The 7th Habit we are discussing is to Sharpen the Saw. This habit is all about bringing the previous six together and continuing to expand and grow as an effective leader. My end goal is to obtain a district level technology position. In order to obtain my goal I must first be proactive, every roadblock I can envision needs to be planned for. As I plan the next few years, I need to be sure to keep the end in mind, decisions that I make should be tailored to obtaining my goal. This focus and planning will allow me to put the first things first, not letting me be overrun with everyone elses goals. I want to help people, but I can't do so at my own detriment. Thinking win-win is essential for any leader. As I expand my sphere of influence, I need to make sure that my colleagues see me as one who cares about them and tried to solve problems in a fair manner. The next habit is similar to Think Win-Win, Seek first to understand, then to be understood. As a teacher, I struggle with this habit. I think teachers are all type "A" personalities, as such, need to have the final say. By taking the time to first listen and understand, then speak, I will show my teachers that I value their opinions and input. Finally, by combining these habits and spending time with my team in a non-threatening manner, I can create the synergy that is the goal of most collaborative relationships. While I continue to sharpen the saw, I will need to focus on these habits and incorporate them into my daily experience. I have studied, and pondered these habits extensivly, and come to realize their relevance to my career goals, and my classroom now.
Rebecca and I have a planning meeting tomorrow after school. We are going to talk about how to keep the saw sharp. Fortunately for us, our district places a premium on professional development. We have a myriad of options to choose from. If we are conscientious about the PD we choose, we can make sure to keep our focus on the Habits we have discussed, and continue to expand our spheres of influence.
As Covey puts it, "two heads are better than one." This is the main point of synergy. When your team is working together and collaborating towards a goal, then the teams synergy takes over and lets the team create multiple ways to teach information. Synergy is the end goal, it is not easy or quick to achieve. It is a process where people share openly from their experiences, successes and failures. By blending the sum of everyone's successes, and mindfully considering the failures, teachers can create amazing lesson plans that students will enjoy and learn from.
The members of Voltron force did not originally get along. They would fight and bicker, even when engaged in battling agents of the evil Drule Empire, under command of Emperor Zeppo. After many battles, and letting their individual egos jeopardize galactic safety and security, they realized that by working together, and sharing their individual experience, they would be unstoppable. They formed synergy to accomplish their common goal, especially when their individual ships joined together to form the giant robot, Voltron.
I have had experience in schools where teachers worked together because they were mandated to. I've also taught in schools where the teachers created synergy, and brought that synergy into the classroom. We completed many interdisciplinary projects. The student learning took off, evidenced by the increase in test scores. It took time to create, but once it was created and maintained, it was a positive environment for both students and teachers.
I talked about how to work on creating synergy with my colleague. We are taking a planning day in October to, well, plan, and go to the Mummy exhibit at the science center in Los Angeles. I proposed that we plan some in the morning, go to the museum at 11, then spend the day in Los Angeles learning about each other. Most of the teachers have worked together for years, I am the new guy. We should get to know each other as individuals, and start conversations in a non-threatening environment. I think that gaining this familiarity with each other will help us move towards collective synergy in our departmental meetings.
I think that this habit was custom written for me. I think it might come from growing up with a bunch of lawyers in my family, but I have to "win" every conversation; because I am, obviously, always correct. If we look at the habit of, "think win-win," from last week, we know that one sided victories are not good, especially for education. We need to focus on finding the middle road to take.
I put the quote from Mr. Churchill at the front of this post, it is the same one I used last week. As we explore the habits of interdependence, how we communicate and interact with others becomes important. I don't like it when people don't listen to what I am saying, or when they try to minimize any struggles that I have. One of my least favorite retorts I get is similar to, "Oh, yeah, I went through that, it was pretty bad, but I'm ok now." In one sentence they took the focus from me trying to cope with a situation, and turned it back to a story about themselves, leaving me left searching for support. They did not listen to understand what I was saying.
As I work with my colleague on this habit, we noticed how difficulty it is going to be for both of us. She and I are type, "A" personalities to the extreme. We don't like to take the time to process what someone is truly saying. We immediately respond. The way I presented a solution was to focus on our interactions with our students. After a student asks a question that we think is off topic, or a "bad" question, we will take a count of 10 to really think about how the student could have come up with the question. Perhaps it is a clarity issue? Perhaps they weren't paying attention? Sometimes we are not really sure where students come up with their questions, but is we seek first to understand, then we can be understood by our students.
This habit provided ample opportunity for me to reflect on my past experience and look to the future.
It is dangerous for education to be competitive. Before you get your feathers ruffled, let me provide a story to provide further clarity. As I mentioned last week in my professional experience blog post, I have spend the majority of my professional career in North Carolina. I experienced push and pull factors to relocate back to California. One of the major push factors was the education budget proposal for my last year in North Carolina. The state legislature, in it's infinite wisdom, wanted to make teachers compete with each other like businesses compete. They believed that it would create innovation, and drive student success if teacher pay was tied to student performance. It did not. Quite the opposite, in fact. The environment deteriorated. It was like working in a nuclear fallout zone. I don't blame any of the teachers I worked with for not wanting to share their best practices. I wouldn't have. I wouldn't want to give another teacher the tools to do better than me, so they can get paid a livable wage while I don't. I was at the district office as an Instructional Technology Specialist at this point, supporting our 1:1 technology model, so this is based on my observations of my schools. The Chief Instructional Officer called the Tech Specialists into a meeting at the beginning of the year and told us that it was going to be very difficult for us to do our jobs. One of the primary foci was to foster collaborative dialogues among teachers about how to best use the chrome books as part of the teachers daily instructional practice. I couldn't get a teacher to show up to a planning meeting to save my life. A change of venue to a happy hour location, with refreshments provided, didn't work either. I even brought rice crispy treats to school and hand delivered them to teachers with an invitation to come.
Luckily for me my teachers and my colleagues, the state finally passed a budget in October that did not include a correlation of pay to student performance. It was night and day. Teachers instantly began to share. They came to my training sessions, some asked when the next one at happy hour would be, I reminded them that the happy hour idea wasn't a popular one, so I returned to the previous training model. The moment competition ceased in the school, vibrant learning re-emerged.
Sports and other activities have competition as a purpose. Education shouldn't be a competition between teachers, administrators, or students. A teacher shouldn't have to compete with one of their more interesting students for a productive classroom. As I said in my Culture blog for this week, "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it is also what it takes to sit down and listen (W. Churchill)." I won't compete with my interesting students, I try to listen to them, and if the opportunity doesn't present itself, I invite them to go to the office, or ask that they share when I am done giving instruction.
We just had progress reports distributed last week, which means that the emails from parents requesting meetings has commenced. While talking with my colleague, Rebecca, about this habit, we were both encouraged to think about the upcoming meetings, and how we can best present ourselves and dialogue with our parents. Digging in your heels doesn't do well with our community. If we problem solve and find the middle road, perhaps we can have consensus with our parents. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi told Anakin Skywalker in Episode III, "If you stop, think, and use the force, the solution to the problem will present itself."
As you all know, I teach middle school. The middle schooler is unique for many reasons. Primarily they are unique due to the extreme physiological and psychological changes that are occuring during puberty. The human body, especially the brain, changes at such a rapid pace, that pubescents often have difficulty adjusting to their new realities. One of the primary changes affecting middle schoolers is that in order to handle the volume of hormones the brain is processing, their Limbic System (here is where one of my best friends doctorate in Neurology comes in handy) takes a bit of a vacation. The Limbic System handles many things, including emotional stability, memory, and logic.
By teaching middle schoolers, and modeling, this weeks habit of putting first things first we can help students compensate for what nature is doing to them. I rarely meet a middle schooler who is organized. When I compare my most organized current student to one of my most disorganized high schoolers from last year, I say that the high schooler was more organized.
Since this is a habit, I need to focus on repetition with my students, some research claims that it takes 66 repetitions before a task becomes a habit. After watching the video for this week, I had an ephphany that I started on Friday. I am having the students use highlighters to prioritize their homework. Their math teacher gives them homework every night that is due the next day. That is important and urgent. They have to read an AR book and take a test on it by the end of the first quarter, that is important, but not urgent. Clubs are starting next week and students are encouraged to pick a club to join, that is (I know i'm going to get some push back on this one) not important, but urgent. I can't think of anything occuring in the school that is not important and not urgent, but I'm sure students have those in their lives. If students learn to prioritize in their planners what homework or activities should be done first, then they will learn this habit of successful people.
I struggle with determining which quadrant to put things in. To me almost everything that comes across my desk is important and urgent. Even other peoples small problems. Like President Truman, the buck stopps here. People come to me for assistance daily, and for some reason I feel that if a colleague has reached out to me for help, then I need to help them as soon as possible. I am a yes-man. My personal goal for this week: focus on prioritizing with the important things first.
I meet with my colleague, Rebecca, formally once a week. This week we took the ideas of putting first things first to see if we can establish some procedural norms for not only student behavior, but routines. We idealize our classrooms as being student driven. We the teachers should provide the map, and then the students follow the map. I observed one class last year when I taught in LAUSD that the students knew what they were supposed to do, and then did it. The teacher spent the first fifteen minutes of class working individually with one student, the rest came in and started working without a word from the teacher. That takes time and work, but if we teach the students to put first things first, then they will begin to learn how to drive their own education.
Think long and hard about your true north. Where are you headed? What ends do you have in mind? Goals for career, year, month, week?
These are some deep questions.
At the beginning of each school year, I ask the students what they want to be when they grow up. I then ask them how they are going to achieve their goal. What type of schooling they will need, where they need to live, all those pesky details we are being asked to consider this week. I've never really planned the entire year before, let alone a month, or my entire career. I always know what I have to do based on the content standards, but I don't really map it out annually. Usually I go week to week, but after talking about this habit with my colleague, we decided to take a look at mapping out the year. Of course this can change depending on creative light bulbs and ideas for projects, but the basic year is going to be planned. We will formally write out our weekly lesson plans, outline the monthly plan, and keep to our year long plan. We really need to continue to be proactive and stick to the plan of forward planning.
My wife and mother in law asked me the other day what my career goals are. Ironic that I am posting about this today, when we had a lengthy discussion on this very topic just last week. Since we should begin with the end in mind, I envision my end goal, and the reason for enrolling in this particular program, is that I see myself at the district level in a Director of Instructional Technology position. My best example if my former boss in North Carolina, when I worked as an Instructional Technology Specialist. He worked in his office four days of the week, the other day he was in the schools side by side with teachers, planning, and co-teaching lessons. This helped him stay focused on the whole point of everything he worked on the other four days, What is the student experience and how does technology increase access to and understanding of the curriculum?
In order to be even remotely qualified for that post, I need to complete my Masters. Not only do I need the degree, but I need to be able to incorporate what I learn into my daily instructional practice. I have already begun to use techniques I learned ver the Summer in our 680 course into my class. They have created google sites and are blogging their essays and other projects (similar to what I am doing right now). We have had some success and other teachers are interested in bringing this concept into their classrooms. That is the goal for me and my colleague that I am bringing on the Habits Journey with me. We want to end the year with a roadmap and framework ready to begin next year with all 6th grade teachers using this google site format. We want the consistency so when they get to 7th grade, all the students will have the same level of experience and same google site portfolio of 6ht grade work.
I love the show, The West Wing. My wife and I watch it on Netflix sometimes. If you want a political drama that is based on the issues of the late 90s and early 2000s the this show is for you. It also has phenomenal writing. One episode called, "Disaster Relief," two characters, Toby (chief communications officer) and Leo (White House Chief of Staff) are talking about their plans for the immediate future. Leo looks at Toby and says, "I'm just trying to get through the week." I think that many teachers get into that frame of mind. By combining last weeks Habit of "Be Proactive" and this weeks Habit of "Begin with the End in Mind" we can avoid the stress of "just trying to get through the week."
I have a confession to make. Planning ahead isn't my speciality. I start the year planning ahead with creative and exciting lessons. But then sometime around Thanksgiving it falls away, and I wind up repeating the same old tired lessons. I think this is normal. Most of hit a brick wall around Thanksgiving. I don't know if it is because the holidays are coming, or if we have been teaching for a few months and are running out of steam. It is these times when proactive work from an administrator is beneficial. My mother in law was a high school principal for about 20 years before she retired. She said that this is when she planned extra support and motivation for her teachers, from simple words of encouragement, to asking if they needed her to cover a class in order to observe a colleague. I, as a teacher, also need to be proactive, knowing that I tend to struggle through this time, with good plans already set. Somehow I forget how much fun and easy teaching is when you have a good plan. One that you have put thought into and mapped out far in advance. However, this year is different. Being proactive will save me a lot of headaches as I balance my EDL coursework, a new curriculum, new school environment to learn, and two kids at home.
As I watched Dr. Pumpian discuss the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, I realized that these habits could help me stay focused and on track this year. My "new teacher mentor" and I discussed the 7 Habits assignment. The consensus we came to is that we can use these habits to help cultivate the change that the school has been lacking for a long time. My principal talked with me about the changes he has been trying to get the staff to buy into for a while when I had my final interview. He really seems to want to move the school to a better place. He wants to foster innovation, and told me not to be afraid of an "untested" lesson falling apart. It happens. The change he feels is necessary that hasn't been an easy sell to many stakeholders. By being proactive we can help grease the wheel of innovation by:
Of course it won't be possible to create meaningful change overnight, it is going to take a great deal of time. However, I believe that during the scope and sequence of our course we will be able to have a foundation take shape and see how our school will improve.