Monday, January 16, 2017

Beyond 'Yep' and 'Nope': How To Have Richer Conversations with Our Students

“Anyone have questions?” Crickets.
“You doing okay?” Yep.
“You need help at all?” I’m confused. “Can you tell me what’s confusing?”   Everything.

Let’s be real. There are days when getting a root canal seems easier than getting your students to talk about where they are in the learning process. Teacher as guide on the side and facilitator of learning can seem quite daunting when conversations feel one-sided.  It’s hard to guide without the ability to tease out more from our students about their learning.

As we explore what personalization and customization of learning can look like in today’s schools, it seems we must consider this question: How can more impactful one-on-one conversations yield even greater learning?  While we can shift structures and create more opportunities for students to explore passions and make choices in the learning process, it seems we can’t truly personalize without getting really darn good at making it personal with one-on-one conversations that are deep and tailored to the needs of the learner. We have to figure out how to get our learners beyond the crickets and one-word answers, but this can be easier said than done.

Intrigued with how I might have more impactful one-on-one conversations, I started researching and came upon a fantastic article titled “Conferring: The Essential Teaching Act.”  Author Katie Wood Ray outlines 4 steps to more powerful conversations with our students. Though Ray’s context is about writing conferences, I’m finding these 4 steps to be practical and powerful no matter the context of learning.

I’ve created a simple guide to Wood Ray’s steps and hope you find it useful to make your personal conversations with students even richer!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

4 Simple Changes to Get Control of Your Email

How do you plead to the charge of…
emailing after hours? Guilty
emailing after hours in order to remove items from your personal to-do list, despite knowingly yet unintentionally adding them so someone else’s to-do list? Guilty

In case you haven’t heard, the French passed a new law taking effect January 1 that includes a provision to limit work emails during non-work hours.  Will this law be the beginning of a global trend?  Who knows?  But it did cause me to reflect upon my own email habits.  It’s an area that I’m intentionally working to improve.  While in many ways, email can improve efficiencies, enhance communications, and create accessibility, it can also create stress, miscommunications, and an impersonal atmosphere.   

As a school leader, it’s important to me that the culture in our schools is focused on building relationships and creating learning experiences.  Being buried in emails can erode a school over time. We must tame the beast!  As stated, I’m 100% guilty of poor email habits, but I’m diligently working to improve and am finding 4 specific habits to be game-changers for my email life.  

Change #1: Review the upcoming week and write any emails that I know will need to be sent.
As I’ve shifted into an administrative role, I’m finding I have more limited ability to schedule my day. As situations happen, I need to be available to students and staff.  Scheduling out my week and pre-writing emails has helped me to focus on priorities, make sure important tasks get done, and be as available as possible. I try to do this over the weekend, so I feel in control of the week ahead.

Change #2: Save these emails as drafts and schedule when I should send these emails throughout the week during work hours.  
The draft button has become my friend!  In the past, I rarely used it. When I had time to write an email, I would send it out no matter the time of day.  If an email isn’t needed right away, I now save it as a draft and send it at a later time during work hours.

Change #3: Make a concerted effort to be sensitive to the schedules of other people, and when possible send emails at a time that will likely best suit their schedule.
This one is challenging because I don’t always know the daily happenings of my colleagues, but I’ll give a quick example.  If I know a colleague is out sick, I will try to wait until they return to send emails.  There’s nothing worse than feeling like you can’t take a needed sick day because your email (and work) is piling up on you.

Change #4: When possible, seek out people for face-to-face or phone conversations, rather than sending an email.
Sometimes email is just faster, but I’m really making an effort to make my email list an errand list of who to talk with face-to-face.  Most of the time, those conversations then turn into an opportunity to talk about other happenings, which is always a good thing!

Even after making these changes, I might still be guilty of the above charges, but I’ve improved significantly. To my surprise, I’m finding that when I stick to these healthier habits, I’m less buried in emails and I feel happier and more able to focus on the real work!  I’d love to hear your suggestions for managing your email and/or about any specific email challenges you are facing in the comment section.