19 November 2016

A Wall to Invite Others In

If you follow my other blog, then you know that I have set a challenge this year to tell 10 new data stories in 10 months. My goal is to only use data that we don't typically share. That doesn't mean that it's private, just overlooked. All the data I'm using would be considered public, but no one requests things like Outlook calendars for meeting spaces or the number of emails sent in a day.

I've seen a lot of data walls over the years. I've heard of the spaces they occupy referred to as "war rooms." These data are, without fail, just about assessment scores. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking at student performance, but I often remind people in my district that children are more than the sum of their test scores.

What would happen if we built a (data) wall that invited conversation, rather than screamed at an audience?

One school in our district has decided to join me on my data story journey this year. They are sharing data about library book checkouts by grade for each with of the semester.

It's ginormous...maybe 4 x 8 feet. A lot of work has been put into getting everything labeled. The numbers at the top of each stacked bar are written on little books!

Every colour represents a grade level and every bar is a week. Fourth grade has been rockin' it this year, it appears.

There is a lot of joy this year at this school. They are so proud of their data wall (as they should be). I've heard about several teachers bringing their classes to look at it and all the good discussions that ensued. Parents are asking about and engaging with the data. These are data that generate conversation in a positive way.

Walls aren't always about who we want to keep out. Once in awhile, they're all about who we want to bring in.

17 November 2016

Dance, Star, Dance

My maternal grandmother grew up in the Missouri Ozarks. She married at 15 and had four children by the time she was 20. Her husband shot small game (squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs...) for the family to eat. There was no indoor plumbing until my mother was a junior in high school. It was a hard way to live.

As an adult...and a parent...my mother asked my grandmother how they had managed it all. Her reply was simply, "We were angry a lot of the time." Perfectly understandable. She elaborated later that it also wasn't easy to have four children under the age of five. They would work on helping one child learn to walk and then remember they hadn't helped another to sit up yet. It was a juggling act in terms of traditional milestones.

I often think of this story as a metaphor for my life, both at home and at work. There are so many things I'm supposed to stay on top of...and just when I get one area all tidied up, I realize that some other area is precariously close to being out of control. No matter how well-organized I am, there is just more and more to take on. It can feel futile, but I've started keeping a sort of log book this year. I have a little journal that I carry with me at all times. I record all the meeting notes each day, capture the steps of projects I'm working on, or even ideas from articles I read. When I look back, it's still an overwhelming amount of information, but at least I can see that it is all leading to small changes.

If I play out the metaphor of my grandmother and her family, I realize that all of her children (including my mother) graduated from high school---something neither my grandmother or her husband achieved. Out of the five children, two served in the military and four attended college all the way through earning a Masters degree. They may have had less than optimal conditions going in, but something greater emerged later.

It's kind of a Nietzche'ian end to the story: Out of chaos, comes order. Or, more poetically, You must carry a chaos inside you to give birth to a dancing star.

Just once I'd like to feel like everything is caught up and as it should be. That may never happen, but it doesn't mean I can't make something great in the process. Time to find the rhythm and dance.

10 November 2016

What next?

Like many people I know, I have felt fucking terrified since the results of Tuesday's US presidential election were revealed. And that's the nicest way I can think of to say it. I also know that I'm not alone in that feeling. From my friend who had to explain to his son that nothing will happen to his family with two dads...while all the while knowing we have a VP who thinks we can electrocute people straight. To our district ELL coordinator who spent the day reassuring students. To my bff, who is black and has seen so many tenuous steps toward equity. To a teacher who told me today that her daughter doesn't know where it will be safe to go to college given the repudiation of women the vote represents.

Two of my favourite Jennifers (Borgioli Binis and Orr) have recently posted some reflections on the aftermath of the election and moving forward. Orr, as a classroom teacher, keeps her focus exactly where you would hope it would be: supporting students. Borgioli Binis sets the stage for peer-to-peer conversations.

And I am currently pondering the next level in the system: How do we as administrators or district leaders support discourse among staff? I do think it's good for kids to see that we can disagree on some things, but agree on others...that we can engage in healthy conversation. I also think that some of the differences in opinion in this case are so personal and fundamental, so strongly tied to one's own core values, that finding common ground might be impossible.

I had a teacher confide in me today that she felt like the election result was ripping apart her staff. She was horrified that her peers would be so open about anxious they were for the deporting to begin of immigrant families who send students to her school. The truth, of course, is that those opinions were always there working in the classroom next to hers, they just weren't openly expressed. And now she knows things about the adults in her building that she doesn't want to know...and can't set aside. She is too afraid to engage in conversation with them, even though she knows she needs to. She knows that white, protestant, women...like the ones who fill her school...didn't vote for Hillary. To make change in the future, she has to create change in thinking with them.

I wondered how many principals were seeing this in their schools...staffs divided by the results. And yes, I know that elections happen every four years and that there are always winners and losers. But something this time around feels very different. The campaigning was just so vile and ugly by the candidate who won. Were we, as leaders, prepared for the outcome (either way) and how this would affect relationships among our staff? What do we do next to ensure that friendships and collegial efforts stay strong and focused on what's best for kids? How do we help teachers who may have lost trust or respect for their peers (who may not know this) move forward with them?

This is what I'm pondering over the long weekend while I engage in some self-care and think about my own path forward. I am scared that there will not be a light to find in all of this dark.


05 November 2016

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Band-Aid

In Jaws, there comes a moment while hunting for the shark that Roy Scheider's character realizes that they're going to need a bigger boat. The problem---the great white shark---is far larger than they'd realized. In the movie, it the first time we glimpse the shark, too. The size of the (pseudo) animal makes the audience nervous, too. We realize that the captain's bravado isn't going to be enough to seal the deal...and we feel rather small in that boat on the big ocean.

The title of this post came from some words I found myself saying recently at a meeting. We have a lot of big changes ahead for our district. Plenty of construction is happening, thanks to a bond passed by the voters. Next year, sixth graders will begin attending our middle schools---meaning our elementary schools will be losing staff and reconfiguring schedules, and our middle schools will be gaining staff and have 2/3 of their student populations new to their buildings. The money from a recent technology levy has made for some wonderful additions for staff and stuff. We have new leadership, which brings its own new ideas to the mix.

All of these sea changes have been planned, of course. We've made choices---from the voters, to the school board, to the administrators, to parents. But as we steer this ship to our new beginnings, other temptations arise. As long as we're making these changes, why not make a few others we've been wanting to take on, but too afraid to initiate? Why not just "rip the band-aid off" on x while we're already doing something different with y? I realized after a bit that we are, indeed, going to need a bigger band-aid...or suffer a death by a thousand little cuts.

I've pondered change a lot over the years on Ye Olde Blog...enough posts that I even made a tag for it. I don't know that I'm any better now at understanding how to manage it vs when I started thinking about it. There have been a few points in my personal life where I discovered it was better to rip off a giant band-aid...to let everything fall apart and then pick up the pieces I wanted to keep and move on. That path was better than trying to duct tape things together and convince myself it was all right. Sometimes it isn't all right...and that's okay. But that's just me. What happens when we talk about a whole school? Is it all right to just throw in all of the changes at once and see what grows from the rubble? Do we take baby steps or do we jump in the deep end...and how do we know which of those to do in which situations?

The sea changes involving my own job are calming down, at long last. It's been a difficult few months and I've learned a lot about patience and letting go of some expectations in favour of others. I'm learning new things about resilience as it applies to my own role and how to develop it in the ones I work with. I'm hopeful that I can continue learn and advise others on finding the right-sized approach instead of always looking to the bigger one.