Sunday, June 19, 2011

"No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care"

Post Cards from the edge of my life as a Tech Facilitator:

Wordle: Downs blog

As I was walking around the halls of my soon to be former school this week, a  revelation became clear to me, "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care..."  No! really... I mean that--- nobody cares how much you know,  they really need to know that you care first!  The line came to me from a close colleague and friend, Lacy Brigman who said it in context of how much she was going to miss me.  She said that what she would miss most about me is that I showed people I cared.

I thought long and hard about that and then came to realize that this is something that I need to share with administrators. Not because I am the best at showing people I care, but clearly it is a need that people are feeling out there especially in light of all the "bad stuff" being thrown at teachers these days.   I spoke at my administrative meeting the next day and tried to convey the meaning in Lacy's quote.  I think they heard me, but I felt like I missed saying some of the emphasis I was trying to convey.  So, the following is what I wanted to get across.

Why were people all over the school crying about me leaving?  Were they going to miss my help as a technology facilitator that much?  And my conclusion was:   No...I was really not that great of a technology facilitator.  Sure, I studied technology and have a degree in it, and after 12 years I think I have enough experience to diagnose many problems that teachers encounter on a daily basis, but in the end all that knowledge doesn't matter.

People simply want to know that you care about them.  Period.  What may seem insignificant to someone like me who sees a multitude of technology problems, to the individual teacher who has endured so much in one day, a lost file, a projector not working, or their laptop acquiring a virus can be enough to send them over the edge.

So, when I reflected on just what my strategies were in helping people, I came up with the following ideas and here in lies the lessons for administrators and other support people:

 1)  Let the person know you have their undivided attention. Listen to them attentively and look them in the eye showing them you care about their problem.  Don't be on your blackberry answering an e-mail while they stand there feeling like yet another person doesn't understand what they are going through.
 2) Let them know this same problem happens all the time.  There is nothing worse than being ridiculed and made to feel like being stupid is what caused the laptop to crash.  I have been guilty of this in a poor attempt at humor, but have learned that this can really hurt a person's feelings. 
3) Get to know a little bit about someone when you are visiting with them.  The personal connection can result in a multitude of "sin forgiveness".  So,  I might not be able to solve your virus ridden laptop problem immediately, but in the course of asking: "how was your week?" or "how are your kids?" you and I exchange just a little bit of empathy between one another.  You can't underestimate the importance of this.
4)  Compliment something in their classroom. (and I don't mean the essential question or some other "requirement" for a "classroom walk-thru").   Showing teachers you care about something going on in their room shows that you appreciate what they are doing for kids, and acknowledges them as hard working professionals.
5)  Finally, be calm in your demeanor and attitude.  The last thing a teacher needs after a day of students climbing up the walls is someone who conveys intensity and impatience.  If I act like the laptop breaking is going to "rock my world", it only heightens the stress of an already bad situation, and sends the message that my time is more important than their time.

So,  these are some of the lessons I learned this week as I walked around my school and had to say goodbye to people I never wanted to leave.  These suggestions are not all that profound, but I think they are reminders that we all need to be HUMAN first.  I hope others will take these lessons learned and know that there must be some truth in them since I heard them over and over again.

2000 Hours Project

(picture created by Jennifer LaGarde)

So, after a horrible week of saying goodbye to my close friends and family at Jefferson Middle School, I am trying to find solace in summer vacation.  I am still reeling from more or less being forced out of the school I started back in 1999 because of budget cuts.  But, I am not the type of person who wallows in self pity, but I openly admit this has been a very hard pill to swallow.

I am looking for sources of inspiration, and as is often the case I find them in social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.  My friend, Jennifer is always one of my inspirations.  I admire her positivity, her determination, her sense of humor, and most of all the quality in her that is always looking out for the best interest of teachers and especially students.  This week she posted two blogs that inspired me.

First is one about professional reading ideas for the summer:   One of the many things I love about this blog is that she acknowledges what teachers have gone through this year, and thus her number one suggestion for the summer is to "HEAL".  How simple yet profound?   This simple message of caring tells teachers that while we do need to grow, we first need to acknowledge the mighty challenges we have experienced this past school year.  How many times do we get directives for professional development from "higher ups" that don't acknowledge what we have gone through as teachers?  This blog also speaks to me particularly in light of what I have endured the last few weeks.

The second blog is a plan of action to address in a small yet effective way the attacks on teachers that seemed to have "snowballed" during the last year:
Here, Jennifer is planning to document the work she does outside of school as described in this blog by a teacher named: Charles Ripley .  Charles plans to video blog all the things he does this summer as a teacher that are professionally related in an effort to counteract the myth that teacher sit around doing nothing while the rest of the wold works during the summer. I think any teachers out there will find themselves shaking their heads as his first video really speaks to many issues that teachers are feeling right now.  I have started my google doc, and have already logged four hours this weekend.

This documentation is in fact something I already started this past year in an effort to highlight my daily job for a new administration at my school as well as for representatives in our state legislature who seem to think schools do not need technology facilitators at the building level.  I am going to build on this google doc with the summer work I do.  I hope you will join me, and send the message that teachers should not be taken for granted.  We should not allow ourselves to be sheep whose profession is under attack by "the wolves" who recently swept into power and apparently feel they have a mandate to destroy public education.

Friday, June 10, 2011

There's always sadness in doing something for the last time...

Thanks to the NC state budget, I was forced to make a very difficult decision this week:  Stay at my current school where my position as full-time technology facilitator is more or less being eliminated or pursue moving to another school where a full-time technology position is hanging on by a thread. This was a very difficult decision for me since I love the people I work with, love my school, and love the children.

I started at Jefferson during its infancy and watched it grow to a well rounded, mature and loving family.  I'd like to think I have given my best over the last 12 years at Jefferson.  I have taught teachers and students new technologies, and hopefully made an impact.
But, it can all come crumbling down thanks to the short-sighted decisions by the "drive by education experts"  in Raleigh.  I keep thinking to myself..."What reasonably sized business does not have a technology support person?"  Yet, we have a school of 1200 students, over 70 teachers, and over 400 computers/laptops and there will be no fulltime dedicated person to support that program?   It just seems ridiculous.  And of course I am not the only one being cut.  There are other critically important people at Jefferson and other schools who are being cut as well, and I am very sad for them as well.

There were many things to consider about this new job opportunity. For one,  I never wanted to leave my family at Jefferson, but also didn't want to end up "between a rock and hard place" trying to teach and support technology in a school so large.   I did not make this decision lightly or without much contemplation.  I wrote out all the pros and cons. I talked extensively with family and close friends.  I went back and forth considering both emotional reasons and rational considerations. 

In the final analysis, I took comfort in a couple of things:  First, I received a heart-felt letter from a parent of a student who graduated from college this May and had remembered me.  She thanked me for inspiring her son to succeed.  That made me think...maybe I did in fact do my best.   Secondly, I was reassured by a comment from a teacher at Jefferson who heard that I might be leaving.  She said:  "John, at first when I heard you might leave, I thought how can we survive without you? But, went on to say: "But, you have taught us so much...I think I can do it now."   To me that comment was a defining moment.  I can leave knowing that everyone will be fine.

Finally, in the last few days I thought about my mother who left her war torn country of Ireland a generation ago with a handful of children and very little else.  She not only survived but thrived in an entirely new country filled with opportunity.  I know that I carry her strength with me, but also know this situation does not even compare the the struggles she faced.

Like my mom leaving her family 3000 miles away, I will miss "my family" at Jefferson terribly.  I will stay in touch and continue to help in anyway I can.  But, I also know it will never be the same, and for that I blame the legislators in Raleigh who had other choices :(  Shame on them!

I am thankful for the privilege of working with such fantastic people for the last 12 years!