All posts by Pam Gildersleeve-Hernandez

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Habits and Balance

Our habits and are the behaviors we engage in without really thinking about them. Changing habits takes time to become routine and real dedication until automaticity takes over.

Take brushing your teeth for example. Most of us have a routine in the mornings and the evenings around brushing our teeth that we would never give up. The habit is important to us and ingrained in our every day lives. Creating this same dedication and automaticity to the what brings us joy and balance is equally important.

Identify who and what brings you joy. Are there distractors currently getting in the way of giving them full time and attention? What do you need to do to set clear space and boundaries to give the most important things in your life the time that they deserve?

There is a lot of fun to be found in spontaneity and yet, to fully enjoy the habits that bring balance to our lives, there’s wisdom in scheduling windows of time where we can just go with the flow of what comes before us. On either side of that spontaneity, allow habits to develop that bring balance to your life.

It can be as straightforward as:

-Turn your phone upside down so you don’t get distracted by notifications -Set an alarm with a sound you enjoy ten minutes before transitioning to the next activity -Use the sound of the alarm to wrap up meetings and conversations as you share your dedication to maintaining a fully balanced you. If you’re meeting or talking to someone and they need more time, offer them a way to connect again.

You’re on your way to developing the habit of being fully present in every moment, with every task, and in the activities that bring you joy.

Habits and Balance

leadership

Habits and Routines – Let’s Create Some White Space

It’s time to set new habits and routines. Summer bring about a warmer mindset that from colleagues as we work together to adapt work schedules and responsibilities as we take time off. Not taking time off? Please reconsider. Work will be there when you get back.

Slowing down our minds and allowing the opportunity for mental white space allows us to be our best selves at work and at home. Our work brains can become overrun with decision fatigue that in today’s culture we often counteract with a solid dopamine hit in checking social media feeds, messages, and emails. Creating the conditions for white space starts with scheduling, yes schedule that time and preplan how you are going to resist the urge to grab a device to scroll through whatever your metaphorical lizard brain is calling for.

As a society we have developed socially accepted habits that allow us to frequently repeat picking up our devices for a variety of reasons. Frequent repetition creates habits that result in automaticity and the dopamine response plays a powerful role in the choices we make.

Set some time aside each day that you can set boundaries around when the work pace picks up again. Give yourself permission to be the best you by taking this time. Think back to times when life felt balanced or you were “bored.” What were the conditions that allowed for that? Are there things from your teen years or your 20s that you really enjoyed that you’re now “too busy” to do. Think back to something that you have loved doing that has fallen out of your routine and add it back in.

Here are some ideas:

-Grab a book that is written for pure pleasure reading -Join an adult sport’s league -Go swimming -Get a group together on a weekly basis to watch a specific show or ballgame -Go for regular hikes or walks and explore the outdoors -Go bike riding for pleasure

Whatever you choose to do:

-Schedule it -Set boundaries around the time -Set a mental plan to counteract any distractors that may come up -Set a mental plan to not give in to the urge to check your device -Communicate what you’re doing

Now enjoy!

Habits and Routines – Let’s Create Some White Space

leadership

Time to Rejuvenate and Build Leadership Habits That Will Last

It’s time to rejuvenate!

Summer is here bringing the season of warmth and longer days.

The first leadership habit that we need to master is self-care! Summer is a great time to get started and to reinforce habits that are already in place. Leaders who know how to take care of themselves know how to take care of others.

Feeling selfish at the thought of focusing on you? Taking care of yourself will give you the energy and mental space that will continue your success in being able to serve.

Wondering about how to set the boundaries with those habits, colleagues, bosses, friends, and family members that may veer you of course? They’ll adjust with you as you share your goals with and are consistent in your pursuit.

We’ll be spending some time on this blog in the coming weeks focused on committing and recommitting every day to the habits that help us avoid burnout and lead from where we serve.

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As 2020 Draws to a Close, Let Us Not Lose This Moment!

2020 – a year of heartbreak, great loss, stir craziness, divisiveness, and yet also a year filled with bountiful blessings. As I reflected on the end of the year in December of 2019, in Influencing My Heart, My Mind, My Soul, I wrote, “As 2019 draws to a close, I am mindful that my greatest teacher this year was life itself, the curveballs that you cannot see coming.” This statement could not be more true as 2020 comes to a close.

As mindful as I was of the blessings of 2019 at this time last year, it is with this same mindfulness that I am struck more than ever by the extraordinariness of the blessings of 2020. Some of the blessings have brought great joy while others are blessings have come disguised in pain. There are blessings disguised in pain and discomfort from which we can learn. The painful and uncomfortable blessings of 2020 create the opportunity to lift ourselves up and to meet the crisis of injustice head on in our actions. The blessings of these painful moments serve as the catalyst for moving us beyond being a society of complacency or tolerance of the injustices that live just below a facade; a facade that our systems are functioning in an acceptable manner of distribution of resources and justice.

There are, of course, the exceptions. We have leaders who have intentionally entrenched themselves in the work of understanding and working towards dismantling systematic injustices before the whole world got this year’s up close and personal view of how harmful this state of denial and lack of knowing has been. The curtain has been pulled pack on how significant the unequal distribution of resources, including access to internet and devices which increase the divide in access to opportunity. This same technology, internet and devices, laid bare the hateful underbelly of racism, not only in the United States but in nations around the world. Video captured the undeniable truth that the divisive intentions of Jim Crow laws from the 1800s continue to have been passed down through values a large segment of society of have benefited from upholding. The hiding of our nation’s full history by not including it in the content of the curriculum that is taught in our schools has left large portions of our communities to live uninformed and thus in confusion both about the anger behind the impact of racism and a society based on patriarchal values.

This image by Doug Mills of the New York Times serves as a strong visual of the why behind the deep disenfranchisement felt by the constituencies not represented in the decision making processes that effect our daily lives. In a nation where white men make up 31% of the population and men make up 49% of the population, we can do better.

President Bush met with Congressional leaders and the presidential candidates on Thursday.

It is no secret that 2020 was hard, really hard! As we head into 2021, we have the opportunity to stand resolute in not allowing systematic injustice to once again fall into a comfortable state of tolerance. The deeply entrenched system that has allowed these injustices to flourish is already showing signs of falling back into the acceptable mainstream of how things are done. Complacency and exhaustion bring with them the risk that we lose the power of this moment in history to make changes that steer the trajectory of our nation’s future and not just put bandaids on this juncture in time.

As the global community came screeching to a halt in March of 2020, a stark awareness set in that government, private industry and the citizenry would need to work together to survive the impact of the Coronavirus. We all needed to work together to provide access to the resources required for daily living to educating our children and being able to work. As a nation and a global community, we largely met the moment, but only for a moment.

As decisions are now made to encourage having students from marginalized communities return to school first, and called for in the name of social justice, we must be wary that this call also holds the power to walk away from the real issues, the inequities that uphold the system that denies access to opportunity. We live with the moral imperative to provide the needed infrastructure at affordable costs that will build the bridge from marginalization to access and opportunity.

This moral imperative digs deep into holding leaders of for profit companies accountable to leading in a manner that allows them to leave a legacy of ensuring that our nation continues it’s dream of being “One nation under God for liberty and justice for all.” The Spring of 2020 showed us what can be accomplished in the matter of mere months when both government and private industry work together in a state of urgency. The state of urgency, the opportunity to create policy and enforce policy to right the wrongs of the past by closing the opportunity gap is in danger of passing us by if we allow our industry experts and legislatures to make decisions out of expediency and short term political gain.

Massive amounts of money are being allocated for short term solutions. As California, as one example, looks to fiscally incentivize return to in person school, it appears that a greater understanding is needed of things really play out in schools and districts. California entered 2020 with a teacher shortage and an administrator shortage, as well as a substitute and bus driver shortage. Burn out levels were already at an all time high. Educators are simply asked to bear too many of the ails that burden society. Not unlike the healthcare, social services, and law enforcement professions, policies and funding tell the story of a society that do not truly value those who work in professions that serve. Look to budgets, look to funding allocations and not sound bites and speeches for the real story about what is most valued.

As the saying goes, “follow the money.” Should schools be incentivized to return to in person instruction quickly, the time and energy that can be spent of putting long term solutions to disrupt the education system that has shown virtually no sustainable systemic growth in student achievement will be diverted to chasing a short term dollar. These short-term one time monies due more harm than good. They serve as a serotonin hit like that of winning $10.00 on slot machine that we dropped $20.00 into, like the serotonin hit of winning $2.00 off a $5.00 scratch off. We lose more than we invest.

The same one time, short-term monies that are being suggested for our schools should be used to stand up community infrastructure that gives every student and every adult 24-7 access to online learning. Learning that can happen through YouTube videos, masterclasses, reading the news, current event videos, creating digital art, working on collaborative projects, creating our own video tutorials (demonstrating application and synthesis if you’re with me on getting us to demonstrate deeper levels of learning in an authentic manner), applying for jobs, to colleges, for financial aid, and accessing healthcare. The same one time short-term money can be used to recognize that we have overburdened educators who’s schools and districts are often not funded at adequate level to provide the basic resources needed to be successful in their positions – home internet, a high quality device for lesson design and instructional delivery, a reasonable work day, and support staff to meet the many non-instructional needs of students, parents, and care-givers in addition to planning and peer collaboration.

Let’s use this money towards designing models that measure what students are learning rather than compliance systems measure seat time. Let’s invest in structures that don’t overburden, burn out our educators, and drive resentment in such a noble profession. Imagine a 2 shift instructional day with class reasonable class sizes that enable teachers to have time to invest in strong relationships with the families of their students. One shift of educators could be available for families who prefer or need mornings to connect with school and the other shift could work with students and families who work or need late afternoon times. Ah, I begin to digress into solution oriented details. Along those lines, I won’t ever pass up the opportunity to say, let’s start with our small schools and districts to create models that we can scale up rather than allocating large sums of money to large bureaucracies and then trying to scale down where fewer resources are available.

As 2020 draws to a close, let us not lose this moment!

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As 2020 Draws to a Close, Let Us Not Lose This Moment!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is moral-dilemna-ahead.jpg

2020 – a year of heartbreak, great loss, stir craziness, divisiveness, and yet also a year filled with bountiful blessings. As I reflected on the end of the year in December of 2019, in Influencing My Heart, My Mind, My Soul, I wrote, “As 2019 draws to a close, I am mindful that my greatest teacher this year was life itself, the curveballs that you cannot see coming.” This statement could not be more true as 2020 comes to a close.

As mindful as I was of the blessings of 2019 at this time last year, it is with this same mindfulness that I am struck more than ever by the extraordinariness of the blessings of 2020. Some of the blessings have brought
great joy while others blessings have come disguised in pain. There has been an abundance of  blessings disguised in pain and discomfort this year from which we can learn. The painful and uncomfortable blessings of 2020 create the opportunity to lift ourselves up and to meet the crisis of injustice head on in our actions. The blessings of these painful moments serve as the catalyst for moving us beyond being a society of complacency or tolerance of the injustices that live just below a facade; a facade that our systems are functioning in an acceptable manner of distribution of resources and justice.

There are, of course, the exceptions. We have leaders who have intentionally entrenched themselves in the work of understanding and working towards dismantling systematic injustices before the whole world got this year’s up close and personal view of how harmful this state of denial and lack of knowing has
been. The curtain has been pulled pack on how significant the unequal distribution of resources, including access to internet and devices which increase the divide in access to opportunity. This same technology, internet and devices, laid bare the hateful underbelly of racism, not only in the United States but in nations around the world. Video captured the undeniable truth that the divisive intentions of Jim Crow laws from the 1800s continue to have been passed down through values a large segment of society of have benefited
from upholding. The hiding of our nation’s full history by not including it in the content of the curriculum that is taught in our schools has left large portions of our communities to live uninformed and thus in confusion both about the anger behind the impact of racism and a society based on patriarchal values.

This image by Doug Mills of the New York Times serves as a strong visual of the why behind the deep
disenfranchisement felt by the constituencies not represented in the decision making processes that effect our daily lives. In a nation where white men make up 31% of the population and men make up 49% of the population, we can do better.

President Bush met with Congressional leaders and the presidential candidates on Thursday.

It is no secret that 2020 has hard, really hard! As we head into 2021, we have the opportunity to stand resolute in not allowing systematic injustice to once again fall into a comfortable state of tolerance. The deeply entrenched system that has allowed these injustices to flourish is already showing signs of falling back into the acceptable mainstream of how things are done. Complacency and exhaustion bring with them the risk that we lose the power of this moment in history to make changes that steer the trajectory of our nation’s future and not just put bandaids on this juncture in time.

As the global community came screeching to a halt in March of 2020, a stark awareness set in that government, private industry and the citizenry would need to work together to survive the impact of the Coronavirus. We all needed to work together to provide access to the resources needed for daily living to educating our children and being able to work. As a nation and a global community, we largely met the moment, but only for a moment.

As decisions are now made to encourage having students from marginalized communities return to school first, and called for in the name of social justice, we must be wary that this call also holds the power to walk away from the real issues, the inequities that uphold the system that denies access to opportunity. We live with the moral imperative to provide the needed infrastructure at affordable costs that will build the bridge from marginalization to access and opportunity.

This moral imperative digs deep into holding leaders of for profit companies accountable to leading in a manner that allows them to leave a legacy of ensuring that our nation continues it’s dream of being “One nation under God for liberty and justice for all.” The Spring of 2020 showed us what can be accomplished in the matter of mere months when both government and private industry work together in a state of urgency. The state of urgency, the opportunity to create policy and enforce policy to right the wrongs of the past by closing the opportunity gap is in danger of passing us by if we allow our industry experts and legislatures to make decisions out of expediency and short term political gain.

Massive amounts of money are being allocated for short term solutions. As California, as one example, looks to fiscally incentivize return to in person school, it appears that a greater understanding is needed of things really play out in schools and districts. California entered 2020 with a teacher shortage and an administrator shortage, as well as a substitute and bus driver shortage. Burn out levels were already at an all time high. Educators are simply asked to bare too many of the ails that burden society. Not unlike the healthcare, social services, and law enforcement professions, policies and funding tell the story of a society that does not truly value those who work in professions that serve. Look to budgets, look to funding allocations and not sound bites and speeches for the real story about what is most valued.

As the saying goes, “follow the money.” Should schools be incentivized to return to in person instruction quickly, the time and energy that can be spent of putting long term solutions to disrupt the education system that has shown virtually no sustainable systemic growth in student achievement will be diverted to chasing a short term dollar. These short-term one time monies due more harm than good. They serve as a dopamine hit like that of winning $10.00 on slot machine that we dropped $20.00 into, like the serotonin hit of winning $2.00 off a $5.00 scratch off. We lose more than we invest.

The same one time, short-term monies that are being suggested for our schools should be used to stand up community infrastructure that gives every student and every adult 24-7 access to online learning. Learning that can happen through YouTube videos, masterclasses, reading the news, current event videos, creating digital art, working on collaborative projects, creating our own video tutorials (demonstrating application and synthesis if you’re with me on getting us to demonstrate deeper levels of learning in an authentic manner), applying for jobs, to colleges, for financial aid, and accessing healthcare. The same one time short-term money can be used to recognize that we have overburdened educators who’s schools and districts are often not funded at adequate level to provide the basic resources needed to be successful in their positions – home internet, a high quality device for lesson design and instructional delivery, a reasonable work day, and support staff to meet the many non-instructional needs of students, parents, and care-givers in addition to planning and peer collaboration.

Let’s use this money towards designing models that measure what students are learning rather than compliance systems measure seat time. Let’s invest in structures that don’t overburden, burn out our educators, and drive resentment in such a noble profession. Imagine a 2 shift instructional day with class reasonable class sizes that enable teachers to have time to invest in strong relationships with the families of their students. One shift of educators could be available for families who prefer or need mornings to connect with school and the other shift could work with students and families who work or need late afternoon times. Ah, I begin to digress into solution oriented details. Along those lines, I won’t ever pass up the opportunity to say, let’s start with our small schools and districts to create models that we can scale up rather than allocating large sums of money to large bureaucracies and then trying to scale down where fewer resources are available.

As 2020 draws to a close, let us not lose this moment!

Recommendations

New Year – Same Mission

New Year Same Mission

A New Year – The Same  Mission

The celebrations have some to a close. Reflection has resulted in growth, acceptance personal challenge, and goal setting. Friends and colleagues have chosen their one word to focus on for the upcoming year.

The mission, however, remains the same and requires action.

*Provide a student focused education based on connection and understanding across all education environments

*Advocate with solutions for balanced and reasonable work expectations for all educators

*Leverage modern tools to enhance instruction and employee productivity

*Make digital citizenship as a high a priority as traditional concepts of citizenship

Live by these words.

Do what’s right at the right time for the right reason – always.

Recommendations

Influencing My Heart, My Mind, My Soul – The Best of 2019

2019 was a year of great blessing and extraordinary challenge.

I’ve been blessed over my life to learn from the gifted and talented people who are a part of my circle or who I have had the great fortune to share a moment of time with.  As 2019 draws to a close, I am mindful that my greatest teacher this year was life itself, the curveballs that you cannot see coming. The gifts of family, deep friendship, and those who I was gifted a moment in time with close out a year of unforeseen challenges with a focus on the blessings that are far more powerful than any challenge that can cross our paths.

CUEACSA, and the Future Ready/Alliance for Excellent Education continue to be among my most trusted and valued professional education organizations. CALSA, the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators made it to the top of my list this year as well. The leadership, the work, the camaraderie and mentorship provided through CALSA are noteworthy. 

These organizations, my colleagues, and my friends have influenced my choice of books, movies, and music throughout the year. Here are the ones that made me think, brought me inspiration, peace of mind, or that I just simply enjoyed.

Pile of Books.

*The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

*Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond

*GMorning GNight by Lin-Manuel Miranda

*Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

*White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

*How Great Leaders Think by  Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal

*Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt

*The Leadership Lessons of Jesus by Bob Briner and Ray Pritchard

*In This Together by Nancy D. O’Reilly 

*Wolfpack by Abby Wambach

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 9.38.58 AM

*Avengers: Endgame

*The Upside

*Mind Hunter

*Miss Bala (Guilty Pleasure)

*Rocketman

*Crazy Rich Asians – a fun compliment to my travels in Singapore

Movies that I have my eye on:

*A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

*The Souvenir

*Dolomite is My Name

*The Two Popes

*American Factory

*The Great Hack

Screen Shot 2019-12-29 at 11.34.41 AM

Netflix got the better of me in 2019 – Binge Worthy Indulgences

*Madam Secretary

*Ballers

*Heartland

*Longmire

*Peaky Blinders

*Person of Interest

*Ozark

*Quantico

*Blacklist

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 9.37.25 AM

Favorite Songs and Artists

King and Country

joy.

Home by Phillip Phillips

Whiskey in My Water by Tyler Farr

American Honey by Lady Antebellum

Wish I Knew You by the Revivalists

Blame it On Me by George Ezra

Budapest by George Ezra

 

Happy 2020!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Living a Life Less Bruised

“Would you like all of your groceries in one bag, ma’am?”

“ No, thank you. Please leave the banana separate so that it lives a less bruised life.”

Isn’t this exactly what we want for each other and for our children?

Yet, we feel fear in giving our children and each the freedom to be both responsible and accountable for our actions and our choices without judgment.  Experience gives us the bruises of life that heal; the experiences from which we learn and grow.

Let us be mindful of how we respond to our children and each other without adding extra bruises.

Recommendations

The Moment of the Gift

The moment when you truly understand privilege and the difference in confidence it allows you to have without even thinking about.

As I sat at my computer working at a Starbucks, a group of middle school students from across the street started streaming in full of giggles and bumping backpacks. It reminded me of my teaching days as students would enter the classroom. My heart would felt full. I thought to myself that I might have to come sit here every afternoon to grab a moment of nostalgia. Only a couple of weeks into the school year, this is my first year of a 26-year career in public education without students. The joy of a group of happy students streaming through the door with their youthful energy and silliness tugs at my heartstrings.

They don’t know me. They don’t call out my name and they don’t run up to give me hugs. My heart feels a very strong tug.

Every student who entered the coffee shop was brown. They came in with confidence, but as a group, their body language started to change as they placed their orders. Each of them dropped their eyes as they told the barista what they wanted. They dug through backpacks and pant pockets for money.

Image result for latina at starbucksAs they sat down, their confidence increased again until one young lady spilled her frappuccino. The liquid contents rapidly spread across the tile. She and her friend quickly grabbed napkins to clean up the mess and tried to not draw attention to themselves. The mess was too big and their table was in the center of the coffee shop so there was no hiding this mishap. The young lady’s friend softly said, “I’ll buy you another one.” She whispered back “Another one? You only have $20.00 for the whole week.”

I asked if I could help and they looked both grateful and mortified at the same time. “No, it’s okay. I can clean it.”

“They have cleaning materials here. Let the woman behind the counter know that you’re drink spilled.”

The young lady’s cheeks filled with color as she said, “It’s okay, I can clean it.”

I respond, “Let’s walk-up together. Just say, ‘My drink spilled. Can someone help me?”

She came with me, looked at me with eyes that prompted me to take the lead, and just as I’ve done with countless students over the years, I commented, “You’ve got this.”

She asked for help after which I was able to prompt, “It’s okay to ask for a fresh drink. Your drink spilling was an accident.”

I felt the eyes of every young person in the coffee shop on us. I’m sure she felt the same stares. The trepidation of the group was palpable as she once again said, “No, it’s okay.”

This was clearly pushing beyond the bounds of this moment in which she had already stepped out of her comfort zone to ask for help. I asked the barista, “Is it okay for her to get a fresh drink?”

“Of course,” came the response as the barista asked her what her order had been and for her name.

The young lady sat down with her friend and just in earshot I could hear her say, “I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to pay for that drink and I don’t have any money.”

My heart was breaking as I observed a sampling of another generation of young women scared to ask for help, trying their best to blend in and make their way through an awkward public social moment without drawing any attention. The girls’ had each others’ back but their afternoon had taken a turn in which they were both clearly uncomfortable.

While I remember clearly what it felt like to grow up poor and to not have the money to comfortably go out with a group of friends, I don’t remember ever feeling that if I spilled my food or drink, I couldn’t ask for help or ask for a fresh order due to the mishap. Thoughts about the culture that has long put limitations on women and people of color rapidly started to form in my mind. “How can I help to try to break part of this cycle in this moment?”

I asked the girls if I could have a “mama moment” with them. Their bodies and facial expressions immediately relaxed as they both said, “Yes.”

We shared a short, but impactful on me, conversation talking about their day at school, how to ask for help with confidence, when to serve others and when to let others serve us. We talked about when you’re in a store, you’re paying for both the product and the service and that’s why Starbucks is expensive. We talked about enjoying the afternoon with girlfriends after a full day of learning at school.

The moment of gift came as they left the coffee shop, stopped by my table, and with confidence smiled, and said, “Thank you.”

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We Respectfully Advise the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction to Use His Authority…

Up at 3:30 a.m. Shower. So tired, I barely remember the shower, but I do remember the moment I realized that I was spraying deodorant in my hair rather than hair spray. That moment woke me up.

“Do I have time to stop by Starbucks?” I wondered as I left at 4:10 a.m.

Screen Shot 2019-06-08 at 4.37.20 PMI drove by the front door of the Starbucks. Joy! The lights are on and there are two women behind the counter. I can taste that grande, nonfat hazelnut latte with an extra shot and see it sitting in the console of my car available for me to sip on as I drive to the airport. Wait, what!? The sign on the drive-thru window says they don’t open until 4:30 a.m. 4:30! There’s no way I’ll make my flight if I wait. I hit the road. I’m on my way to the airport to catch a flight to Sacramento.

Screen Shot 2019-06-08 at 4.39.26 PM.pngCalifornia State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond has convened a committee of educators from throughout California to inform recommendations for educator professional development. His team has provided 12 focus areas for short- and long-term goals.

Short-term Goals

  1. Equity and Access (UDL, MTSS, differentiation, etc.)
  2. Alignment/collaboration across levels, including teacher prep
  3. Research, identify and disseminate best practices
  4. Content-specific PL/PD
  5. EL Roadmap
  6. Literacy PL/PD

Long-term Goals

  1. Alignment from teacher prep through continuous PD
  2. Best practices/Models
  3. PL/PD Focus: Cultural Responsiveness
  4. Skills teachers will immediately employ in the classroom
  5. State Plan for PL/PD
  6. PL/PD Focus: Project Based Learning

My 3:30 wakeup call was the result of being invited to serve on this committee. I serve with curiosity and trepidation that our presence at this meeting and our efforts won’t really make a difference. I worry that this is another convening of a well-intentioned committee following which nothing will change. I also serve with excitement and a humble feeling to have the privilege of being a part of this conversation.

I arrive at the Sacramento County Office of education, check in and see several of my colleagues from over the years will be here as well. These are folks I know are not afraid to push the envelope. They have strong voices. They are strong proponents of supporting teachers and all educators to give them what they need to be successful with students. This is a power group of integrity and dedication.

The afternoon is well organized with clear priorities set forth. “Ooooh,” I think, “I don’t know how I feel about this. I feel an inkling of being guided into conversations that are designed to be safe and maintain the status quo.” Then Table 7 is announced. Other. Yes, other! “If none of the 6 categories align with your passions, you can go to Table 7, Other.” That’s me!

To be fair, the equity table is really tugging at me, but my vision for the changes we need in education is bigger than a single category. My vision and my passion encompass all the other categories that are available, and I do not want to address them in isolation. Great conversations around equity, cultural responsiveness, project-based learning, and developing multi-literate students are about to happen. But I like “other.”  I am all in.

I hustle over to Table 7, “Other.” I grab the blue marker and am  ready when I  notice there is only one other gentleman at the table, “I’m not sure,” he said, “that this is the right table for me.” My heart sinks. “Stay,” I say, “let’s see what we come up with together.” A couple of women wander over, kind of hang out, eye the sign, “other,” hesitate, but stay. Slowly but surely, a few more people join the table. We have representation from the California Department of Education,  data and assessment, a school district CTA president, legislative action, and environmental science.

“Other” was the best group to be a part of.

We shared the values and beliefs that informed our passion to serve on this committee. As a group, we created three large post-it pages of suggestions to empower personalized professional learning for educators. Ditch the sit and get model. Fund teachers on a per diem basis for professional learning on non-student days. Provide the technology and professional learning required to support students in becoming creators rather than consumers of digital content. Align skills-based instruction in schools with the skills industry is looking for. Plan for future skills-based instruction by referencing the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report. Support the whole teacher. Support teacher wellness!

A brief but insightful side conversation ensued, “Why do so many districts start the school year by pulling teachers out of their classrooms for professional development?” It’s not good for the kids. It creates more work for teachers and they certainly don’t have the time to implement new learning of their own in August and September. Teachers are planning lessons, getting to know their students, giving structure and stability to children from trauma-informed homes who missed the safety of school all summer. September is filled with more after-school meetings than any other month of the year. Do we really need all these September start-up meetings? Let’s be more efficient and give each interested group ten minutes to summarize their goals for the year at one staff meeting and call it good.

Well, back on track. The group listed suggestions to invest, truly invest, in new teachers during the first 3-5 years of their careers when they are most likely to decide to leave the profession. The group strongly believed in providing educators a living wage that allows educators to buy a home without having to get a second job. Let’s create structures that allow for true collaboration and implementation of professional learning into lesson planning design. Let’s structure the work day so teachers have the first part of the day to do this. Let’s stop asking educators to do heavy mental lifts and application of knowledge after they’ve been working with anywhere from 30-280+ students at the end of the day.

We put a heavy demand on educators to work on achieving long term goals at the time of day during which employees in all organizations are most tired. This is also the time of day when educators are focused on short-term goals such as planning instructional adaptations and preparation for the next day, supporting students in need of extra time and attention, calling parents they want to connect with before going home.

The suggestion that received significant support from the full committee as the discussion opened up to the full group was “take care of the whole teacher, their mental and physical wellness, financial security, and life balance.”

image 0Each participant was given black sticky dots to put on the idea they felt was most important from all the suggestions in the room and the “other” group, the group that recommended “Let’s take care of teachers” saw black sticky dots all over the recommendation. The applause after the group’s presentation was loud and the basis for much discussion during the break.

There is so much that needs to be done within the education system to create the knowledge base and learning structures that best support students. A loud and clear message came forth though. We are stuck and we are going to continue to be stuck until our educators, teachers, support staff, and administrators are taken care of in workplaces that have the resources and mindset to focus on the health of the whole person.

The neuroscience behind learning already exists. The research-based practices that support student and adult learning already exist. Yet, the truth about the greatest struggle in the implementation of the learning science came forward through the placement of black sticky dots and loud applause. We need to take better care of our teachers. Then and only then will we have the bandwidth as a profession to engage in developing the structures to support the implementation of the most effective learning designs.

Finally, the ask of the day was to create a single statement with the sentence starter, “The superintendent should…”

Thus, we respectfully advise the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction to use his authority to work with Governor Newsom and the California Legislature to fund schools so that the resources are in place to provide for the needs of all students within structures that allow for educators to live balanced lives.