A Guide not a Gospel

If you did not know, I love food.  Books about food are my passion.  If I am not reading an education book, you can safely bet I am reading about eating or cooking food.  I don’t just read about it.  I do it all-eat, talk and cook food.  I would not be bragging to say I am pretty good cook.  I can read recipe and see if it will be something that will work in my world.  I also know what changes I need to make in order for my family to enjoy it.  Of course, this ability was something I was not born with. It took time and mistakes.  This same passion has been transferred to my own children.  image

So what does that have to does my passion about food have to do with teaching and education.  Last night I was reading Mastering Pasta by Marc Vetri (yes this great bedtime reading) and the section, Recipes Need Cooks, screamed to me about education. He discusses a recipe is like GPS we still need to drive the car to get to the location.  Marc also discusses all of the factors that impact a pasta recipe.  Little did I know when the wheat was grown can change how pasta behaves.  Below are quotes that spoke to me:

A recipe doesn’t just work or not work.  The cook makes the recipe work.

The idea is to be engaged.  Engage yourself in the act of cooking.  Look at the recipe as a guide not as gospel.

The only true path to the quest of mastering pasta is to continue making it.

So often in education, teachers are given a program to teach.  Often times, it is scripted and teachers feel that they cannot stray from the script.  We often follow the script without understanding the why.  If we don’t understand the why, we will either sound like a robot or we will go off script.  Either way when our results don’t reflect what was promised, we blame the system.  This gives us justification to say this program does not work or that we need to come up with a more teacher-proof program.

Of course just like a recipe, a great program is throughly tested.  It may not have been tested for all factors.  It is our job as educators to be aware of all the factors that can change the outcome and make adjustments.

So what do we do as educators or as cooks of a recipe:

  1. Ask lots of questions. How has this been tested?  What research helped develop this system?  Why this and not that?  When we understand the background, we can make informed decisions.  My favorite cookbooks and education books both explain the science before the how-to-do sections.
  2. Pre-read the recipe(script).  If something doesn’t make sense, figure out why.  Continue to ask the questions.  Gather the materials and do the prep.   My husband rages against the machine when he gets halfway down a recipe and it expects something prepped that is never mentioned earlier.
  3. Know your students and tools (ingredients and equipment).   I live in Iowa.  I can’t always find what requested in the recipe so I need to make substitutions.  You need to know that mint extract is not a viable substitution for almond extract.  (Just ask my brother and sister about the time I tried to make fortune cookies with that substitution.)  I know this happens in our schools, we may not have everything we need to follow script.  Our students may not be the same students that it was tested on it.  If we don’t know how to make a substitution, we need to reach out for help.   Read the manual, ask a fellow teacher or even Google it.  We can still be amazing without everything.
  4. Take the time to enjoy the process.  My moments of Zen come when I am in the middle of cooking or in the middle of teaching.  Both times I am fully engaged in the process.   When I am not engaged, I end up with results I am not proud of.  Ask my husband about the time I forgot to add eggs to a waffle batter.

Teachers treat the script as you would a recipe.  Get the background knowledge to understand the system so you can do what is best for your students.  Don’t be afraid to go off script, but be prepared to explain the why you strayed.

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A special thanks to @Bluecereal for being my sounding board on this one.  I love that you are willing to jump in help me with a great title and encouragement to increase my word count.

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My Son Wants to Build a Rollercoaster

It was a beautiful Saturday.  Danny comes running into the house to discuss where we keep the wood.  I do what every good mother does ask why.  Come to find out that he wants to build a roller coaster and big enough for him to ride on.  My knee jerk reaction was “No, you’ll hurt yourself.”  I luckily controlled that urge, leaned it, and asked more questions.  I then did what every good parent does.  I asked him to draw his plan and he did.

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Here he lists the materials and the order. We do need to various colors of paint and wires.

He also included an area to take photos during the ride.  He throughly thought through this and believes that this is do-able.  So I did what my parents did-suggest what that we get a book from the library about roller coasters.  Of course, I went so 20th century on him.  Then a day later, I realized that we have the internet to solve that problem.  YouTube, here we come!  Lesser known fact there are tons of videos backyard rollercoasters and a wide-variety of ways to build one.  Danny & I realized in order to build one of these PVC coasters, we need to up our game.  So we are starting small.  A bird house maybe built soon.  Don’t worry the rollercoaster will get built.

As I reflect on this weekend’s experience, I thought of the young new teacher who is eager to try something new.   How often do we throw water on that teacher’s idea?  We don’t do this out malice.  Instead we do it to out of kindness.  We don’t want them to go through that headache.   Our experience tells us what works and doesn’t work.

We need to remember sometimes others have to figure it out.   A mentor teacher explained it to me this way when working with a new teacher is just like teaching drivers ed.  They won’t learn to avoid the curb if you are always correcting the car yourself.  A little curb check doesn’t hurt anyone.

What if instead of automatically saying no, we lean and ask why and how?  This week it has led to some great moments with my son.  Imagine the great moments that can happen in the classroom if we use that same approach.

Only 2…

A couple of weeks ago, I  received 10 e-mails in the two days.  No I am not bragging.  There was a problem with the server.  This threw me for a loop.  At one point, I was staring at my three devices to see which one would update first.  I sometimes just stared at stared at my computer hoping it would work.   Of course, the internet and all other programs worked.  I am not here to complain about it, but to ponder how much things have changed.

When I began teaching 18 years ago, I was given this computer:

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Actually, I was given 2 of these.  I also had no phone in the room.  If I needed call a parent, I had to walk to the bank of phones in the teacher’s lounge.    It blows my mind that this did not seem like a problem.  I had a system to deal with all of these issues.

Slowly the internet and e-mail made its way into my school.  I remember one of friends saying “Why do they send us an e-mail? Can’t they just put in a memo and put in our boxes?”

Now I have a level of expectation of connectivity. My system is designed to have e-mail available at home, school and on the go.  Two weeks ago, I had to develop a different system.  I made phone calls, walked down the hall to talk to someone and reached out over Twitter.

My two revelations are

  1. Systems change drastically overtime.  I know how I communicate with other teachers, administrators and others will look different in the next 20 years.  I can already see some people viewing voicemail as dead.  I also hear of people complain that e-mail is too much.  I look forward seeing the next generation of communication.
  2. Always have more than one line of communication open.  One of my genius bosses said today, “You have got to communicate multiple ways because not everyone wants to listen in the way you want to communicate.”  I am going to call more, walk down the hall to talk and write a personal note.  I will also explore other ways.

Don’t worry the server is fixed.  I was responding to an e-mail, when I hit send I had 29 new ones.

An opportunity to learn

If you don’t know what I do here is the abbreviated version.  I help support a teacher leadership grant in my school district.  What does really mean?  I help teacher leaders grow in their practice and give them support they need to be successful in the schools.  This is not a story about what I taught them or the PD I led. Instead this is a story about how I was inspired by the lead teachers in my district.

This year we have asked our teachers to use an activity log to document their release time as well as reflective tool for them.  This e-mail came in that said, “so it would be awesome if we heard direct feedback and/or real examples of how teachers used the log this week at our meeting Wednesday.”

As every good leader, I took this suggestion seriously.  I sat down this weekend to read through the logs and give feedback.  I expected to read simple short ideas.  I also expected that it would be a compliance check.  Instead, I read beautiful inspiring reflections.  These teachers spoke about their strengths, hopes and weaknesses.  The honesty about their role was real and powerful.  I became even more humbled to work with these leaders. The reflections became so engaging that a simple afternoon project became so much bigger.  I was so inspired by the realness of the reflections that I created my own.  In the days I have used it, I have found it invaluable.  It allowed me to reflect on my interactions with other teachers and others.

Reading the activity logs also helped me with my own practice.  I was struggling with my Wednesday PD.  I started completely wrong.  As I read a lead’s reflection on her PD, it hit me that I was planning the activities instead of asking the most important question “What skills and knowledge do I want my lead teachers to walk out with?”  Once I adjusted my focus it came together so much smoother.

Today, I visited with the e-mailer and thanked her for her e-mail.  I then told her about her impact on me.  How my practice became improved because the knowledge of the teachers in leadership.

My take-away: Every opportunity is opportunity to learn and every person has something to teach us.

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