I’ll roll over at some ridiculous hour and my brain will start turning and not power down. Usually, it’ll be stuff beyond my control. But I haven’t trained my brain to let that stuff go. Yet. It’s not awful – one or two nights a week. But dangit, I want my sleep!

I’m working on it. Now, I wish I remembered how long I dealt with this as a new teacher. Weeks? Months? When will it disappear? It’s coming, I’m sure. Hopefully sooner, rather than later.

Reps

One of my favorite crazy educators – but the good, ‘go run through a wall after you talk to him’ kind of crazy – Jon Corippo has a lot of interesting ideas. One of the things I’ve chatted with him about over the years is the idea of reps for students. Jon talks about how students will struggle with new structures and ideas to start with. An open ended project that should take half a week? The first time you do it may take two weeks. But get kids reps, get them familiar with structures and how something in your classroom works, and later in the year you’ll get that two week project down to a three day project.

That’s reps. Practice. What are the structures of your classroom that kids have to master? Give them reps and they’ll get better. My wife sees it in her grade six classroom with the Daily 5: students who struggle in September to self-direct through thirty minutes of Daily 5 have no problem with ninety minutes of self-directed Daily 5 come April.

Reps.

It’s the same with hard conversations we have to have as educators. The first time you deal with something? A student – or a parent – who is furious at you? Yikes. I need a hand. Can I practice the conversation I’m going to have with them with you? The third time? The fifth time? I’ve got this.

I’ve seen this be true as an administrator as well. First fight? Walk me through how we deal with this. It’s easier the next time. Need to find out what a student knows? I WAY overplayed my hand in a conversation earlier this year. Hopefully, I’ll learn from it and do better the next time.

That idea of reps, what Jon talks about with students, holds true for the adults in schools as well. If you’re going to build competence, you need practice. You need to be bad at something in order to reflect and learn to be good.

You need – we all need – reps.

Seeing An Impact

One of my favorite parts of teaching world history was watching students grow. Getting to spend two years with a group of students allowed me to see skills and confidence develop over a longer period of time than over just one year together in a classroom.

If you looked at an incoming grade nine in September, then compared them to what they could do in December there were visible differences. Give them another year and a half? Huge growth. Students could find better evidence. Write more convincing analysis. Read more complex documents. Self-regulate for extended periods of project time. Present publicly with grace and poise.

Those things were all visible. Even over shorter arcs like a month you could see growth from students.

One of the things that I’ve struggled with this year is the lack of a visible impact. I don’t see students in class every day. I don’t get to watch a skillset grow and blossom. The things I was used to seeing in the classroom aren’t metrics I see anymore.

This isn’t a complaint. But it is different. I’m sure as I learn the job of VP those growth areas I got accustomed to seeing in the classroom will show up in my new job as well. But for now, I don’t immediately see those growth areas; I’m not sure yet where I should be looking. And because of that things feel a little different, a little less measurable. I can’t see the impact that I’m having.

But in time…

This is where you, the administrator, comes in. How do you see your impact in your school? What are you looking for? What are you watching? I’m curious!

Mistakes

As someone with a new job this year, mistakes are really inevitable: at various points I’m going to screw up, say the wrong thing, hesitate when I shouldn’t, etc.

What’s next? What do you do after the mistake? That’s what I’m working on getting better at.

First, say, “I’m sorry. How can I make this right?” That’s pretty easy. The next part is more complicated.

I’m a big believer in rational actions: people always act rationally. From the outside, it may not always seem like that is the case. However, with some empathy, I think we can get to a place where we may not agree with an action, but we can understand how it was a rational choice someone made in a moment.

When I make a mistake, it is the same thing: I made what I thought was a rational choice. However, when you let a teacher or student down, and you think you acted rationally, the impulse is to explain your decision. However, this explanation – “this is what I was thinking and why I did what I did” – isn’t needed in the moment. When you’ve got an upset party in front of you, they aren’t interested in your rationale. They are interested in solutions. And in attempting to explain why you made a certain choice, you can invalidate the feelings of the person you just wronged.

“If you just heard my side, you’d get it.”

That pushes back on the feelings they expressed. That isn’t a solution to the mistake you made. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reflect on what you did that left someone disappointed or upset. But the reflection doesn’t need to be public, in front of the aggrieved party. Figure out how to get it right the next time, and show that with your actions.

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As with most thoughts on this blog, this opinion is a work in progress. Might my thinking change? Sure. It almost certainly will. It is, however, where I’m at right now.