Delight 25: Madeline’s Par

If you’re new here or new to this series, this is the origin story of my ongoing series on Delight. In essence, I’m working to be more mindful of those moments of delight that happen all the time but often get forgotten as quickly as they are experienced. This is my effort to document and savour these moments.

Madeline Black is a colleague and friend who shared with me her passion for golf. This week we had the opportunity to play together after our ALP retreat. She was clear that she is still relatively new to the game and had not played this year. I assured her we would have fun together. As someone who plays a lot of golf, it’s always a goal for me no matter who I play with we have fun. Golf can be a very intimating game and I’m conscious to address as many of the barriers as I can and make people feel comfortable. I suppose I take the same attitude into my work life.

Madeline is a natural athlete. She was hitting the ball quite solidly but like most golfers, especially new ones, struggled with consistency. When I play with new golfers or those who haven’t played for a while I often suggest to not bother keeping score but instead just see how many good shots they could hit. Madeline did say she wanted to make one par in the round. This was a reasonable goal but not guaranteed.

We came to the hole pictured above and she was committed to hitting the ball over the creek and trying to make a par. She hit a wonderful shot that landed on the front and rolled about 30 feet past the green. The way we both reacted was similar to someone getting a hole in one. We jumped up and down, and high-fived. Watching her and her excitement was infectious and delightful.  She’s been a joy to get to know and work with over the past year and this moment was very much in line with her personality with a touch more enthusiasm. Unfortunately, she 3-putted and missed out on her par. Slightly saddened but also satisfied by her great shot we moved on and she remained committed to making par.

When you don’t play a lot of golf, 18 holes can be tiring both physically and mentally. Keeping your focus for 4 hours is difficult even when you do play regularly which is one of the things I love about the game. We came to the 14th hole and Madeline had hit her 2nd shot on this par 4 to the right of the green in a little hollow. She putted it over a crest and it was about 20 feet from the hole. I took the pin out just as her next putt fell into the hole. A par and another moment of delight.

I play most of my golf with friends who golf all the time. While we all have the occasional birdie or great shot, we don’t celebrate like Madeline. That’s too bad. Madeline and I shared delight together that day.

There’s a lesson here. Hedonic Adaption is a curious thing that can be both helpful for us and also takes away our happiness. Being around my grandchildren is so helpful to see the world differently. The magic the see in everyday experiences is a gift that we all squander away as we age. Yet when we experience something new whether it’s a new food/recipe or we travel to someplace new we have the opportunity to activate our sense of delight and wonder. Thanks Madeline for sharing your moment(s) of delight with me.

Dear Parents, Be Less Involved

Okay, there’s a title to raise some eyebrows, but hear me out.

As a kid, I never really thought about my parent’s involvement in my education. Like most parents, no news was good news. Neither of my parents had a high school diploma and like many parents of that era, teachers were more educated and placed in relatively high regard as experts and professionals in the community. As more people become college educated and society, in general, became less compliant towards authority, schools and teachers were now more accountable for their actions. That was certainly an important and useful change.

As a teacher, I soon was able to see categorize the levels of involvement of parents. As a first-grade teacher, parents generally were fairly involved and interested in their child’s education. Particularly if this was their first child, they were anxious to know if their child was having success as a reader and learner, if they were developing social skills and if they were enjoying school. Most parents already knew the answer to these questions but appreciated affirmation. Yet while this was generally true depiction, there were some differences among parents. A small percentage of parents never showed up for interviews and I had little or no contact with them. The majority attended parent-teacher conferences, read notes from school and stay in good communication with me. Another smaller percentage were more involved. These parents volunteered in the classroom and field trips, baked cookies for class parties and had more in-depth and specific questions about their children’s education. A few of these folks challenged my teaching methods on occasion and some were a strong source of encouragement. As a young parent at the time, I could relate to parents and how busy their lives were and tried not to place undue pressure or expectations on them. From an academic perspective, I mostly wanted them to read to their children and talk to them every day about school and learning. Even though I did some things I wouldn’t do if I were teaching now (reading logs, homework) I didn’t ask much of these parents. You love on them, I’ll look after the academics. That’s somewhat simplistic but also an accurate synopsis of our working agreement.

As I moved to a district leadership position, parent engagement became a bigger priority. As public support for education diminished, getting parents to become partners in education and accept that role would be important. We began to use the internet and social media to share our stories and show that schools were vibrant learning spaces that parents would be proud of and advocate for.

I still believe all those things. But I also think parents need to consider exactly what their role is. As a parent my involvement with my own children’s education was limited. I personally knew many of them and trusted them as professionals. I also wanted the same courtesy and trust given to me. That doesn’t mean I thought all my kid’s teachers were amazing. They certainly had a number of teachers who were less than amazing. Sometimes they made decisions that I disagreed with but for the most part, I gave them grace. But mostly as a parent, I didn’t have the time or energy to give to my kid’s education. I don’t know if that sounds callous or privileged but my kids had abilities and no learning issues so I let them manage school.

I’m thinking about our current political climate. I wonder what kind of a person would enter politics? While I’m sure it’s always been a challenging job, I can’t imagine waking up each morning knowing so many people will despise every decision you make. Part of the challenge is the access we have to their daily work. 20 years ago, most of us didn’t scrutinize our politicians so regularly. There was a level of trust. We elect you to do a job. We don’t have time, energy or expertise to monitor your daily habits, conversations and decisions. You do your job, I’ll do mine and in 4 years we’ll decide if you should keep it. Now many will say people should be more informed to make a better decision about who the elect. Certainly, but I”m not convinced that information people are getting today on a daily basis through social media and 24-hour news cycles make them more informed. It does make them angry and disillusioned but I”m not sure if they are more informed.

Education is facing similar challenges. Parents are getting louder, more vocal and in many cases misinformed about many things. Teachers don’t have the time or energy to debate many of these issues. They become distractions to doing the real and important work of learning. In part, I believe it’s contributing to teacher attrition.

So what I’m suggesting is that we begin to put a little more trust in teachers and experts in general. I realize that’s a broad statement and everyone will cite many examples where that’s a dangerous idea. My belief is that for the good of our mental health and sustainability as a society, it may be an essential step. There will always be watchdogs and those people are necessary parts of a high functioning, healthy society but that means that for most of us, we can focus on our work and expertise and let others look after theirs. When the COVID-19 vaccines were introduced, the majority of folks had enough faith in their doctors to take the vaccines without having to do crazy amounts of research. We realized we were never going to be smart enough to understand all that goes into that amazing creation and accepted with gratitude how it would help us. If you think about it, society is built on a great deal of trust. We trust that the food we buy is not going to harm us, that there are standards and systems in place to ensure our safety. We trust banks to make sure our money is looked after. The list goes on.

So parents, trust your teachers and educational leaders. There are lots of checks and balances in place to ensure they are doing their job. Go to your child’s scheduled interviews and ask all the questions you have. But please let them do their job. They likely aren’t trained to do your job and most of you aren’t trained to do theirs.

One last note. I write this as a privileged Canadian with healthy children and means. I am fully aware of my bias but may not always see them. I write to think and learn. I welcome pushback, that’s why I share this publicly. Please share your thoughts.

The #deanie awards for 2021

My annual giving out of random-meaningless-to-most-but-meaningful-to-me awards which began in 2015, almost didn’t happen. With the year(s) that it has been, it’s difficult to find routine at times. As well, when this began I was a travel warrior and my memories of interaction were largely in person. Yet Twitter was the glue that kept relationships alive and in some cases where they were born. (FYI, if you’re curious about the fake trophy, it’s a picture of shorts, in other words, no pants which have been an ongoing trope of mine for quite some time. Don’t overthink it)

My annual giving out of random-meaningless-to-most-but-meaningful-to-me awards which began in 2015, almost didn’t happen. With the year(s) that it has been, it’s difficult to find routine at times. As well, when this began I was a travel warrior and my memories of interaction were largely in person. Yet Twitter was the glue that kept relationships alive and in some cases where they were born.

My process for choosing who to honour is terribly random and arbitrary. As I’ve mentioned previously the danger of leaving someone out is great. It’s not about who I value most or who my closest friends are but rather a continuation of my pursuit of delight. These delights can come from a single tweet that brings me a smile to a person who consistently impacts my life. I try to be as specific as possible thus making the award at times absurd. But in sharing these I hope others find people that delight them as well. Having been an active Twitter user for almost 15 years, I’ve seen it change, largely for the worse. But what I’ve tried to maintain and shift, particularly over the past couple of years is a return to a place of connection. Knowing there are beautiful humans all over the world who in big and small ways make my life a little richer is a pretty amazing thing. Without further ado, here are your 2021 #deanie award winners.

Two Things are True Part 2

My ongoing exploration and interest in better understanding the intersection of acknowledging the current fatigue factor in our schools and the need or desire to learn and grow as humans and professionals continues.

Every time I interact with educators I ask them about this question and get their perspectives. My anecdotal data would suggest things are relatively constant: Teachers are tired and struggling. One conversation I had with a superintendent suggested that one of the things that are causing fatigue is the lack of automation in our day. Duties and routines that were previously automatic are now taking a cognitive effort to execute. Things like getting kids to work in groups, scheduling meetings used to be about the content and task and now are about how to ensure safety and comfort. I recently listened to an episode of This American Life where the opening segment showed how much work it is to communicate given masking, ventilators and distance. That once natural exchange requires an added effort that is surprisingly tiring. The piling on of these daily challenges naturally makes us more tired. This isn’t the only thing that is adding to our fatigue but seems to be something that is new to our current time.

So it is with great care and caution that leaders consider how they will help each other grow and develop. To say “we can’t engage in professional learning” would be the same as saying “we can’t teach kids to read this year” or “we’re not going to do any projects”. Learning has not stopped. It’s part of what sustains us and fuels us as humans. What many are pushing back against and have less tolerance for is learning that isn’t relevant or inviting. One might argue that should always be our goal for teachers and students. Learning needs to be relevant and inviting. Those learners who disengage are essentially saying “this isn’t relevant for me” or “I don’t see how I’m going to fit this into my world right now”.

After much thought and consideration, I’ve come to believe that those who provide learning opportunities (myself as someone who does so for adults and also those who do so for children) have to double down on the relevance and invitation side of things. As soon as something feels compulsory, for many, their flight or fight instinct kicks in and rightly so. When you’re already feeling stressed, you’re not going to respond well to something else that is added to your workload, even if it appears to be relevant. Yet I believe that learning is life and it is something we’ll do in order to survive and thrive. So the challenge becomes, how might we make learning as invitational, appealing and relevant as possible?

A couple of weeks ago, I had my first in-person learning for ALP in Vancouver working with high school leaders from ten local districts. Like many who are returning to in-person learning, the energy from simply being together in a room was palpable. There was a sense of gratitude first and foremost that remained for the entire day. That said, I, along with my colleagues and I’m sure everyone in attendance felt drained at the end of the day. That’s not entirely unusual but what added to this feeling was what I referenced earlier about added cognitive load. We had over 100 in-person participants as well as about half that number via Zoom. I was constantly thinking about how the in-person experience and trying to read engagement through masks and distance and also worrying about people’s experience on Zoom. This was one day. Many teachers did this for a whole year.

Yet through all of this, all those in attendance were fully engaged. Many remarked to me about the impact of the day and the opportunity to connect in person once again. In addition, those online stayed with us for 6 hours. That was incredible. Underlying this was the fact this event was an invitation. No one was forced to be there. Those who were there were united in their desire to continue to improve the learning for their students and staff. They found joy in the struggle and joy in the community. None of them were oblivious to the struggles that exist and were committed to taking things off teachers’ plates and empowering them and their students to create invitations and provide relevant learning opportunities.

I fully acknowledge this is hard and this is complex. But I do believe that ideas and dissonance should bring you joy. To that end, I’m hosting a webinar next week on the ideas of Rest, Play and Learn. You’re welcome to join me and bring your voice along. That’s my invitation. I’m committed to providing learning that is relevant, invitation and dare I say fun.

Two Things Are True

This is essentially what I’ve been trying to figure out for the past 18 months

The real truth is I’ve been trying to figure that out for the past 20 years, ever since I shifted from teaching children to teaching adults. As much as we try to model the classroom experience to adult learning, I realize that pedagogy and andragogy are different. This is true not only in terms of capacity and perspective but also the environment. Classrooms have the advantage of a daily connection. In lower elementary, it means you’re spending hours each day with each other. You have time to connect and build relationships which we know is essential. We also have learners whose primary job is to go to school to learn. When it comes to professional learning, it’s above and beyond their main job. Even when time during school is given, it’s extra, let alone the time it would take to prepare for a substitute teacher.

Even under normal circumstances, teacher well-being is tenuous. Today many would say we’re in crisis mode. And yet, the vast majority of educators enjoy and value the need for continued growth. After all, the mantra of lifelong learning is best modeled by those sharing it every day with their students. But it remains complicated. With that in mind, here are but a few of the over 100 responses I had to this query.

While responses vary, a few themes are clear. Choice and well designed experiences top the list. This is where things align perfectly with the classroom experience. I know I’ve been working hard to acheive these two elements with varying degrees of success. The other theme that emerges is a flat out call to reposition the role of professional learning

My response was to agree but also wonder if that means we are in no position to learn. I think about many people’s response to the early days of the pandemic. Some couldn’t read or go deep into any content, others found it a time to learn a new skill or hobby like searching for the best solitaire app. Like grief, we all handle things differently. I realize there are many teachers who cannot move beyond survival and that needs to be acknowledged and honored. At the same time, there are many who are seeking support and in need of specific coaching. Structurally, some districts are not able or willing to create space for teachers to learn.

I don’t disagree with any responses here and this one hits home as much of my work does touch on the ideas of deeper learning. As an organization, ALP has shifted much of our work to designing resources and supports that address urgent needs of educators without having to have them do much more than use our stuff. And yet, as I think about what excites me about professional learning is not the content but the relationships that are forged and the true desire to help people achieve their personal goals. That’s part of well-being.

I still think two things are true. But that’s about all I know.