Sunday, February 11, 2018

An Uncertain Inference & An Act of Kindness

As teachers, we constantly beat the drawing conclusions drum. "Remember students, you must be able to support all inferences with evidence." So what happens when we think we've made a solid inference only to find out we're wrong? What if our interpretation of the implicit clues lead us to draw a inference that is unsubstantiated? What if our own doubts cause us to question the validity of our inferences?

After spending a restful and rejuvenating weekend in Philadelphia with my husband, I left the hotel bright and early around 7:45 a.m. to catch the first leg of my flight home. Since I'd decided to travel at the last minute, there were no direct flights from DFW to PHL, so I booked a flight that included a brief layover in Minneapolis, MN. Minutes before departing Philadelphia, I received a message from Delta Airlines indicating my connecting flight had been delayed approximately one hour. "No big deal," I thought, "Gives me more time to maneuver through the airport and maybe grab a bite to eat."  With this minor set back in motion, I chose to maintain a positive outlook until I sauntered up to the gate to discover it was now a four hour delay, and my flight would not be departing until almost 6:00 p.m. One again, I tried to reframe the situation. "I'll have more time to catch up on emails and complete a few last minute items for work. This is a blessing in disguise," I reasoned in my mind.

Fast forward a few hours. I head to the gate to get in line. Disgruntled passengers are about to cause a riot, and the airline staff are doing their best to deescalate a tense situation. The flight has been canceled, and according to the attendant's announcement no one will be getting out until 7:35 a.m. the following morning. I gently saunter up to the counter awaiting my turn to speak with an agent. She's busy juggling the phone line and angry travelers, so when I finally reach the front, I give her the most empathetic look I can muster and I say, "Mam, you are handling this incredibly stressful situation like a champ. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be to talk this many people off the ledge—especially when you can't wave your magic wand and solve the weather issues around the country." With a weary smile, she punched a few numbers into her computer, and gently slid a rerouted ticket across the counter. No words were exchanged. No comments were made. I took the ticket, thanked her for her kindness, and stepped away from the gate, completely confused about the transaction that had just occurred.

I studied the new ticket, which appeared to indicate I could, in fact, catch a red-eye flight departing at 11:00 p.m. Initially, this puzzled me because the announcement I'd heard clearly stated there were no outbound planes to Dallas until the morning. I hustled as fast as my feet would take me to another terminal on the opposite end of the airport. At this point, I was still uncertain whether or not this unsuspecting Delta worker had done me a me a huge favor or screwed me out of an overnight stay in a hotel. As I maneuvered my way across the airport, I kept thinking about the power of kindness and the importance of nonverbal communication. If this woman had worked the system in my favor, I couldn't help but think it had something to do with maintaining a positive presupposition. In my heart, I knew this lady was doing this best she could. The saying, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar", kept coursing through my mind. Had she discreetly secured me a seat simply because I hadn't acted like an angry jerk?

Upon arriving at the new gate, I discovered about five other passengers who'd also received a mysterious ticket. We were all a bit bumfuzzled and skeptical about the possibility of getting home, and as we dialogued about our experiences with the gate agent, we realized we'd been hand selected. The common thread which tied us all together was our quiet, non-confrontational nature. Sure we were perturbed about the delay, but we maintained composure and did our best to honor the humanity of the folks who were simply trying to do their jobs. As I compose this blog, I've been privileged to get to know a few strangers from various parts of the country. They are all gentle-spirited folks, just trying to make it to their next destination.

I haven't made it on a plane home yet, but I've certainly learned an important life lesson. Sometimes it can take hours to shore up enough evidence to support an inference. Regardless of whether I catch the next flight out of here or not, I can be sure of one thing—No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Be Like Beyoncé: Learning Zones Vs. Performance Zones

"If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow."

"I embrace mistakes. They make you who you are."
Image result for beyonce practicing

Thanks to a book study we are preparing to do at work, I discovered the podcast, Curios Minds. This led me to the TEDx Talk posted below. If you have ever struggled to get better at something you cared aboutbecoming a more masterful teacher, playing the guitar, or increasing your client basethen you must take about 12 minutes to view this profound and insightful message about alternating between two potentially powerful zones.


The part that fascinated me the most was when Eduardo Briceño, the Co-Founder and CEO of Mindset Works, explains an intriguing habit developed by the pop diva, Beyoncé Knowles. 
When Beyoncé is on tour, during the concert, she's in her performance zone, but every night when she gets back to the hotel room, she goes right back into her learning zone. She watches a video of the show that just ended. She identifies opportunities for improvement, for herself, her dancers and her camera staff. And the next morning, everyone receives pages of notes with what to adjust, which they then work on during the day before the next performance. It's a spiral to ever-increasing capabilities, but we need to know when we seek to learn, and when we seek to perform, and while we want to spend time doing both, the more time we spend in the learning zone, the more we'll improve.
So basically, she engages in the music industry's version of Lesson Study. By scrutinizing her game tape, she transitions from the performance zone to the learning zone, constantly seeking ways to improve her practice. The feedback loop she's created has skyrocketed her to the top of the Billboard charts, and more importantly, it's helped her achieve what Dan Pink deems foundational to intrinsic motivationautonomy, mastery, and purpose.

I think as seasoned educators, we spend a lot of time in the performance zone. Day in and day out, we step into our classrooms, put on our best Academy Award performance, and pray that our teaching sticks. Rarely do we have the time for observation, reflection, and adjustmentessential admission requirements for entering the learning zone.

Of course establishing environments where this type of risk taking is both welcomed and celebrated will  require all stakeholders to get curious, creative, and courageous. The educational terrain is littered with landmines designed to extinguish our desire to learn. Classrooms have become high stakes performance zones full of dangerous explosivesgrades, standardized tests, and exams with one right answer leave a trail of shrapnel, wounding everyone in the path. Until mistakes, feedback, failure, and revision are held in the same high regards as straight A's, true learning may remain elusive. This is true for students and teachers. It doesn't matter if its a quarterly report card or and annual T-TESS appraisal, performance evaluations rarely have the impact we seek.

So how do we do navigate the complicated path between the learning zone and the performance zone? The sage advice in the image below will guide me this year as I learn to stop over-performing and embrace a gentler approach to improvement. Words like ask, listen, experiment, reflect, and strive will replace perfect, perform, and please. In 2018 I plan to spend more time asking, "Who am I becoming?" and less time fretting about "What should I be doing?" Perhaps this slight shift in thinking will curb my compulsion to perform, and instead leverage my ability to truly learn.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

One Word 2018: Unwind

My husband and I recently took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia. Several colleagues inquired about our adventures, and when they asked about my favorite part of the vacation, I didn't skip a beat—disconnecting Down Under! Travel is my guilty pleasure, and when I hop on a boat, train, or plane, I shift from 180 miles per hour to zero. For fifteen glorious days, I relished in NOT thinking about an overflowing inbox, Outlook calendar appointments, or the mountain of paperwork littering my desk. I didn't check Voxer, Facebook, or Twitter. Instead, I read books, played board games, went sightseeing, and enjoyed an afternoon cocktail daily. With the switch placed firmly in the off position, I felt loose and free. Unfortunately, within 24 hours of our return, the stretched out slinky inside my head snapped back to its former coiled state. My brief romance with relaxation came to a screeching halt.

You see, I am wound up way too tight.

Neurotic DNA courses through my veins, and it seems as though the engine in my brain only has two operating speeds: low and high. I over-function, over-analyze, and over-achieve. I wear the socially acceptable addiction known as workaholism like a badge of honor, and my unbalanced existence leaves me dizzy, tired, and resentful. I have come to understand my extreme, anxious nature no longer serves me. Untangling my self-worth from productivity and learning to silence the shame I feel when I don't meet or exceed self-imposed expectations will take lots of work. Therefore, my One Word for 2018 is . . .

Years ago, I read Brené Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection. The quote below haunts my inmost being. I long to live a Wholehearted life, and it's time I find a way to relax and take things in stride. The Latin root, relaxāre means to stretch out or loosen. Unwinding demands I let go of perception control and embrace wonder and whimsy. Although I currently see play as a waste of time, I truly desire to rediscover the childlike joy that comes from unstructured, purposeless activities. I need to schedule daily downtime and establish decompression routines designed to release me from the chains of obsessiveness.

Image result for brene brown cultivating play and rest

As I prepare to take this next trip around the sun, a familiar image of my Great-Grandmother Horn's wooden sewing spools surfaces in my mind.

As a little girl, I loved winding and unwinding the thread. My siblings and I built tall towers and made button necklaces. Sometimes the thin fibers would twist and tangle, causing frustration and annoyance. Patiently, we'd weave our way out of the mess, and hours of unencumbered play would ensue. This year, as I learn to unwind, I hope to return to a simpler time of worry free days full of curiosity, calmness, and astonishment.

In 2018, may my worth be less dependent on doing and more dependent on becoming. May I not fret when I fail, and may I learn to lean into discomfort. May I soften my attention, accept whatever's happening, loosen my judgmental standards, and allow life to flow along its uncertain path.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Lesson Study, Levers, & Learning by Doing

Less than three months ago, I knew absolutely nothing about Japanese Lesson Study. Last week, my fourth group wrapped up Phase I, and as I prepared to draw the session to a close, I asked the team to reflect for a moment on our time together. One of the middle school teachers paused and said, "Well, Lesson Study is basically what coaches do every Saturday morning. They get together to review game tape, analyze how their plays worked, and make revisions before next week's practice starts. Each coach is assigned a handful of players to observe on the field, and then they get back together to collaborate and brainstorm better ways to outsmart the opposing teams.

Before he could finish, I squealed, "Holy Cow! That's good stuff right there. You think I could video you explaining this incredible analogy some time?" The thoughtful educator smiled and replied, "As long as you don't tell the coaches I told you. We don't want them thinking that what they're doing is research!" I giggled at his sentiment and realized Lesson Study isn't quite as complex as it seems. 

As a newbie to the world of Lesson Study, I've been swimming in sea of confusion, excitement, uncertainty, and struggle. Slowly, the process is beginning to make sense. Each step of the journey feels wonky, and the phrase, "learning by doing" has taken on a whole new meaning. The teachers I'm privileged to serve are dedicated professionals hungering for answers to complex problems. They show up each week eager to dive deep into research. Watching the teachers engage in this rigorous, cognitively demanding work reminds me why discovering new ideas and raising provocative questions matter. Lesson Study is an exercise in intense problem solving.

Recently I got a chance to visit with Blair Claussen, the Project Manager for the #TXLS initiative at the Texas Education Agency. The virtual meeting was scheduled after reading an article about The 4 Disciplines of Execution. The topic of discussion centered around how to empower participating educators to voluntarily and independently lead these types of groups at their respective campuses. During year two of the pilot program, participating teachers are compensated with a $500 stipend and an ESC facilitator supports the teams. Additionally, most administrators have found a way to cover classrooms for a portion of the school day so they can dive deep into rich analysis of teaching and learning. During the conversation with Blair, I mentioned how teachers often see time as a form of currency. However, educators live on a fixed budget. I adamantly advocated that this type of professional learning requires extensive head space, and I inquired about what we could let go of in order to embrace a fresh approach to PD.

Determining the levers necessary to reach our W.I.G. (Wildly Important Goal) has proven quite challenging—especially since district administrators and campus principals set schedules and enforce mandates. So many variables are beyond our control. I purposely pursued this position as TXLS facilitator because I genuinely believed teachers might finally get a seat at the table, and in some ways we have. My hope is educators experience such a powerful increase in self-efficacy, they storm their principal's office begging to replace traditional forms of professional development with Lesson Study. Of course, in order for this dream to come true, administrators must trust their teachers and respect their desire for self-driven professional development.

Now that my teams and I are about six weeks into the work, I've come to the realization Lesson Study is pretty much like signing up for a graduate level college course. The teachers are engaged in rigorous research around a common, perplexing problem, and by the end of the semester they will compose a lengthy lesson proposal which includes a written analysis of peer reviewed articles. They participate in intense debates over best practices, seeking collective insight into challenging standards and practicing cognitive empathy. 

Many years ago my bonus-kiddos and I read Veronica Roth's YA book, Divergent. It didn't take long to align myself with the Erudite faction, and when it comes to teaching and learning, I'm convinced, now more than ever, knowledge is a logical solution to the problem of diminished and demoralized educators. When teachers can speak with authority about pedagogy and content, students win. Educators who become researchers of their own practice elevate their stature within the professional community, empower children to learn more deeply, and benefit society in lasting ways. 

Lesson Study constantly reminds me learning is hard work. Just like going to the gym requires discipline and sacrifice, academic pursuits demand the same type of commitment. The teachers invested in this work will be shaped in remarkable ways, and I feel certain they will find their tribe. In the meantime, I'll keep beating the drum and looking for foot soldiers. This form of professional learning is not for the faint of heart, but as seeds of hope are planted, I envision an army of reinvigorated teachers impacting change beyond their four walls. 

I recently stumbled upon this extraordinary talk by my all-time favorite thought leader, Brené Brown. She gave a speech titled, Daring Classrooms, during SXSW in Austin, TX. During the final few minutes of her session she says, "I think the revolution will not be televised. It will be in your classrooms." I believe this with my whole heart, and I'm growing more and more convinced Lesson Study may be the path to empowerment our teachers have desperately been seeking. When teachers feel seen, heard, valued, and respected anything is possible! 

To learn more about Texas Lesson Study visit the website or follow us on Twitter

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Obnoxious, But Loved

His annual summer visit always leaves me feeling a little dizzy and desperate for silence. The damaged little girl, who often felt abandoned and unwanted, secretly celebrates the fact her dad is making a small investment of time into his adult daughter's life. However, the grown-up, semi-healed version of myself dreads the onslaught of non-stop conversation, charged political rants, and an intense inability to listen. This trip stirred up a hurricane of emotions, leaving in its wake, more questions than answers. You see, my dad is straight up obnoxious. He openly acknowledged this glaring character flaw, and during a particularly insightful moment, he actually asked me to define the word. I said something like, "Well, I think obnoxious behavior is when you do provocative things intended to aggravate or exasperate others. Obnoxious people are loud, opinionated, and pushy." He replied, "That pretty much describes me." Shocked by his verbalized awareness, I realized for a brief moment, I too possess this undesirable, yet pervasive, Franks family trait.

When I discovered the quote above, I paused long enough to consider the significance of the second line. In a family tormented for generations by the devastating effects of alcoholism, we all have our own ways of crying out for help. Some of us turn to the bottle itself. Others choose workaholism or perfectionism. Our proclivity towards extreme thinking and excessive behaviors feels built-in, almost instinctual. Overzealous opinions and stubbornness run deep in the crevices of our neural pathways, and it would behoove us all to heed the wise words of Earnest Tucker, Harley's father in the kitsch movie Pure Country, "Yeah, people just talk too darn much."

Although exhausted from all the incessant rambling and relentless chatter, I am grateful my dad drove from Lefors to Fort Worth to see me. He spends a lot of time alone, and I worry about his increasingly hermit like behavior. We share a common love for education, and I know he was proud of me as we toured the Region 11 Service Center where I'm now employed. He visited a local Texas Civil War Museum, and we caught a matinee movie. An afternoon dip in the apartment pool and an enjoyable evening meal of grilled steaks, asparagus, and fresh corn-on-the cob rounded off the day. I celebrated his recent entry into the world of Twitter, and we had fun figuring out his new Android smartphone. More than once, I heard him express deep regret for past mistakes, and I sensed a lot of pain and frustration when he spoke about a recent rift with my older brother, who happens to be a cookie cutter of his father. In a strange, complicated way, I think we all hunger for the same thingacceptance, forgiveness, and a sense of belonging. This man is insufferable at times, but I sure do love him.

The best part about being a Franks is our love for one another transcends our disdain of the brokenness we all possess. In her recent TED Talk titled, 12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing, Anne Lamott remarks, "Families are hard, hard, hard. no matter how cherished or astonishing they may be." I couldn't agree more. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pondering the Point of PD & A Professional Dream Come True!

Thirty years ago, I was grieving the end of 3rd grade because I would no longer have Mrs. Sheila Barnes as a classroom teacher. At 8 years old, I decided I wanted to follow in her footsteps, and I became stubbornly determined to have a classroom of my own someday. She'd come to Lefors, Texas in 1985 from Arkansas, and she spent over 20 years pouring life into the children of the community. Little did I know, our relationship would transcend time and help me become the educator I am today.

One of my fondest memories of Mrs. Barnes was when a Chrystal Springs catalog would arrive in the mail, and she would scour the pages looking for new professional books to buy. I remember her annotating classic texts like In the Middle by Nancy Atwell and Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook. Our rural elementary school had only one class per grade level, and although she would occasionally find a colleague who shared her passion for literacy, she set herself apart by constantly seeking ways to improve her classroom instruction.


Region 16, an Educational Service Center in Amarillo, offered a meager number of workshops throughout a school year, so her professional growth was really up to her. She was a quintessential learner, and she could hardly contain her fervor and excitement when she'd discover a new instructional strategy hidden in the pages of a book. I was lucky enough to be her teacher's aide from 7th to 12th grade, and I recall many memorable trips to A & D Bookstore in Amarillo where she would stock up on new titles and comment about how she hoped her husband, Bob, would understand the necessity of the purchases. He always did, and she would spend the next few months digging deep into professional books designed to help her improve her practice and make school an inviting place scholars were born and reading and writing flourished.

Not long ago, I took a position at Region 11, an Educational Service Center in Fort Worth, Texas. I've watched countless teachers sit through professional workshops this summer, and I've been privileged to share my expertise and experience with others. During a recent state reading academy, I littered the tables with a plethora of professional titles that are part of my educational cannon. Throughout the session, I would reference various authors and explain how these books had changed my teaching life. One participant raised her hand and incredulously asked, "Did you really read all of those?", and I admitted to devouring some, marking up the margins of most, and skimming a few. Another person commented they just didn't have the desire to read regularly and blatantly stated, "You're an anomaly. Teachers just don't have that kind of time." Instantly, I thought of Mrs. Barnes, and I realized how incredibly blessed I've been to have had a mentor like her who sat the bar high and continues to challenges me to keep growing and improving my practice. 

A troubling trend has surfaced among educators, and I often hear teachers talking about how PD feels like something that is done to them. In order to earn an exchange day in the fall, they compliantly sign up for workshops and begrudgingly attend, zoning out on their devices or half-heartedly participating. Some find a nugget or two to take back to their classrooms, others get geeked up and downright giddy about new strategies they can't wait to share with their students, and still others passively endure what they perceive as pure torture.

Now don't get me wrong. I've sat through some pretty miserable PD sessions, and I completely understand why some teachers might approach staff development with a skeptical outlook. I recently heard Cornelius Minor say, "Mandates are a soft form of tyranny", and our poor teachers are mandated to death. They lack autonomy. They are asked to do impossible things. And they are often expected to teach with their hands tied behind their backs because the pedagogy and assessment practices are misaligned.

I am a champion of teachers, and I understand their weariness. Initiative fatigue, unfunded mandates, and an ever-growing achievement gap threatens to suck the life right out of us. In a world where everything feels like one more thing, it can sometimes be tough to stay hopeful. However, the one thing I believe we will always have control of is how we feed ourselves professionally. Mrs. Barnes is still in the classroom after almost 35 years because she took charge of her own professional growth and made a concerted effort to pursue new learning even when it wasn't readily available.

Upon arriving at ESC Region 11, I read a published research paper called, The Mirage Study. It really made me wonder why institutions like the service center exist in the first place. According to the TNTP study, traditional sit-and-get, spray-and-pray professional development has limited or no impact on learning outcomes. This is frightening, and I've wondered how much of the research is because teachers have become almost as disengaged as the students they serve. This reality can be discouraging, however when I hop on Twitter and read about carloads of teachers who drive half-way across the country to attend #nErDCampMI, I am reminded about the importance of staying connected to my tribe. Weekly chats online and live events of Facebook put teachers back in control of our learning, and I am deeply grateful for connected educators who have helped reshape my teaching landscape in indescribable ways.

This weekend, I get to live out one of my professional dreams. Thanks to the support of colleagues, I am honored to attend the annual International Literacy Association conference held in Orlando. I've already downloaded the app and struggled to budget my time between all the literacy giants I've admired through the pages of their books. In a few days, I'll be able to mark ILA off my buck list, although I suspect I will want to return every summer. I'll go back home with a few new author signatures, a renewed spirit, and suitcase full of books. The words lucky and blessed seem inadequate, but one thing I know for sure, I am definitely grateful.

During my plane ride to Florida, I turned the final pages of Shawna Coppola's book, Renew. Although I usually mark up the margins in most of my professional reads, this book begged to be swallowed whole. Her final words resonated deeply and affirmed the message Mrs. Barnes lives out every day. 

"There's one thing, however, I have promised I will never do, and that is to become complacent in my work. Because the truth of the matter is, our students deserve better. Our profession deserves better. We deserve better."

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Mash Up of Renew!, Disrupting Thinking, and Auto Draw

In the world of literacy there's lots of talk about providing students with text sets so they can compare and contrast ideas across multiple genres, media, and levels of text complexity. Today, I accidentally stumbled upon a couple of professional titles I now consider "book cousins". These two texts helped me understand the value of synthesis in a fresh way, and thanks to the Wired Educator Podcast, a third modality pushed my thinking even more.

If you haven't had a chance to pick up Shawna Coppola's book, Renew, run to the nearest store and purchase it. Her wit, humor, and insight are helping me outgrow tired teaching practices and rethink how to engage young writers in authentic ways. More importantly, it's a quick, digestible read, and you'll find yourself thinking about the ideas she presents long after you've finished the last chapter.

In the middle of the book, she asks educators to reconsider what it really means to write. She provides some powerful, important quotes by published authors who repeatedly demonstrate that drawing and design are as critical to their process as putting words on a page. She argues that rather than give kids a bunch of outdated graphic organizers, we should teach them how to read like writers and design their own tools for engaging in the writing process. 

Next up — the hottest professional book on Twitter this summer!

Although I preordered this book months in advance, I hadn't had a chance to really sink my teeth into it until I listened to Kylene Beers and Bob Probst during a live FB event. The first thing that caught my attention when I opened this professional title was all the beautiful student photos, colored headings,  and eye-catching tables and charts. All the white space on the pages made it seem less dense, and I loved the snippets of "kid talk" strategically tucked in at just the right time.

Since I've been reading these titles simultaneously, it's no surprise I'm finding connections everywhere. However, it wasn't until I heard Kylene say the words below that I really understood the ideas Shawna Coppola was trying to convey in Ch. 3.
"Writing a book requires that I think about how it looks on the page. The design of the book and the content of the book, for me, develop hand-in-hand." ~Kylene Beers

These books are both disrupting my thinking, and I am excited to share what I'm learning with other teachers. Although my identity as a writer is a bit fragile, I decided to return to this blog and write about the power of reading two seemingly different professional titles side-by-side.

Additionally, my husband recently shared this super cool website called Auto Draw in which you can sketch something with your mouse and it detects the image you are trying to create. 

These books are peeling back layers of my thinking, so I attempted to draw an onion. The first drawing you see is my sad sketch. The second is their interpretation. I can totally see how this tool will empower me to reconsider the intersection of drawing, design, and writing.
I hope fellow educators will pick up these books and allow them to challenge you like they've challenged me. I also hope you'll have a blast playing around on Auto Draw!