My Two (or Five) Cents

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-12-20-00-pmSo many of us are so tired this time of year. The tape plays, “I’m so tired…I’m so tired of being tired…I’m so tired of not making any progress…I’m so tired of this sh%#ty system…” and it goes on. And on. It can wear on anyone, most especially someone in charge of the care and nurturing and education of other human beings. As you go into this very important break, my two (or five) cents on how to spend your vacation:

1. Honor your feelings. You are doing the work of warriors and of course you’re exhausted.

2. Take stock of the people around you at work (and elsewhere, including your social media feeds). Do they inspire you or depress you? Energize you or deplete you? Generally great folks or generally assholes? Purge the pool liberally.

3. Monitor the tape running in your head. “I’m so tired” makes you more tired, which makes the tape run again. Which makes you more tired. Next thing you know you can’t get out of bed. “I’m so looking forward to resting” is far more productive. “I’m so grateful to give of and take care of myself” is even better.

4. Rest. Don’t fake rest. Don’t pretend to want to do work and then resent it. Make a realistic work plan for 2 of the ten days off. The other 8? Deep rest. You can’t give from an empty cup and no one enjoys a martyr.

5. Do a triple venn diagram with these three topics: serves my curiosity/passion, serves my soul, serves my personal/professional growth. Whatever is in the center of all three will fuel you through the new year. Reflect on that thing this break. Then in the new year, do that thing with an open heart and open mind.

Blessings to you, Teacher Warriors. Thank you for all you do for our kids, each other, and me. I love you.

Serving One Another, Serving our Students

A note to a teacher I coach. A note to all of us. #theteachertribe

Hey Love.

Hold space for them to share their worries. Reassure them that they are safe with you. That you love them. That everyone you know loves them and they are safe with them too. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over one million voters. This is not a referendum on hate; it’s a referendum on our system that allows hate to be legitimized by an archaic system.

Had millennials been the only voters, Secretary Clinton would have won by a landslide. Google that for the map image. Show them that image and explain to them how that means the future is safe. We are making huge progress. We just need to keep going.

In the meantime, it’s our job to love and be kind and care for each other. Look in our own hearts and our own homes and our own school to see if we are living the life we claim to want and believe in. If we are contributing to a world we want our children to be raised in. If the values of our school match the values of our teachers and our kids and their families. No? Then we start there.

And then we organize. We band together in solidarity and we fight through and in love. Side by side. You, them, me, and all of us.

Here’s what I know: The degree of darkness in the world is matched by the degree of light. However dark this time is, there are equal parts light willing to fight off that darkness.

You are a part of that light. Trust yourself to know what to do and what to say. You love them. In the end, that’s what they really need to know.

Reach out anytime.

 

Today, We Work.

screenshot-2016-11-10-09-46-04Friends, yesterday we held space. Today, we work.

I got an email from a teacher I used to coach who works in the south. His class is about a 50/50 split in which presidential candidate they and their families supported. The pro-DT half told him they are not racist or sexist and they hate that about the president-elect, but they are pro-gun rights and anti-choice, so he had to be their guy. What should he do, he asks? How does he acknowledge their rights and beliefs and still address that we are in a real problem with regard to how people are already beginning to treat one another on Day 1? I don’t know if I said enough. I don’t know if I said the right things. But this is what I said and this is what I believe and this is what I will fight for until every child in my reach and beyond is treated with respect for who they are. Because that is what we do. #theteachertribe

***

You are in a tough place, friend, and I really appreciate you both being so thoughtful and taking the time to reach out.

A disclaimer, I’m red hot about this issue right now. Yesterday I was sad, today I am mad. Here’s why.

I’m born and bred Bay Area, California; pro-choice and pro-gun control is weaved into my DNA. And, if there was a pro-choice, pro-gun control candidate running for office that said and did the kind of things our president elect has done and said it would not phase me to vote for the other person. To me, basic decency and humanity and the freedom for people to be who they are without worry comes way above anything else, even things that are part of what I believe at my core.

The families who voted for Trump aren’t necessarily racist or sexist or xenophobic. But what they are is complicit. Complicit in the act of putting people, children, in harm’s way. Here’s what I mean: go on to Facebook and look up Shaun King. He is posting post after post of people’s experience with Day 1 of a President Elect Trump. This twitter feed is another place to look https://twitter.com/i/moments/796417517157830656

And this is just a drop in the bucket.

So, no, they aren’t the ones saying all this. They aren’t the ones targeting or harassing or spewing hatred or inciting violence. And, you know that prose we all use when we teach the Holocaust, “First they came for the…then they came for the…then they came for me and there was no one left to speak up for me?” That’s what we’re seeing here. And as long as we allow our privilege to say, “Shit, man, this sucks, but let’s just get on with things and let this go,” then we make it ok for a man who has been called to appear in a pre-trial motion next month for raping a teenager. Women in double digits coming forward talking about how they’ve been assaulted by him. Hundreds of wage workers left destitute because he didn’t pay his bills. This man will be choosing FBI directors and EPA regulators and Supreme Court Justices. And everyone who voted for him will be complicit for the fall out. Just as they are complicit in what children are facing in schools and beyond every day because the adults in this country have made it ok. Truth be told, even those who didn’t vote for him will be complicit if they stay silent. And by they, I mean me too.

Now, how do you have this conversation with kids, you ask? This is the part where you have to take the idea of complacency and bystanders and present it to kids (and your colleagues) in a way that doesn’t make them run away and tell their parents you are insulting them, but does make them think. Think about what we tolerate because “it isn’t happening to me.” We can’t love our country if we don’t love our countrymen, AND our country women, says Senator Cory Booker. And I couldn’t agree more. And loving them means putting that belief in the greater good of humanity above any other policy or political belief. Every. Single. Time.

You have a task in front of you that is daunting as it is important. You are a warrior, friend, and I’m so proud of you for digging deep and stepping into the conversation. You won’t resolve anything but you will offer another very, very important perspective that will seed in their brains and, God willing, grow over time. That is all you can expect from yourself. But do not think that is a small thing. In fact, it is everything.

Big love to you,
Nicole

screenshot-2016-11-10-09-45-48

 

Love.

I started the hashtag #theteachertribe and, soon after, the Facebook group because it felt right. One of those things you do because you can’t not do it. So I did. Then last week I had three people, separately, ask me to tell them about my choices when leading professional development. Each of these three people clarified that they didn’t want to know about the content of the professional development nor did they want to know about the design principles. They wanted to know about the love.

The Love. screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-3-52-08-pm

Love is something I know I lead with. I’m pretty good at a lot of things but I’m only really good at one thing–Love. So I thought about this notion of Love in professional development and then I thought about The Teacher Tribe. And, soon enough, I realized they are one in the same.

Below is my message to my friends and colleagues who inquired. I’m thinking it’s also the message of what I do, how I do it, and why I do it.

#theteachertribe

***

The most important charge I feel I have as a leader of professional development is to create community. It’s larger than this, of course, but this is the center for me. I’m very intentional about grounding whatever group I work with in this intention: a community based in Outrageous Love for ourselves, for our kids, and for each other.

This started for me with one session at a state social studies conference in 2010. I was there to talk about research papers and how important it was for us to teach our kids how to write them, even if it was hard—SO HARD—for us to do. Something in that hour shifted for me as I watched this group of teachers honestly and vulnerably grapple with their challenges and set themselves up for how to persevere anyway. As I watched and listened, I had one thought and one thought only, “These folks are showing up.”

They were showing up, this group of strangers, for each other, in service to their kids. At the end of that hour I knew I had witnessed something special.

It was the spontaneous creation of community.

I did nothing that day but show up, prepared and open hearted, to share what I had learned with a group of folks and hear from them what they knew to be true. And still, this hour took over my heart and mind for days to come. The truth of the matter is, I showed up too.

I realized that day and in the years since that have been extraordinarily lucky to have been able to watch and work with the best of the best. The work of these people is evident in everything I do. I observed them very carefully in order to tease out what it is that made each of them special and then took even more time with all of the lessons from all of that specialness and put it together with a lot of hard-ass work.

Showing up is not glamorous, But it’s true.

What I’ve come to know since that day in 2010 is that many people can be good at teaching just like many can be good at facilitating professional development (the heart of both, I happen to believe, are grounded in the same things). I think what sets people who are great apart from those who are good is the intention and preparation and implementation of not only what is intellectual and academic, but also what is emotional. We have to show up. All of us with all of us; not just all of our brains, but all of our hearts too.

This means really getting clear on our beliefs, what we value, what we want people to do for what reason, and how all of that lives in the art of teaching.

And so…

All of my professional development is based on these Fundamental Beliefs:

  • We can all be our own version of great
  • People know how to solve their own problems
  • People are doing the best they can
  • Struggle, stuckness, and negativity are not flaws; they are fear
  • We have more to learn than we have to teach
  • Students (no matter their age) are our spiritual teachers
  • Teaching and learning are spiritual acts

All of my professional development is grounded in these Core Values:

  • Cultural ways of learning are fundamental assets
  • We must act with all appropriate urgency
  • We are at our best when we are in service to and with others

All of my professional development is geared around these Calls to Action:

  • Find a Way
  • Use your Voice
  • Better Together

All of my professional development is designed to breathe life into these Characteristics and how they live in a classroom:

  • Authenticity
  • Courage
  • Teamwork
  • Service

And then, the hard part. We have to walk the talk. Unabashedly, unflinchingly open hearted in our knowing of ourselves and our work. Come what may.

This is disorienting to some. In a world that purports the importance of an intentionally crafted image, showing up vulnerably yourself can be unsettling to others in the room. People usually end up feeling one of two ways: intense relief or intense skepticism. Both are ok. Because people are absolutely free to feel how they want to feel. You know you are showing up clear and focused and prepared. How they receive you and your work is, frankly, none of your business.

What is your business is the act of preparation. It is inexcusable to ask for someone’s time and then to waste it. You must be organized. You must be well read. You must have a stimulating lesson plan that is both reflective of best practice and thoughtfully designed with your audience in mind. In short, you must be on point.

Included in preparation is the intentional creation of a space where people can feel held in their discomfort. Where people can stretch and test and expand and fill up—intellectually and emotionally. A place where they can question you and each other, a place where they can disagree with you and each other. And all of it is ok because we recognize and respect that we are living our fundamental beliefs, our core values, our calls to action, and our character. And, above all, all of it is ok because we are here in service to each other and our kids.

This shows up in every instructional decision and move we make. We tell people what we are doing, how we are doing it, and why we are doing it. We admit our mistakes and our misunderstandings and when we misspeak or hurt someone and even, especially, when we simply don’t have an answer. We appreciate people for who they are and what they do and the art of teaching they have come here to develop. They have come here to develop it with us. That is humbling and it is an honor for us to hold with great respect.

So we tell people we appreciate them. We tell people we love them. We tell people we are inspired by them and we do so because it’s all true. We do appreciate them and love them and are inspired by them because we truly believe people are doing the very best they can. More to the point, everyone in the room has assets and gifts we don’t. Our job is to seek them out and let them shine.

Because when people shine, they are more open to learning. And once they learn, they shine some more. Learning is a feedback loop and there are only two directions that feedback loop runs: toward love or toward fear. We must choose and act wisely and with precise intention because our most important job is to get that learning loop going in the direction of love.

Each and every time I facilitate a professional development experience, I work extraordinarily hard to prepare and to deliver in the name of love.

For me, love starts with community.

For me, that is the very essence of #theteachertribe

The Curve Ball

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 3.48.44 PMI’ve made it clear to the universe and my family and friends that this will be my last year teaching in a traditional classroom in a traditional high school. Something else awaits and, while I know not yet what it is, I know that something exists. Something that does not deplete this introvert’s energy so completely, something that does not weigh on this soft heart so heavily, something that, after 19 years of teaching high school, will offer me a new and exciting professional challenge and will allow me to use my gifts in a way that serves me as much as it serves others. It’s out there and I trust it’s bought a ticket to get to me and it will be here sooner rather than later.

And yet.

I walked to the computer lab from my classroom today, all the way down one hall, through and down the breezeway, and all the way down another hall.  The whole way there I was greeted with smiles and hugs and high-fives and kindness. Doors were held open, papers I dropped were picked up, offers were made to carry my bag. This relentless warmth from students past and present, sent my way for particular reason other than they saw me walking down the hall, filled my chest with breath and made my eyes wet with tears.

I met my third period at the computer lab where the big topic of conversation was the SAT’s most will be taking tomorrow morning. So many worried about such a high-stakes test, more so than the average set of seniors because these kids are almost all first-generation college students who see higher education as the way out of the struggle most of them live as a daily way of life. Their grades are great, their extra-curriculars are strong, their habits—considering they are still teenagers—are mostly solid. The only thing standing in the way between them and their dream school is this one test and they are scared to death.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do in a situation such as this. We set the study of leading economic indicators aside and we had a Life Skill Moment.

“Here’s what I know,” I said. “You are all wonderful, smart, capable young adults who will go on to make this world one I want to grow old in. My SAT scores were low and I didn’t get into the big impressive schools I wanted to get into as a result. You know what? I ended up exactly where I was meant to go. Exactly. I got an outstanding education at a beautiful school, made life-long friends, met the man who became my husband, and have gone on to live the American dream many of you so desperately want.

“Letting one stupid-ass test get between you and that dream is one stupid-ass choice. It’s one test on one day in your whole entire life. If it goes well, great; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Any school that is going to turn you away because of how you scored on one test is no school you want to attend anyway.”

They looked at me, eyes wide.

“Did she just say ‘stupid-ass’?” one student whispered.

“I think she did,” replied another.

Eyes wider. Mouths opened. And then the clapping. And then the cheering. It reverberated down the hall so loudly that another teacher came into see if we were ok.

Yeah, we’re ok, I mouthed and nodded. We’re actually great.

Who leaves this? Who walks away from kids who are so anxious to show you their love and appreciation? What kind of “something” could possibly give me more reward than this thing?

And yet.

Next to parenting, this is the hardest work that exists in the world. To be a teacher, a great teacher, it takes the deepest and most honorable kind of intention and thoughtfulness—on levels both academic and human—not to speak of the hours both at home and at school.

I’ve been doing this work all of my adult life. Teaching is just what I do. It’s as natural and close to my heart as mothering. I don’t know how there can possibly be another job that is better suited to who I am and what I do.

I also don’t know that there is another job that is least suited to who I am and how I do it.

It seems there is no easy answer. It seems that just when I think I have it figured out, God throws me the curve ball called “Are You Sure?”

I am sure.

And yet…