Friday, May 13, 2016

Increased Wisdom

1 Chronicles 1:7-11 tells the story about Solomon's prayer for wisdom:
That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
11 God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king,12 therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.
Solomon was no stranger to leadership.  He had, no doubt, been seated at the table with his father, King David, watching and listening as urgent matters were discussed and crucial decisions made. He had rubbed shoulders with greatness his whole life.  Understanding leadership was nothing new to him.  But then David died, and he was King.  Then, things were different.  Instead of  just having a seat at the table, he was suddenly thrust upon the throne.  It seems from the verses above that the gravity of his new assignment was dawning on him in a way that made him cry out to God.  He said, Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”  
In meditating on these scriptures I began to see wisdom in a new light.  It had never really occurred to me that there could be levels of wisdom.  I just assumed if you had wisdom, you had wisdom.  But what I'm beginning to understand (maybe I'm a slow learner) as I near the end of my first year as an assistant principal, is that the demands I need to place on wisdom are greater now than they have been before.  

When I was a special education teacher the scope of what I needed to know and understand was narrow.  What are the laws?  What are each student's goals? What are the accommodations?  How do we meet each child's needs?  How do I support the students in the general education setting?  How do I write an IEP?

When I moved to second grade as a gen ed teacher I became more global.  What are the standards? How do I build a collaborative team of teachers as the team leader?  How do I interact with so many parents?  Where does my grade level fit into the total scheme of things on the campus?

Then, as an Instructional Specialist I became even more global.  I was aware of TEKS for more than one grade level.  I was tracking TIER II and TIER III interventions and documentation.  I was involved in campus leadership meetings, disaggregating campus wide data, participating in many meetings involving children from several grade levels, and "anything else" my boss asked me to do.

Now I'm an AP and my world has become exponentially bigger.  It's not just the massive number of mechanical things I've learned - where to file this report, who to contact about this, what form to use on that, who do I call for this problem, and so on that - it's learning to see the big picture, all day every day.  It's understanding how everything is interconnected and how one seemingly small decision can have a ripple effect on so many other things.  It's the knowledge that every decision, every day, matters and nothing is really insignificant. 

For many years in my life I have prayed the simplest, yet most profound prayer.  It's a prayer that covers everything one would need in life.  It's found in 1 Chronicles 4:10 and my paraphrase is, "Oh Lord, that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory.  That your hand would be with me, that you would keep me from evil and that I might not cause pain."  So, the day came when God did, indeed, enlarge my territory.  I was excited, and nervous, and full of self-doubt - not because I didn't think I was equal to the task, for I have done many difficult things in my life and found my way in them all.  One can learn new skills and tasks.  The self doubt was in how much older I was in taking on administration than many of my peers.  In fact, the one person who prodded, and goaded, and encouraged me the most to go ahead and do this was half my age - literally.  Yet he was in my corner, cheering me on, questioning why I hadn't done it yet, surprised I wasn't already in administration.  Many times in moments of questioning I have reminded myself of how God used this young man to propel me forward into what I was supposed to be doing.  Thank you, @R_H_Steele.

As I have neared the close of the first year in this journey, I'm more settled and more confident. I've had the benefit of a tremendous mentor in my Principal and friend, @JaneOestreich.  My global perspective has grown and I understand how the multitude of moving pieces fit together better than I did.  Next year will be a year of solidifying the growth since I'll already know how to anticipate, at least to some degree, what's coming.  Now my prayer is wisdom.  Increased wisdom.  To see more.  To understand more.  To sense more.  The wisdom I operated in twenty years ago will help, but it's not enough.  The wisdom I used as a team leader can inform some of my decisions, but now my decisions carry more weight and I need an increased portion of wisdom.  The wisdom I gained by watching my principal, @LorraineShimizu, when I was on her instructional support team for five years provided another layer on the foundation of what true leadership looks like.  I am so grateful for all the experiences I have had and the opportunities to grow in wisdom through the years.  

I pray for increased wisdom.  Right now I have a seat at the table, but the day will come when I'll be sitting at the head.  I need wisdom to know how to "lead this people,"  whoever they may be. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Value of Grit

One thing I love about Twitter is how it spurs my thinking.  Sometimes I agree with a post, sometimes I don't, and sometimes I'm not sure.  My  friend and colleague @Mr_Braden recently tweeted an article from Education Week called, "Why I'm Tired of 'Grit.'"  The author basically posited the theory that grit is not all it's cracked up to be and that it can only get you so far. James Delisle, the author of the article, says that the concept of grit offers a simplistic solution to student and personal achievement.  He details several other reasons why people might fail, such as lack of interest or the impact of life circumstances.  He says that people who espouse the role of grit in achievement are turning a blind eye to role that genetics and natural talent play in whether or not one succeeds.  He goes on to say that grit "attempts to equate unequals as equals."  He opines that there are those who will succeed because of their great gifts, talents, intelligence, and so on and that others may try as they will but they will not be able to reach the same heights as, say, an Einstein in Science or a Federer in Tennis.

I want to approach grit in a different way.  I'm a literacy person, pure and simple.  I love words, quotations, books, poetry and crossword puzzles.  Numbers, I don't love.  I find them necessary to conduct business in this life, but I'll never enjoy doing a Sudoku puzzle!  I could apply myself to advanced trigonometry with all the grit I could muster, but it's unlikely I would be able to master the content.  I just don't have a strong number sense (closed mindset, perhaps) and I have to struggle to make those connections.  So I agree with Mr. Delisle in saying that grit will not level that playing field between me and someone who is naturally analytical and mathematical. 

So what's the value of grit?  For me, it is like this.  Grit is the power that propels me forward and causes me to be able to power on when things are really tough.  I am blessed to be a happy, positive person.  I am not easily depressed.  I don't tend toward negativity and cynicism.  But let's face it - we all have those times where we think about selling all our worldly possessions and taking a slow boat to anywhere.  Grit is that intangible thing in us that says, "Come on, try again."  That's what we're trying to help children see.  No one is deceived into thinking that every student will achieve at the same level by the sheer power of grit.  That's not the point. Teaching children to have grit is a priceless tool they will need to use their entire lives.  Who needs grit?  

1. The third grader who gets herself up and dressed, feeds herself and her siblings, and gets everyone on bus on time because the adults in her life can't or won't.
2. The little boy whose mom has mental health issues and on any given night he might be sleeping God knows where because his mom can't hold down a job and care for him.
3. The eight year old boy who came to my class for his reading group, but instead all he could do was cry because his father had died the week before.  
4. The teacher who is raising her children on her own and is struggling to stay on top of the demands of her job, her adolescent daughter, and life in general.
5. The fifth grader who has no legs and walks with crutches, but wouldn't let anyone help on the trails at environmental camp because he wanted to do what the other kids were doing.
6. The parents who are working two and three jobs to keep food on the table and keep getting hit over and over with bills they can't pay.

I could go on and on about who needs grit, but I think you get the idea.  Grit is not about leveling the academic playing field so all children feel warm and fuzzy about themselves and never have to struggle.  Quite the contrary, grit is the deep and enduring knowledge that I'm only in a season and seasons will change.  They always do.  Many years ago I ran across a quote that every now and then resurfaces, seemingly right when I need it.  If we don't teach our students how to endure in the tough times, we haven't served them well.  Power on, friends.  

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer. - Albert Camus