What Time? Which Work?

As on so many other occasions, I keep saying “I don’t have time.”

Untrue. I have time. I allocate time. I make choices. I spend time and I pay attention and yet these are not exclusively economic transactions. There is always more going on behind the scenes, beneath the surface.

Technically, I don’t have the time to spend writing this post but I am doing it anyway. Look at my tweets on this Sunday morning:

And because the article about the struggle against meaninglessness and precarity in what we call “work” resonated so strongly, I reached out to the friend and colleague who placed it in my path, Paul Prinsloo (@14prinsp) who responded with the following:

So, as my Austrian friend used to joke: “What learns us this?”

In the time that I have, this is the work that I choose to do. It is the work of connecting, of sharing, of contemplating, of wondering.

It is work of the head and also very much of the heart. It is work that matters to me and my community. This is work immersed in call and response. This is work which has meaning but generates no income of its own accord.

Creating caring, critical networks is not the work which demands grit. This is not a struggle of one against all the odds. No, this is shared labor, unscheduled meaning-making, stream of conscious systems thinking. We’re not out to beat anything or anyone – but to nudge, push and engage each other in the process of dialogue that leads to better thinking, wider options, to wise reframing of solutions.

So yeah. I am not writing my report card comments like I thought I would this morning. Instead, I’m doing this: My work mixed in with other people’s work.

That is satisfying – a fine way to spend my time and attention.



Try on someone else’s shoes – Alternative summer PD

Shoes to try on... Pixabay.com
Shoes to try on…

Opportunities for learning abound when we open ourselves to the possibilities.
Here’s an example: My 6 year old son is attending summer day camp at my school this week. For him it’s a novel situation. He’s involved with peers who hail from all over the world and speaks English all day long (instead of German). He’s familiar with the school but is not a student there. He is having a blast and enjoys telling me about all the games they play and what he made during arts and crafts. The difference for me is that I get to take on the role of parent/customer on my home turf. And in this case, it’s awesome.

I drop him off with my smiling and good humored colleagues. He then starts chatting with his favorite counselors, most of whom are alumni or high school students whom I taught or coached at one point. I am also acutely aware of my responsibilities as a parent in making the cooperation a good one: packing him a good lunch, putting on the sunscreen, respecting the pick-up and drop-off times. When I come to pick him up, I get to stand among the other parents: relaxed, unhurried and so glad to be on the receiving end of excellent care and service. My appreciation for what my colleagues do in these days to challenge, encourage and delight my youngest is immeasurable. What a gift it is to be able to experience the operation from the other side!

This got me thinking about how valuable it can be for us not only as educators, simply as people, to shift our typical perspective and try on someone else’s shoes for a bit. It might be as easy as acknowledging the good work that someone is doing with your child or children and considering the specific elements which contribute to making that a reality. Other contexts present other opportunities. Listening to my oldest son describe the details of his creative process in putting together a well edited video of his last big drum and bass set and feeling his disappointment when the rendering got stuck some 20 hours in helped me think about the challenges of making art and the personal investment it requires. While researching for my coaching practice I recently enjoyed a conversation with a high school principal in which I asked him about the demands, rewards, and challenges of his job. The anecdotes and reflections he shared with me proved thoroughly enriching and enlightening. My curiosity was rewarded tenfold thanks to his openness and a generous time frame. He afforded me the chance to try on his leadership shoes and all I did up front was request a conversation.

Going to a conference? Take advantage of being the participant/learner and benefiting from someone else’s efforts to enhance understanding, generate enthusiasm or spark action.  And before you unleash the criticism, remind yourself of the bravery and preparation that most likely went into creating the offering. If you were his or her coach, what feedback would you give to help that person do better the next time? Try on the shoes.

While the summer is a great stretch of time for educators to explore a variety of professional development options, it can also provide countless opportunities for us to engage in the other PD: Personal Development. In these situations we can actively strengthen and grow the greatest difference-making resource we have at our disposal: our full humanity. That said, I see that  the muscles I really need to train this summer are : outreach, connection and perspective.  There are so many different shoes out there to see and try on!  My PD agenda just got a whole lot richer and deeper.

Call – Connection – Response

As often happens when a link catches my eye through a twitter referral, I “click” and am suddenly immersed in another’s thoughts while mingling them with my own.  Today I read two posts nearly back to back.  The first, written by a freshly retired English teacher (http://teacherbiz.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/guest-post-my-mom-a-retired-english-teacher-reflects-on-recent-changes-in-education/), lamented the significant human losses which seem tied to increasingly rigid reform efforts in education.  There was, on the one hand, the tremendous authenticity of Mrs. Jolley’s voice and on the other, the very sad truths she was relaying through poignant vignettes and clear-eyed observation.

Shortly following that I found myself caught in another lament, this time not directly related to education but to a wider social phenomenon: facebook (http://pernillesripp.com/2013/12/30/facebook-the-great-disconnector). Pernille Ripp takes a stark look at her facebook engagement to date and finds it lacking – in depth, texture and the nuance of more authentically sustained relationships.  She refrains from blaming the medium or true facebook fans and questions exactly what it is she is missing along the way. And from that reflection she resolves to renew important relationships with more face to face contact, letter writing and phoning.

What’s interesting here for me is the emotional impact of both posts on me.  In both cases I felt moved, touched and very grateful for the eloquence and bravery of those who are able to write honestly and passionately about what matters.  In short, I experienced resonance.  In both cases, there was a call to listen – hear the story, try on this perspective.  Both authors made this step both compelling and easy for me.  In reading, I gained a sense of connection.  I empathized, became curious, wished to learn and hear more from these teachers. And then, there was the response: first a feeling turned thought trajectory and now a blog post.  Call – connection – response: A process, a mental-emotional happening, an experience with legs.  As I continue my engagement with social media, this process will be a template I will want to bear in mind.

Many thanks to Pernille Ripp and Susan Jolley for the inspiration!