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Trust

A friend asked me to think about what the word “trust” really means. I’m presenting at CAGT on Monday (Please register here! It’ll be fabulous and virtual and you’ll get to see ALL the sessions because you’ll have access for a while after!) and really thought I was mostly done with the presentation itself, but the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized that the work we do with our gifted kids hinges on trust and I needed to go back and revise my presentation a bit.

I am a huge proponent of teaching self-advocacy to kids, particularly gifted ones, because their whole lives their parents have been the ones to fight the good fight on their behalf. They need more challenge, not more work. They need to be in the higher level Bible class because they already learned everything taught in the one for their age. They want more time on the field to get experience vs. riding the bench every game. They’re not being bossy, but want to be heard and understood by peers and teachers. They may need to approach a project or other work differently, and need to be given space to do that without repercussions.

Every time a teacher says that all the kids have to do the same thing otherwise their work can’t be graded, my heart breaks a little more.

We really need to think about the purpose of the work we’re assigning. I’m sure that none of us assign it to give ourselves something to do at night with a glass of wine or bourbon. We should look at the work we ask kids to do not as an assignment, but as a measure of progress…and progress looks very different from one child to the next. Why does everything have to look the same? And why does it all have to be evaluated exactly the same way?

Amy McInerney got an award every quarter for her perfect penmanship when we were in grade school because she was able to form her letters to look EXACTLY like the ones in the workbook. Mine weren’t any less neat, but they looked a little different than the ones in the book. I made my T different in cursive. My Q looks like a Q and not a swirly 2. My D looks like a D without a combover. But mine didn’t look exactly the same as the book’s, so I never get the award and got a lower grade in penmanship than she did.

Because I make my capital letters a little different doesn’t mean I didn’t make progress…it just looked different. But teachers often feel that if anything looks different than the model or the example, it shows that the child should a) have to do it over b) take a lower grade because it’s not what the teacher was looking for or c) have to “let all the other kids do whatever THEY want too.”

The cry for conformity is loud…and frankly, I’m tired of hearing it. Now is an excellent time for change…since we’re revisiting what school can look like anyway.

When I talk to kids about self-advocacy, the first thing I ask them is how they feel about the adult or peer they need to talk with about something. Some are afraid, because their parents always took care of it and here I was asking that they do it themselves. They are afraid of the teacher or person saying “No” and then being humiliated. Some are excited, because they have a lot to say and would love the chance to do something the way they envision it for once. It does come down to trust though. Do they feel they can trust that other person to listen to them first of all, and do they trust them to at least consider what they’re requesting?

I had a student once who was brilliant and could talk about anything we were learning. The kid loved to be the center of attention and was incredibly creative and dramatic. The thought of hand writing an essay, or even typing one, created anxiety and the child shut down altogether. Some teachers would see this as refusal to work and give consequences like “You can’t go to recess until this is complete” or “You will have to do it for homework.”

I sat with this student one day and said, “Tell me more about how you would show what you know about the work we have done together if I hadn’t assigned an essay.” The things the child came up with! So creative and unique (and so much more fun than writing an essay)! Finally, we settled on a newscast, which would have to have a written script (which wouldn’t be graded for neatness, spelling, or anything other than content) and be recorded using a program we had on the computer. We created a rubric and specific “must-haves” for the work. And it was brilliant.

We created trust that day. And from then on, I began giving kids the option to do things I came up with or determine what would best suit their way of showing what they knew. We worked together to talk about what the most important things we needed to evaluate to show progress. Those things were the same regardless of the end result. Doing this gave them the opportunity to problem solve, back pedal, collaborate, or fail forward and reflect on the successes and what didn’t go as well as they thought. They always knew that sometimes I’d need them to do something specific because I needed something in particular and I’d be honest with them about what I needed and why (like an actual essay to measure their progress in writing an essay), but having that freedom most of the time helped them grow in their confidence and self-advocacy skills.

I think what hurt the most were the times where they were confident that other teachers would do the same as I had, only to be shot down with no discussion or support for their learning self-advocacy. More than once I watched confident and creative kids come back to my room after asking for what they needed saying that another teacher had never even let them explain their idea. I hurt for them. And I hurt for the teacher, too

Think about what that did to the student. Think about what that did to their relationship with that teacher. Think about what opportunities were missed.

Our work with these tall poppies is so incredibly rewarding, adding this layer of trust makes it that much better.

“What is a Weekend?”

My favorite line in all of Downton Abbey is from the first season, the first or second episode. The Crawleys are sitting around their dining table, and Cousin Matthew notes that he could take care of something “on the weekend” to which the Dowager Countess queries, “What is a weekend?”

Sometimes it feels as though we haven’t gotten a weekend, a summer, a break for a very long time, or have any time that isn’t spent doing work, thinking about work, thinking about planning for work, and we spend lots of time feeling guilty for doing anything that isn’t work, and hoping like crazy that no one finds out we aren’t working when we aren’t at work. And I am fairly certain that while these feelings are particularly common among educators now more than ever, there are a few other professions where they exist as well.

Teachers are overwhelmed…and that’s really an inaccurate statement. There isn’t a word that expresses what teachers are experiencing. During the course of the day, they are fielding questions from children in front of them, online, via chat, via email, and queries from well-intentioned parents on behalf of their children either via chat, phone call to the office asking to talk to the teacher while they are teaching to get clarification, or via email with a follow up several additional times because their first one clearly wasn’t seen in the moment but still requires an answer.

Between classes and after school, teachers are posting videos for kids who won’t see them until later that night or on the weekend when they can get access, calling parents back, emailing parents about young ones typing “poop” in the chat for 90 minutes because their parents were on their own meeting in the other room, dealing with their own adult versions of typing “poop” in the chat for 90 minutes… They’re brainstorming with colleagues about how to modify a lesson to be able to be done with kids in the room, kids at home on their own, kids at home with parents to help, and kids who won’t see it until late at night.

I wondered while I was working on my weekly preview on Saturday whether the posts I share on social media upset the teachers in my world, seeming rude and disconnected. I post about walks to the park, Zoom wine class on Sunday, naps while the laundry washes itself, and quick stops for beer on the way home because it’s there and someone else brings it to me. When I looked through my planner, I realized that those are tiny moments of “weekend” I’ve captured… My work right now is very slinky-like, ebbing and flowing with short spurts of work time in between coverage for this, that, or the other thing, with a few longer sessions where deep work can happen… I got better about setting boundaries and still try to leave on time, but there are meetings after 5pm to attend, work for other projects to be done, follow up that can’t happen during business hours because they’re working too, and calls from my mother at 3am, afraid and feeling dizzy, when I have to be up in 2 hours to be at school well before a 7am meeting during which I listen to understand…not respond.

Cousin Violet, a part of me wishes that I could live your simple life. But I don’t know that I would be happy doing it. I might for a while, only having to worry about local gossip and social convention sounds quite relaxing, to be honest. I don’t know how long I could last though…

You said it best, “You’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do.” And so I shall…and take pleasure in the small moments of my weekends.

Wise Words

Many days lately…since March, really, I have ended my day frustrated, overwhelmed, feeling useless or unsure whether or not I’m doing anything “right.” I have the opportunity to meet with a smallish group of gifted educators every few weeks and I leave every Zoom meeting feeling alive and so much better about everything after I leave them.

Last week, wise words were shared and the next day I went to work and wrote them on a sticky note and stuck it to my nameplate next to my door.

Because I have chosen to work in the field of giftedness, in collaboration with a bunch of gifted people, serving a bunch of gifted kids, these wise words are so incredibly important to remember, especially now.

We had dreams when our building remodel began. Finally, we’d have wide hallways for kids, beautiful spaces with high ceilings and storage, rooms used for a variety of purposes with furniture that could be moved and reorganized and modified as teachers and students needed. Beautiful colored walls, lots of natural light, places for kid-created art showcases, and outdoor spaces classes could use for learning on the many Colorado days that allow it. Spaces for kids to refocus, take sensory breaks, meet with teachers one on one, and for teachers to take a time out of their own when they need it, to work uninterrupted on curriculum development and unit planning. Community spaces for collaboration and discussion, resource storage, a gym and theater space that served multiple purposes from middle school sports to large audience performances.

And here we are, on the edge of October, with so much left unfinished, dedicated construction and finish workers taking care of details everywhere, trying not to interrupt meetings or classes, working around all of us who are trying to get on with the work of school. Other staff are helping get rid of or store things we can’t use right now or won’t use anymore, while still setting up the critical pieces for learning: blinds so kids can seeFamilies are deciding whether to come back at all and just homeschool or unschool, stay virtual, go hybrid, or choose elsewhere that’s in person all the time because parents have jobs and bosses who can’t or won’t grant any more grace because they have kids. Classrooms don’t look like they should with all the collaborative furniture separated to ensure 3′ or more distancing between work spaces and community supplies packed up. The question “Will the kids be allowed to borrow books from our classroom library?” hurt my heart…it shouldn’t ever be a question anyone ever has to even ask. Teachers are trying to figure out how to manage keeping kids in seats without duct tape (seems there’s a rule about that somewhere…) while simultaneously providing engaging performance theater for those attending from home and also fielding parent emails and questions about what class looks while trying to teach said class because they feel like they aren’t doing it right..perfectionism is a thing for them too. And all of those lovely community spaces…closed until further notice because people can’t be that close to one another…

The sheer number of new multi-page documents that require review, publishing, and revising is tremendous. And each one hurts a little more.

Fragility for all of us is real right now. On so many levels.

We hoped for perfect. We kind of expected it because we had worked so hard to make this happen. Perfect happens when you work hard, right? We knew there’d be snags, glitches, criticism because there are so many opinions about what all of this ought to look like and, questions because not only do things change with every exhale, but they change upon the inhale again as soon as you tell people about the new information…there’s more, or different, information.

In all of this imperfection though, Brené Brown says there are gifts.

The realization that you meant something to a child because they keep asking about you.

The understanding that process is much more meaningful and demonstrates deeper learning than product sometimes.

The willingness of people to reach out to each other, to help, to support, to “pop in” virtually so someone can take a bio break, to talk with families to try to come to solutions, to meet on the lawn to troubleshoot tech issues, to meet at night after parents are home from work to to help their child.

The new ideas that spring from all of this imperfection…

How will you see the good shine through?

Drawing by Ciera Gonzales, 2007

Anna Wintour’s Sunglasses

I’m fairly sure I know why Anna Wintour wears sunglasses all the time. Articles about her say it has to do with lighting during interviews, or eye sensitivity, or just her wish to remain secretive and mysterious and not have people know what she’s thinking. I am pretty sure I know the truth though.

School began for me about three weeks ago. Planning for the beginning of school began in March, when we closed rather unexpectedly due to COVID-19. There was no Spring break, no Summer break, and while yes, there were afternoon naps, it was a constant “on call” and wondering when the next shoe would drop–would it be a construction boot? A loafer? Or a black stiletto with a red sole? Not just for me, but for several of us, fielding zoom meetings, budget brainstorming, WebEx meetings, district meetings, watching press briefings, fielding emails, and loads of other things we wouldn’t normally be handling during the “summer” no matter what else was going on in the world.

I blogged about our Season of Sacrifice last week…or was it earlier this one? I don’t even know now. I wrote about granting grace to one another. I wrote about kindness and understanding. I wrote about frustration and sadness and overwhelm. I wrote about taking Attitude Adjustment Walks (AAWs). None of that has changed. It’s still our season of sacrifice…this one will be longer. A lot longer. And for those of us who feel all the feels, for everyone all the time, it’ll be even harder.

I take my dog to the park almost every morning and evening. Last night, I waited too long and who knew? It gets pretty dark around 7:30 now. This morning’s walk was really quite nice–still fairly dark, but calm. Tonight’s walk, while earlier and still light out, was…frantic. Between answering phone calls, responding to texts and messages, dodging kids playing baseball and soccer, kids playing unsupervised and running at all the dogs (mine included) while their parents were checking Facebook, children walking dogs bigger than they are and weren’t able to control, and a kid on a bike riding at Mach 12 trying to mow me and the dog down while grinning like Scut Farkus as he blew past a second time laughing, I finally just stopped, sat down in the grass with my dog, and cried.

I cried because of all the questions I have no answers for. I cried because I don’t have the ability to make anyone’s life easier. I cried because I can’t fix any of the things. I cried because some parents are afraid, some parents are pissed, and others think we’re just twiddling our thumbs by not being fully in person right now. I cried because I don’t want to be on the news…for anything. I don’t want a reporter saying that someone didn’t use the right procedure, cleaner, disinfectant, mop, or whatever and someone else got sick. I don’t want to have to call a class-worth of families to tell them to quarantine because someone may have COVID. I don’t want to have to quarantine myself because I screwed up and comforted an overwhelmed child. I don’t want to lose friends to aftereffects of COVID. I don’t want anyone to resign, quit, or say we didn’t do the proverbial “enough” to keep people safe or make their work simpler. I cried because I sat through an hour long meeting about procedures and policies about safety and felt horrible for the host having to answer questions that there is no definitive answer for. I cried because kids are struggling and teachers are frustrated and both sides are shutting down. And I cried because the list of all the things I love to do in my work, I can’t do…either because I can’t afford to pay for the damn conference to speak at it even virtually or because I can’t be with kids to notice what cool things they’re doing and see if my gut instinct is right or because there’s already too much on the plate of teachers for anything else resembling professional development. I cried because I’m tired…and I know everyone else is too…and we’re all worried that we aren’t cut out for any of this.

Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief, Vogue Magazine

And that is why Anna Wintour wears sunglasses. She wears them to hide the tears, the runny mascara (waterproof mascara is a myth, for the record…), and bloodshot eyes caused by carrying all the things in her heart. Keeping it all from the prying public, press, and young boys in green shirts at the park asking if there is anything he can do to help as tears fall behind the dark lenses.

Odd Beginnings

I was on the phone with a friend the other night, lamenting 2020 as a whole, but specifically things school-related. When we ended mid-March, I couldn’t wrap my head around what would surely be the oddest beginning to a school year in the history of ever–starting school virtually when we are not a traditionally virtual school.

One of the parts I have always loved about the beginning of the year, aside from the smell of freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils and brand new boxes of Crayola crayons, has always been making connections with families and kids. Seeing the excitement in the eyes of the kids as they walk into what would be their new classroom, seeing old friends in the hallway and new ones coming to the door. Chatting with kids-who-were-mine during quick breaks between conferences, and hugging siblings of graduates and kids returning to us from elsewhere were the highlights of those first days. My Facebook feed the last few days as been all about how much I love family conference days and how much I’d missed our kids and their families.

Connection is such a big component of the relationships we create with our gifted kids, their families, and one another in our building. For a gifted child and their family to see that there’s someone who will advocate for them, who understands them, and who will truly SEE them for who they are matters so much, and I have worried endlessly since mid-March about how we could make that happen for this batch of kids, those who are new to us especially, but also those we have known a long time and who we know have struggled since we had to leave each other so suddenly.

When I think about friends who teach virtually, they have such a small snippet of time to make a connection with a child that it has to be incredibly intentional–there’s no time for stories, explanations, or those conversations that take everyone down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland. Right now though, kids will need that–many may not have visited many rabbit holes or Wonderlands lately. They will need time to really show teachers about who they are, tell about what they’ve been doing and enjoying and hating about the time since March. They’ll need time to share about what they want to learn, who they need in their world, and who we will need to be for them. Parents will always have goals for their kids and all have an idea of what they think virtual or online school ought to look like, but the piece that we need them to not forget is that their kids need to feel connected to their teachers, school staff, and all the kids in the “meet” with them. Building relationships is hard enough in person for some (kids AND adults) but virtual is even more challenging.

Before anything else, as we begin this very odd school year, we need to think about how to create those connections with intention, giving kids and their families the space and time to build relationships that eventually will move from the screen to in person, where hopefully we’ll be able to hug and fist-bump and high-five and laugh together and HEAR the laughter of one another instead of just seeing “Lol” in a chat or silent laughter behind a muted screen.

Off Leash

I went hiking with a friend today and we brought the puppies (all the same age) and their granddad. Granddad worked hard keeping track of the puppies, making sure they didn’t go too far ahead, run too deep into the brush, and that they came back when we called, modeling what behavior they ought to be exhibiting out there in the world. My little red girl hadn’t ever been off leash before, except in the dog park, so this was a huge thing for her to be trusted to stay nearby and not run off into the wilderness. I was a little apprehensive about taking her leash off, but figured I had to trust her sometime.

As we hiked, she kept looking back to make sure I was still there, that I hadn’t walked off with out her, and she stayed with the others, romping in the tall grasses, running ahead and back to us, exploring the scrub oak for sweet grass, and investigating horse poop and other scat. She came when called, and was polite when we met other people on the trail.

There was something about watching the dogs run and play today that made me tear up a little. Those few hours of freedom, still under the watchful eye of both of us and their granddad, who would probably be quicker with the redirection than either of us, build up the bond of trust between us.

I remembered that feeling from the classroom. The first time I planned a unit and the kids had ideas of their own and I made them a deal–you go ahead and we’ll see how it goes; if it goes south, we’ll try my way. And it went great–they ran with their ideas, asked for help when they got stuck, and reflected intentionally on what went well, what needed improvement, and what they wanted to try next time. I gradually let go as the years went on, and we created projects together, a few playing devil’s advocate for their peers or noting that so-and-so had done X and the results were less than stellar but Y worked well. There was collaboration and discussion and the kids grew, learning by doing, with not everything dictated by me. I had non-negotiables, of course, but most of the work they did was self-directed, peer-reviewed, and intentionally reflected upon. It was in those moments that I enjoyed teaching the most.

Like my little red dog today, the kids and I grew in our trust of one another over time.

Right now, teachers are scared about the upcoming year. For their health, their coworkers health, for the health of their kids, their families, and their OWN families. They want explicit direction about what’s coming next and how this year will look, but at the same time they are afraid of losing those learning-by-doing moments with their kids because nothing is going to look normal–losing those moments that build trust in a community of learners. They are afraid of expectations of others outside telling them that things must look like this or that–especially when those others aren’t educators…everyone has their idea of what school should look like, don’t they? They don’t want to lose the freedom to be the artists using science to do this work…

I talked to a friend tonight and we agreed that “Things” should be my job description for simplicity. My role encompasses lots of things: projects, work, interactions, support, and everyone believes it should encompass the things they feel are most important or that it should look a certain way. The beauty of this role though, is that it evolves and changes all the time, with responsibilities being added, changed, updated, and delegated to others as they’re ready to grow into them. I was afraid the first year–I’d been let off leash and wasn’t sure where my support was–who do I ask for permission? for what do I have to ask permission and what can I just do? As I watched my little red dog today, it was nice to see her grow a little in her own confidence–she does know the right things to do, who to trust, who to follow. I remember when my director told me I didn’t have to ask permission for everything…checking in was fine for almost everything. She trusted me.

I hope that administrators can remember that this year can be a true year of innovation if we trust our teachers off leash for a while to do that work, using their expertise, their creativity and artistry, and their love of our kids to help them grow this year, in the face of whatever may happen, checking in as needed for direction and to make sure we’re still there and haven’t run off into the wilderness.

From left: Keeva, Cap, Trip, Delaney (front)

Limiting Beliefs

I listen to several podcasts throughout the week. Some, like Brené Brown, just bring me joy and help me know that I’m not nuts. Others, lift me up and remind me I’m not alone. And still others are more focused, such as task completion, leadership, or ideas that cater to my business-world mind. The one today was a “best of” because the hosts are taking time off (as they should). A common theme was that of limiting beliefs, and the hosts have no problem reminding one another that something they’ve said is a limiting belief…holding each other accountable.

A limiting belief is one in which you have determined you can’t see possibility beyond a particular situation.

Statements I hear a lot come from kids:

I’m bad at math.

I’ll never be a writer.

I don’t get along with so-and-so.

I don’t do <activity>.

But some come from teachers (myself included) and other colleagues too:

I never have enough time.

All I do is go to meetings that are pointless.

I shouldn’t have to <insert task or duty here> because I’m too busy with <something else>.

I only have <set amount of time> to get <task> done.

The only (or best) way to do <task> is this way, because that is the way I’ve always done it.

I can’t teach <subject> because it’s not my thing.

I teach best when I am not collaboration with others. I know my students best.

What’s interesting about limiting beliefs is that they all come from the same root.

Fear.

Fear of failure, fear of being seen as a non-expert, fear of asking for help, fear of needing clarification, fear of what others will think…fear is what drives limiting beliefs. And the more we say them, the more we believe them and the harder it is to see a way past them.

Because COVID19 continues to run rampant, with more and more cases being diagnosed every day and schools trying to make the “right” decision, limiting beliefs seem to be louder than usual.

School has always looked a certain way and we’re in a position to innovate a bit right now which makes everyone very uncomfortable. There are no right ways to do online learning, hybrid learning, or cohort-focused learning. We haven’t done them before in a situation where the stakes are this high. Even schools that have been around a long time and focused on online learning only use different models.

The most important action steps of the work we will do this school year are the following:

Serve the kids. However school might end up looking, the kids need to be the focus. This goes beyond making up for “lost time,” academics, and test scores. The kids need to know that they are part of a true community of learners and that we are all learning how to do this together. Own your mistakes and model healthy self-talk when you screw up. Ask probing questions when a child is frustrated to get at the root of what’s going on–this is just as hard for them as it is for you. Honor their big feelings and check on them later on in the day to see how things changed. Plan well, but don’t be married to your plans. Don’t be afraid to ask the kids what they need a lesson or assignment to look like if you see things are going south.

Be flexible. Flexibility is the key to succeeding in all of this. Schools will surely provide guidelines as to the non-negotiables in whatever situation we find ourselves in, everything from how many times kids need to wash their hands to how assignments are to be evaluated at each level. Your go-to might be to get incredibly rigid in the name of Holy Accountability, getting frustrated that not everyone is doing it your way, giving kids lower scores, more complicated rubrics, or shorter timeframes to complete work than you would if they were in the classroom, and getting upset when work isn’t completed at all, instead of going back to what you can do to serve the kids and asking what you can do to help. Think outside the box and see how you can make “what you’ve always done” work in another way that works better for the kids.

Communicate. With everyone. Often. More often than you feel comfortable with and in ways that go beyond your comfort zone.

Reach out to families often, sharing wins, asking for support, and asking for honest feedback about how things are going with an open mind and listening to understand, not respond. Ask about how the family is doing–your relationship with them hinges on the personal part…we’re more than teachers and they’re more than customers. If you do this from the beginning, difficult conversations end up being much easier later. Take criticism, which will certainly be a part of conversations because everyone is worried and stressed, and let families know you hear what they’re saying and will consider what they’ve said…and then actually think about how you could implement what they’re asking and how it might impact the greater community.

Reach out to colleagues and check on them. Ask them for ideas. Ask them for help or support with something. Give them an opportunity to share their expertise and collaborate. Surely their imposter syndrome is as loud as your own and having an opportunity to feel good about something would help. Ask them to check on you. Make regular check in dates.

Reach out to kids and ask how they are in ways that have nothing to do with academics, classwork, or homework. Ask about books they’ve read, games they’ve played, movies or music that makes them happy. Let them talk your ear off for a little while about the things that matter most to them.

When there’s conflict, talk to the other person or people as soon as you can to clarify the situation and fix it. This is not the time to let things fester.

Remember your WHY. You chose to become a teacher. You chose it. It wasn’t just something to pay the bills or get by–you chose this life. It’s not always easy and it’s definitely not perfect, but you need to remember why you chose to be a teacher. Why did you choose to work with this particular population of students? What brings you the most joy when you think about a day that’s gone well? What do you work on that makes you happy or feel accomplished? Write it on a sticky note and put it where you can see it.

Limiting beliefs are more difficult to cultivate when you think about these four action steps. There’s no particular order really–every situation will require one be considered before another, but take time to think about all four when you find yourself replaying limiting beliefs in your head.

Disconnected

As I was walking my dog last night, I got cornered by yet another well intentioned neighbor asking about the plans for school in the fall. I’d been asked multiple times already yesterday and every day before (on almost every single potty break) because you see, when you live in a condo/townhome community and all of you have been cooped up for over 100 days, people begin to get curious about you and start asking questions. And when you have a dog or a baby, it seems people ask even more questions. If you are lucky enough to dodge one, you’ll run into another who will ask the same questions and more.

I understand, really. People feel disconnected. Many are still not back to work in any normal form, and some are either furloughed or laid off and looking for work. Others haven’t seen friends or family in a while, and most haven’t been anywhere that wasn’t absolutely necessary since all of this began. They want to feel connected to someone, something, and feel like they know *something* because there is so much we don’t know.

I hate having to shrug my shoulders and tell them I don’t know for sure what’s happening in the fall. I share what I do know, what little of it there is, and possible scenarios of what it might look like, while at the same time holding my tongue as they berate teachers for not “being willing” to do more for the good of the kids. Some understood that it’s scary for everyone, the idea of 25+ kids in a classroom who are incapable of keeping their hands off of their faces much less keeping their hands off their friends. Questions about recess, lunch, after school sports and activities. As though I should have the down low on any of it.

I thought to myself last night as I listened to the news that, frankly, I’m just tired of it all. (I’ve done well minimizing my news consumption over the last few weeks but it’s seemed to hit harder this past week as we hit the 100 day mark.) I’m tired of being disconnected from the people I care about, getting to see so few of them in real life on a routine basis, the constant stream of numbers indicating how many more have been diagnosed or have died, the seemingly endless arguments on social media over masks, political beliefs, the perceived lies vs perceived truths, future plans, everything everyone else is doing wrong.

If this is how I, a forty-something woman, feels on a daily basis, I wonder how this is impacting the kids we serve. They have even less control over things than I do, though I suppose they text and snapchat with their friends more than I do. Many of their parents are differently employed than they were in the past, and the money stressors are sure to be high because of it. I worry for them and their families. Parents often work hard to hide their worries and struggles, while others are far too open with what’s going on–and in both cases the kids feel like it’s their fault somehow.

It’s easy for gifted kids to internalize the feelings, worries, and concerns of others. It’s as though they’re hardwired for it. Many are empaths on some level, and that makes it even more complicated. Kids, particularly younger ones because they are often more sensitive, aren’t sure how to handle and work through their own feelings yet, much less take on the feelings of their friends and family. So some choose to disconnect even more, creating a bit more space between themselves and others to protect themselves.

I can’t say it’s a whole lot different for gifted adults.

Start…Stop…

I have started this post over and over again. I have stopped, swearing I’ll come back to it, and then deleted one draft after another. I read headlines instead of watching the news, alerts as they pop up on my watch or phone. There’s been some news, to say the least, and some of it is just unfathomable, making me reconsider if whatever I’m thinking even matters in that moment given everything else.

By this point in the summer, I have typically started thinking about how I want to evolve my role the next year. I’ve identified pieces of my job that don’t fit my title and give the wrong impression about what exactly it is that I do, and identified what I WANT to be doing for our gifted learners and educators to help them both grow.

COVID-19 and closures and stay at home orders and murders and protests and layoffs and furloughs and budget cuts and worry have occupied my thoughts and seemed so much more important than anything else on my mind.

I’ve attended several meetings lately where discussion turned to what teachers will be facing next year. Many in the group noted that there was a lot of upset as teachers felt out of the loop more than usual, with decisions being made about next year without their input, and they felt undervalued and some were even considering quitting altogether because so much was up in the air and no one could seem to answer their questions with sufficient detail for them to feel at ease. They’re anxious and angry. They’d gone into mid-March holding “crisis school,” feeling frantic and not knowing what they were doing or what was expected–some districts expected online school to look exactly like in-the-classroom school and teachers were exhausted trying to meet that expectation on top of taking care of their own families at the same time. They want to know what things will look like for the fall–are we going hybrid? in-person? online only? They want to know what options they have for employment as they, too, are worried about their own families and the risk they’d be taking in being in a classroom with 10+ students.

The consensus from everyone is that no one knows what the fall will bring yet. Change happens constantly right now and most districts and schools are trying to build a skyscraper during an earthquake. They have plans for this, that, the other thing, and then news brings changes which requires stopping to make more modifications or starting over altogether and a new set of plans. There is no one way to do this. Administrators aren’t trying to keep anyone in the dark, but it doesn’t make sense to share multiple possibilities for plans that change with every Apple News alert.

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

Even in my role, much is up in the air. What will my job need to look like? Will the things I see as needed be what others want done? A podcast I listen to every Monday noted that this is called the “Messy Middle” where goals may need to change and we may have to let go of the goals we’d planned last year or in January. What should be the focus going into the fall? PD about cultural responsiveness? trauma? online or hybrid learning? Synchronous and asynchronous planning and teaching? Regardless of the focus chosen, will it end up being what’s needed?

I feel like I start and stop things a lot lately, second guessing myself and the worthiness of the work. One of the pieces of advice in the podcast today was to go back to my Why. Initially, I’d determined my Why to be:

To engage in work that impacts the world around me positively so that others can grow, learn, and honor one another.”

I think this, along with several goals, needs to be revised to include the things about which I’m passionate. Perhaps another version or sub-Why is more appropriate right now:

“To engage in advocacy for gifted learners so that educators will be able and willing to see them, hear them, and begin to understand and honor them.”

How might your goals or your Why change? What have you started and stopped lately that you need to come back to and evaluate? Schedule a time to talk with a mentor or friend to talk about it…and about the fear that underlies all of this.

Controlling the Unknown

I’m over the virtual meetings.

I’m over hangout and social media chats.

I’m over strings of emails with one sentence responses and overlapping questions because we can’t just walk down the hall and have a damn conversation to fix a problem.

I’m over discussion of yet more education budget cuts and possible layoffs and hybrid in-person and distance learning and maintaining social distancing with five-year-olds and memos put out by people who last saw a classroom when they were in elementary school telling educators how school should look next year.

I’m tired of virtual happy hours and webinars.

I’m tired of being mentally and emotionally exhausted every day before it’s even begun.

A friend said it best this week when we were texting to find a time for a virtual happy hour. She said some days are better than others, but she hated having to be socially and physically distant from others. And she hated having no control over her future. That’s exactly it. That’s the crux of what is wrong for so many of us right now. I see my neighbors more (not altogether a bad thing) but never see the people I love. I don’t know what the future holds and that’s scary.

We’ve released from school, and technically summer break has started though it doesn’t feel, once again, as though it’s a break. My heart hurts, literally, for all the unknowns we’re left with and the lack of control that any of us have on our future. I can’t design what I want coaching to look like with people next year because I have no idea what my position will look like in the fall. I can’t plan marketing because who knows how we’ll be allowed to interact. All of the possibilities being discussed are mind-boggling and I can’t wrap my head around how any of them could actually work.

Small businesses and restaurants and breweries aren’t sure how much longer than they can stay afloat without in-person sales without restrictions and dine-in/drink-in options, and employees don’t know if they’ll have jobs to go back to when they do open up completely–on the one hand, they don’t want to take another position but on the other they need a job. Parents who have already been laid off or furloughed are worried about finding work, and unemployment will only last so long. Whole industries have been impacted by this, and those who don’t need financial support have managed to get their hands on it with no trouble, while those who do need it can’t even get an application to ask for it. Seems the rules change for those who have, and those who have not are again, stuck having not. And I hate that inequity.

We have little control right now over much at all and it’s frustrating. You can’t control the unknown, especially when you aren’t the one in a decision-making position. I got to choose wall colors for my office this week (Pollen Powder and Yam, for the record) and for a moment that was enough. Then a thousand other things I have no control over spilled out over the past few days and so much of what I feel is…sad, I guess.

Someone said in a virtual meetup that liquor sales have gone up significantly since all this began and I believe it. I know I have a fairly good part of my fridge dedicated to my liquor of choice. I say I drink socially (which generally is the case), but when you can’t be social…well, one crowler has to be consumed at a time (I will not be my mother and put tin foil over my beer to “save” it for tomorrow.) and I can say I’m supporting a small business.

And then there’s existential angst that comes up when you’re alone so much and you begin to doubt your worth. The beer does not stop the thinking.

I have four fairly big projects going for the summer, all of which have their own unique set of unknowns, and my ability to complete them successfully is a huge concern. Do I know enough? Am I doing it right? Was I really the right person for this?

Imposter syndrome is real, and it shows up in the gifted population with significantly more frequency than that of neurotypical people. I’m sure there’s statistics…but I don’t want to hunt them down right now. Everyone has doubts, but those in the gifted population run deeper and are more complex. I’ve watched it happen. I’ve experienced it. We worry less about how we’ll be perceived than how our success will impact others and the greater good. I think about my kids who have graduated both high school and 8th grade this year, and cannot even begin to imagine what they are going through right ow with all the unknowns on their plates.

I get so angry when I hear or see people spouting complete untruths about the impact of this virus on people. When they go on about how it’s all a hoax. When they say that masks are unnecessary. When they say that we’re all overreacting. So let’s assume it’s all a hoax and we are overreacting–that doesn’t mean the impact of it has changed or lessened. Families have been destroyed through the death of loved ones. How we view our society has changed. How we view education has changed. How we support our students and families has changed. And how we support one another has changed…and that hurts most of all.

I got caught up watching Jersey Shore over the past several weeks (no judgement…it’s as mindless as one can get and I’m fully aware I’m losing brain cells.) One of the people on the show left for a time due to anxiety, and when he came back, he was sporting a tattoo that said “Let Go, Let God.” He got it to remember that he is in control of his actions, but not the outcome. I’m not a really religious person by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to believe that something greater than myself is at work here.

Things I know are that I get to work with a brilliant team of educators who want only the best for our kids. I get to partner with others in a variety of organizations who want the best for kids and their families. I have wonderful mentors to rely on when I don’t know the answers. I have friends and family I can lean on when it hurts too much. Eventually the clouds clear (unless you live in the PNW and then it’s a crapshoot if they’ll clear or not). Everything has a season. People come into your life for a reason or a season…every interaction is a lesson of some sort and if we need more practice, the interaction continues to be presented.

I can’t control the unknown, no matter how hard I try. I have no intention of giving up, but I can mellow out about it a little and let go… The clouds will clear. And the storm will pass.