2024 #OneWord: Patience

Over the past couple of years it’s been fun to see others find a word they want to embody and use as reminder or focus. Last year I officially joined the ranks using the word “savour“. In past years I’ve unofficially used words like delight.

I was generally pleased with how savour became a focus. Not perfectly but with a greater intent and it will remain something I remind myself to do on a regular basis. For 2024 I want to be more patient. I don’t think of myself as particularly impatient but I also think it’s a very contextual term. There are instances when I am patient. I know I’m much more patient as a grandfather than I ever was as a father. When it comes to travel, I’m very patient with travel delays and mishaps and I even pride myself at how much more calm and patient I am than most. As I work to savour more of my life, I can see how patience is often required. But I do know that I could be more patient in a number of areas.

I tend to take great joy in efficiency, particularly efficiency of time. My kids laugh at how much joy I get when I go through a string of green lights or when I fast forward through a program and remark at how “time we saved”. I like playing golf in under 4 hours and so on. I’m not sure it’s about stopping these practices entirely but you see how much I value these perceived time saving practices.

As a result of that it often creeps into areas where it shouldn’t. When it comes to work, I am very quick to respond to emails and messages. I get somewhat annoyed if others don’t respond as quickly as I think they should. However, in my earnest desire to be responsive, I think I often miss opportunities to be more clear and thoughtful with my responses. I need to be more patient. I need to sit with ideas and conversations more.

When it comes to seeing results in health choices, financial goals and even work goals, I tend to want results more quickly than is reasonable or necessary. Being persistent but patient is usually a good formula for success. Changing habits and actions rarely offer instant results. In this case discipline and patience make a great partnership.

As I mentioned, I like playing golf and I like playing fast. That said, there are occasions when it’s not in your control. Rather than getting frustrated, I need to have patience. I need to remember, I’m outside, with my friends, playing a game I love in beautiful surroundings, why do I want to rush that?

While I’m relatively patient with my grand kids, there are times when they are telling a story or playing at the playground and I’m tired or bored and want to move on. I need to remind myself they are at the most wonderful stage of life and it’s going to be gone soon. Why not enjoy those moments and let them linger, rattle on and just be kids.

Even when I’m grocery shopping, maybe don’t look for the shortest line. Maybe use the time in line, not to look at my phone but maybe look around and have a chat with someone. The extra 3 minutes I might save aren’t going to matter in the end.

Life moves faster than we want most of the time. Not that patience changes that but for me patience is about acceptance of things I can’t control as well as making better use of my time to be more thoughtful, caring and attentive. I’ll report back in 12 months.

Passing the Torch

Demarcus Ware is one of those athletes I knew of but didn’t really appreciate his legacy. I knew he was a great defensive tackle but didn’t know his story and how respected he is among his peers. As a sports fan, I’m always intrigued by the way star or veteran athletes pass down their knowledge to rookies. I’m a sucker for those who talk about “the game being bigger than they are” and also those who reference how great players helped them and how they feel obligated to pass things down for the next generation for the good and well-being of the game.

Listening to Von Miller and others talking about the impact of Ware’s efforts to support their growth and leadership development was powerful. This type of passing down of knowledge and wisdom is part of the tradition of so many sports. Those who do this intentionally are beloved by teammates and fans alike. Once again, we are seeing the best in the world getting even better because of sharing.

I had a conversation today with a first-year teacher. She’s not doing particularly well. She has a challenging class and some difficult parents and administrators who are as supportive as they could be. It broke my heart to hear about someone who has invested 4-5 years of her life toward a dream and is now facing that critical point where she may not choose to stay in the profession. This is not an isolated issue. If you’re reading this you may have someone who mirrors of this situation. The answer is not easy and the problems are complex.

As I watched that documentary about Ware though I couldn’t help but wonder how we pass along our knowledge and wisdom to young educators. How many of you could like Von Miller in the clip above point to a veteran educator who helped you become a better teacher? I’ve worked with many good teachers but I don’t know that I can point to any that took time to do what Ware did for Miller and his other teammates. Yes, a football team and school staff do not work together nearly as much and the opportunities are not as accessible. It’s not that teachers are withholding their insights but the opportunities to see each other in action remains a conversation we talk about but don’t act upon.

I realize that this sounds like a call for mentorship and while that would be ideal I’m not sure it’s realistic or even necessary. It’s a bit daunting for both parties. I’m trying to imagine a culture where the passing down of learning and experiences happen more informally. I won’t write about a solution here but rather plant a seed for leaders to think about what it could mean if we honored veteran teachers by celebrating their work and achievements which would in turn help young teachers identify potential mentors. I’d also plant a seed to consider more opportunities to share stories and reflect on tips and strategies for success. My life as an educator has always been blessed by the many who have found time and space to blog and share online. The final seed I’d plant is for leaders to model what that might look like if they started unsolicited, and pass along wisdom to their new teachers. It seems that in professional sports there is an unwritten rule that since the game has been good to you, you owe it to pay it forward. I’m not sure that same sentiment exists in our educational institutions.

The collective knowledge of our institution is enough to sustain us and keep us relevant and essential. Our problem remains designing structures and opportunities for that knowledge and care to be shared and experienced more broadly.

Maybe We Don’t Want To Tell Our Story

I’ve quoted this often and still believe it to be true. Stories are how we understand and appreciate the world around us. In the world of education, stories have always been present but the advent of Web 2.0 allowed for new opportunities to communicate with local and global audiences. I recall hearing David Warlick talk about “Telling the New Story” which was the idea that technology was changing education and needed to be shared with the public. As someone who embraced technology, this resonated with me, and through my blog, video, and social media, I have spent the better part of my career telling that story.

I’m certainly not alone in this. My good friends Joe Sanfelippo and George Couros have been imploring leaders to do the same. Joe emphasizes that if you aren’t telling your story, someone else will. The tools we have today, allow us to take control of the narrative. George has said, “We need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear”. I don’t disagree with these statements and have in my own way tried to encourage leaders to tell their stories more openly and publicly. But things seem to be changing.

As a company, ALP serves many communities and we have the privilege of witnessing great things happening all over North America. As part of our role, we attempt to capture and share that with our clients and beyond. But recently, it has surfaced that no matter how good the work we do, districts are less interested in sharing it. In fact, in some cases, they are actively asking us not to share or post. Unless you’ve not been being attention, the toxic nature of social media has skyrocketed in the past few years. Increased trolling and extremism mean that no matter what you share, you can expect to find haters. The bigger you are and the more influence you have the more this exponentially grows. No matter how seemingly positive the story, there are those waiting to twist it into something negative. The mere fact that a district has invested in professional learning comes with criticism. For individuals sharing can be even more of a challenge. As a result, individuals like myself who used to advocate for posting online are withdrawing significantly.

While it’s easy to say, “Ignore the haters” it’s a challenge for institutions knowing that nearly every post comes at a cost. This is particularly true on social media posts. They are often lacking context and soundbites of text is easier to misunderstand. I used to find social media a good place to learn about districts but that’s not the case anymore. For some, the district or school website has only ever been a place to provide basic information, storytelling was never a thing.

I realize I’m an advocate for teachers and education and find their stories inspiring and motivating. We have so many untold stories of greatness and in many cases, these are even untold within the school, let alone the district.

I have 3 ideas to consider to combat this challenge:

  1. Use longer-form storytelling. A blog, video, or podcast allows for stories to reduce the amount of interpretation and can offer nuance that shorter-form posting cannot.
  2. Combine emotion and data. This requires expert storytellers who can share the data but as importantly, find the emotional connection. These stories are much harder to trash.
  3. Broaden your community. Getting parent or community voices as part of the new story brings credibility and a less biased perspective. Continue to share stories about teachers and students but be sure to include those who don’t spend all day in school.

This is an admittedly quick post and it is more than likely I’m missing some things. That’s why I have a comment section. Go hard.

And What Do You Mean by “Relationships”?

Perhaps my favourite question in education is “And what do you mean by _____________?” Riffing off the Seymour Sarason book, I’ve posted other articles asking questions about educational jargon that needs further probing.

And What Do You Mean By Knowledge?

And What Do You Mean By…

And What Do You Mean By Failure?

Once a word becomes jargon, it runs the risk of losing its original and true meaning as well as inviting everyone to make up their definitions and use it for their purpose and it ends up either being something folks resent or something that allows people to act differently and create confusion.

Today it’s difficult to read an educational book or listen to an inspirational keynote or talk without a reference to some variation on the idea that “relationships are the key to everything”. It’s an idea that I think comes from a past where or perceived past where school was about content and grades and in some cases we lost a focus on the human connection. Fair enough.

I’m highly aware of and have advocated for a shift in priorities for teachers from a content or instructional focus to one that emphasizes caring for students as a priority. But even as I reread this post, I realize that using blanket terms like “caring and “relationships” requires more nuance. Coming out of the pandemic, we’re more keenly aware of teacher burnout and the impact on their own social and emotional well-being. In my conversations with educators over the past years, the problem of dealing with increased extreme behavioural issues is becoming more and more prevalent. It’s not surprising as some of this mirrors the increase in societal angst we see every day.

Perhaps the best way to understand what we mean by relationships is to look at what it is and what it is not. Let’s keep in mind as well that there is a big difference in the level of relationship that a primary teacher would have versus a high school teacher. Both because of the age difference and what the needs of a 5-year-old require and what a 15-year-old requires but also because of the time that a 1st-grade teacher spends with each student compared to a high school teacher who might see a student for 50 minutes a day.

If we want to have a successful learning environment with children it’s critical we establish some level of safety and the dynamics and parameters of the student-teacher relationship. The definition of relationship leaves too much to interpretation. When this word is used to describe students and teachers, I think it often conjures up something deeper and closer to the way parents feel about their children. I think a better word than relationship might be connection or rapport. Rapport, as defined by Webster’s refers to a “friendly, harmonious relationship”. Rapport might be created by a common or shared interest. It might be creating an “inside joke” or just remembering what matters to each student and regularly acknowledging that. While you may not be able to make this happen for all students on a daily basis, it’s something that requires intent and action. All of these approaches let the student know they matter to you as individuals. It’s important to acknowledge that you will connect more with some students than you will with others. Perhaps that’s obvious but there is usually a perceived idea of favouritism that emerges that might be unspoken but is prevalent either with the students or even for the teacher. I don’t think this is inherently bad but just natural. Of course, as a teacher, you work to not have that favouritism impact the way you support all learners. Along with this acknowledgment is the fact that there will be some students that you simply do not connect with. This may not be an issue for either party but if this results in negative behaviour, it usually leads teachers to feel guilty while they continue to explore ways to connect with the student. The truth is, it’s just not possible to make a meaningful connection with every student or person you might. Outside of school most of us simply choose not to associate with those we don’t get along with. Yet we all face instances where this isn’t avoidable and hopefully, we find ways to co-exist. With other adults, this can be easier but with children for whom we serve it’s a challenge.

What a relationship in this case isn’t, is a commitment to liking all your students. I struggle even writing that sentence as I know it might not sound very caring. But I think you can care for and about a child without liking them. I recall feeling guilty about not liking some of my students. I had to be very self-aware and ensure I was not mistreating them. In fact, at times I would almost show favouritism to combat my dislike for a child. A relationship also isn’t thinking you have unlimited capacity, expertise and energy to help all students. Students who do exhibit extreme behavioural issues or are experiencing severe trauma are best served by those with the expertise and skill to support them. In most cases, this is not the classroom teacher. In an era of inclusion, teachers are at times guilted into keeping students in their classroom despite reoccurring incidents and even violence. Teachers are being asked to go far beyond their capacity and ability to find student success and this is only adding to the ongoing problem of teacher stress. The often used trope of “whatever it takes” has in some ways been part of current teacher stress levels moving to beyond healthy.

Relationships and connections remain a central part of the education process. Particularly early on but yes, even as adults and with adult learners. At the same time, recognizing limitations and placing boundaries are critical for educators to be able to do this work year after year. Whenever I hear a pithy quote or someone using a broad language to describe a complex concept, I worry about the potential damage. I’ve shared my concerns about the future of this profession. If we don’t start getting serious about the health and well-being of our teachers, we’re going to be trouble. Part of managing and allowing teachers to thrive is to better understand what it takes to be successful for the long haul. Making connections and establishing rapport with students is critical. It’s also critical we understand our humanity and limitations.