leading…a pandemic edition.

We are just a few days away from the official last day of school. It will look/feel/sound different, but that is pretty much the norm for much of what we do not just at school but in our own worlds. We are in a constant state of pivot. And grounding ourselves in our mission, our passion, and our commitment to serving our constituencies can lend itself to anxiety, fear, sadness, and flat out exhaustion. And yet, we lead on.

In a study of my own core values, when I mine down deep (using Brene or Elena’s value mining exercises), I land on integrity, humor, and courage. If you expand you add authenticity, vulnerability, faith, optimism, gratitude, and independence. If there was ever a time to stretch and exercise our values, now is it. There are times when my honesty (driven by practicality) has caused sadness in others and for this, I feel regret. There are times when my optimism has been taken as Pollyanna, and for that, I feel pride-it means that it’s making people think. 

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In the last ten weeks, we’ve (the global we) have seen world leaders respond to the global pandemic in a spectrum of ways-allowing their core values to show through in their response. From a non-political but sociological lens, I’ve found myself captivated by the study of comparative responses and how those are interpreted by constituencies. How much of ourselves do we share with our people? How much of ourselves to we hold back? 

I was struck by the recent article, Leaders are Crying on the Job. Maybe That’s a Good Thing. 

“Crying is a nonverbal way of saying, ‘I need help and support,’” Professor Wolf said. Tears can make a leader appear more relatable and “warmer”; they can also make a leader seem helpless and less competent, she said. 

What struck me is that way that it places leaders in a challenging position of being authentic to themselves, or, putting on a front. I think what this time in our world has shown us is that you can be both. As with all things, it takes nuance.

With her extensive study of leaders and leadership during crisis, Nancy Koehn, makes this observation in an interview for HBR

“This means that thoughtfully revealing your humanity is fine, but permitting yourself an emotional catharsis in public is not. Airing your own anxieties in front of your followers is distracting, destabilizing, and destructive. People can’t be excited about following you if they believe you are defined by doubt and fear.”

“Courage, dear heart”, as Lucy hears in hears in her head in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; leaders take on courage to make the hardest decisions. We employ courage to know that no decision we make will please everyone, and grounded in mission, we walk forward. We do so with confidence, even if in our inner worlds we have sadness, fear, or pain. We must. And, we must continue to GIVE courage and confidence to our communities so that they can work through their own process and walk with us.

This is not just true in pandemic days but all the time. But the pandemic has amplified everything. It has placed leaders under a microscope in a way that sometimes minimizes their human frailty. But, I hold firm in that authenticity is key. As a person with a heart firmly worn on the outside (enneagram 4, anyone?), I must stay true to my core values of integrity, humor, and courage. I will continue to tell you what I can, when I can, in a way that is not intended to cause fear or anger. I will continue to place a high value on laughter. And I will continue to offer buckets of courage, especially if your bucket is a bit low.

Leading is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the cellophane of skin. It is the hardest work you’ll ever love. And onward, we go.

#maybe

“The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.”-Erich Fromm

We are waiting. We are waiting for an understanding of when we can regather, if we can congregate, where we can go, what we can do safely. Looking at all the data, an abundance of caution is crucial for our continued health and safety. So we wait.

And while we wait, it is so easy to focus on the losses and the grief. And while I’m not particularly advocating for a Pollyanna perspective to our current realities, I wonder if we can focus on the changed things around us that are good, creative, optimistic, and perhaps even beneficial things coming out of this time period?

We have been in conversations about the “what ifs” at our school since the beginning of our distance learning. End of the year events, milestone moments, graduation…all things we have considered or are considering. We grieve the loss of some and celebrate the reinvention of others.

Our intentional emphasis on a balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning has shown us the value of being flexible with time and focusing on high-quality feedback loops. It is not the same, but we can glean amazing data for how we might continue to hone and enhance our practices both together and apart.

Maybe is such a frustrating word, especially in a time where control and certainty are in short supply. But, what if that maybe became a source of creativity and inspiration? What if it allowed us to really consider the wheat and the chaff of things?

Today is “National Superhero Day.” I’m not exactly sure who decided this be it Hallmark, Marvel, or DC Comics….but I wish I could deliver 143 capes to the faculty and staff of my school. They are modeling resiliency, creativity, and flexibility in a world of maybes. They think about the hard things and grapple with ways to reinvent and reenvision for their students. They are all superheroes to me.

At some point, our maybes will slow down and then perhaps rise up again. We will ride the roller coaster together, sometimes in the same seat or sometimes taking turns. And trust that maybe won’t last forever.

expert and apprentice.

For the last two weeks, I have enjoyed the Facebook Live conversations between The Instructional Coaching Group’s Jim Knight and other leaders in the field of teaching, coaching, and leadership. Last week, I relished in the language of resilience shared by Elena Aguilar. This week, one of my all time favorite leadership and change management gurus, Michael Fullan, was the guest. It was replete with takeaways and my back and forth side conversations with my dear colleague, Marsha, and my OD/LD Consultant mom, were nerdy delight.

While the takeaways were many, one of that I continue to dwell on is a quote from Fullan, “In times of change, leaders must be both an expert and an apprentice.” He targeted the traits of humility, growth mindset, and trust as important qualities a leader must possess to be successful at all times, but particularly in times of crisis. How might we show up and leave a meeting both with answers and questions?

This is one of my favorite elements of leadership. I can share my ideas, experience, research, or passion all day long, but I want to empower YOU to do the same. What questions or ideas can you bring to the table that perhaps I haven’t considered with my one mind?

A reminder for constant learning.

In these weeks of distance learning, I still feel intellectually or emotionally confident in some areas. However, there are some other areas where I am learning things like a newbie. This is what it means to learn without ceasing. I’m never done learning new things.

In a meeting today with our incredible specials team, I was comfortable enough to say, “we talked through so many ideas, let me ask the team what we decided” and “hmmm, let’s ask the other team.” What yielded was a stronger plan, empowered teachers, and confidence and trust in their work.

We are all becoming masters of learning on the fly and the more we become comfortable with our apprentice mindset, the stronger we will grow.

Onward.

Pacing. Hydration. Rest. Trust.

I spent ten years of my life training for, competing in, and coaching runners for marathons. In the span of ten years, I went from a casual 5k runner to a marathoner on a quest to qualify for the Boston marathon. While I never reached that particular goal, I learned so many valuable lessons in that decade that apply not only to my continued running, my coaching of MS and HS cross country runners but also, and perhaps more importantly, every day life.

I’ve heard many people describe this time of distance learning and social isolation as a marathon, not a sprint. Corollaries have also been drawn to the longer endurance races like centuries, 100k’s, and Ironman. Having completed the latter, I can see that, too. So here are some bullet points of lessons that may just serve us well in this time, and perhaps someday when we get back to running marathons again. Be that the marathon of the day, or the one that takes our feet across the pavement for a few hours.

  • Pace yourself. Even if that means starting slower. If you are in for the long haul, you have to assure that you won’t fizzle out. Start slow, work up to comfort, and then push yourself now and again.
  • Hydrate. Yes, literally, we as a society need more water and drink up, my friends. But also, water your spirit-do what you need to find the joy in what you do. Nutrition goes here, too, feeding not only your body with good, whole foods , but your soul, put goodness into your soul to send goodness out.
  • Rest. Sometimes in training for running, you need more rest than you realize. I would often tell runners, better to take an extra day of rest you choose than to be forced into rest by injury or burn out. Proper sleep-not over sleep-and giving yourself permission to say no to the extra zoom happy hour (if you’re an introvert like me) or yes to the nappuchino is good.
  • Trust the process. This not only works for Nick Saban and University of Alabama football, but for all of us. Learning is about process. Running a marathon is about process. The final grade or the finish line time are just a by-product. We learn and grow within the process. We are all learning this new reality while we are delivering and supporting the process. This isn’t how it usually works, but what is usual is the reflection upon the process, not just product. We will takes steps forward, back, and sideways. We will have great days. We will have terrible days. They are all integral to the process.

In these days of constant change around us, we can hone in on the basics-pace, hydrate, rest, and trust. And while the results won’t always fall into place, we know we can fall back onto these important tenants to keep ourselves moving onward.

sharing with openness

Every week, I share an update with the division that has a little bit of inspiration, a little bit of learning, and a few logistics. In the last four weeks, my counterpart and I have shared messages with our divisional families. It is my goal that each week, I share openly about our work, our lives, our realities, and this week, in particular, I wanted to address our woes with openness and honesty. It is so important to honor and own the fact that every teacher, leader, parent, and child is facing unprecedented emotional experiences in addition to the practicalities of our new routines.

I believe in resilience. I believe in optimism. I believe in acknowledging wherever we might be in our hearts, souls, and minds. I believe in the power of ice cream. I believe in the power of rest. I believe in the power of openness, even if the sharing acknowledges hardship.

Here’s what I sent this week:

“Perspective is a product of experience”–attrib. Brené Brown

Dear Families,

As we enter week four of our new reality, I am in awe of the incredible way that our Trinity community has demonstrated flexibility, resilience, and creativity. I have heard your stories of creative problem solving, new routines, and seen evidence of student learning throughout our various platforms. I have heard stories of difficulty and worry, too, and that is to be honored and embraced as well. I suspect that as we go through the continued weeks apart, we will continue to experience a myriad of emotions and responses, not only to the work of school and learning but to life in general.

As a podcast junkie, I am always listening to something, but Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast has been significantly meaningful in these first few weeks. Her quotation above speaks directly to what we are facing globally. We do not have the perspective of having lived a global pandemic and as such, it can lead us to fear or anxiety. What we do know is that the human spirit, particularly in children, is remarkably resilient. In a webinar with SAIS this week, psychologist Michael Thompson spoke beautifully about the resiliency of children and their ability to come out of this new experience stronger. I found comfort in his reminder. 

This week, we will focus on a routine for learning that we hope to remain consistent for the rest of our days out of the building. This was part of our intentional method to find the “goldilocks” space for distance learning. We continue to evaluate and relish feedback from our families. This week is Virtual Spirit Week to bring a bit of levity to our homes and screens before we head into a well-deserved four day weekend. May this week bring you joy and a peaceful holiday.

Onward,

Sarah

And to our teachers in the UED:

This new reality is challenging for all of us. As the global collective, we have no roadmap for a pandemic. Our perspective is being built each day. It is tapping into zones of resilience, creativity, and problem-solving we may have never known we had. It has created moments of great joy and deep anxiety. I encourage you to articulate both sides of these feelings-to me, to your team, to your trusted folks. This is not the time to suffer in silence, nor is it the time to focus on only the negative of these times. You are rising to the challenge, my friends, and it is a sight to behold. 

This week is the first of what we hope to become our routine schedule for our continued distance learning. Live it this week and provide feedback to ALT as you have time. It is also Spirit Week wherein we hope to remind our community of the joy that knits us together. I encourage you to participate each day as you are able. 

You’ve heard this said in every team meeting last week, and it is written below, but please take Friday and Monday off. Whether you are celebrating Passover, Easter, or just observing rest time, please do so. It is critical that we use these days for renewal for the continued realities ahead. 

Onward,
SBT

How are you communicating around the emotional elements of this crisis with your families and teams? Share with me: @teach2connect

holding the center.

Every plan is different. Every plan is right. Every plan is wrong. These are some of the broad generalizations I have learned in the last few days of our new realities of distance learning and separation. While I feel very confident that our leadership team and teachers have made the right decision to provide a slow roll-out, of course, we are all craving time with one another, especially our students. As we’ve had these initial video conversations this week, I see the spark in the eyes of some of our children and hear the messages that clearly harken to introvert (I love distance learning! I can work at my own pace. I can be in my own space.) vs. extrovert (I miss my friends. I miss the lunchroom. This is not my favorite.) divide.

This has led me to think deeply about the changes in the role of school as the center of community in the last 30 years since I left elementary school. In my childhood, we loved school, but it was not the center of our world. Playing after school in the neighborhood with friends and family time were the centers of my world as an elementary child. (Now, it is important to point out that this was also a public school childhood versus an independent school childhood.) From the shifts in connectivity provided to us through digital tools and social media to the explosion of after-school programming and high-intensity athletics, what serves as the center has changed. Not for better, not for worse, just changed. This is particularly true in independent schools like mine where student’s geographical locations are dispersed throughout a large and traffic-laden metropolis. School is the center of our connectivity. School is the center of our world. 

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Neighborhood Friends before Halloween 1988. (No idea what I was supposed to be.)

Finding ways to hold to our center and redefine our center during this time of distance has become paramount. Creating spaces for our students to connect to teachers and each other is key, but so is redefining what our center might mean. I am finding that increased length walks with my dog (with appropriate distance from others) has helped me, a strong introvert, find peace from 6+ hours of daily video conferencing. I know some families and friends who have craved more connectivity and sought out small group virtual play dates with one another. Some families are re-committing to family games and circling ’round the dinner table. My own sister, a parent of teenagers whose sports, arts, and schooling has been canceled-with little/no distance learning plan, remarked at her increased time to spend with her teenagers; a novel concept in 2020!

No way is perfect. No way is ideal. But we are all, as Brené Brown put it in her new podcast, Unlocking Us, experiencing FFT’s (bleeping first times, or frustrating first times for the non-cursers) in this time of unparalleled uncertainty. Patience, grace, flexibility, and hope are critical character qualities, always, but especially right now. Anger and fear are totally normal and need constructive, healthy outlets. Schools and families are working very to determine and hold their center amid chaos. And if we hear no other message, let this be the one: the center will hold, perhaps even stronger, with so many stories to tell.

Onward, my friends.

 

 

Adjusting.

We have a new normal all around us. The new normal can sometimes change by the hour. On a typical day, I would walk 4-6k steps per day just at school. My day would include meetings with teammates, popping into classrooms, planning ahead, and putting out day to day firest. Lunch would have lots of vegetables lovingly prepared by our kitchen FLIK Dining staff. I would walk past the fish tank and talk to the sea of Nemos and Dories. My desk stands up and my body rarely sits.

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In my new normal, we are effectively using a virtual meet platform to conduct more frequent leadership and team meetings. I am completely surrounded by my two fur children who remind me if a squirrel invader, neighbor dog surveillance, or the sweet amazon truck by singing the songs of their people in a robust forte. My desk is my dining table and for the first time in 18 months, I have a window with sunshine. I have three different screens available to meet up and connect, plan, write, and follow up. I’ve used the time to explore new tools to provide asynchronous learning while still giving a human face and voice. My workday starts around 7:30 as normal and goes as long as it needs to, for now. My teams have seen me making lunch, correcting my furry co-workers, and constantly trying to find the best angle to avoid my neck wrinkles. As an introvert, I’m finding the videoconferences exhausting but I know that I’ll find a groove. I trust it.

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The co-workers

In the new reality adjustment, developing balance is important. Also, a new perspective of what matters is important. The Greater Good Science Center of Berkeley has incredible resources for these ever-evolving and disconnecting times and re-posted a beautiful set of daily quarantine questions created by photographer Brooke Anderson. I adapted these to a checklist for me to find balance and peace in each day. Self-care may be a cliche but it is so very important, especially in these perilous times. Staying well, caring for families, caring for self–all surpasses all things.

I’ve been so grateful for the way that artists, churches, communities, museums, and companies have made space for virtual connection. Online read-alouds, doodles with Mo, visits to the zoo, free access to books for kids and screencasting services for teachers are great opportunities to learn and balms for the weary soul. (Yes, I realize these are also all part of the digital equity gap. That’s another post for another day.)

As I reflect on day four (which feels like day forty), if I could offer any advice, it would be around patience and grace. We are all on very steep learning curves. It might be easy to criticize what someone is doing right versus others. I encourage you to make space for learning and growing, for yourself and for others. (Except for those people who are still crowded on the beach in Florida….those people need to go home.<3) Sending you peace and grace for this time.

What are the gifts of your new realities? What are the thorns? How can I help? Let me know, @teach2connect

 

It’s not just for February.

Yungai-CAU

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Yes, here we are again. That month where in many places, (not yours or mine, of course), the MLK quotes abound and there is a brief glimpse of famous Black Americans here and there and then on March 1st, back to business as usual. Why must we hold all of this for one month? And why aren’t we digging deeply into the rich contributions of Black Americans all the time? Well, I’m not here to get into a deep sociological or political conversation, but rather…how about I share some of the guideposts I’ve seen lately that can help support positive and authentic learning not only in February but all the time? Here you go…

Articles–Some with Lesson Suggestions

Teaching Tolerance: How are You Teaching about Black History?

Beyond Teaching Slavery

Five Ways to Avoid Whitewashing the Civil Rights Movement

Time: How Black Lives Matter Is Changing What Students Learn During Black History Month

Advice for New Social Justice Educators-I Wish I Had Known

HuffPost: 24 Children’s Books for Black History Month (and, whenever)

Epic Reads: 27 Books to Read for Black History Month (mostly YA Lit)

A few books, I’ve mentioned before:

Austin Channing Brown: I’m Still Here-Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Ibram X Kendi: How to Be An Anti-Racist

Podcasts:

Code Switch Podcast: A Code Switch Podcast Playlist for Black History Month

Teaching Hard History Podcast

Standards

Social Justice Standards: Anti-Bias Framework (produced by Teaching Tolerance)

Windows & Mirrors with a side of Standards

How might we use children’s literature to reflect mirrors and create windows for our children?

How might we use children’s literature to meet our goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our curriculum?

These were two of the guiding questions for our full faculty work yesterday as we continuously explore our themes of significance and belonging within our community. Our consideration began by viewing and digesting Grace Lin’s master TEDx Talk (1):

This talk, based on Emily Style’s original article on Windows and Mirrors (2*) within our curriculum, shares Ms. Lin’s personal story of racial bias in literature and childhood leading to a storied career in writing children’s and middle grades literature that highlights the Asian and Asian-American experience without stereotype. Her work provides windows and mirrors for hundreds of thousands of children and adults every year. (We are so excited to welcome Grace Lin to our school this spring!)

Our literacy and DEI teams, and friends of both offered an array of book suggestions to answer these essential questions. Additionally, we considered the framework of “selection-connection-reflection-action” found in Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly’s Reading to Make a Difference (3) Asking ourselves critical questions (p. xx, introduction) such as:

  • “Does the book portray culture accurately without perpetuating stereotypes?”
  • “Does the reader share cultural markers with the characters such as race, ethnicity, or religion?”

In choosing books for the book tasting with faculty, I also chose to make connections to the Teaching Tolerance Critical Practices and Standards for Anti-Bias Education. These standards, available for grades k-12, ground in four themes: identity, diversity, justice, and action. They are written in a way that students can understand and give specific examples of ways to use language appropriately to target standards for students. While I have a fairly deep library of children’s literature that emphasizes windows and mirrors, I chose two books not only for their provision for and connection to these questions and standards, but also because of their rich text, and beautiful illustrations. I also chose two books with windows and mirrors that might be easily overlooked in some classrooms.

My selections:

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The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca and Daniel Rieley (4.) This book is a verse-written story of Temple Grandin from her birth in Boston to her experiences on the ranch to her education and inventions to her success on the speakers’ circuit. It specifically names her disability as autism and speaks of it as “different not less.” It weaves the tale of her masterful brain in a way that allows children to connect to difference, experience empathy, and perhaps, see a mirror of their own divergent and beautiful thinking. (TT Standards: ID.3-5.1, 4. DI.3-5.6-9)

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Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan and Mehrdokht Amini (5.) Oh, how I wish I could share this gorgeous book with everyone I meet. It is rich with vocabulary to explain the customs and traditions of Muslim life while providing ample opportunities to make connections to other faith traditions, customs, and family life. The best word I could use for this book is resplendent. (TT Standards: ID.K-2.1, 2. DI.K-2.7, 8, 10. JU.K-2.11)

SBTReads112019.jpeg Photo Credit: Jill Gough

The book tasting selections crossed the spectrum of DEI categories, reading levels, and purposes. Our faculty engaged in thoughtful and purposeful discussions around the selections they explored and how they might broaden or deepen their classroom libraries or book choices to reflect our framework. As a sidebar, the opportunity to engage in the reading of children’s books with our peers on a beautiful, sunny Georgia afternoon was a delight.

In creating space for both windows and mirrors in our literature, we allow students to connect to themselves and the world around them. With appropriate preparation, the uses of texts such as these lead to deep conversations of identity, diversity, justice, and action that all of our children need to engage in to become compassionate, thoughtful, global citizens.


  1. Lin, Grace. “Windows and Mirrors on Your Child’s Bookshelf.” YouTube, TEDxNatick, 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wQ8wiV3FVo.
  2. Style, Emily. “Curriculum As Window and Mirror.” National SEED Project, School Science Record, 1996, http://www.nationalseedproject.org/Key-SEED-Texts/curriculum-as-window-and-mirror. *This work originates from the work of Rudine Sims Bishop originally published in 1990, found here. While I was most familiar with the SEED article, I’m grateful to my colleague who pointed out the origination.*
  3. Laminack, Lester L., and Katie Stover. Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action. Heinemann, 2019.
  4. Mosca, Julia Finley, and Daniel Rieley. The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: the Story of Dr. Temple Grandin. Scholastic Inc., 2018.
  5. Khan, Hena, and Mehrdokht Amini. Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: a Muslim Book of Colors. Chronicle Books, 2015.

 

Week in Review 11.16.19

SBT’s Week In Review

One Thing I’m Doing (Did) To Push Myself

I made it through concert week! I had rehearsals/performances each night as well as faculty meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday as well as the normal goings-on of school. It is now Sunday afternoon, the concerts are over and its time for renewal before starting over again tomorrow.

One Thing I’m Reading

I’ve been closely following the downfall of the Oregon Project at Nike with formerly beloved Coach Alberto Salazar since one of my heroes, Kara Goucher, began to blow the whistle several years ago. This last week, I’ve read the accounts of Mary Cain, Amy Yoder Begley, and Lauren Fleshman. I’m amazed by their courage, strength, and humility. I hope this is just the beginning (along with the USA Gymnastics/Nassar affair) that finally gets us talking about changing girls’ sports.

One Thing I’m Listening To

I just binged on The Next Big Idea podcast this week. I’ve already read one of the books they discuss (Range), but now have a wish list going of all the other texts on the list.

One Goal I’m Working On

This week, I’m looking ahead to how I’m planning my entire week off for Thanksgiving. I tend to use my time better when I’m busier, so scheduling a balance of work and rest during the week’s vacation is a good idea. (Work meaning reading reading reading!)

One Tool or Resource I Love This Week

I remain ever faithful and grateful for the Goodnotes app. This week, I started to shift to adding articles to it for annotating, as opposed to putting them into my beloved Evernote.  I also use it for all my meeting notes as well as my math classes and sermon sketches. The UI with the iPad/Pencil is just fantastic.

My Favorite Part of The Week

I worked with our new faculty this past week during their session on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We engaged in some identity work using the “Where I’m From” framework found in Reading to Make a Difference. I had done this lesson with our Sixth Graders in an expanded format and it was lovely to share it with our new faculty.