Monday, December 12, 2016

So that one time I ran a marathon...

My 2015 goal was to become a runner. I looked back at some old posts and was reminded that on April 15, 2015, I could not run more than half a mile. I was frustrated and felt ridiculous.

One year, six months, and 26 days later I ran a marathon.

What follows are random thoughts about that.

1) I was persistent that people who run marathons are crazy, and I had no desire to run one. Then I ran three half marathons, and I got the urge to push myself a little farther. This is how the impossible happens - small steps of possible push you a little further until suddenly a ridiculous thing happens. Pretty cool.

2) A friend who also ran her first marathon immediately said she wanted to do another. She got a blister that caused her to overcompensate on one side and threw off her stride for much of the race. I got the feeling that she wants to do better. I have mad respect for that. But I'm all good. My marathon was not fast (5 hours and 43 minutes), but I feel like it's exactly what I trained for. I currently have no desire to do that again. Those half marathons sure are fun, though!

3) Throughout the week leading up to the marathon, I worried about several things. What if I fell off a curb, broke my ankle, and couldn't run? What if I got a stomach bug? What if it was 90 degrees on race day? What if I did my very best and was (gasp!) last? What if I physically couldn't finish? I literally prepared for months for those 5-6 hours of my life, and I had one shot. I don't experience that often. It was a real mental effort to stop worrying about factors out of my control, and probably something I need to practice.

4) Marathons are boring. For real. There are water stations with nice people and other runners for a while, but once everyone spreads out it's just you, your running partner (more on that later), and one foot in front of the other. We decided to make it to 20 miles before putting in headphones because we knew we'd need a distraction.

I had downloaded two podcasts from TED radio hour. Wouldn't you know it! The first guest that I listened to was a researcher who believes that outside our brains the only adaptation that gives us an advantage over animals is our ability to run with endurance! That's what helped ancient people survive! Humans weren't faster or stronger that animals, but they could endure without tiring out. I laughed out loud as I listened.

The second podcast (which I didn't quite finish) was about parenting, specifically over parenting vs. letting your kids learn how to navigate the dangers of the world. I spent some time thinking about my own parents and how they raised a person who thinks she can do any absurd thing like run a marathon. I hope I'm doing that for my own kids.

5) I ran as part of Team Mercy Project, committed to raising money for the organization that works to free child slaves in Ghana. It gave a little more meaning to the time I was spending on training and obsessing. At the end of the race, giant posters lined the road with the faces of the 80 children who have already been freed. I was overwhelmed with emotion, but quickly realized that if I started crying I would stop breathing! I was fresh out of energy and air and everything else in that last stretch. Those smiling faces are a great sight after running 26.2 miles.

6) My school family is amazing. Not only did they hold a bake sale to raise money for Mercy Project and my race, but they presented me with this amazing book with photos of the kids and words of encouragement - even a poster that Trey brought to me during the race. It's overwhelming how thoughtful these people are. I made a crazy decision to run a marathon, and for months they've listened to me talk about it, plan for it, and obsess about it. Honestly, I'm sure I was a little annoying with my obsession, but rather than making me feel that way they went out of their way to send me off with well wishes and mementos. Several people even texted me during the race. I learn so much from them every day.

Also, I really had to finish knowing that 600 kids and 70 staff members would be asking me about it on Tuesday!  Ha!

It says, "Thank you, Mrs. Hickman, for showing us perseverance. From your Cardinal art students."

7) In case you didn't know, Trey Hickman is a saint. I decide to do crazy things that take up lots of time and he helps me find a way to make it happen. This goes way back to teacher certification, masters degree, that year I spent working in Austin on the weekends being an online teacher, and now a marathon. I got up too early every weekend and left to run. I woke him up, ran for hours and left him to take care of whatever was going on at home. He never once complained. He believes I can do anything and supports me no matter what I take on. He's the best.

It's been an interesting experience with my kids. As I increased mileage, they would give me a hard time and tell me they could totally do that, too. Then I hit about 20 miles and they changed their tune to decide I was nuts. When Tucker looked at the race map the night before, he said, "That's a long way. Are you sure you can do this?" (Thanks for the support, man.) After the race, Keaton said, "Wow. I was a little concerned but you did it!"

And I love that. I love that they can look back at their mom who is probably old and uncool to them and see that I can run a marathon. And if I can do that, they can do anything. Anything!

8) Finally, Erin. Erin is strong and athletic and has run eight marathons (now nine). When Erin learned a year and a half ago I wanted to run, she ran with me. She helped me train for my first half, then my second. She told me that I could run a marathon, and then she signed up with me. She sent me a training plan on August 25th, and we stuck with it. There's something about knowing that another person is waiting for you at 5:30 on a Saturday morning that makes you get out of bed. Without her, I would have given up long ago.

We ran through good days and bad days, talked every week about life and work and kids, and just persevered. We even tried to run ten miles when it was 103 degrees, but that's a story for another day!

How I feel about the fact that a person would unselfishly give up the time to help me reach this goal is hard to explain. She could have trained harder and finished faster, but instead she stayed next to me. It's kind of unremarkable for her - it's just who she is. And I am honored to be her friend. During the marathon a couple stopped us and asked if we were sisters. I told them that we've been friends long enough that we might as well be. Love you, Erin!

And that's a wrap. I ran a marathon. For real.
Tradition says that you finish your first marathon and you ring the gong!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer Olympics and Equity

I've been thinking a lot lately about equity. After my experiences this summer I feel even more committed to make sure that every student has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential, no matter what prior knowledge or skills they have when they walk through the door on the first day. My head is full of ideas with varying levels of possibility.

And now a little background information that I'll tie in later...

My younger son, Keaton, is a gymnast. This is not news to anyone who knows me because I am unabashedly proud of him. He's competed for two years, and he can do things that I don't think the human body should be able to do. He is ridiculously strong. When I watch him work out it makes my stomach hurt. He's at the gym three times a week for three hours at a time, all year long. He loves to practice and compete. He loves when he does well, and he's even more excited when his teammates do well. I know I'm biased, but he's a great kid. 

Enter the Summer Olympics. It occurred to me for the first time that people all over the world are watching Keaton's sport and that this is unique - something that happens only every four years. These incredible athletes are getting worldwide attention as I post this. Occasionally you can see women gymnasts competing on an obscure channel on a Saturday afternoon, but I don't know that I've ever stumbled upon men's gymnastics while flipping channels. 

In contrast, my basketball and football-playing older son watches his sports played on television constantly. These sports are always on (even if in the summer it's Canadian football). I bet you can name multiple basketball and football players off the top of your head. Can you name any male gymnasts? Could you before last week? 

And so I've found a new love and appreciation for the Olympics. The excitement and joy on Keaton's face when he watches gymnastics on prime time television is such a beautiful thing. I imagine he feels part of something bigger. More significant. Important. Like the collective gymnastics community has fans!

Back to equity (here's the connection I promised). Do our students see themselves in the examples we show them? Do we celebrate scientists and authors and historians who represent all of our students? Women and men? People of all races and religions? Can you call them by name like a true "fan"?

I've always known this is important, but tonight in my living room I experienced why. Chances are that my son won't compete in the Olympics, but he sees these athletes and his eyes sparkle. In the world of sports, he belongs. 

It's possibility. It's seeing yourself as whatever you can dream of and are willing to work hard for. That's a gift we must give our students. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Harvard Day 7: Dr. Samuel Betances

Dr. Samuel Betances. Look him up. If you want to be inspired, follow him, watch videos of him speaking, think about his words. He was our final speaker of the Art of Leadership 2016.

First, he has cred. He told us he’s buried six brothers, citing drugs and violence as part of the environment he knew. He grew up in poverty, English wasn’t his first language, and he dropped out of high school. He was working at a hospital when a direct, kind woman started holding him accountable for his future. He speaks of her in this video:

My notes from his presentation are full of these clips of wisdom that should be on posters all over my office. And your office. And the world.

“You can't teach anybody until they give you permission to teach them; you can school them, but they may not give you permission to educate them”

“Never assume malice. Even when harmful things are done.”

“We have to stop failing students for not knowing what they haven’t been taught.”

“We don’t have students at risk. We have students with untapped potential.”

“Learn to reject rejection. The best revenge is success.”

“Words are noises that at pregnant with meaning.”

“You can’t be mad at parents for not giving what they don’t have.”

“To go from poverty to the professions, you must first cross a bridge called books."

“Every kid needs an adult that he doesn't want to disappoint with school failure.”

“Not all students in schools are  middle class, but all assessment tools are.”

“If you think you're a leader and you look back and no one is following, then maybe you're just taking a walk.”

Seriously. I’m having a hard time even summarizing all that I was inspired to think and to do after his talk. He talks about diversity and equity in a way that leaves no excuses for not educating every child in every school to the fullest.

He talks about words. I think I already wrote this in another post from another speaker, but kids need words! Think of all of the academic vocabulary we use. It can be like another language for some kids. It’s easy to say that parents need to talk to their kids more and have deeper conversations, but “You can’t be mad at parents for not giving what they don’t have.” Is it possible that the first step in breaking cycles of poverty is giving people words? Is it that simple?

I’m going to order this book, 30 Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain, on his recommendation. And I’m going to read more memoirs so I can learn from them and recommend them to others who can learn from them. And I’m going to ask kids to “authorize me to get into their business.” He advocates giving reading options as an alternative for disciplinary actions. I might even try that. I am inspired.

By far the most poignant thing he stated, and so incredibly appropriate in weeks full of racial conflicts and inequity and police murders, is this: “We have decided that some people are flags and some people are handkerchiefs. When really we are all made of cloth.”

So powerful.

He’s a diversity training consultant. He’s worked with Oprah. He’s a big deal, as he should be. I’m a little fangirl about the fact that he gave us all his email address. I wish that every educator I know could hear Dr. Betances speak, so I’m going to link a couple of the shorter videos here. You should totally watch them. I’ve watched many of them more than once. There are also keynote speeches on YouTube that are longer. Some of them are 80s and 90s, but it doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Harvard Day 6, Part 2: Consultancy Protocol

My small group at AOL was the best one (Group 9 Forever!).

We met each day to review and discuss what we learned. It was always a powerful debrief, and it always deepened my understanding of the day’s topics. My group members included leaders from private, public, charter, and religious schools from all over the US and even China.

As pre-work for the institute, each participant completed a reflection on a current problem of practice and possible steps to improve the issue.

On the afternoon of day six, we met in our small groups and completed a consultancy protocol focusing individually on each person’s problem of practice. We each got 20 minutes of time directed specifically to something we were committed to work on, and the collective brain power of Group Nine was more than I could have ever hoped for in my twenty minutes.

The protocol we used is adapted from the Tuning and Consultancy Protocols and published by the Great Schools Partnership. The copy I have says I can copy it with attribution, but I do not have permission to post it online. If you’re a CSISD person, come see me.

We allocated time for an initial presentation by the focus person, clarifying and probing questions, group discussion, and then presenter response. I appreciated the ability of our group to focus on the problem at hand and to offer ideas, thoughts, and possible solutions. Many years ago I participated in a similar protocol through the Schlechty Center regarding lesson planning. I enjoyed that very much, but found that this process opens itself to a wider variety of problem solving topics.

This is another of those things I can’t wait to use with staff and colleagues. What if we used our staff development time or faculty meetings to dive deeply into problems of practice and truly focus on one issue or challenge? What if our data team meetings (which often become quick problem-solution conversations rather than true deep thinking meetings) followed an abbreviated protocol that helped us maintain focus and productivity? I think it would help all involved parties to see these meetings as more valuable and applicable.

Finally, I want to mention that we didn’t do the consultancy on the first day that we met each other. While we had only known each other five days, they were intense, powerful days of collaboration. I was incredibly comfortable sharing with my group, and I believe they would all say the same.

Earlier in the week we heard Liz City talk briefly about Meeting Wise. It just occurred to me at this moment that the protocol meets many of the guidelines for good meetings! 

It all comes together, doesn’t it!

Harvard Day 6: Leadership Case Study

The case study was awesome. Wonderful.  So cool. I loved all of the sessions, but this one was the one that I “got into” the most. Dr. Monica Higgins, Professor of Education Leadership at Harvard, led us through a case study that was out of sector, meaning it was unrelated to education. After five intense days of talking school, the time was right to discuss something not directly related.

It helps that that case study was about the disaster on Mount Everest in 1996, the same subject covered in detail in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air (maybe my favorite non-fiction book). I was SO EXCITED to discuss the case in the large group and hear other people’s perspectives, and I especially loved talking about it in my small group. The result, as you can expect, is that the out of sector case study was filled with applicability to leadership in every walk of life.

We were given the case study to read ahead of time, and Dr. Higgins began our time with this question: Why did this happen? As a group we went about the business of assigning blame and defending our positions. My opinion wasn’t necessarily reflected in the majority. (Adults have personal responsibility, people!  That’s all I’ll say!) It was fun to hear why others saw it the way they did.

We talked about systematic biases, specifically overconfidence bias and sunk-cost bias. I was especially in tune to sunk-cost bias because I think in education (and maybe in all fields) we have a tendency to continue an initiative with rigid determination simply because we’ve invested so much time and energy into making it work.

The importance of creating a psychologically safe environment was also quite clear in the study. Without that safe environment, people are not emotionally able to take risks. We talk all the time about creating an atmosphere where risk-taking is valued, both for teachers and for students, but I don’t know that we talk enough about how to create the psychologically safe environment that makes it possible. Dr. Higgins has published an article on this topic, available here.

Back to the idea of case study as professional development. It was incredibly engaging, and I found the presenter talked less than the participants. There was much back and forth in the group. Since our goal was to delve into leadership, we naturally tied our responses to that topic, but the presenter was available to steer us in the right direction.

We were given a book of case studies for leaders in education. It includes several case studies and guiding questions. I would LOVE to use this with a group of school leaders. I’ve done a few searches for case studies to use with teachers, but I’ve not yet found one that is as accessible as Everest. So help me out, internet!  If you’ve used case study with your teachers (in or out of sector), please share! Here’s the book I have that’s more appropriate for principals:

Did I mention that Dr. Higgins consults for the US Department of Education and has facilitated the Everest case study with Arne Duncan and his staff? It’s that good. It was such a pleasure and honor to get to participate in it with my Art of Leadership group!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Harvard Day 5, Part 2: Data Wise

Dr. Candace Bocala talked with us about the Data Wise process on the afternoon of day 5. The Data Wise process is outlined in The Data Wise Process: A Step by Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning by Kathryn Boudett. As with all of these posts, I will not go into detail about the Data Wise process because it’s not my work to share, but I do want to touch on some of the “a-ha” moments I had during the presentation.

I think it’s fair to say we’ve all looked at data. We talk about it all the time, reference it in conversations about how our schools are performing. Learning about the Data Wise process made me question how well we look at data, including what pre-conceived notions we bring to data analysis and how we may actually use data to reinforce our current thinking rather than to challenge us to question what we think. I know I’ve been in data meetings where the data reinforces what everyone already knew. The result is that all of the involved parties and their accompanying practices remain unchanged. Seems a little pointless when you think about it.

Bocala asserts that data conversations are conversations about diversity and equity. Data review should be grounded in inquiry and is a great way to get an entire team working to solve a problem together. I also greatly appreciated that Bocala references “all sources of information that give us information about student thinking and classroom instruction” as appropriate data to consider, which encompasses so much more than test scores.

We went through a process of reflection that included putting red, yellow, and green dots on the parts of a data review cycle. It was a great visual to see what parts of the process we do well and where we could improve. I’d like to use this process with teachers for other reflective conversations.

We also learned about the Ladder of Inference. This is so interesting to me because it articulates what I realized we’re missing in our data conversations. I found this great article on the ladder, and I think it would be worth your time as an educator to review it. Going through data review with the ladder in mind allows us to maintain our focus on facts and realities rather than our assumptions.

I learned about the Objectivity/Specificity Matrix. I haven’t found a clear online resource for this to link here, but if I do I’ll go back and add it. The concept is basically a way to give feedback that is specific and descriptive rather than judgmental and general.

And now for the really exciting part!  The Data Wise Project has a twitter account you can follow. Even better, you can take a free online course on Data Wise from Harvard! They have a great group of MOOCs which I’ll cover in another post, but I had to share this one here.  

We need to spend some time in our staff development talking about data, and I’m glad that I can now organize those conversations in the context of data wise. It will make us really consider what we can do to improve instruction for all kids.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Harvard Day 5, Part 1: Literacy

On the fifth day of the institute, we heard Dr. Pamela Mason discuss literacy. Dr. Mason is the director of the Language and Literacy master’s program at Harvard, and she was the person in charge of our entire institute. She’s great. Her presentation was particularly applicable to me because while I taught literacy at the high school level, I never had the privilege of teaching someone to read like the primary grade teachers in my school.
She began her presentation by asking us what we do when we read. There are some easy answers – make meaning, decode, etc., but can you really describe what happens in your brain when you’re reading?  I don’t think I’ve ever tried before, and I don’t know that I was successful. And I am a for real, hard core reader. We looked at samples of text that was all jumbled (which we could all still read, just slowly) and text that had such rich vocabulary that we could read it but had no idea what it said. Dr. Mason likened this to the way people with reading disabilities or who don’t have a good vocabulary may see text.
She discussed four pillars of literacy: phonemic awareness/oral literacy, phonics, vocabulary, fluency; and together these pillars hold up text comprehension. Writing and motivation serve as additional pillars. What most interested me was the designation of large and small problem areas, with vocabulary and comprehension in the “large problem areas” part of the diagram.
Throughout the institute, vocabulary continued to come up as vital part of literacy and learning. Mason advocates explicit instruction in vocabulary, and I questioned how much of that we do at my school. She stated that students should learn 3000-5000 academic words a year. That’s a lot!  But now more than ever I believe it’s necessary to increase students learning. Kids need words!
She asked us specific reflective questions about our schools and literacy. The questions were powerful for all school leaders, and if I can find them online published by Dr. Mason I’ll link them here. To me, they all spoke of rigor. Are we challenging kids with text and their responses to it, both in writing and orally? She also asked us to think about whether or not our kids are reading online. That’s certainly a life skill in the 21st century as much as reading print.
My English teacher heart was happy to hear her say that we shouldn’t throw out the canon, but we should expand it, including culturally relevant texts right alongside Shakespeare. I also would like to mention that she recommend The Warmth of Other Suns as a book that was meaningful to her, and it’s now on my “to read” list.
She concluded her presentation with an excerpt from a Kofi Anon quote that I think I’d like framed in my office:
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.... Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”