Monday, December 29, 2014

How Will We Get There?

Maps have entered into my conversations a great deal in the last week.  A friend stopped by asking, "isn't there a better way to get here?"  At Christmas dinner a fellow guest shared his passion for cartography.  On Boxing Day, we programmed the GPS to get us to Washington, D.C.  We looked at a friend's house in Sweden on Google maps just last night (see below).

Maps are an old idea.  I'm sure my son, a map-enthusiast, could give you the history of maps.  He could certainly find you the most useful map with the best route for where ever you need to get.  He has an internal map which he supplements with paper and digital maps to find the best route to get anywhere.

As educators, we often lack a good map.  Sure, we have a general idea about our destination and we do some research to discover the different paths and routes available to us, but often schools and classrooms find themselves asking "how will we get there?"

I've spent a great deal of time talking and thinking about this with a really wise and forward thinking friend.  Mostly, I have listened.  How will we get there is a big question and the answer will be different for each school or classroom.  But finding the right path seems to involve some important steps.

Determine where you have been.  Look at the lessons, practices and policies that you currently engage in.  Make a list, if you have to.  Think about who does what.  Ask other people to tell you what they think is going on.  Don't evaluate yet, just list.

Reflect on what you know about where you are.  Here is where you get to question.  Why did we do this?  Was it effective?  Is there a better way?  Do we still need to do this?  The risk of doing things because we always have is huge for schools.  Tradition matters, but we have to be certain that we preserve traditions that matter.  If we critically review the whats, hows and whys, we often realize there are better, easier and more effective ways to accomplish things.  Blogging, curriculum mapping and school culture profiles can be effective in this stage.  If practices are documented, reflected upon and talked about, clarity can occur.

Determine challenges.  This is really hard work and no one really likes to say what things are wrong.  Especially out loud.  Especially about ourselves.  But in order to figure out how we are going to get there, we need to know what stands in our way.

Re-frame challenges into opportunities.  No one wakes up the morning excited about surmounting challenges.  Instead, we get out of bed for opportunity.  People who seek out opportunity often find solutions and success.  These are the people we want to help on the journey, but in order to get them to work their magic, we need to present them with the opportunity.  We must find ways to turn the challenge into an opportunity.  We need to find people with passion for various projects.  Is there a teacher who loves curriculum mapping?  Get her on board for scope and sequence review.  Maybe there is someone who likes working with families.  Have him start up a speaker series for parents.  You get the idea.  Most people who work in school have a passion for something.  It is important to figure out that something and then provide them with an opportunity to be great.

Set goals.  We can't just sit around listing, evaluating and planning.  We must act!  But we can't act all at once, or bad things start to happen.  Set attainable goals.  By X date, we will have Y in place.  Make certain that everyone knows the goals and that they have the tools needed to meet them.  Do they need some leave time from the classroom?  Do we need to move some money around in the budget?  Make the goals public and possible.

Celebrate milestones.  A little recognition goes a very long way.  Public acknowledgement, both orally and in print, makes a big difference.  Each time you meet a goal along the way, it is important to let everyone know - in publications that go home to parents, in faculty meetings.  It is also important to find a small way to celebrate - leave a few minutes early on a Friday, have donuts in the faculty room - something to let people know "You're great and I appreciate you."

A road map is essential.  We can't just keep doing things the way we always have and expect success.  But like a real map, school maps are unique for each school.  We have to know both the starting point and the end goal if the map is to be useful.  Emerson said, "to map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage."  Evaluation and reflection are difficult.  So is planning for a future which is uncertain.  But we can create a useful map of how to get there if we know where we are going and where we have been.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hope is the thing with feathers...

Happy Birthday, Emily Dickinson!  We spent some time in class talking about her life, her influences and her poems today.  My favorite has always been #314.  There is something lovely in the idea that hope "sings the tune without the words and never stops at all."

In addition to being a thing with feathers, hope is a thing we all need.  As both a noun and a verb, it is a thing that we have and a thing that we do.

For me, the noun kind of hope is more important than the verb variety.  We all hope (verb) for things - new cars, better shoes, a day off - and these change with our needs.

But the hope that we have - the belief or trust in something or someone - needs to be more constant.  We need to have hope that our schools are making appropriate decisions and implementing wise practices.  We need to have hope that our students are being challenged and supported.  We need to have hope that what we do today will have a positive impact on the future.

These noun hopes are things we also need to make happen - it is not enough to just have them.  But starting with these hopes and working towards making them realities is pretty hard work.  Some days, all we can do is keep warm by listening to the hope sing while we are in the midst of a gale.

It is interesting to notice that Emily ends the poem by saying that hope does not ask for anything in return.  I disagree.  If hope keeps us warm on our darkest days, don't we sort of owe it to hope to work to transform it into reality?

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - (314)

BY EMILY DICKINSON
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.