Virtual In-Service

Today, we hosted a virtual “in-service” for 100+ faculty members and administrators. The schedule is below to give you a sense of how we enabled people to be present together, complete urgent and important tasks, and reassure each other that we can and will run a great online version of our school.

How I’m Working [3/26/2020]

We’ve been on Spring Break, but given that we’re getting ready for the launch of online school (next Tuesday), I’ve been working steadily.

Over the past two weeks…

I’ve attended an average of 3 Google Meet calls per day. These are typically leadership meetings, some of which have a clear agenda and some of which are update/urgency driven.

I’m working in/on an average of 5 collaborative documents per day. Generally, this means someone is asking me for feedback or I’m asking someone else for feedback. This work can be frustrating, but then I revert to the tweet below from Bob Sutton. It reminds me that this work is hard because we’re insisting on being reciprocal, respectful, and coordinated. I wouldn’t trade those benefits, so I accept — and budget for — their cost.

I’ve been connecting with individuals either via phone calls, text messages, or email. These — usually about 3 – 10 communications — are by far the most important work of my day.

I’ve been working in Slack for about 30 minutes per day. I’m using Slack to organize the communications of a 10 person leadership team. I’ve liked the way this approach helps me to focus on a group without being interrupted by emails or texts — when I’m with them, I’m with them. I’ve also appreciated the way Slack helps me to maintain a pretty wide awareness of this team’s activities without the benefit of being in the same room or building with them. I have a sense of what everyone is working on, struggling with, and sharing — and I’m reminded of how helpful and interconnected these team members are.

I’ve been experimenting each day with something new — most recently, Twitter Live.

I’ve been problem solving via networking, like so:

I’ve been writing down notes for next time!

Here’s another How I’m Working post written 13 days ago, when I was just starting to work FTO (full-time online). The difference in these two posts shows how quickly my work world is evolving.

How I’m Working [3/13/20]

Since most people in my world are being asked to adjust their work practices, I figured I would start a log of how I’m working and what I’m able to “get done” by shifting my typical routines. I’m not claiming to be an expert at remote work, but I do think we can learn from each other’s approaches at times like this — especially if we share the why underneath our choices and behaviors.

This log is from Friday, March 13, 2020. My school was closed except for administrators and people who had to handle mailings or building issues. It will be closed fully starting Monday.

I started the day as I always do — having a cup of coffee with my wife. This is the foundation of my day, every day.

I set up a Slack channel for a team that I run. I picked this team because, if our school moves to real-time, online instruction after our upcoming break, it will be critical to our school’s success. I used Slack to create a focused, online place for this team to work, should the need arise.

I showed my daughter some public facing writing I’ve been working on and explained to her why I’ve been doing this work on top of everything else that parents have to do right now. In short, I’m healthy, safe, and comfortable at the moment, and I have a small bit of expertise in a needed area (leading and teaching online). Service comes in different forms, but at times like this, if you can, you probably should.

I emailed my 9th grade English class. The goal of the communication was to remind them that I’m still present in their lives (even though school has been cancelled leading into Spring Break), to tell them what they should be reading, and to wish them a safe, happy, and healthy break. (Sub goal: to show them how to be human when handling one’s business online.)

I helped my daughter recover a password for a program that would allow her to design a birthday present for her brother. His birthday plans included a trip to an NBA basketball game, so we’re working on other ways to celebrate.

I helped Reshan (my writing partner) streamline some ideas for an upcoming podcast appearance related to the public facing writing mentioned above.

I met with another leadership team via Zoom. Our goal was to think about a program that we are supposed to run in May. We discussed KNOWN ISSUES, CONTINGENCY PLANS, and COMMUNICATION PLANS.

I wrote to the leadership team mentioned earlier when one member asked me if we were moving all of our business to Slack right away. I told the team we’re using a two phase approach. Phase 1 is about capacity building. The goal is simply to log in, set up a profile, play around a bit, and understand some of the affordances of Slack. Phase 2 will be full-on use, with all communications moved onto the platform.

I managed some of the social media inputs related to the public facing writing mentioned earlier. I paid particular attention to what seems to be resonating with people and which aspects of the writing people have been quoting and sharing.

I met with a student via Google Meet. She had some questions about a paper she was working on, so we used two panels: one allowed us to speak to each other, one allowed us to look at her paper, which she had shared with me as a Google Doc. Within the first 30 seconds of the call, she said: “if this is what online school is going to be like, then this is going to be just fine.”

Near the end of my workday, I joined a conference call with another team.

After that, I went outside. The sun was shining brightly. My son, daughter, and I played soccer in the park and eventually ended up in a hardware store to buy a hex key allen wrench set to allow us to adjust the height on a bicycle seat. On the way back home, my daughter said, “I’m going to attach this tool to my backpack just in case I need it when I go back to school, whenever that will be.”

Leadership: A Fan’s Notes # 2

Leaders can explain or they can embody.

Say, for example, they lead curriculum and instruction in a high school and believe that online learning is important for students to experience at least a few times before they go to college. An explainer would make the case, would present the evidence, might tell a story or two, and would try to influence teachers to engage students in online learning. An embodier, on the other hand and from time to time, would run meetings with those same teachers using online portals or tools. She would use the tools she wished to promote, allowing the experience of those tools to make the case for her.

An explainer leaves certain people behind — in the above case, those faculty members who do not listen or respond well to lectures or talking. An embodier leaves behind certain people, as well — in the above case, those faculty members who have difficulty learning from what they see and experience and then adapting it to their own circumstances.

As a leader, you have to decide how you want to teach. You have to decide which followers you want to lead. And of course it doesn’t hurt to vary your practice, to make things less black and white than I have made them.

“Leadership: A Fan’s Notes # 1” can be found here. I’ll aim to keep this series going if you like it — and probably even if you don’t. Shows you what kind of leadership I lean towards.

Carrie and the Spider

Here’s a story and meditation I wrote down several years ago. A colleague just mentioned it — the story, not my written version of it — so I decided to pull this out of the files and share it with you.

Picture this. It’s a beautiful fall afternoon. A gentle breeze shakes the gold-edged leaves of the trees just west of Lloyd Road and shoulder pads crash on the turf just east.  Elvoid Christmas is at the front desk, talking to stragglers, students and faculty alike, as they head for home or stage, from field or classroom, carrying books and laptops and uniforms and costumes. 

Now pan to the science wing where things are hushed. A teacher works in her classroom, preparing for an 8:00 a.m. lab.  She is alone, making progress, but only briefly. 

For out of the discrete silence of the science wing walks a large, brown spider.  This spider is the kind that, we imagine, might not just bite us but that wants to bite us.  The kind that would send most of us flailing out of the room in search of the nearest rolled up newspaper. 

But this teacher just cocks her head to the side and smiles, because this is Dr. Carrie Fyler, a scientist who has spent countless hours in science labs, has done meticulous research on tapeworms and seals and has turned such encounters into peer reviewed papers.  Warm-hearted and curious, she takes the world as it comes.

So Dr. Fyler doesn’t scream or instinctively smash the spider with the nearby safety goggles.  Instead, she gently covers it with the nearest petri dish. Something from the natural world has lit up Dr. Fyler’s imagination.  She has thought of something.

Seconds later, the email inboxes of Dr. Fyler’s colleagues in the science department begin to light up, too.  Dr. Fyler has written a polite inquiry:  “If nobody has any use for the spider I just found, I’d like to amplify and sequence its DNA with one of my classes.” 

And so the spider sits in a jar, since joined by two others, waiting to become part of the science curriculum.  Using field guides, Dr. Fyler will lead her students through a primary identification.  Then, using our lab technology, she will teach the students how to amplify a gene and how to then send that gene to another lab that can sequence the DNA, to aid in further exploration.

Dr. Fyler’s spider is worth pondering, but so is the story about Dr. Fyler and the spider.  It asks just a little for us to see it unfold, but it asks a lot, too, in that it’s an invitation to reconsider and renegotiate the lines that we sometimes draw around learning.

First, the story teaches us that the “classroom” is not always located at the physical addresses of our schools.  Sure, students and teachers meet in schools, and they spend much of their time together in classrooms, but the site of learning can and does shift.  Sometimes learning unfolds when we focus on textbooks.  Sometimes it unfolds when we focus on what’s happening in a test tube or on a board or in a discussion.  And sometimes it happens when we focus on something that walks into our lives on eight legs.

Second, Dr. Fyler could consider the power of amplifying a spider’s gene because she was an educator who understood that the well-timed improvisation might lead to an intensification of standard knowledge and conventional understanding. Students must do their best to attach new knowledge to old. Teachers must be prepared to push their lessons into authentic contexts and experiences – into the unexpected and new.