To help encourage conversations and dialogue about the role that discomfort plays in our learning and growth, our topic/question for the dinner table is: How can discomfort help you learn? Embracing Discomfort (This is an anonymous Google Form)
After a full week of culture building, thoughtful discussions and conversations, and presentations at Blake it has was nice to have the weekend to take a step back, reflect, and 'shift gears' to a slower pace - dinner out with the boys on Friday night, Grayden's baseball clinic Saturday morning ('the art of herding cats'), and some nice down time with the kids and Katie. Sunday afternoon included some reading and 'catching up' on the ever-growing to do list for home and work!
As noted above, in addition to the incredible and important work that takes place every day in classes, advisory, meetings, etc., this past week provided and allowed a wonderful opportunity for the Blake community to, as Colby has shared, 'put a stake in the ground' towards fostering a more inclusive, safe, and supportive learning environment, specifically our LGBTQ students and families. I want to thank the Blake PTO and MCPE for their generous support of these endeavors - a testament to the shared hope and vision we have for our students. I fully recognize that this work has challenged and pushed thinking for many of us (including my own) and appreciate the open and honest dialogue that has taken place. My hope is that the conversations will continue and that we welcome all thinking, convergent and divergent, and that the respectful foundation for this work has been both affirmed and reaffirmed.
Last week I shared some of the notes and thoughts that were 'floating about' in my head, and as part of my reflective process towards the end of this week, I practiced the same exercise of jotting them down. Here they are - please know that I will continue to 'open my door' and keep it open for questions, push back, agreement, disagreement, and dialogue - it will help me learn and hopefully stay grounded in our collective and shared work...
- What we say matters
- Consider discomfort
- Ask questions
- Checking our assumptions
- What does a safe school look like?
- Ideas of advocacy work - how can we foster advocacy?
- Never too late to say sorry
- Finding support in unsuspected places
- Being an ally can start any time
- A willingness to listen is critical
- Colby's hope for all of us - 'Whoever you are - know that you are not alone...wherever you go, you can have a great community...and that community can start here'
Reading through these thoughts, reflecting upon the work we are doing, and looking ahead to upcoming meetings and work we have ahead (curriculum planning, master scheduling, interviews, planning for 17-18 and beyond, and trying to keep 'the balls in the air), it is important for me to remember that the process of true learning and growth is messy, uncomfortable (at least appropriately uncomfortable), non-direct, and unpredictable. We need to all keep this in mind and the posts below have helped me and will be ones I am sure will be 'recycled' and 're-referenced' in the future. (I may need all of you to help remind me as well!)...
Being OK With Discomfort
by Leigh A. Hall (@leighahall)
I came across this post on Twitter this week and the title of the post drew me in right away. As one who can have a hard time embracing change, it is a mantra/belief that I am learning each day to appreciate more and more.
And as I was experiencing all this, I realized something – my being ok with discomfort has some implications for how we think about our teaching.I do things in my classes that push on students’ comfort level all the time. Sometimes I know to expect this, and others times I am surprised when it happens. I ask students to do more than sit for a lecture, write a paper, look for “right” answers, and pass the class. I expect them to contribute – even have input on how the class is shaped – and sometimes I give very loose directions for assignments on purpose (see the Explore Project as an example). I don’t set up assignments/experiences for students with the sole intent of making them be uncomfortable. I just recognize that some of what I do may come across as non-traditional to them (I really don’t think it’s that out there) and as a result make them uncomfortable.
So we all get stuck. Sometimes getting unstuck requires you to engage in a certain level of discomfort. I’ve been lucky in that my yoga practice has forced me to learn how to engage with discomfort. Well, no it didn’t. It presented me with the opportunity and at some point I started to engage with it. I’m sure I ignored it for awhile because it’s not fun. Engaging with discomfort is all kinds of not fun, but it’s how we learn. It’s how we grow. In my teaching, I look for ways to push myself. This means that I am constantly putting my self in situations where I have no idea how things will go and yes, I am uncomfortable. As a result, my students might experience some discomfort. I can’t make them engage in it. But I hope they know that doing so is a powerful way to grow.
Embrace the Messiness of Learning
by Megan M. Allen in Education Week Teacher
As much as we may like to think that thoughtful planning and structure will provide for a clean, linear learning process, we all know that the process is messy and non-linear. With any growth or learning opportunity, we need to acknowledge and welcome the messiness - Allen's words hold true.
I remind myself learning is messy, confusing, and nebulous, especially in the beginning. It's uncomfortable.
Why do we, as adults, expect learning to be easy for ourselves? Why are we quick to give up if it's messy, but teach our kids and students to stick it out? Are we practicing what we preach as adult learners? My call to action, for myself and for you: Learning is messy. It's ugly. But proceed. Deep learning takes struggle and discomfort. Let's model it for our kids. So pick up that guitar, try out a new hobby you are curious about, or take lessons on a beautiful foreign language. Get uncomfortable. Get messy. Reconnect with the murkiness of deep learning again, so you can remember what it's like to be a student in your classroom. Let's wade on in together.
The Real Reason Teachers and Leaders are Overwhelmed
by AJ Juliani (@ajjuliani)
Orla shared this post with me this week and I agree with her that it is one of his (AJ Juliani) best posts. Recognizing and naming the sentiments of frustration and desperation felt by many teachers and leaders in education, he helps to reframe these as steps towards innovation - one of the underlying goals and aspects of the work we do every day. I highly recommend following his blog - a 'must follow'.
In the wake of a new year, I wrote about how pumped I am for education moving forward. But I can’t help to notice the sighs of desperation and frustration inside many classrooms. Most of us got into education because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of our students. Education is the bridge to so many opportunities in this country and around the world. We know as teachers and school leaders the avenues it can open up to any student, and we also know how hard it is for some students to overcome personal circumstances without the help of teachers who care and want to make a difference. It seems that change (and there has been much of it in the last 5, 10, 15 years) frustrates many of us, and leaves us desperate for some consistency in the teaching profession.
So, how do we handle this as teachers and school leaders? How can we keep the frustration and desperation from boiling over and hurting all potential progress? More importantly how can we make sure the frustration and desperation does not trickle down to our students and impact their learning experience in a negative way? Well, we can start with these guiding beliefs:
1. Change is constant, let’s focus on how we manage it
2. Don’t wait for training, be a learner, go out and seek it
3. Focus on the important things (many of these do not change)
If we choose to let frustration and desperation get the better of us…then we choose to miss the silver lining: Innovative ideas come out of frustration. We tend to think of creativity and innovation as something that happens outside the box. But I would disagree. The most creative and innovative work comes from circumstances that force a new type of thinking for solutions inside the box.
So, why share these ideas and why embrace discomfort? There are many reasons that I could list (and I hope we will hear more through the topic/question of the week), but for me it really comes down to our essential question, our mission, and the mantra of 'a willingness to adapt'...
Essential Question: How can we cultivate and curate the progression of student learning and growth?
Mission: Blake Middle School believes in a living mission statement, based on the concept that our community seeks and respects knowledge, integrity, character, wisdom, and the willingness to adapt to a continually evolving world.
Looking ahead the words of President Kennedy can be another 'mantra' or compass point to keep us centered and 'on track' - embracing messiness and discomfort, while knowing there is a community at Blake that is safe, supportive, and open...