Should observations “count”?

To have our first idea of things, we must see those things. To have an idea about a natural phenomenon, we must, first of all, observe it…All human knowledge is limited to working back from observed effects to their cause. (Claude Bernard, 1865)

If we make the observations with preconceived notions of what the truth is, if we believe we know the cause before we observe the effect, we will almost assuredly see what we want to see, which is not the same as seeing things clearly. (Gary Taubes, 2007)

Today, I am thinking about the power, value, and importance of observation. I am hoping that thinking “out loud” will help me clarify my ideas and stop them from flitting around like butterflies.

Observation is not new to education. In fact, it is a cornerstone of effective teaching and teachers have been doing it since teaching began. So, I don’t think recognizing observation as part of our work in schools is news to anyone. However, I think that accepting observation as an important indicator of learning, both formatively and summatively, is harder to accept. Maybe rephrasing my thinking as questions will help: Can observation of a learning experience “count” as an assessment event? Is observation enough to conclude that learning has occurred? Can we use observation evidence to report a summative grade?

Certain subjects seem to lend themselves to answering yes to these questions. If we are teachers of physical education, we depend on observation. We also seem to be comfortable assessing in this manner in industrial arts, drama, music…it seems that in certain subject areas, observation is deemed vital, and everyone accepts a teacher’s judgement as sound and reasonable. Teachers document their observations, certainly, but this is enough.

Certain grade levels also seem comfortable with observation as part of the documentation of learning. In Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten, the play-based environment lends itself beautifully to observation. Pair this with strong invitations to learn and effective verbal engagement between teachers and students and you have recipe for growth and development.  No one questions whether or not the teacher has the “right” to observe and make instructional decisions as well as report learning to families. This is how early years educators assess.

So, my question is if physical education and drama teachers or Kindergarten teachers are able to use observation of learning as an assessment event, then why can’t a middle years math teacher? I ask this because I have been puzzling over the strong tendency to have students write their thinking down at every turn. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate strongly the importance of literacy and writing. It is critical that students learn to express themselves in a variety of ways, including through the written word. My concern is more that writing is the only way students are being invited to show their understanding in some subjects.

I can think of a couple of reasons why we might be reluctant to use observation of learning as assessment. First, I think it is because we want to have visible accountability for the decisions we are making about student grades. There may be a fear that if a parent questions a grade, we won’t be able to support our decision. This leads me to think that we might need to learn how to document learning or make learning visible. There is a ton of literature around these two topics. If we document learning as part of observation, and keep track of our observations during learning experiences, we will have plenty of “evidence” to support our decisions. In fact, I think the evidence will be stronger and certainly more compelling than a single math sheet would. Second, I wonder if we are afraid to trust our own professional judgement. Is it easier to fall back on math as a justification of a grade than it is to assert our training, education and experience with children and learning? The truth of the matter is we are always making professional judgements, even when we grade a math paper. It is just that those judgements are often masked by a score.

It is the responsibility of a teacher to teach, to assess, and to report learning. We need to become comfortable with ourselves as professionals. We need to trust our observations. Once we do, we are free to experiment with learning experiences. We can move beyond paper into a three dimensional world. Using observation regularly allows us to be highly responsive in our instruction. It allows us the freedom to walk alongside students as they construct meaning, engage in inquiry, experiment, take risks and experience. No longer would we have to think: Wow, you really understood that. I sure hope you do well on your test next week!

Just thinking out loud…

Practicing what I preach

It was time for a change. I have been working as a Coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for five years and, in that time, have become comfortable with the many facets of my role (staff developer, instructional leader, learning supports designer, cheerleader, professional listener, evangelist, everything-related-to-learning coordinator). Nevertheless, as a collective leadership team, we knew it was time for a change and now, as the wheels begin to turn on this “restructuring,” I find myself needing to reflect on what this has meant for me already and what it will mean as we continue to walk in this new direction.

As I have articulated in many past posts, we have been working for five years on developing and supporting a common understanding and language around learning as it relates to renewed curricula, shifting assessment practices, responsive instructional design, planning using UbD and formal, data-focused reflection. The professional development we have undertaken with all staff in our division is immense. But, as we move into our sixth year and also, as we move into a new provincial sector plan, we began to see that it might be time to move from whole-group instruction (so-to-speak) to targeted supports. For this reason, I am shifting from working with 21 schools to working in one of three pods, with a much more focused seven schools. My fellow coordinator of early learning and my new coordinator colleague in student support services will also have pods and, along with our two superintendents, we will share understanding, assess needs and construct supports and responses for our schools, based on information we glean from a wide variety of sources.

So what does this mean for me, personally (I ask myself)? Well, I will need to learn a lot! I will have to build a greater understanding of both the early learning and support services portfolios. We will continue to have our specializations but we will also need to share understanding across all areas in order to work with our assigned schools. I was well on my way in understanding the connections between our work but had done so with broad brush strokes. I will now need to examine the finer details. In fact, my title is changing to Coordinator of Learning (which I share with my other coordinator colleagues).

I am also now working with staff through professional growth plans, observations and conversations. This is an expanded role. I have always worked with our support personnel within a leadership team, but again, next year will require a much more intensive relationship as I work with them to specifically develop their professional growth plans and support them in their important work.

I will be much more immersed in my assigned schools. This year, I worked very hard to visit all 21 schools as often as I could, but found myself spread too thin and my supports were often not as robust as I would have liked. The focus to seven schools will change my work significantly. Couple this with a shift to far less whole group professional development, and I will be able to work alongside others in a more meaningful and targeted way. My assigned schools are at least an hour away, so this will also mean more travel. In fact, my pod team will be located in a town an hour from my office.

This is just a lightly painted picture of, what I think, are significant changes to my work. So, how am I feeling about this change? Well, I believe I am feeling much the same way others feel when changes occur in their work – excited, nervous, scared, unsure, motivated, curious. I am very used to defining my own job. Sharing my job description with two other people is new to me – the last time I shared the same role as others was when I was a classroom teacher. Co-constructing a role will be interesting. I am also very accustomed to being confident in most aspects of my work. At the moment, I am confident I can do good things but less-confident in all aspects of understanding that this new role will require. This is very good for me but it has been a while since I have not felt sure of how things would “roll out.” I am committed to being the best leader I can be for my pod team but I know I have to spend much time listening and learning as part of that leadership. I will have to become more comfortable in saying “I am not sure” and “let’s try this and see what happens.” I am excited about spending more time talking about specific students and their learning. I am equally as excited to engage in my own learning, which is already happening. I think this new understanding will only make me and the work I do better.

Change is scary and exciting all wrapped up in one package. I am no stranger to change but this one feels new to me. I have learned that the more new something feels, the more opportunity it provides me to grow and adapt and become better at what I do. I look forward to travelling a new path.

Nuggets from ASCD 14

I have a travel blog and when I journeyed to Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago to attend the ASCD Conference, I documented the trip on that blog. However, I cannot resist capturing some of the educational wisdom I gleaned from my time there on this blog. I guess I think of the two different blogs as the the physical journey (travel blog) and the journey in my mind (this blog).

My colleague and I started by attending a two-day pre-conference called “Engaging Educators with Data to Create the Future of Your School,” which was led by Victoria Bernhardt and her colleague Bradley. Here are the nuggets from that session:

  • The people you meet from around the world are one of the very best things about going to large conferences. I think it is important to take advantage of this networking because it really facilitates reflection about your own system when you listen to others.
  • It is very important to look at demographic, perceptual, system and academic data when making decisions. Too often, we focus on a single data set and limit our ability to determine root causes, influences and responses. (I know we have not looked at demographic data enough.)
  • “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Abraham Lincoln. This was a huge focus of this session- moving forward.
  • There is a huge difference between compliance and commitment in continuous improvement. Our assumptions determine which side we are on. Therefore, discussing the why behind decisions as well and inviting engagement in information from which decisions are made is a must. Superficial compliance is not transformative. (I concur wholeheartedly. Compliance without commitment signals we have not done a good enough job yet.)
  • When looking at data, jot your thinking and connection-making as you go. The “in the moment thinking” is rich. First, wonder, question and wonder some more. Then, synthesize. But don’t move ahead before taking time to notice. (This is tough. We always want to rush to solutions without letting the thinking, noticing and connection-making happen first. We are always in such a hurry. I teach this exact same lesson to students in my art class.)
  • Having a strong process is essential for examining data and making decisions. Without a process, everything falls apart. Think about successes, challenges, implications for a school or system and additional data needs. (No processes = chaos.)
  • When facilitating data analysis, control the misconceptions. Be ready to step in and clarify when needed. (This reminds me of the same discussion we have around inquiry. There is a time to let things happen and there is a time to step in. Knowing the difference is the sweet spot.)
  • A good first step is to inventory the data available to a school or system. Then “clean it up” or make it easy to read, triangulate and reflect on.
  • “Your school is perfectly designed to get the results you are getting.” (Reality check moment.)
  • “Avoid random acts of improvement.” Ensure work is targeted and focused. (This happens so much in education. Good intentions lost due to lack of strategic focus.)

Our first keynote was Daniel Pink. I had read his book, Drive just prior to attending and was looking forward to his wisdom. This is what I gleaned from his session:

  • Teaching is persuading. Not only that, but it is persuading children to do what we want them to do instead of what they think they would like to do. In other words, it is no easy task.
  • Education has changed because we have moved to a place where educators have information parity with students. It is no longer a case of telling students things they don’t know. Instead, we are persuading them to manipulate the knowledge we all hold in various ways. (I hadn’t thought of education in this way. I think this is an area where we feel some discomfort as educators right now. We are used to having the answers.)
  • Remember, small wins cascade to other small wins. Aim for small wins.
  • There are six ways to increase your chances of persuasion. Tip 1: You can increase your effectiveness by temporarily decreasing your feelings of power. This allows you to empathize, which has tremendous impact.
  • Tip 2: Ambiverts are the best persuaders. There are studies that show that the most persuasive people are those who are both extroverted and introverted. Either extreme has less persuasive ability.
  • Tip 3: Interrogative self-talk is the most effective way to ensure success. Instead of saying to yourself, “You can do this,” ask yourself, “Can you do this?” After a question like this, you are more likely to prepare.
  • Tip 4: Ask these questions of the other person- “On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to…?” Follow up with, “Why didn’t you pick a lower number?” This way, the other person works to defend your position.
  • Tip 5: Context drives behaviours so make it easy for people to act. As Pink says, “Show people the off ramp and they will more likely take it.” Don’t worry so much about changing minds. Change behaviours first.
  • Tip 6: Explain why…even more than how.

Next up was Jay McTighe and Essential Questions. I have to explain that what I learned may have been different from others because we have been working on using essential questions in our division for years now. So, this is what struck me as particularly worth considering as a person who already knew a lot about EQs:

  • A good questions is like an itch – you want to scratch it. That is why finding the right question, whether students do it or teachers do it, is so important. (We have spent so much time on finding the “just right” question in our division. Once you find it, you know it but I think we under-estimate the brainstorming that has to happen before we find the compelling question.)
  • Essential questions require a defense. It is important that students understand that it isn’t just about the answer…it is about why that answer was given. (This is actually articulated on many of our rubrics.)
  • Essential questions should recur. They are part of larger understanding. (And they should recur authentically. Again, compliance or commitment?)
  • There are four categories of essential questions: Philosophical, Epistemological, Meaning Making and Metacognitive or Reflective.
  • Essential questions must be kid-friendly. They can be part of making this so!

The evening keynote was Sir Ken Robinson, who is funny and thought-provoking all in one! Here is what I learned from his session:

  • Life is chaos. It is a continual process of improvisation and anyone who claims otherwise is misrepresenting reality. As a result, few of us know where our life will head when we are in school. It is simply impossible. So, if we create our lives, do our school systems reflect this? Do schools invite this process for students? (And do we expect students to have made decisions too early? Are we giving them enough time and opportunity?)
  • In order for us to end up doing the things we are meant to do, we need to figure out what we are good at and look for opportunities to use that talent. To be “in your element” means doing something for which you have an aptitude and a spiritual energy (love). If you are in your element, others are drawn to you. The big thing is finding your element. How often does our school system overlook or marginalize the “elements” of our students? We have to help students find the things that they love!
  • The basics of education are not the core subjects…they are the four purposes (economic, cultural, social and personal).
  • There are two worlds that exist for every human – the larger world and a world of our private consciousness. Both are really important to the decisions we make.
  • Human beings are built with a tremendous capacity to be creative and think of alternatives. Creativity is not some special feature of a few select people. We have to foster creativity because all fields move forward by people contributing original ideas. What teachers pay attention to is what students think is important. If we give attention to creativity and innovation, so will students. (This makes me wonder what students think is important now? Being quiet? Handing in work? Getting stuff done? Behaviour is more important than learning?)
  • When students perceive there is one right answer to a problem, creativity and imagination shut down. Don’t let creativity be educated out of our children! (I loved the video he showed to demonstrate this. I even tried it with my art students and found that when they were allowed absolutely freedom, they were far more creative.)

My last session was with Grant Wiggins and John Kao, who were talking about innovation in education and specifically about their project: EdgeMaker. Here is what I learned:

  • We have still not arrived in education. Grant stated he has been engaged in education for a long time and we are still working on getting to where we need to for students. (Agreed.)
  • “…the idealism and passion of the young are one of the most underutilized resources on the planet.” This session communicated the belief that children are full and complete humans, capable of creativity, problem-solving and risk-taking. We no longer need to wait for students to get old so they can solve the world’s problems – we need to let them begin to solve them now, because they may, in fact, be the most capable of doing so. (This was a huge aha for me. Not because I didn’t know it but because, when stated so clearly, I realized we have some very huge assumptions in our society about children. I have said it before-kids are hugely tolerant of adults and our systems.)
  • Maybe it is time to facilitate and listen in different ways in the classroom. Maybe we need to re-position ourselves with students and the “wicked problems” they want to think about. Do adults really believe children can be innovative? Do we invite this nearly enough? We need to get students out of the bleachers and put them in the game!
  • We need to aim for self-sustaining student learning. If the teacher is solely responsible for sustaining learning, then the purpose for doing the learning is not nearly compelling enough. On top of this, when adults do all of the sustaining and then students move on to post-secondary, they are under-prepared to have executive control over their own learning. We have taught them to look to others for motivation.
  • We are living off our innovation inheritance. It is time to change this and one way is to let children innovate.
  • We also need to design units around wicked problems using essential questions. Let them be project-driven so the students can have executive control and the teacher can step back and let students think.

My colleague and I have already started to use many of the data pieces we learned in our pre-conference. It is so exciting to attend PD where the learning is immediately applicable. ASCD put on a fabulous conference and it was a privilege to attend.



Answering another co-teaching question

Another great question about co-teaching came my way today: How would you best explain to a teacher the benefits of co-planning, when they have already taught the course several times? I feel very equipped to explain the benefits of co-teaching and co-assessing, but selling the idea of co-planning a previously taught course is still a challenge for me.

Benefits of co-planning when you have taught the course:

 1)    First, we have to define what co-planning means. If it means re-planning everything, then that would be a misunderstanding. This would be a waste of time for both parties. So, co-planning, means coming to a common understanding (ie. Shared and consistent) about the outcomes, including what students need to know, understand and do and determining how students will demonstrate those things. Co-planning might be a discussion about the plan that has already been created. It might be one person asking the other questions for clarification and so on. It does not mean starting from scratch.

2)    Regardless of whether or not the course is new to a teacher or not, what is new in a co-teaching situation is a) the two teachers working together, and most importantly b) the students. You and I both know that no year is ever the same as the one previous, just like raising one of my daughters was nothing like raising the other. So, even the best laid, most detailed and well-considered plans have to be adapted (differentiated) year after year. The advantage of co-teaching is you have two brains, two idea-factories, two personalities to do this, which results in richer plans.

3)    Two teachers means way different opportunities for learning. A unit planned for one teacher will look very different from a unit planned for two. It will have to be adapted to avoid the old “teacher acting like an EA while the other one teaches” syndrome. This is not co-teaching.

 I think the solution is to re-imagine what co-planning can look like AND acknowledge the actual ramifications of having two teaching professionals in the room at the same time. Students need to view these people as equal instructors, supports, partners. If these people, themselves, do not plan together, then this falls apart. I speak from tons of experience. Tons! I have had this succeed and I have had it fail. Every time it failed, we didn’t spend enough time together before we ever started with the students.

Why co-teaching, you ask? Here’s what I am thinking…

I got excited today after receiving an email from a colleague. She shared a concern about something we will be starting next year. Starting in the fall, we are beginning a new co-teaching model where we are assigning staffing and specifically timetabling co-teaching pairings in all of our schools. We are also going to be offering days when the pairings come together at a divisional level, so we can build relationships, plan, reflect on our students and our practice and engage in responsive instruction through co-teaching. I am very excited about this approach and cannot wait to learn alongside others! However, her concern was why we were engaging in co-teaching when class sizes are increasing. Why not just divide the students in half? What is the advantage to having two teachers with a larger class? That is when I got excited…because I had some thoughts about her question:

 1)    Co-teaching invites reflection and uses the model of a critical friend to talk about what happened in the moment, so the soundest instructional choices can be made. Two people means the chances of this happening are exponentially greater.

2)    Students do not always benefit from fewer students in class – fewer sometimes means fewer perspectives, less flexible grouping. We make far too many assumptions that fewer is always better – it always comes down to instruction. Always. More than any other factor (including class size, student demographic, gender ratio). So, co-teaching builds stronger, more responsive teaching.

3)    Two teachers mean greater chances for students to connect with an adult who shares interests, styles, abilities with them. It takes some pressure off trying to be everything to everyone. Teachers can share that role.

4)    Anyone who has been involved in a successful co-teaching relationship will tell you that the synergy is a case of the whole being far greater than the parts. True story.

5)    “Taking extra time” to plan together and concerns from colleagues about the “extra work” involved in co-teaching makes me think something that may not viewed as fair …but it occurs to me that the work we do is not primarily about US and OUR TIME. It is about meeting student needs. We are a service profession and two people serve better than one. I do not believe life should be filled with unreasonable sacrifices for teachers but I also do not believe that their needs always come first. In this case, more work at the front end means less work during and after because students will be more successful, more engaged, more connected and will need fewer re-dos, fewer re-teachings, fewer study halls…well, you get my point. Effective instruction means less time in the end, even though it initially seems like more.

6)    We are still building and learning – building strong planning, building effective instruction, building authentic assessment. When you are building, building together means greater success and the chance to share this success with others. Closing our doors again means we go backward, not forward. We need to keep going forward.

7)    Through pre-assessing, two teachers can identify gaps, work to provide support to understand the missed content and introduce the new outcome, seeing success for that student.  Having two teachers in the classroom has lowered the pupil-teacher ratio and has very much benefited some of the struggling learners, while benefitting the teachers at the same time.

8)    Having two teachers in the classroom allows the opportunity for students who pre-assess as already understanding the intended outcome to show enriched understanding. 

9)    Having two teachers allows teachers to sometimes work in two locations at times – not only reinforcing the concept taught, but providing a platform for the student to take their fully meeting understanding and apply it to real world situations. 

 I am sure there are many more reasons but these are the ones I offered off the top of my head. I consider this step part of a journey – we are continuing from where we are right now. I am quite sure we will learn a great deal together. There will be challenges and there will be celebrations. Most importantly, we are trying something new in order to meet the needs of our students. There just isn’t a higher purpose than that.

When leading means pulling back

I remember a job interview a number of years ago, when I was asked what I considered to be my weaknesses. I had prepared for this question, intent on following the advice that in these situations, you must present your weaknesses so they actually end up sounding like strengths: I am too committed to work, I over-communicate, I over-prepare for interviews and end up making my responses sound like they could come from anyone…things like that.In reality, I actually do believe that my strengths are my weaknesses. As with most things, when there is too much of a good thing, it can become a not-so-good thing.

I have been reminded of this point this week as my colleagues and I linger on strategic planning for next year. This is my fourth year in this position and each year, we adjust our approach to strategic planning so we can continuously improve as a school division. As a result, we have accomplished some amazing things. As always, we begin by looking at Ministry expectations and Board goals and blend these with data we have collected about student performance, teacher perception and family engagement. We then develop strategies to address areas where we need to grow and begin the work of deciding how to communicate these strategies to the field. This is all good work – rewarding, exciting and filled with promise. Yet, this is the point when my strength becomes my weakness if I am not careful (and sometimes I am not).

As I have said in previous posts, I love my job. As a Coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, I am right in the middle of all the things I care about – learning, students, teachers, possibility! I am also pretty good at my job – I am creative and communicate well. I work very quickly and enthusiastically and churn out documents, PD plans and supports like there is no tomorrow. I work more hours than required because I find so many pieces of my role fascinating. So, I have ideas – lots of them. But I very easily slip into over- efficiency and I look inward for too long, without pausing to consider the people around me at a deep enough level. I imagine this is true for many passionate people in our world. We work and work and work and, only every so often, we stop to look up. That is when we see others around us looking flustered and irritated and we wonder why.

Last week, our team decided to phone administrators in our school division to do a little “temperature check.” We wanted suggestions for how to improve the way we share next year’s plan at our May administrative council meeting. We sensed administrators were feeling over-whelmed. My Early Learning colleague and I phoned every single principal, and it was the best thing we have done in a long time. It was humbling for us, a welcome chance to talk about leadership for them and very informative to our team as we move forward.

As we were sharing the synthesized version of our calls with the team, it suddenly occurred to me that my own strengths may have become a weakness. My efficiency and creativity had, perhaps, become too much for the people around me. Now, I do not claim responsibility for everything that happens in our division. I am also not claiming that I have grievously injured anyone – I don’t think I have. I am simply owning my own part of a larger leadership challenge – moving too quickly. In fact, it is because I share this same strength/ weakness with the people with whom I work that this has become something worth thinking about. We are all efficient. We are all passionate. We all have great ideas. But, in the end, all those plans often get filtered through one person – the in-school administrator. And it is a delicate balance between providing a vision that is empowering and providing a vision that prevents the vision of others to have a place.

This is a delicate topic, and so I do not make any grand statements about systems and what they should and shouldn’t do. I am also not critical of anyone in my own system – I am so lucky to work with such amazing, diverse and committed individuals. Our team is fantastic, the administrators are so skilled and compassionate. Our teachers work incredibly hard for our equally amazing students. But when I stand back and look at myself (which is all I can really do), I have to remind myself that some of my great ideas may have to sit for a while. I have to remind myself that the great ideas we have already set in motion are still great and deserve time and energy in order to nurture the great-ness. I have to remind myself to slow down. Because the fact of the matter is, that when a person is in a leadership role, the work they do is not about them; the work they do is about the people who surround them. And if we spend too much time checking off our own lists, thinking about our own passions and our need to feel fulfilled, without looking around us, we run the risk of forgetting why we are here in the first place.

There are some non-negotiables for me – students are the centre of my field of vision…always. I will never release this committment to student learning. However, I have to remind myself that there are ways to support all the people working with students everyday and there are ways to leave them feeling a little abandoned. I am committed to support. This week was a good “reset” for me (and for those who are impacted by my work.)




Thoughts on “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”

I consider myself a leader. I understand that my role as a Coordinator makes that the case, but being a leader, for me,  comes down to much more than a job title. I remember the exact time I decided to embrace my “need to lead” and it was a difficult decision. I had been asked to consider a Vice Principalship at a middle and secondary school. As had occurred in the past, I felt tangible excitement at the idea, but I had, until that point, supressed the excitement in order to work part time and maintain my perceived formula for work-family balance. Whenever I considered leadership, I recognized that it would require a commitment of both time and energy and I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough of either. I had two children, a marriage and a home to devote time and energy to and I worried that I would be doing an ‘unmotherly’ or ‘uncaring’ thing by deciding to explore the idea of leadership in my career. In the end, though, I took the leap and accepted the position and I haven’t looked back. However, making the decision, didn’t make things easier. As I have explored leadership as a Differentiated Instruction Facilitator, a Vice Principal, a Principal and now a Coordinator, I have had few women to look to for guidance and support (but the ones I did find are simply gems). Education is filled with women but, where I work, far fewer women can be found in leadership roles.

Last week, I read Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. I had listened to and enjoyed her TedTalk and was hoping for some more insight into women and leadership and why it seems to be so hard sometimes. She delivered on insight and, in many ways, it was a real relief to read about my own personal struggles with leadership in such a large scale place like this book. It helped me to recognize the challenges that women face in reaching and sustaining leadership roles in the workplace. One of the most interesting aspects of these challenges is that more than a few of them come from inside women, themselves. I recognize my own hestitancy to lean in at times and this book helped to clarify why this is so.

Here are some of the points from the book that resonated for me:

  • It is normal to feel conflicted about leaning in to work because society places a great deal of emphasis on the role of women to “manage” the home. This is unfair to both women and men, since there is nothing wrong (in fact, it is essential for women who choose to work full time) with sharing responsibilities at home or even (can you imagine?) inviting men to shoulder more than half of the load, if they choose.
  • In the years when we are building our families, women often lean back, when they could lean in. In fact, Sheryl contends that it is better to strive for and obtain positions that are challenging and fulfilling at work because those are the roles that keep us in the workplace. Women sell themselves short by not engaing in jobs that are challenging and fulfilling, which can often lead to further reduction in work time, in order to search for fulfillment in other ways.
  • Women are perceived by both men and other women in a more negative light when they express leadership qualities (strength, ambition, decisiveness). Men are valued for the same qualities that women are criticized for and this makes leadership difficult sometimes. Women, above all, should be nurturing and so when they decide to work full time and lead as part of this work, this is percevied as undesireable.
  • Men mentor men. Women have greater difficulty finding mentors because there are fewer women in leadership roles. This perpetuates the cycle because without mentors and sponsors, it is challenging for women to advance within their organization. There are also perceived complications with men mentoring women, that we have to “get over” in order to solve this dilemma.
  • We cannot do it all. We just can’t. Media perpetuates a myth that leads to feelings of failure for women and men. I struggle with this every single day and, while I know my hope for doing it all is not realistic, I continue to buy in to the myth that if I just work hard enough and manage my time well enough, I can be the perfect wife, mother, worker, housecleaner, cook, volunteer…well, you see what I mean.
  • Life on the home front has to be 50-50 if both partners work full time. I have a fantastic partner and this has been demonstrated time and again. I, personally, could not do what I do without the partner I have. Period. And I more than acknowledge how challenging things must be for single parents.
  • We have to start talking about gender again. I don’t know how and, while Sheryl gives some suggestions, I have to think about this a great deal more. This book applies to me but it is written for millions of women (and men!) Each of us has to figure out what we want and how we will navigate the waters of our own oceans. But it cannot be denied that women are not yet represented enough in leadership roles and, both Sheryl and I would contend, that the world would be better off if this were to happen.

Me, as “one of them”

Some days I sit in my office and think…and what I am thinking about today is where I fit in, in this big machine we call Education. Make no mistake – I am not bored, lacking in passion, lacking vision or direction, or unsure of how to fill my days. Nope, this is about who I am in my field…and I feel like a whole bunch of things today.

I feel like a researcher – I spend a lot of time reading, writing, asking questions, talking to others and consolidating my thoughts on a whole bunch of topics. I am trying to figure things out all the time, not always because I have to, but often because I want to. I am curious.

I feel like an inventor – I make templates, I create strategic diagrams and plans, I map out processes and supports for a wide variety of people on a wide variety of topics. I absolutely love this part of my job because I can exercise my creative muscles all the time, and being creative is “my thing.”

I feel like a coach – I cheer and teach in many ways, both with students and with the adults who surround them. I reflect with others, discuss possibilities and solutions, plan for the future and constantly communicate my belief that what we are doing is so worthwhile. I want to be better and I want to experience challenges and successes alongside others. I get to do that in my job.

These are all things I do that “fill my cup.” They are the reasons I took this job. They invite me to focus on the thrill of learning and the joy of education. They are what motivate me all day long.

However, there are some things I feel, that are more challenging…

I feel like a cold; something you have to put up with but don’t have to like – sometimes I walk into a school and I just know my presence is not celebrated. Assumptions about my visit are thick. Eyes are shifty, as classroom doors quickly shut. Nothing is said directly to me, but I know how it is…remember, I was there not so long ago.

I feel like a trusty handyperson – here is Katie, she’ll fix it. But remember, when we invite a handyperson into our lives, we don’t stand beside them and share in their experience. We brush our hands together, nod our heads at our wisdom for finding someone else to do the job, and move on. The challenge is that I am not invited in to fix a sink – I am asked to “fix” something bigger, and usually that something that can’t be fixed by one person (if “fixed” is even a word to toss around here!)

I feel like a fly – buzzing around, making noise. I land on people’s shoulders to explore an idea, only to be brushed away. I buzz, “How about…?” or “Why do you think…?” as I am shooed. I suspect some think to themselves That Katie…always full of great ideas…but she doesn’t know what it’s like…she hasn’t…she is unrealistic…too passionate…

Now, don’t get me wrong…I am not feeling sorry for myself (not today…although, there are days…I am human…) And I am not saying all these feelings happen everytime I am in a school, or when I talk to adminstrators and teachers. I am just puzzling over how things could be; how I could be. Because being from Central Office sets up inherent challenges. We are pre-conditioned to believe what people in Central Office do; what their role is. We have had experiences that set up patterns that have now become beliefs.

So, how could things be different? How could they be better? How can we build trusting relationships with people when we come from Central Office? I strongly believe that relationships are key, but it is very challenging to build relationships when pre-conditioning, experiences, power, and change are lenses we have to try to peer through.

I can hear voices in my head saying Get your chin up! This is your job, live with it! or Katie, your problem is you care too much. You just have to stop caring about stuff like this! and You can’t be friends with everyone! In fact, it isn’t your job to be friends with people. I have heard these responses in the past and have considered all of them. The problem is that each of these answers is about me, and I don’t think this is about me. I think it is about the work I do (and the work of anyone in a leadership role.) Because this is about change and growth and learning – and none of that happens when conditions are not ideal. When change happens because people are afraid, or growth occurs in directions that don’t reflect data and information, or learning happens because of one single person instead of as a result of expanding leadership capacity, then things aren’t working as they should.

My Essential Question for the day is “What can I do to build and nurture relationships?” Within this, I have to acknowledge there are some things I cannot change or control and there are some people with whom I will not develop relationships. But if I don’t continue to ask these questions, search for clarity and try to navigate my way through this complexity in the most positive way possible, I have no hope…and I am filled with hope.