Who is Thriving?

For the regular readers I have, you may have noticed an increase of late in my blogging. This is not a result of any resolution or real intention but likely a by-product of less time and engagement on social channels and a desire to better flesh out my thinking and ideas and seek out those interested in providing more thoughtful feedback and interaction.

It’s obvious to anyone that education right now is a tough place to be. I suppose that’s true for many industries and organizations but any data, report or story you hear says education is not a profession that is very appealing. We all can list a number of factors, many outside of our control, some are long-standing systemic challenges and others might be new due to societal unrest. I can tell you my colleagues and I at ALP are working to support communities with long-term solutions around workplace wellness and leadership specifically to work towards a better future.

But no matter the challenges and circumstances, there are always those who thrive. This is essentially the definition of a positive deviant. Positive deviants are folks who have the same resources as others and yet succeed and thrive while the majority of those around them do not. They typically use uncommon approaches but also are likely unaware of their approaches as they assume others are doing the same things they are. They’re the ones who, when you ask them about something that’s working well, often have difficulty identifying what it is they’re doing. I’ve been seeking these folks for decades.

So today I’m more curious than ever, about which educators are thriving. Which teachers, principals and leaders are excited about their work, feel energized and satisfied with the work they’re doing? Obviously, this doesn’t mean they are oblivious to the challenges that exist. They aren’t toxically positive but overall they love their work AND would encourage others to join them. This speaks to the fact that they don’t see themselves as special or different than their colleagues. They assume anyone can feel the same way they do about this work.

If you fall into that category, please share. If you don’t but know someone who does, either tell them to post something and share or maybe you can speculate on their behalf. I’m not simply curious about who is thriving but why. What is it about your circumstances and situation that is giving you hope? What have you done to get there? What are others doing around you to support you? And finally but of lesser importance, what uncontrollable events or circumstances have impacted you and your workplace?

Savour

I don’t really do the #oneword thing. I mean I think about it and naturally, a word seems to emerge but not with the same intention as many. In the past, I’ve used and focused on things like joy and delight and those words last much longer than a year. They stick and become part of my personal and professional persona.

This year I do have a word that has been emerging over the past few months so perhaps there’s value in documenting and recording it. So my sorta #oneword for 2023 is savour or savor for those who have an aversion to the letter u.

Savour, as in “to relish for an extended time” is for me about slowing down and being mindful.

I want to savour the food I eat. As I eat better, part of that work is to savour and be mindful of what I eat. Being a little more French and making eating an event even when it really isn’t an event is something that might improve my relationship with food and avoid those occasions where we squeeze food into our busy schedules.

I want to savour the time I spend with my grandkids. If you know me at all, you know that my three grandkids are a big part of my world. While I’m blessed to live in the same city and get to spend as much time as I want, I also know it won’t be like this for long. The youngest is approaching 2 and in a few years, they’ll all be in school and will be leading their own lives full of activities and friends. I don’t want to take any moments for granted. Even those where they cry or act their age. This is a magical time in a person’s life and I want to get all I can out of it.

I want to savour my golf. Golf is almost a spiritual experience for me. Being outdoors and being with friends and working on my game are all things that I truly love. Golf is such a metaphor for life in that it brings up a lot of feelings and highs and lows in a few hours. Embracing all of it is something I’m pretty good at already but want to continue to pursue.

I want to savour my travels. My wife and I travelled over Christmas and like everyone else had our delays and cancellations. But rather than focusing on that, we think of our time away as a gift. Seeing the world means accepting that it’s not always easy but that the literal journey is part of it.

I want to savour my weekends. While I’ve been working remotely for over a decade, Not until the pandemic was I truly a 40-hour week in front of a computer guy. Previously I travelled so much that when I was home it was rarely a full week so it didn’t feel quite so mundane. Since 2022, I noticed how much more I looked forward to the weekend. Detaching from work has been so important. At times, I still feel the urge to do a little work but for the most part, I’ve resisted. I want to continue to see weekends as a time to rest and rejuvenate.

I want to savour work. At 58, I’m often asked and ask myself about retirement. I’m not ready and not sure when I will be but I don’t envision retirement will be something I do to avoid work. I do enjoy what I do. I will say that in the past few years spending less time in person with people has been difficult. The administrative part of my work can be a challenge because you don’t always have the immediate feedback of time spent with people provides. But I also know one day I’ll miss it all.

I want to savour time alone. I love my wife and family and friends but I do like my time alone. Whether that’s a walk or the occasional solo round of golf or travelling, my alone time is my time to reflect, meditate, pray and just be still. Being present and enjoying the quiet can be restful and life giving.

Savouring will be something that I’ll need to remind myself often to remember. While it sounds good in theory, it’s often difficult to practice. But it is about mindfulness and relishing all that it means to be human.

Are We Ready to Learn Again?

We’ve seen a major focus on Social Emotional Learning in the past few years. Certainly, the pandemic made it a universal priority for schools. Overall, this has been a good thing and one I’ve advocated for a long time. Our mission is not simply to develop knowledge and skills but also citizens who have a sense of well-being and dare I say, happiness. That said, I’ve noticed a trend that is separating SEL and learning and making it appear at times that the two are mutually exclusive. While no one would ever voice that idea, I think that the ways in which the pandemic has affected people differently are revealing themselves in the lack of readiness for many to really engage in deep and meaningful learning.

It’s difficult to say which comes first: “deep learning” or “wellness”. If I’m forced to make this a binary decision, I’ll likely opt for wellness first, and deep learning second. But that’s just it. I don’t think it is a binary thing. In fact, I think in many cases deep and engaging learning leads to wellness and vice versa. They are complementary. I will say that early on in the pandemic it was clear that the general level of wellness in our schools and the world was so low that it was necessary to put our efforts into the health and well-being of our learners (students, teachers and leadership). We were indeed impoverished and the degree to which schools and leaders took on this challenge was quite spectacular and educators proved they could really do hard things.

But the wellness issue has not been solved and likely won’t ever be solved. And yet what I’ve noticed is a wide range of readiness for individuals and communities to re-engage in deep learning. I know many leaders are working to make this once again the focus of their culture while others remain in neutral because they may be lacking a critical mass of influencers to get back to their purpose. As I talk to various leaders and educators I get these mixed and competing messages regularly. But returning to my previous point that well-being and deep learning are complementary, I’m looking to bring these two ideas together to design professional learning and culture for all learners.

When I think back to my early days with technology, I recall some similarities to what I’m seeing with well-being. Many tended to see technology and deep learning as two different things. They had a difficult time seeing how technology could be embedded into their traditional classrooms. Technology was a class that required specialized teachers and a designated space to access it. It’s taken years for this mindset to shift and some are still working to resolve this resistance. But for the most part and in theory, we understand and believe how one fosters the other.

So when it comes to developing mentally and physically healthy learners we have to include their intellectual health. The concept of intellectual health is somewhat nebulous and academics is not typically considered a health issue but by thinking about it in terms of health, perhaps we’ll do better in aligning it with our overall purpose of young people prepared to live, thrive and become contributing adults.

My research is anecdotal at best but I would still love to hear your voice around this matter. Speaking either for yourself, your district or colleagues, what is the readiness level of staff to re-engage with personal and professional learning? What obstacles or barriers still remain? What steps or structures have you seen that have supported a return to innovative practices and a desire to grow as a learner?

What Happens When Twitter Dies?

I’m not really in a position to understand all that’s happening over at Twitter. I mean I realize Elon Musk bought it and seems to have the desire to change the platform and many feel it will either implode or turn into something they don’t want to support. But I don’t yet have an opinion. It’s partly because I’m not sure I care.

That might sound weird for someone that was around for as long as anyone I know. I joined the platform in January 2007. It was barely 6 months old. There was no such thing as social media or at least we didn’t call it that. Twitter was a major accelerator for network building for me. But as this all was happening, most of us had no understanding or intentionality of how we would use it. We were a bunch of educators playing around. I say educators because, at the time, that’s about all we’d see. The first 3-5 years of Twitter were the glory years for me. I created a network and made friends. This is one of the first things I wrote about Twitter. It was mysterious. It was innocent. It was fun. This post sums up how I have tried to use Twitter over these past 16 years.

I used to tweet a lot. I mean a lot. In the first seven years. I hit 100,000 tweets. I even made a stupid video about it.

I don’t remember when but I did get the coveted blue check mark. I don’t really know why, there are a lot more famous, important people using the platform but I got it. It didn’t really change anything for me. But it was around this time that the platform shifted and became more mainstream. That mainstream use came with the advantage of becoming more popular and important to many but also came with more garbage and sketchy players. In the last 8 years, my use has dropped 75%. Twitter has been evolving long before Musk took over and I’ve certainly lost much of my desire to spend time there but I got out of it so much. As I mentioned, I’ve made friendships, gotten connected to smart people, laughed, and played. I’ve even been able to secure speaking gigs on the platform so in that respect it’s probably made me a little money too.

If it blows up tomorrow, I share much of the sentiment written by my friend Alec who has a very similar Twitter trajectory. I’m good. I’ve got more out of the platform than most. I have a robust network and community (those are different things by the way). I’ve found other platforms to stay connected to those I care most about. The serendipity of finding new people has diminished greatly over the years but for me at this stage of my career, it’s fine. But what about younger educators?

This is where I’m most concerned. When I was teaching undergrads and even graduate students, part of my mission was to help them build their network and find a community that existed beyond the walls of their school or district. Early on I advocated the use of Twitter. That has not been the case more recently. The added noise and activity on the site made it more difficult to easily find people. I realized the cost/benefit of using Twitter to find a network was not favorable. I saw educators naturally shift to Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, and TikTok. While I’m not sure those spaces can provide the access to the right people the way the old Twitter did, at least some were trying. But the idea that a teacher can find her tribe and then every year attend an event and meet up with that tribe to reinvigorate and revitalize her desire to teach may be gone. For those of us fortunate to have that we know what a difference it makes for us and our students and our well-being. At a time when wellness is such an important topic, the idea of an online community and support from outside voices is more important than ever and yet more difficult to build today than it has been. Twitter still has the structure that can allow for that but it takes effort to curate and understand how to do that. If Twitter dies, I’ll be fine but I hope we can figure out how to provide opportunities for young people to connect to the same kind of smart and caring educators that have encouraged and supported me for the past 15+ years.

Delight 26: Validation

What’s bad about the Internet is that you can find a study to prove almost any idea or belief. What’s great about the Internet is that you can find a study to prove almost any idea or belief.

That said when you come across something that puts into words or helps explain a behaviour or an idea you’ve had that might seem counterintuitive it’s kind of delightful.

I have shared this tweet often:

I’ve developed a routine or method of creating presentations and keynotes that usually has me beginning early. While that tweet says I start a month out, that’s not exactly true. A month out is when I begin to build an actual slide deck. What happens before that is I begin a note in Evernote where I write random thoughts and ideas. It’s a total mess of images, quotes, conversations, and general brain dumps. The month before I begin to flesh things out more succinctly. I always have a good that a week prior, my presentation is in the “good enough” stage. It’s that last week where I pick at, revise and tweak sometimes with my computer in my lap moments before I speak.

While this has always felt a bit frantic, I couldn’t imagine working another way. I’m currently reading Originals by Adam Grant and he writes an entire chapter on procrastination and timing. While I don’t consider this procrastination, I was tickled as I read these four sentences:

Once a task is finished, we stop thinking about it. But when it is interrupted and left undone, it stays active in our minds….Great originals are great procrastinators but they don’t skip planning altogether. They procrastinate strategically , making gradual progress by testing and refining different possibilities.

Grant, Adam, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, p 102, Penguin Books

I’ve always felt like my approach was less efficient or productive than it ought to be. Reading that made me smile and realize that my approach isn’t a flaw but a feature.