Intentions

On Sunday, I spent my morning and afternoon here – at my desk. I know, not the typical News Year Eve festivities, but I wanted time to really reflect on my year, all that I have been given and all that I have given to others.

This year, I have learned to focus on intentions. I’ve done a lot of work with educators on taking goals and transforming them into intentions. This is not to say that having goals is a bad thing. Goals are wonderful and can do so much to push our practice forward. I’m not opposed to goal setting, but I’ve just found another way to approach reflection and growth in the form of intentions.

Let me start by defining goals and intentions. When I talk to educators about goals, we generally tend to agree that goals are:

  • focused on the future
  • a destination or specific achievement
  • external achievements

Goals tend to be written as destinations – somewhere we hope to end up after hard work. And while they can be helpful in pushing us to an intended outcome, goals are often rigid and leave us feeling unsuccessful or lacking if we don’t accomplish them. I’ve also found that when reaching for my goals, I tend to overlook the power of the journey because I’m much for focused on succeeding.

Intentions are different than goals. They are:

  • focused on the present moment
  • lived each day, independent of reaching the goal or destination
  • focused on your inner-relationships with yourself and others

When you make an intention, you are creating a lens to see your actions through. Intentions focus less on where you want to end up and more on how you want to feel about what you’re doing and how you hope what you’re doing makes others feel. More specifically, when I lead educators through rewriting goals as intentions, these intentions become a way for them to positively affect their daily work, apart from the ending or final destination.

Intentions help us create sustaining change and growth that is natural. They help us support what we do and those we serve.

I’ve written and rewritten a few intentions for 2018 – but my list is incomplete. My intentions will grow and change as I enter into new relationships, take on new work and find new opportunities to create and design.

What I do know is that while I sat there on Sunday, I kept repeating two questions to myself (Thank Darren for these):

  • Are you doing/designing/creating work you’re proud of?
  • How is your work (not you) impacting the future, building something, and empowering others?

At the end of the day, I want to help create things that influence change, empower and inspire the people I’m around and always choose kindness.

Happy 2018. May your year be full of renewal and growth.

The work I’ve done with goals and intentions was largely influenced by this and this.

 

Glow and Grows

I don’t remember when I started using the terms “Glows” and “Grows” for reflection. When I try to trace it back in my work (and in my head), I think it came from my friend and she-ro Buffy Hamilton and the phenomenal work that she does with students and teachers. Whatever their origin, glows and grows have become my way of thinking of positive and critical feedback and reflection. I use this both during professional learning experiences that I facilitate and personally as I’m trying to be a more reflective practitioner.

I describe glows as the positive things we see, feel and hear. Whether it’s an artifact, lesson plan, student work or an experience we’re commenting on, there’s always something glowing. Grows are not quite the opposite of glows, or at least I don’t like to think of them that way. To me, a grow is anything that can be suggested to elevate the work or experience. I like to think of it this way because it leaves room for feedback even on the most amazing things we see, feel, hear and experience.

Each time I facilitate a learning experience with educators, I do a final evaluation at the end of the session. Both because my supervisor expects this data and because I want to know how the experience I designed resonated (or didn’t) with my colleagues or audience. We have a standard evaluation through Google Forms that we use in all of our school and district PD projects. At the beginning of this school year, I considered the questions I was asking at the end of PD sessions and decided that I would add a few more questions to my evaluations. I am very interested in sustainability – the idea that after I leave once the PD is done, the momentum and excitement created will carry on. That the people I’ve had the opportunity to interact with will continue to feel empowered, inspired and move to a model of redelivery and delivery for their colleagues and peers. Basically, I want to make sure the learning doesn’t stop once I leave a place.

Some of the questions I have added to my evaluations to solicit more qualitative data are:

  • What did you learn today that you will use to inform your instruction and design learning experiences for your students?
  • What did you learn or accomplish today that you will teach or share with a colleague?
  • How have you shared what you learned at the last FI PD session with your colleagues or students (or even people outside of the building)?
  • How have you found ways to elaborate and expand on what you learned at the last FI PD session in new and different ways?
  • In what way(s) have these FI PD sessions impacted or changed your practice? If they haven’t, please explain why.

I realize that by adding extra questions structured around sustainability, I am opening myself up to critical feedback. To me, however, this is a necessity. I aim for growth and the only way I can get there is to ask and then act on the feedback I’m given.

It occurred to me during a recent conversation with a dear friend in which he asked me some specific things about the way I approach my evaluations and reflective practice, that I have yet to share my specific process for reflecting on feedback.

I like to look at my evaluations the day after I facilitate PD. This gives me time to rest and reflect before I take into account how the learning experience resonated with educators. I collect my evaluation data through simple Google Forms. This data feeds into spreadsheets. I have an evaluation for the first day of PD (the kickoff or session 1), an evaluation for the sessions in between and a final evaluation for the last PD session with a group. All three types of evaluations are separate, but feed into one spreadsheet (in separate tabs). This allows me to sort and look at individual contracts or look at PD as a whole.

When I begin unpacking data, I use a simple coding system to quickly mark the comments, suggestions and questions that I want to come back to during my reflection. I mark grows with green – this is anything that gives critical insight into how the learning experiences could have been improved. Grows include things like what people found most challenging, learning that they are still yearning for, suggestions for making the session more comfortable and what they would’ve changed about the experience. Then I study the data for glows, which I mark in yellow. For the glows, I don’t include every positive comment. Instead I try to focus on the qualitative data that gives actionable praise. I tend to mark comments about how the learning experience will inform instruction, what they learned that they will share with colleagues, how they will expand upon their learning and how their practice has changed as a result of the session(s).

I immediately use this data to create reflective notes for the district’s or school’s upcoming PD sessions. These notes are also great when I have planning meetings with district and school leadership about the direction we are headed.

After creating my notes and spending time reflecting on the experience, I collect all of the glows and grows into a separate spreadsheet. This spreadsheet has a tab for glows and one for grows. On each sheet, I have a row for each separate contract. I add to them on a revolving basis, inserting dates and my own notes and comments. The purpose of these sheets is to collect all of the data in one place where I can look at it over the course of an entire school year (or contract). At the end of a district or school’s contract, I will examine the data to get a complete picture of the work’s effectiveness, educator growth and suggestions for sustainability for them moving forward. This data helps me see if changing my practice based on the feedback I received, makes each forthcoming session more effective. I also use it to help me answer two major questions I’ve been focusing on:

  • Are you doing/designing/creating work you’re proud of?
  • How is your work (not you) impacting the future, building something, and empowering others?

While this approach is simplistic, it helps me to focus on the work and how this work helps the educators I serve feel engaged, challenged, inspired, intelligent and empowered.

 

Planting

We all have them. Days where imposter syndrome sneaks in and we feel like we don’t deserve our place. Days where even the best laid plans fall short. Days where we fail and instead of searching for the silver lining, we wallow and force ourselves to suffer defeat. I have days where the professional development I’ve painstakingly planned, down to the very last detail doesn’t resonate with my audience. I have days where I’m knee deep in content development and the ideas just won’t come.

These are the days that are the hardest. The ones that can sometimes make us question our choices and our place. The ones that force us to consider if we’re affecting change or just wasting others’ time. I can assure you, you are doing neither. These are just days, 24 hours of less than perfect moments that will pass and be forgotten as we move on to the next thing.

We can’t avoid bad days, they happen. We can, however, counteract them and focus on coping. And even though there are so many things we have no control over, our actions and reactions aren’t one of them. Don’t plant your bad days, this becomes habitual. Instead find the little things, even the smallest victories and water those. Give them sunlight. These are the things that help us grow more and more good days. 

We all cope differently, but one thing that is helpful is to take your focus off of the negative occurrences and devote your time (even if it’s just a short amount) to other things. I avoid planting my bad days in a few different ways:

  • Get lost in reading
  • Baking – In another life, I’d love to be a pastry chef. It focuses my mind intensely on something other than my bad day. Two of my favorite baking ladies are Joy the Baker and Shutterbean.
  • Netflix – Let’s be honest, sometimes you just need mindless viewing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched and rewatched West Wing, The Office, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights. Retreating into the arms of a good show can be the perfect way to cope with a bad day. Some things I’m excited to start The Dark.
  • Music – Music is a huge part of my life. Between collecting vinyl and discovering new music on Spotify, it easily takes my mind off of bad days. I also love getting lost on Bandcamp.
  • Writing – Earlier this year I started a worry journal. It’s a place where, when I feel myself getting anxious or suffering from anxiety or worry, I stop what I’m doing and space and just write it out. Once I’m done writing, I close the journal and I’m done. I allow myself the writing time to be as worried and anxious as I want, but once the journal closes, that’s it, I go back to my regularly scheduled programming. I was skeptical at first, but it really does help. In addition I write on my site. Here are a few of the things I’ve written over the last year about reflecting and caring for ourselves.

Victory
Incredible
Wellness
Six Months
Intentionality
Reflection

I hope you can find ways to avoid planting your bad days and turning those days into months and years.

Lift and Lean

Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that I make a concerted effort to spend time reflecting every day. Sometimes this happens in the morning, when I get my daily headspace. More frequently, I reflect in the evening, once my day is over.

Like most people, when life gets stressful, my reflections tend to mirror this. I am a fixer and pleaser by nature, so these types of moments lend themselves to less time being thankful and reflecting on gratitude, and more time on analyzing and synthesizing words from every conversation and interaction. Unfortunately, this often ends in exhaustion and frustration.

In talking about trying to find balance, someone mentioned to me recently that there are times when we are meant to lift and other times when we need to let go and lean. This has been my reflection the past few days. I put a great deal of effort into lifting others up. I try to be gracious and kind and to let the people around me know how much I care. When others are hurting, I try to be very intentional in giving them the support that they need, not the support I think they should have. The problem is that I rarely balance this with admitting that I need to lean.

The past few days, my reflections have centered on this balance between lifting and leaning. I’ve considered this both personally and professionally. Reaching out isn’t always easy. It admits vulnerability, but what I’m realizing is that I am surrounded by amazing, strong friends and loved ones who don’t view me as a burden.

I am incredibly thankful for those who remind me I can always lean into them.  

Don’t be afraid to lean and if someone needs to lean on you, I find the advice in this article very helpful in lifting others up.

Written Conversation

Written conversation is a pedagogical method that puts reflection, analysis and synthesis at the forefront of learning. Whether using this method with students or adults, it allows participants to engage in a learning experience where everyone is on a level playing field and all voices are amplified.

I have been using this method both for learning experiences for students and in professional learning experiences for teachers for the past 6 or 7 years, and the results are always the same. Participants walk away from the experience feeling empowered as learners and contributors.

My interpretation of the written conversation method is largely based on the work of Harvey Daniels and Buffy Hamilton. With the excellent guidance from these two educators, I have been able to craft various versions of written conversations – all of which allow freedom and space for reflection.

In October, I was able to bring this method to the NC Digital Leaders Coaching Network, a program that I help facilitate at Friday Institute. With a few minor adjustments (because of logistics), this method for “discussing” a text became the catalyst for our coaches to have very powerful conversations about their role in their districts and buildings.

*You can read more about this method in a Friday Institute PLLC blog post written by my colleague Greg Garner.

This method has been one of the most powerful pedagogical strategies I’ve used. I have seen the meekest and most unengaged students blossom and come to life as their voices are amplified. With my colleagues and other educators, I’ve seen this method give equal validity to everyone’s ideas, help people engage in active “listening” and serve as a springboard for deeper conversations and partnerships. And one of the most fantastic things about this is that anyone can do it – no tech required. It is truly a method that you can read about today and use in your classroom tomorrow.

How Written Conversation Works
As a pedagogical method written conversations are very simple. The facilitator chooses texts to be written around, creates the posters (large versions of the texts) and introduces the method to participants. Participants are then given short amounts of time to read and respond to each text (in a station rotation format) and to respond to the comments of their peers – all done silently, only through writing. During the activity I often schedule in a small group share where I pose a question and allow participants to partner up and discuss, out loud. This helps to ease the desire to say what you think, rather than simply writing it down.

Let’s start with the texts.
Written conversation requires that we stretch our idea of a text. We tend to think of text as simply written words – however, texts can be so much more. In the past, I’ve used infographics, charts, graphs, political cartoons, maps, images, poetry, tweets from Twitter feeds/hashtags, excerpts from both fiction and non-fiction works and even students created work. The texts you chose as the facilitator, depends on the conversation you want participants to have. I find that often, the most powerful written conversations give participants the opportunity to write around all different types of texts.

Written conversation is generally not a stand alone activity – it is often used as either an opening or closing to a larger learning experience. For instance, if AP US History students are preparing to write/answer a document based question, we might use a written conversation to analyze and synthesize the primary source documents they will be using in their responses. This method would give those students the opportunity to analyze the texts alongside their peers, making connections, asking questions and giving insight. The most important part about the texts used is that they are chosen intentionally. When using written conversation, I generally try to limit the amount of text on each poster. Regardless of which type of text I choose, I try to use an important chunk. The goal is to have participants analyze small portions of something, and you can always share the links to the entire text with them afterwards.

Now let’s dive into responding to the texts.
I like to take large pieces of bulletin board paper or anchor chart paper and use that as the backdrop for my texts. I try to blow up the size of the text to make it easily readable from 360° as participants move around the table or surface. I set up my written conversation as a station rotation with one text at each station. Participants spend a short amount of time at each station responding to the texts through the lens that we set based on the learning experience. I usually provide markers or Sharpies for writing and never ask that participants sign their names to their thoughts – this helps to create a safe environment where everyone’s thoughts are equally welcomed and amplified.

Prior to engaging in the activity, I take a few minutes, with participants, to discuss responding to the texts. I normally give four suggestions for responses:

  • Questions or comments about the text as a whole
  • Specific questions or comments about one part of the text (they may highlight, circle, underline, etc. to bring attention to that one part)
  • Connections to the real world (this is where we set our lens based on the learning experience at hand)
  • Responses to each other’s statements and thoughts

While I’ve never had a student or adult abuse this activity through writing inappropriate comments, this is also when we talk about how to engage in discourse.

Why Written Conversation
As I mentioned, one of the most important aspects of this method is that it amplifies participants’ voices. In garnering reflection about the activity, I’ve found the following takeaways:

  • Most, if not all participants are engaged
  • Participants can share without fear, including uncertainties about a text
  • It helps participants see differing perspectives
  • Participants enjoy having their peers explain or offer clarity about texts or ideas
  • It offers a way to break down complex texts into easily manageable and understandable parts
  • Participants are able to learn, share and reflect during this single activity
  • Everyone has an equal voice

 

If you’re interested in diving into written conversations and exploring how you can use this pedagogical method with your students or colleagues, these resources might help you get started. I’ve also had the great pleasure of chatting with a few incredible members of my PLN about how they’ve used written conversations in their schools and districts. You can read more below about their efforts. Also, please feel free to reach out to any of them for more information!

Cathy Littleton | @LMESMediaCenter
What She Did
Cathy is a Media Coordinator who used this method with her middle school students. Some of her variations include:

  • Practice analyzing graphs and charts
  • Introduction to simple machines
  • Current events and making connections to content
  • Physics word problems – considering what is the question asks, how they know and strategies for solving

 

Alicia Ray | @iluveducating
What She Did
Alicia is a Lead Digital Learning & Media Innovation Facilitator. She used written conversations to engage teachers in discussion about The Art of Coaching for the group’s book study.

 

Cathy Musci | @CathMus
Cathy, an Instructional Technology Facilitator, used written conversations to lead an in depth discussion of the NC Digital Learning Competencies for teachers. She began by splitting the 4 DLCs by competency. Instead of creating posters, Cathy used the folder method (like the one mentioned in this post) to have participants respond to the texts. Each of her PLCs (grade levels K-5, 4 to a group) answered 4 questions written one in each quadrant of each folder:

  • What I do/have done
  • What I could do
  • What I have questions about
  • What I need help with

Note the different colored pens with signatures on the front to match.  This gave her the ability to support individual needs as well as overall team goals.  

As an extension of this conversation, Cathy created individual folders in her ITF Google Drive for each certified staff member to give them a dedicated location to store all that is related to the DLCs where they can “meet” to move them forward. She included a DLC checklist to allow them to focus on what they need to work on, a copy of the DLCs, a copy of the ISTE standards for students and DLC Teacher Reflection Guide.

 

Christy Howe | @christychowe
What She Did
Christy, an AIG teacher, has used this method in many ways. One that she shared was a version she used to co-teach and explore innovative instructional strategies with 5th grade. Students were given various resources and articles about Halloween. She used the folder method mentioned above for students to annotate what they noticed and learned from each text. Christy didn’t just facilitate the activity, she actually did this with students as a part of one of the rotations. Everyone used a different color marker, which the teacher assigned, so she could address any questions or concerns for each of the students.

Christy used this method as the catalyst for a modified Socratic seminar style discussion. Students reflected on what surprised them and what they took away from each text. They were studying theme, this became a lens through which they analyzed each text. She found that her students easily adapted to this way of discussing texts. Students felt safe sharing and did a very good job commenting on each other.

In her variation, the color coded markers allowed her to reflect on the types of comments students were leaving – which turned out to be mostly questions and surface level observations. She now knows where to go next time, what scaffolding is needed and what goals she can help students set for their comments next time. Christy also reflected on how written conversation allowed students to read so much more than usual. During the short activity, they got to read 6 texts, including one infographic, very heavy on images. Using this method gave students the opportunity to learn how to read different kinds of texts.