23 June 2007

What I Learned at School This Year

Now that the school year is (more or less) completed, it's a good time to spend a few minutes pondering the lessons it had to offer. I always offer up some New Year's Resolutions in late August for the things I believe will take focus in the upcoming year. The only problem with that is that life as a Curriculum Specialist requires a bit more flexibility. I can look at the school year as going "pear-shaped" on me or perhaps I need to be more tenacious about my vision---both of which are true. But I also know that to strictly adhere to what I want is foolish. If my role is to support teachers, then I need to listen to and respond to their needs. Pushing through my own agenda isn't advisable. I can say that most of the things I wanted to focus on did have follow through.

But what about the broader issues at work here? What did the year have to teach me?

There were two big lessons from the year...things which will continue to help me in my professional life.

The first of these was simply to sit back and let group process happen. I am a very concrete sequential type of person, and I have to say that this mode is not a good fit for group work. Process just isn't a linear sort of thing. You have to take some birdwalks: side trips to explore other options. You need to have time to listen to every viewpoint present. You have to be willing to circle back. And, you often have to be able to let an outcome go. Not every meeting will end with some sort of resolution---which doesn't mean the time was wasted, it just means that you have to accept that life is messy. I have learned that in meetings where the randomness of things is starting to get under my skin, that it's a good idea to slip out for a couple of minutes. I take a short walk, get a drink, check my e-mail, or tend to a short task. When I go back to the meeting, I can breathe again. It's important to just be in the moment with things.

As teachers, we learn not to take comments too personally. There are kids, parents, and the occasional peer who don't like the way that we do things in the classroom. At a district level, this is greatly amplified and there are even more prospective stakeholders nipping at your heels. It is easy to feel like no one is really interested in learning what the real story is---that it's much more desirable to take a snippet of a rumor and run with it. I have to say that it doesn't drag me down as much as it used to. My usual gut check about things is "Is this good for kids?" If my answer is "yes," then I'm able to let negative comments roll off. It doesn't mean that the concerns of others aren't valid and shouldn't be heard---it's just that I don't bring that weight home with me anymore.

This is a transitional time for me. It usually takes me about a week to make the mental move from "all work all the time" mode to "just enjoy summer." Thoughts of school and work never completely go away, but they do take up less of my headspace. I was getting a little panicky earlier in the week when I saw how much is on my plate next year. For now, I need to just set that aside, as well as the lessons learned this year.


Hugh O'Donnell said...

I'm gonna make sure my supe shares your remarks above with his cabinet, so they can share in turn.

Talk about nailing the successful group work process. Nice job.

The Science Goddess said...

Thanks. It's definitely an area of growth for me. I have worked with all sorts of groups---at this point, I think it's learning to "manage" myself within them...recognize when the process is making me nuts...and find a way to breathe and be constructive again. Another area for me to develop is to gain more "tools" in bringing back a group which has ranged a bit too far. It's that delicate balance of letting people have enough "air time" to get out what they want to say, mixed with keeping people moving toward the overall goal.