The Burnt Cookie: letting go of mistakes

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A new year always gives one pause to reflect on how the past year rolled out and time to consider how things will unfold in the next twelve months.  Over the Christmas break, my kids and I were invited over to a friend and colleague’s house to skate on their home-made backyard hockey rink.  My friend’s son is the same age as my middle son and her daughter is a student at the school where I am vice-principal.  The kids had a great time skating and playing outside and then it was time to come in and have a snack.  My friend’s daughter, I’ll call her Sophie (not her real name) decided to warm up her chocolate chip cookie in the microwave.  Beep, beep, beep went the microwave as we all continued talking and snacking.  Sophie opened the microwave to a billow of smoke and a completely burnt cookie.  Any other 12-year old might have become upset or have been completely mortified at her 1-minute mistake.  Though I later heard from her mom that she said, “I can’t believe I burnt a cookie in front of my vice-principal!”, in the midst of billowing smoke Sophie laughed, waved the smoke with her arms, ran to the door to open it, and continued to giggle at her mistake.  I was so impressed with her grace and composure.

As I think about how my year as a vice-principal in a busy middle school went last year, I know there were lots of great things that happened and that I was a part of and there were also a few burnt cookies.  I am the type of person who, if I allow myself to, will ruminate over and worry about my mistakes and wonder what people are thinking about what I did. I need to learn how to be more like Sophie and laugh at myself, learn from my mistakes and move on.  I have heard lots of great things about Carol Dweck’s Mindset and have put it on my reading list for this year.  I hope I can use my burnt cookies to create a growth mindset as I work on improving my skills as a school administrator.

With that being said, here is a list of what I hope to work on this year…resolutions so to speak.  Some professional, some personal.

Resolutions:

  1. Be out of the office a LOT more and in classrooms working with kids and teachers.  I think this is the number one way I can improve as an administrator and know what is going on in the school.  It also goes along with relationship building which is essential to my role.
  2. Prioritize better – this includes getting better at using my i-phone calendar.  The alert function is fantastic and essential for me.
  3. Thank people more – this means making an effort to notice and acknowledge people.  I know I appreciate when people notice what I am doing well.
  4. Listen more – this is part of my admin growth plan where I want to improve my communication skills.  In an effort to connect with what someone is saying I know that I sometimes I talk too much about my personal experience and stop listening.
  5. Focus on family – with Masters coursework now complete I should be spending more time playing with my kids, not thinking about school and work.
  6. Focus on health – I have signed up for 2 half-marathons, a 12 km and the Mud Hero (a run combined with obstacles and mud…crazy right?)  I now need to align my diet with my running goals.
  7. Care more about the world – I have a keen interest in social justice and follow the news but feel that I am often just an observer.  I would like to volunteer more, give more and strange as this sounds, donate blood.  I have never done that.

Finally, I resolve to go easy on myself when things do not go well.  I plan to take Sophie’s burnt cookie with me throughout the year (figuratively, of course!) and remember what she taught me about grace, the ability to laugh at oneself and how to let go of mistakes and move on.

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The Ripple Effect of Administrator Growth: my own growth goal

In an earlier post, I wrote about the kick-off to my school district’s administrator growth project.  In this post, I will share my goal for growth this year and reflect on how it is going so far…

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Goal: To improve my communication with staff in my interactions with them as a Learning Assistance Teacher and as an Administrator.

Guiding Question: How do I best communicate with staff (Teachers and EA’s) to provide instructional leadership which facilitates inclusion so that the learning needs of all students can be met?

Strategies:
-have focused, purposeful conversations with teachers and EA’s about inclusion and student needs
-learn more/practice communication skills
-communicate regularly with Vanessa about what I’m working on in LAT
-communicate with teachers and EA’s about what I’m working on in LAT

Indicators and Measures of Success:
-greater comfort level having focused, professional learning conversations with staff
-increased staff buy-in for the LAT model
-increased staff capacity toward differentiation
-increased teacher comfort-level in working with EA’s in their classrooms

Reflection so far:

Having been a classroom teacher for 15 years prior to becoming a Learning Assistance Teacher (LAT), I am definitely finding that the LAT role is a new and challenging experience for me. I have no real experience in special education in my past so the learning curve has been significant in preparing for my role as LAT and in the day-to-day duties of an LAT teacher. Also, the role of LAT is a new position within our school district so determining what my role actually is and finding my way along this road is interesting and not at all linear. I am often negotiating with others as to what my role is and should be: Facilitator? Helper? Team-teacher? Tutor? Assistive technology aid? Intermediary between outside agencies and the school? Coach? In fact, it is all of these in varying degrees and the exciting thing about it is that I can be the designer of my role as LAT and impact student learning in ways that are meaningful and tailored to our particular school and students.

I am finding that the most important characteristic of an LAT is the ability to build and sustain positive working relationships with teachers and EA’s. At the foundation of this relationship-building is the ability to listen and communicate clearly. This is why I have chosen communication as my goal because without effective communication skills, the LAT is little more than a resource-finder or resource room teacher from the past. I want to do more in this role than search for differentiated learning activities or do student pullouts. I want to be able to help teachers build the capacity to differentiate instruction and assessment on their own so students can remain in the classroom as much as possible to learn side-by-side with their peers. To do this, I need to listen to the needs of teachers and collaborate with them in finding answers to their questions.

A challenge that I am facing is balancing my time between my LAT role and my Administrator role. Some days, the admin hat is on far more than the LAT hat. I hope to remediate this with a greater effort to schedule my time as an LAT to ensure I am giving this role the time it needs to accomplish my goals.

As I continue to work on my goal of communication, I am exploring ways to improve my skills through reading books and articles by the likes of Jim Knight (@jimknight99) and participating in Twitter chats such as #educoach where topics around instructional coaching are discussed and ideas are shared.  As well, I learn something new everyday working with Vanessa Yamazaki, the other LAT teacher at my school.  She really gets what it means to be a learning assistance teacher and works hard everyday to make a difference in the classrooms in our school.

I am working on how I communicate with teachers and EA’s, one conversation at a time and realizing that as simple as this goal may seem on paper, it is a complex process of interactions and social negotiations. Every teacher and EA has a unique set of knowledge, skills and attitudes to bring to the table so the needs of each one are quite different. A first-year teacher and a seasoned veteran have different ideas and perceptions of what they need, why they need it and how to improve their practice. Differentiation of LAT support for teachers is the key.

So, I have chosen a goal for my own professional learning and growth in an area that is complex and that will take time to develop over time but one that will (hopefully) have a ripple effect on student learning.