A student asked me this week if he could interview me about playing the guitar for an assignment he’s working on. He just started playing and is writing about what it takes to be successful at a skill. One of the questions he asked me was “Cómo puedo mejorar en tocar la guitarra, señora Halbig?” (How do I get better at playing the guitar, Ms. Halbig?). Of course the answer I gave him was the translated one my dad would always tell me: “practicar, practicar, practicar.”
My conversation with the student was perfectly timed with this week’s lesson on Covey’s seventh habit: sharpening the saw. While I answered many questions for him about learning chords, scales, reading music, watching youtube videos, and studying music, it takes Covey’s seventh habit to realize all of these things.
For me, some of the habits require less practice, and some more. I’ve always struggled with habits four and five, and for the last three weeks have been sharpening my saw in these areas by working on positive communication with colleagues and administrators, talking with them about how my goals and theirs, while perhaps different can both be achieved, and above all listening closely when others speak.
I think in leadership you are always sharpening your saw. My position now allows me to practice leadership skills before taking on the responsibility and busy schedule of an administrator, and for that reason I intend to spend that time working on improving myself, focusing on creating, strengthening, and practice positive habits that will make me an effective and inspiring leader.
Collaboration is one of the four C’s. Through the adoption of Common Core and the focus on twenty-first century skills teachers across the country have worked on refining lesson plans, integrating technology, and encouraging more teamwork and collaboration in the classroom.
To me, Covey’s habit of synergize is the adult practice of what we are trying to teach our kids to do. We want them to cooperate, listen to each other, build off each others’ ideas, solve problems, and ultimately come up with answers to questions or solutions that are stronger than they would have done independently. I see this habit as a tricky one to master on its own, but one that will be a natural consequence once other habits are mastered and put into practice.
To practice this habit I intend to focus on habit 5, becoming a more active listener. I will enter into meetings, in particular with diverse groups such as our MDT, leadership, and staff meetings, with an open mind and an intent to see the strengths in people and their points of view rather than focusing on their weaknesses. The person that I would really like to improve communication with, and ultimately get to a point of synergy, is my assistant principal. I intend to discuss this habit with her, ask if she read Covey or did assignments like this in grad school, and find out how we can collaborate effectively.
I love this graphic and am going to hang it at school.
I believe that Covey’s fifth habit, seek first to understand and then to be understood, is a challenge for most people in leadership. In education, as in other enterprises, people who advance into positions of power tend to do so for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they believe that the ideas they have will improve the organization of which they are a part. While some are excellent listeners, there are many who focus on their message more than the input of others.
For me, my administrative journey has taken a sharp curve over the course of the first half of this program. I am truly inspired to become a school leader that can transform a school into a welcoming place, where students feel comfortable, safe, valued, and desire the learn. Throughout this program - in particular this course - I have absorbed a wealth of information that I feel can guide me to realizing this vision.
To be successful in this venture I must focus on the habit of listening to others. Being a school leader does not mean making arbitrary decisions but guiding a diverse and opinionated group of educators and community members in choosing what is best for their children. Though not all ideas must be implemented, it is imperative as a leader that stakeholders ideas are heard, evaluated, and welcomed - and that there is no judgment when the input given might differ from my ideas.
I listen to students well, but when it comes to working with other adults this is a habit I must improve upon. I have found myself in countless meetings half checked out about what the presenter is saying simply to figure out the best way to present my ideas. This year I have struggled with some co-workers who don’t see eye to eye. As I reflected on last week, I am going to work with those co-workers from a win-win perspective, share that habit with them, and see if they are willing to put their best effort into us both achieving our goals. In addition to teaching my students about the idea of being better listeners, which I intend to do the week following the break, I intend to put in into practice by consciously repeating the habit to myself each time I approach a new situation with a colleague or administrator.
To me, the definition of a win-win relationship is when all parties involved in a situation come out with their needs being met. I loved the example given at the end of this week’s screencast that “if these asses can figure out a way to both win, so can you!”.
To be completely honest, this is one I struggle with. I find myself to be a cooperative person, someone who participates in random acts of kindness and finds joy in others’ successes. I can also be very competitive, even if I try not to be. I was raised in a household with two highly educated parents and a gifted older brother, and as long as I can remember my successes were always compared to his.
Because this is a habit I know I need to work on, it is timely in its appearance in my life. As I wrote about in my Be Proactive blog post, I have butted heads with administrators and colleagues this year in regards to school climate and student discipline. I have been very reactive in that situation (though I’ve been repeating the mantra and practicing daily the art of approaching situations from a different angle) and in addition to being reactive I have also found myself thinking that I am “right” in this situation and coming at it from an angle of wanting a victory.
Part of the reason it’s difficult for me to work with one leader at my site is her ultra-competitiveness. What I need to do is approach her in a non-confrontational way, listen actively to her goals, and try to express mine to her in a way where we can both be successful. I know her heart is in the right place, otherwise why would she have become a middle school principal, so if we could discuss scenarios where students are being handed down punishments from a collaborative approach, perhaps we could work together to find a better resolution than a punitive measure. If I truly want to adopt a Do No Harm policy at my school, working on building relationships with my own team is essential.
On this day I am a procrastinator, according to Covey. This assignment, and one other module assignment (both urgent and important) are due later today and I am just now getting started. In my past life I was a notorious procrastinator. I still believe that I often produce my best work under pressure. Life doesn’t lend itself to that anymore, however, if I am going to be a successful coach, attentive mother and wife, and organized articulate leader I have learned to prioritize and put first things first. (This habit is one I have worked on over the years and thus I feel the first two require more refinement and focus).
In my current position, as with future administrative positions I will hold, there are and will be urgent daily issues. Planning time into my day for the issues most important to my mission is important especially because if I save things until the last minute there is a good possibility they won’t be completed. As a technology integration coach I am often in the classroom modeling lessons or meeting with teams of teachers to plan engaging activities that increase their students’ motivation and academic competence. These two aspects of my job are important. They are written into my schedule and rarely changed barring an emergency situation.
The other important aspect of my day to day life at school is to make sure that each student at our 1:1 school as a functional device at all times. This is where urgency comes into play. Most teachers depend on each student having a working device. Most days there is at least one student who needs their Chromebook wiped, repaired, or otherwise troubleshot. I usually reserve the first period of the day but make sure I am in my office at student breaks so that they can find me.
My graduate school mission has been another important aspect of my life lately. This semester has certainly been a challenge, though now that I can just focus on one course the urgency has subsided and I can typically plan time into the week to completing assignments without waiting until the last minute.
I picture myself as an organized, efficient time manager once I move into administration. Those are certainly my strengths. I am glad this habit came up this week though, because it is a great reminder to have conversations with students about their need to plan and prioritize.
Where am I headed? What a great question for this week’s blog post. The answer certainly has evolved over the course of this program. A convergence of events involving students, colleagues, and professors imparting new knowledge has driven me to have what I’d call a revelation regarding my future as a school leader.
When I enrolled in this program I was almost certain I’d continue down the path of instructional technology, though with a leadership focus. Being a ToSA and supporting teachers in technology integration has been rewarding, fun, and challenging. I thought that I would continue to coach, get my admin credential, and perhaps move into some type of Ed Tech coordinator position when our district gets around to creating one.
Things have changed for me a lot in the past few months. As I wrote about in my week one post, I’ve been working with a handful of eighth grade students, first in a Chromebook repair club, but later as a tutor and mentor. Though I’ve worked with hundreds of kids in my career, my relationship with three students, as crazy at may sound, has driven me to re-evaluate what I want to do moving forward. Moving into a district office level coordinator position would take me away from students, and that is no longer what I want for myself.
I work in a district of about 20,000 students. With nine secondary schools, alternative education programs exist for grades 10-12 but not below that. We serve a high percentage of English Learners in an impoverished community where many students drop out and head down a path of more poverty, gang involvement, crime, and prison. At Pajaro Middle, morale is extremely low. Suspension rates are high. Our campus supervisor operates from a place of intimidation and while administration verbally recognizes that heavy handed punishments hurt kids more than help them, they continue to rely on traditional policies and punishments.
I have been very reactive to this situation. Last week I spent a great deal of time thinking about how I can approach what is happening at Pajaro from a proactive standpoint instead. When I think about the prompt this week what I know is this: I would love to lead a school like Pajaro and transform it into a place with a welcoming positive culture and a restorative model focus. I would also love to see my district create a middle school level continuation school so that 7th and 8th graders who have been expelled from traditional middle school or who are at risk of not promoting have a place to to get them back on track before high school.
What is my true north? At the root of it, helping students like the ones I have gotten to know this year. I want to be their champion, and give them a reason to want to come to school. In the short term, I have a goal of making every moment of grad school count, of learning as much as I can about being a progressive and visionary leader. Even shorter, of pressing the pause button more often in my current situation. Of evaluating my beliefs, how my words and actions align with them, and how I need to refine them to produce the results I desire.
My long term goal is to lead a school that puts every child’s emotional well-being ahead of anything and everything else, recognizing that when we succeed at that, academic success will follow.
As I listened to Dr. Pumpian’s discussion of the first habit for this module, be proactive, the first of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements came to mind. Though I’m pretty good at remembering to speak with integrity, say what I mean, and use my word for love and truth, I do struggle with taking control of my actions without blaming others for the circumstances with which I am sometimes presented. It’s something I’ve thought about often but need to improve upon as I move into leadership.
The habit being introduced this week has been very timely for me. As a teacher on special assignment my primary role at Pajaro Middle School is coaching teachers to successfully integrate technology into their teaching practice. Being out of the classroom for several years I’ve missed having meaningful connections with students, so this year I started a Chromebook repair program to teach at-risk youth a valuable skill and work on building their confidence and interest in school. It’s been an empowering and transformative experience for these kids to learn that there are things they can be good at even if they aren’t good at academics and that they can be seen as leaders in a positive light.
Our group has evolved into a sort of informal therapy session – while we work the kids speak to me about just about anything, and I listen. They really haven’t had much that before, they certainly don’t get it at home, and I am working hard to meet their emotional needs so that they may also improve their academic and social skills.
I talk to these kids all the time about their role as citizens, the importance of their words and actions, the effects they have on others. I show them love, and I am their ally. They haven’t had a lot of that in their 13 years. These students will be my audience for this module. I believe that just as I can work on improving my proactivity, so can they. When they get sent to the office or are suspended I hear excuse after excuse for who (beside themselves) is responsible. While I often agree that the punishments at my school are heavy handed and ineffective, they still need to learn that nobody is responsible for their actions but themselves.
I can’t make anybody do anything, nor can I blame anyone else for my actions or decisions. As a teacher, I try to guide my students toward making decisions that will positively impact them and others. Teaching them that they only really have the power over what they say, what they do, and how they behave, will hopefully improve their situation and prepare them for high school. Teaching this to my students will also help me internalize and actualize the habit for myself.