Friday, May 29, 2015

The Coach

Day 1
It was Memorial Day, a windy day, and one that my kids were beginning to drive each other crazy. After dinner, I told them to go outside to play, hoping this would top off a wonderful weekend of family time. What I didn’t realize was that my kids would once again orchestrate a beautiful moment, one of which I am still in awe.

My husband and I were cleaning up dinner, when he saw it. “Amy, you have to come here.”  As I looked outside the window, I saw Gus (my middle son) holding on to Atticus (my youngest son) and the little Spider-Man bike without training wheels. While I couldn't hear a sound, I could imagine the conversation as Gus coached Atticus on the ins and outs of riding a bike without training wheels. I have to remember that it was only about a month ago that Gus mastered this same feat. Since then, Gus has been determined to help his little brother learn how to ride his bike, but I never imagined he would be Atticus's coach. The moment struck me so profoundly, that I grabbed my phone and started recording. Here is the video.

After this point, Travis and I walked outside to greet the boys and "find out" what was going on. We encountered such positivity that it was absolutely contagious. Gus was jumping around, cheering on Atticus, and despite the falls and a few tears, Atticus met every one of Gus's demands, listening, taking it all in. We took a couple more tries then went in for the night, with enough adrenaline to keep us going for days.

Day 2
The boys were pumped to get home from school on Tuesday. After dinner, they were back outside again, ready to go. Atticus was not as apprehensive, because there was his coach, Coach Gus, already giving him a pep talk before his shoes were on. Coach Gus grabbed the bike and off they went. With Gus's words of encouragement and a lot of excited jumping, here is video of Day 2.

I'm still in awe, a little giddy, and so proud.

Kids have an innate desire to learn. And they want to inspire others around them to learn as well. What I witnessed was kid-centered and kid-driven. It was empowerment and positivity. Leadership and problem-solving. If I intervened, it would have absolutely ruined the moment, the momentum, and the desire. Gus ran the show, he had the stage, and he believed so whole-heartedly in his quest that nothing was going to stop him. And Atticus believed and trusted his older brother to guide him and be there for him. It still takes my breath away.

It is so hard to take a back seat and let those moments happen. We are trained to guide and be there for our children at all moments.  We are trained as educators to be the conductors and create the experiences for our students. But when those moments happen, they are magical. Allowing these moments is a gift and this gift should be treasured more often. Giving our students this freedom to delve into their passions and interests along with teaching each other is more important today than ever before. We need more moments like this to stretch our kids thinking and their creativity. We need more moments like this to instill problem-solving and leadership skills. We need moments where students are self-guided, self-motivated, self-directed, and in charge of their learning.

The videos speak for themselves, the power of empowerment and using passion to drive learning. Our kids can teach each other so many wonderful skills and feed those ideas. I can't wait to discover what they have discovered next!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Swim Team

In my PLN, I am a part of the #leadupchat Voxer group. It is an amazing group of people who have truly pushed my thinking and my leadership ability. Last week, a deep thinking question was posted about the continuum of growth and leading, relating it to toe-dipping, wading, or diving in the water. As a leader, when was a time when we made our way through this continuum and how did it unfold, relating to just dipping our toes in the water versus diving right in, even riding the wave as a surfer takes charge? I’ve since thought about the question and how we all fall on this continuum at any given point in time, as in leadership we sometimes need to wade through the water, or dive in, or ride the wave, or just dip our toes in the water, all depending on the circumstances at hand, the relationships with our staff, or a number of other factors. This question came right at the time I was headed to swim practice.
My son, Alex, has recently joined the youth swim team in our town. I enjoy watching him during practices, working hard to figure it all out, learning the strokes and breathing techniques that will make him a better swimmer.  Last week, as I sat back and watched him swim, I took a step even farther back as I sat on the top set of bleachers. It was amazing to watch this unfold in front of me, giving me a new insight to leadership and learning. It took the #leadupchat question to a new level.

At swim practice, there are typically two coaches. They are either at the side of the pool coaching or in the water, depending on the day or the swimmers’ needs at that time. The swimmers swim back and forth, trying out the technique, the skill, listening to and applying the instruction given. And then I saw something I hadn’t quite noticed before. There were a few of the older swimmers in the water with the younger swimmers, swimming alongside them, giving support and encouragement. I stepped back and watched all of this in motion simultaneously. It was remarkable! And not that this concept is new or even rare at practices, it was that I took a step back and noticed, soaking in the moment of all different pieces of instruction coming together at one time.

The swim team practice is much like our schools and classrooms. The coach, or lead learner, principal, teacher, is monitoring it all in motion, giving instruction, direction to meet the students’ needs. At any point in the time, that coach jumps in the water to assist on a deeper level, but he/she is willing to do what it takes to help, just like any leader is willing to do for the betterment of his/her school. But what makes a strong team is those “hidden leaders”, those leaders in the water, empowered by the coaches, to help others.

How often do we take a step back to see the learning? How often do we take a look from “the outside” to ensure the structures of leading and learning are intact, maximizing its effect on the overall purpose of our schools?

Our leading and learning continuum hinges on our ability to take a step back and see what is in front of us. We cannot know whether to dive in, wade, or just toe-dip in our leadership efforts if we cannot sit atop the bleachers and see it all in action. Often times, we become transfixed on one piece, but it is the big picture that can move us forward. Whether you are in the classroom or a leader in a school, we must look and listen to this big picture in order to know what kind of step we need to take next. We need to understand the levels in front of us, see those “hidden” leaders to utilize their impact, and empower them to come to the forefront as leaders in our buildings.

It is easy to get caught in the drill, the day-to-day tasks at hand. However, at the end of this school year, take a step back and see the learning and leading in action. It is then we know our next steps, and how deep to jump into the water next.

photo credit: <a href="">SAM_4570</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Monday, May 4, 2015

Get Back on the Bike!

Learning how to ride a bike without training wheels is pretty intense. I remember my experience, taking off at the top of a hill, and running straight into a lilac bush. Obviously, I remember it well. My dad ran to help me, brushed me off, and said, “Well, let’s try that again. This time, you need to steer away from this lilac bush.” And I did.

My husband and I have tried to teach our oldest son, Alex, how to ride his bike without training wheels for a while now, without success. I have struggled to explain the technique on how to do it, and it has always boiled down to the “feeling” on what to do. “If you feel like you are leaning this way, then move the bars that way. Keep pedaling. Do you feel how you are balanced?” I hold on to his seat as long as I can before I fall because I can’t keep up! And by the time all is said and done, we are all frustrated.  I have video from last summer, and Alex almost had it, then fell and he hadn’t tried to ride that bike since.

For a while, I simply couldn’t figure out why neither of us, both educators, could not teach our son how to ride a bike. I was perplexed. What are we doing wrong? Do we need to watch a YouTube video on how to teach your child how to ride a bike? Why is this so difficult?

It has been fear that has prevented this milestone, not his know-how. A fear of failing, a fear of falling down was the biggest obstacle to overcome. The more we pushed, the more he resisted. Alex needed to do this in his own time. We just needed to keep encouraging him.

Well, this past weekend, we were not giving up on this task, and we overcame it!  It all started with his younger brother, the more daring of the two, giving it a try. Within a short time, Gus was riding the bike everywhere. Clapping ensued, words of praise shouted, and Alex was intrigued. He couldn’t let his younger brother ride a bike before him! So, outside he went, on a mission to tackle this. I could see in his face that he was still fearful, but persistent. He got on the bike, and there he went! He could do it! No practice required! More clapping and praise was shouted from the rooftop.

The day didn’t go without some turmoil and the fear creeping back in. However, every time it hit, we were there, urging him to keep trying, to keep facing it, to keep getting back on the bike. “We are here to help you succeed.”

Resilience. Persistence. Perseverance. The “never give up” attitude. Fear of any unknown can overwhelm a person. However, with persistence and encouragement, anything is possible. Is it always going to be perfect? No. Are we always going to learn something the first time we try? No. But we are resilient, and we will persevere, because we know that is how we learn.

Do we see this resilience in the classroom? This persistence to keep trying no matter how hard the task? The ability to keep getting “on the bike” after we have fallen so we can keep trying again? The encouragement and structures in place to reward the persistent attitude? The flexibility to accomplish the task when it works for each student? The reward when the task is accomplished? 

YES, WE DO!!! And we see it EVERY DAY in our classrooms!!!

Our teachers and students are resilient, persistent, encouraging, and positive through it all. There are tough tasks, tough situations, but teachers and students meet these obstacles head-on, with a positive attitude. Our teachers are NOT afraid to fall off the bike and get back on to try it again. We need to celebrate every step it takes, every accomplishment, every single one. Because resilience is built through persistence, and these are skills necessary to be successful in any venture.

We embody these attributes daily in our schools. Celebrate them!

I applaud every educator, every parent, and every student for their perseverance through the tough tasks, and their uncanny spirit to jump back on that bike and keep trying until the task is accomplished!

photo credit: <a href="">20100409 - Bike Wheel</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>