A Conversation

In a few words, we learn so much. We experience the lives of others through their words and often these conversations cause us to reflect on our on days. This is how I would describe the past two weeks for me… full of connections and conversations that had and will have impact on me for a very long time.

I had the wonderful opportunity to work in five different schools (4 districts) in Arkansas. Each of these schools has teachers and administrators working diligently to improve so that their students will be more successful. They are all involved in implementing the Professional Learning Community at Work (PLC) process… in other words, they are focused on collaborating to use evidence to meet the needs of their students.

They are having intentional conversations about what they want students to learn and how they will know. They are taking great steps to collect evidence of student learning and collectively figuring out what to do for students who are not learning or are ready to move on. Leaders are honing their leadership skills so they can support and coach these effective practices. And, while this may all sound systematic and easy to implement, it requires true commitment and deep understanding of why we do what we do.  And, what really plays in to whether a school or district implements with fidelity, are the values and beliefs of the adults that I work with.

If I was to establish a time line or continuum of where each of these schools are in their implementation of the PLC process, there would be  five very different locations. One school recently celebrated its “B” school rating ( moving from a C) because of their hard work over the past two years, another is also on the move with their practices (celebrating being just a point away from moving from a C to a B school). I know that grading schools in general is a hot topic but in these cases, it does tell me that the teachers and leaders are working on the right work. They are paying attention to the students. The other three schools are not as far along but the real celebration is what I heard in these three buildings- adult talk more focused on students and learning. That is what I really loved about my school visits… collective thoughts and actions around what students need.

As I started off by saying in this blog, the conversations of the past two weeks are what really inspired me and made me reflect. iStock_64493419_LARGE-cropped-1080x675 had a chance to meet a young teacher who is very gifted and has experienced living and working in very successful school systems. It seemed to me that he could pick any state to work in and he would have a teaching job. What I love about him is that his decision is to work in a very low performing school and district because of his commitment to the students.

In a twenty-minute conversation with him, he talked mostly about the students. We were in the cafeteria and he called every student by name and was able to share so much about their needs and his dedication to making their world a better place.  He would stop the conversation with me whenever a student passed by us and talk with that student.  His eyes were often wandering the room, looking to make sure that the students were doing ok. When I left the school that day, I continued to reflect on one thing that he said to me, ” These kids deserve great teachers too.” How simple a statement but so impactful in our work.  Without this kind of dedication, it will be very difficult to lift this type of school out of a cycle of low performance.

Sandwiched between my two weeks of work was a chance to connect with my work family. We had a learning retreat and many, many powerful conversations happened there. I always appreciate the opportunity to be a learner and thankful that I can do this with so many people that I love and respect.  Besides being inspiring, it can also be difficult and I had one of those moments as well when my own vulnerability and ability to accept constructive criticism was challenged.  It is one thing to say that we are lifelong learners but it is another to truly model this.  I am so thankful that I have thought partners and critical friends who will always be honest and supportive despite the lessons that we might be learning from each other. You know who you are in my life and I thank you for this.

So to end on a lighter note, I also learned through conversation that I am getting on in my years of experience. Well, I knew this without this reminder but let me tell you what happened. I was doing leadership coaching with a superintendent and sharing some of my past experiences with him. I talked about when I was a principal of a middle school in 1995. He grinned when I said it and then said to me…”Oh Karen, I was in middle school in 1995 too… as a student!”.  The comment stopped me in my tracks for a minute and immediately my thoughts were… oh dear, it must be time to retire.  In the end though, I know that age isn’t the most important thing here- it is the work. What expertise can I share, what knowledge can I bring to the table, what can I observe and coach from and how can I support leaders and teachers make things better for students?  When I stop feeling that I am contributing to this, I will know it is time to retire.

My challenge to you this week is to notice your conversations with others.  What can you learn when you listen? What one thing can you do to take action from something that you learned this week to have impact? Have a great week of reflection and learning through conversation.

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