You Always Have Time

I intentionally made some time this summer to talk to a group of friends who were already administrators. I was looking for advice about how to best handle this coming school year: how could I minimize the mistakes I was inevitably going to make, and maybe even make a few good choices?

I got a lot of good advice, things I’m trying to do on a regular basis. Sometimes people have noticed the suggested actions and commented. That’s been a good thing, and something I owe my smart administrator friends for.

One of the pieces of advice I got – I don’t remember from whom right now, and my book of notes from these conversations isn’t with me at the moment – was that whenever a teacher walked into my office or walked by me in the hall and asked if I had a second, the answer was always yes. Not in a minute. Just yes. Now. Essentially, no matter what: barring an absolute emergency, this person said to always make time.

This is something I’ve tried to do: say yes when a teacher has a question or an issue. Make the time. I hope I’ve been reasonably successful at it.

On Tuesday, I had a student who I had checked in with about their attendance the previous week ask if we could chat at some point. I said sure.

You know where this is going.

Things happened. It was two days before I got back to the student. And they rightly called me out for it: why did it take two days for me to circle back to them? Good point. Then they went a step further: if it had been one of the higher risk students in the school, I wouldn’t have waited two days to chat with them. It would have happened right away. Good point number two.

Ouch. And dead on correct.

I apologized. Lesson learned, hopefully. But that’s something you can’t take back and undo. It’s also something that you can’t say you’re going to do. Like most of life, it is going to be something I am going to have to show – with my actions, not my words – that I am willing to do: make time for teachers AND students when they ask for it.

Now. Not in two days.

The Fortuitous Walk By

As I learn what doing my job actually entails – something I still don’t entirely know – I am often in the halls. Whether it is making sure kids are in class, looking for a staff member with a question, or trying to find a student to check in on, I get to walk by a lot of classrooms as a day progresses.

One of my favorite things from the last couple days has been an opportunity to walk by an amazing moment in a classroom. While on the way out for supervision duty, I wandered by a class that sounds like it had been a bit less than ideal. Instead of hearing a frustrated teacher, I got to hear encouragement. The teacher talked about how not everyone would love everyday in class, but that they would love to hear feedback from students about how to improve it. About how there would be varied activities in class, but they needed students to show up every day and do their best even if it wasn’t a day they were really excited about. I wasn’t there to observe the class – I just happened to wander by it. It was a great conversation to get to hear – positive in a time it would have been easy to be negative in.

A fortuitous walk by happened again yesterday afternoon. After a crazy couple of days, I was out looking for a student and wandered by a classroom. I heard what sounded like an improv game I recognized (called Rapid Fire Freeze on this website). Recognizing it, I turned around and went back to watch. And laughed my brains out for about five minutes. The students – and the teacher – were all over the place as they switched up scenes and players every 30 seconds or so. It was EXACTLY the laugh I needed at that point.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t seen and heard good learning and powerful conversations within a classroom that I was intentionally there to watch. But the choice to slow down and listen, or do a u-turn and go back listen and watch has been a really good one a couple of times this past week.

Comfort Zones

When I was in the classroom, I enjoyed watching students being out of their comfort zones. Sometimes it was around public speaking, other times it was around groupwork, other times it was around difficult content around issues of inequality. Regardless, it was neat to see students be pushed. They didn’t always like it, but it was amazing to see the growth that they had in the two years I got to spend with them. Hesitant public speakers became confident and polished. People who didn’t like groupwork became strong facilitators who brought the best out of their peers.

In the reading I’ve done recently, people refer over and over to powerful, profound growth happening when people are out of their comfort zones. Though I didn’t have that evidence at my fingertips in the classroom, intuitively that makes sense based on what I saw from my students.

With a new job this year, when I see people they ask how it is going. I don’t always have a good answer. I’m enjoying it. I know I’ll be back tomorrow and that I’ll learn something new. But I spend a lot of time out of my comfort zone. Which is good, I guess. I’m learning. I hope I’m growing.

But the shoe is on the other foot now. After years of asking kids to step out of their comfort zones, I’m now doing that. That’s not to say teaching was always easy or always comfortable, but there was a certain flow to how a day and a semester and a year went. What happened every day was known, more or less. Now? This year for me, in a new role? Not so much.

And as I bumble through days and make mistakes, it’s important to keep remembering that: being in your comfort zone is all well and good, but there’s a lot of growth and learning to be had outside of them. At least that’s what I’m telling myself 🙂

To Do List?

Week one and I didn’t get fired – plus I’m excited for week two. That’s what we’re here for, right?

It was a whirlwind of a first week with students. Lots of things happened, but two things come to the fore as I learn this job.

Something happens every day. That thing, where all of a sudden you were doing something and then you spend the next couple of hours dealing with whatever that thing is. I remember nervously looking at the clock on Friday at around 10am – when was the thing going to happen? Nervousness continued at 11:30 – where was the thing? Well, the thing Friday never happened. That meant that I got to keep working on the thing that happened Thursday, and needed to be followed up on. I was reminded, though, as I saw incidents happen that needed imminent attention on Wednesday and Thursday, of what my friend Catina Haugen said when I chatted with her for advice this summer. She said to always be three days ahead with the things that have to get done. Wise advice for sure, and it only took one week to see it as necessary.

I also realized with such an interactive job, that as an introvert I really need about ten minutes of uninterrupted quiet time at the end of the day to work on something to recharge. I ran out of work Thursday without that and felt stressed for the rest of the afternoon. This was true to a certain extent when I taught too, but I was usually able to grab a quiet moment during prep time to recharge at the end of the day. There’s no prep time as a VP – carving out that time will be an important self-care piece for me this year, I think.

There’s more to say, but those were the two big pieces that struck me from the past week. On to week 2!

Out of Place?

I’ve been thinking more about that feeling competent piece I talked about last week; the feeling of being completely out of place, of what the heck am I doing here. It’s still a weird feeling, but one I am getting used to.

As I was thinking more about that feeling, I started to think back to other times I felt out of place – times where I wondered what the heck I was doing where I was.

The first time I felt that was after the vans dropped me and about 15 strangers off for the start of a National Outdoor Leadership School course in southeastern Alaska. We had everything we needed for the month we were going to be out sea kayaking: all the food, clothes, maps, etc. And I had just met these people. I VERY distinctly felt that ‘what the heck am I doing here’ feeling. However, that trip was one of the happiest months of my life. Bald eagles, bears, seeing no one else for weeks at a time, having a humpback whale come up for a breath ten yards from my kayak and scare the crud out of me: it was an amazing experience.

I also felt that what am I doing here feeling as I got dropped off in Olukonda, the village in Namibia where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer. I was living with a family, speaking a language I had learned for two months, and walking into a teaching job – class sizes of 45, students who spoke English (the language of instruction) only at school – that I was distinctly unprepared for. But my time in Namibia was incredibly powerful: I fell in love with education and in my two years there came to know and understand the amazing people and culture of a country many people have very little knowledge of.

The third ‘what am I doing here’ time that came to mind as I reflected on this feeling was as I sat in my classroom about a half hour before school started on my first day teaching in California. Was I prepared? I didn’t know any of the students. Similar to my situation now, I didn’t know who to talk to about what at my school – who was in charge of supplies, field trips, etc. Following the pattern of the other two experiences, my eight years teaching at Hillsdale were a total and complete blast.

What’s the message here? A couple things, I think. Discomfort is good. Feeling overwhelmed – in the in over your head kind of way – has been a really positive experience for me. Despite the initial unpleasant feeling, all three of these times when I felt in over my head were amazing, transformative growth experiences for me. Hopefully the pattern holds and the same is true for what lies ahead. But regardless, in the moment, it’s good to remember how this feeling has turned out for me in the past.

Feeling Competent – Or Not

California to British Columbia. Teacher to administrator.

One of those jumps is a big deal. Both of them together are a head spinner.

Screenshot 2017-08-26 at 10.11.13

Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled about my new job. The other two administrators I work with are great. The clerical staff is so helpful. Teachers have been super welcoming. The district admin mentoring program – non-evaluative, opt in, paired with an administrator not at your school, tailor the conversations and meetings around your needs – seems thoughtful as well. But it is a BIG set of changes.

Day one was a head-spinner. I ask a lot of questions; that’s how I process things. But you can’t ask questions every time anyone says something. That’s both not feasible and annoying. I left that day feeling kind of lost.

Again, that was to be expected. New education system and new country, new role.

Day two was a little different. I was working on tangible things. I asked questions – lots of them – when I had them. I think that I started to get used to feeling lost in larger conversations. Which is fine – I’ll learn the context of these conversations over time.

But I left day two feeling more accomplished. Did I get more done? No, not really. But I knew what I was doing (kind of). I felt competent (kind of).

As I thought about that feeling – competence – it was a little jarring. As a teacher, I usually felt competent: I knew what I was doing to try to get students from point A to point B and how I might fix it when it didn’t work. But in a new role and in a new place that systemic understanding, that path forward, is currently lacking for me.

This feeling, a lack of competence, was a good reminder. As a new teacher, I felt that lack of competence a lot. I slowly lost that feeling: I knew how to reflect, who to talk to about that field trip, what teacher might have an insight on an issue I was struggling with.

Competence is important. Not to lower the bar – excellence is important too. But feeling competent is a win. A huge win, at times. I need to remember that going forward. How can I help people feel competent? What about new teachers or people new to a school? That’s about a quarter of the staff this year.

I’m reminded of what a brilliant friend of mine Darren Hudgins talked about in his newsletter a couple months ago: how are you helping people start the year by feeling ‘right’? Helping them start the year with small wins? In his words, a bit more elegantly:

So as the year continues – or starts – how are you making students and teachers feel competent? How are you helping people feel right? Helping them get small wins? Because my head-spinning couple of days was a reminder of just how important that feeling of competence and the humility of being a beginner really is for us as educators.