Moving a Mountain

Mountian blog

Earlier this year I wrote about my shift from my previous district, a very small, K-8 district to one almost 50 times the size.  While I had worked in my previous district for eight years, I had seen lots of positive movement over that time.  Some of it was even brought about by me.  I was hoping that, upon arriving in my new district I would find it significantly ahead of my previous one in many ways.  Instead I found a large mix.  There are people who span the spectrum of development in effective tech use and integration.  No matter where individuals or districts my sit on the spectrum, it has always been my drive to move them in a positive direction. This has been no different since I have arrived in my new district and school.

On Friday the district held a PD Innovation Summit.   The day started off brilliantly with the students from our High School giving us a sneak peak of their upcoming musical, Hair Spray.  They were fantastic and kicked off our day with positive message of acceptance and love.  It was then followed by a fantastic keynote by Rich Kiker.  If you have never heard Rich speak, it is worth your time.  More importantly, it was exactly what our district needed to kick off a day of learning.  Rich shared an incredibly positive message while challenging thinking, asking us all to be better, and pressing our understanding of what teaching is and will be in the future.  I heard many teachers afterward talking about his engaging style, but even more talking about his inspiring message.

I then spent the next 3 hours sharing and teaching about Tourbuilder.  The sessions were my first as an “official” Google Certified Trainer and between my personal feeling and the verbal feedback (still awaiting survey feedback) they were extremely well received.  I had a large variety of people from the district in my sessions so I had to get creative with purpose and application.  A conversation about “these types of days” with another teacher before the event started gave me a strong perspective on how to structure my session.  Unlike so many of the sessions I had given before, these people were forced to be there.  They didn’t necessarily care about building digital tours. It was my job to find a way to provide value for everyone in the room, not just the people who wanted to use it with kids.

The most intriguing reflection however, came from the final session. A small group of teachers that were interested in pushing technology and teaching practices forward in the district.  We spent almost two hours talking about where the district had been, how it had progressed, and the challenges of making progress in a place so big.  We aren’t talking about pushing a car up a mountain, we are talking about pushing the mountain.  Understanding the spectrum was important.  Some teachers were using technology and engaging teaching practices fluently.  Others were writing on the chalkboard around a Smartboard out of fear of breaking it.  This conversation led me to a few simple conclusions about moving the mountain.

  1. Those of us at the bottom can’t push too hard on our own.  Even teacher leaders must be mindful of the way in which we push our peers.  If we don’t push, they won’t move at all.  If we push too hard, they will resist with all they have in them.  We need to provide a constant, gentle nudge in the direction of progress for the majority of people.
  2. Widespread changes will only really take a stronghold in a district when administration is fully bought into the change.  If the district leadership is still content to function in the “old way” without embracing changes, many teachers won’t invest.  While the teacher leaders can make a difference, without those above them, it becomes an incredibly difficult task.
  3. Moving the mountain takes a lot of help.  You need to develop a team of others who share your vision for progress.  Unlike in a small district where one person can move the needle quite a bit, and a small group can make meaningful differences, a large district requires many leaders, all providing their gentle nudge, with a common vision.

The Summit left we with many things to ponder.  The messages that started the day, the new perspective I gained on presenting, and the remarkable open discussion that took place about moving the district forward in the future, all left me a better teacher than before the day began.  That, I can say definitively, was the most useful district PD day that I have been a part of in my career.  While there were minor things I would have changed, I have left with hope.  Not just because I was able to get better, but because I once again believe it is possible to move the mountain.


Do All the Things


Over my entire career, but even more so in the past several years I have continued to push myself to learn and grow.  I realized a while ago I would not be able to do everything, nor could I learn everything.  Instead, I made it a point to focus on the things I needed or that I was most passionate about learning. Doing so has lead me to some incredible experiences.  In the past few months, I have heard more than ever before, “I don’t know how you do all that you are doing!” I am by no means the busiest person I know, nor the most accomplished.

It made me think more about the “how” in what I have been doing rather than the “what” or the “why”.  I have talked on social media, at conferences, and in general discussions, about the need for kids to learn time management.  As someone who struggled with many executive functioning skills as a child (organization, time management, and more) I have repeatedly called for the scaffolding and building of these skills.  The “how” in  creating that is the subject of other posts, and possibly many other ways of sharing.

Instead, I am focussing on the “how” of getting things done as an adult, a full time educator, and a full time parent.  Getting things done comes down to two things, time management and wanting to get them done.  You cannot learn the desire, but you can learn the time management.

Being an effective manager of my time starts with a few simple things.  First I start with some questions:

  • What is the most important thing/things I need to do today?
    • This typically involves my family or my job, or both.
  • What times do these things need to happen?
    • We ask this for 2 reasons
      • 1. If it is the most important thing it is going to get done regardless of whatever else I put on my schedule.
      • 2. I don’t want to assume I will get anything else done during those times.
  • What other projects am I currently working on that I need to fit into my schedule?
    • I typically have 6-10 different projects I am working on at a time.  Some of them have long term deadlines, others have no deadlines.  Occasionally they have a short turn around.
  • What part of that project can I achieve?
    • It is good to look at how I can break a project into smaller parts.  I cannot accomplish an entire project in the short periods of time that I typically get to work on these “non-essential” projects.  They need to broken down into smaller tasks.
    • Accomplishing a small task gives a sense of accomplishment and moving forward in a project rather than one of procrastinating.  I am not putting a project off, I am making small but steady progress toward my goals.
  • Do I have all the things I need to complete this part of my project?
    • If yes, I have no reason to put it off.  In the one or more hours I can devote to ancillary projects during a given day, I make sure that I work on that task for some amount of time.

This is just a simple process that takes place in my head at all times.  Today, my goals included getting a new blog post up, reading some of a draft manuscript for a friend, and completing some paperwork.  The most important things on my schedule were to spend quality time with my family (which took place from the time my daughter woke up, until the time she went to bed) and to get a few items from the store to be ready for the week.  Once both of those were accomplished I was able to write a blog post, read a few chapters of the manuscript, and even enjoyed time for some relaxation (watching a movie.)  I found I was unable to complete the paperwork because the site required it be completed before I was able to start.  That changed what I could accomplish and thus I now adjust where that goes during my week.

All of this seems simple, but really working to manage time is difficult.  I still sometimes fail to successfully juggle all the things.  Setbacks don’t mean I stop picking up the balls and tossing them.  I do not claim to be an expert on time management, and I marvel at people doing far more than myself.  Having multiple people comment on how I do “so much” simply made me reflect and take a closer look at a process that I have internalized.  Perhaps it will cause others to reflect on what they do to make sure they can “do all the things?”