Get Out of Your Own Way

I  felt tired today.  A bone weary, drag my feet, cannot think of one more thing kind of tired. I have considered that my age may be playing a factor.  As I dragged my wagon filled with stuff from a thing back to my car and I walked and talked with a colleague, she offered to pull it for me – multiple times. She is ten years younger.  I declined. I am pulling my own wagon – I’m not quite there yet. I have noted over the past few months, that I am often the oldest person in the room. That strikes me – I am not quite sure how, but it strikes me.  I have never considered myself old and certainly not older, let alone the oldest but alas it is an actual thing.

I chatted today with two teachers who have fresh new contracts and we yakked about this exact thing.  It occurred to me, and I said it out loud, that I almost certainly know less than I did when I was almost certain about everything.  20 years ago, I was certain about purpose, my address, who I loved forever and my job as an educator. I was enthusiastic and dare I say firm in my stance about almost everything.  The older I get I am less sure but instead of feeling nervous or scared I seem to relish it. I have fewer expectations but I expect more from what happens in my life as an educator.  I worry less and think more. I talk less (hard to believe some days) and listen more. I feel deeply, am grateful for the learning and the messiness of it all. I reflect about do overs some days and simply talk myself out of that nonsense.  I get immense pleasure in not knowing the answer but I am insatiable in wanting to figure it out and spiral back around when it’s just too damn juicy to let it go. There is a crisis in this not knowing.  What do I say, what do I do, what if I can’t find my way?  There are many of those of those moments as I work beside many educators and many students.  


I remember feeling like I had to be sure, I had to have the answer and I had to solve the problem.  My solution to all of it, including my age, is to slow down and listen. The piece I need is almost always right there.  If I don’t fill up the space with me and what I think I know, the crisis of not knowing is as comfortable as my father’s old red sweater.  It always fits and feels like home. Ironically, most of the students I sit beside have never met me and we are almost always certainly reading and thinking and writing or talking about our thinking.  Adolescents are not super keen to sit with a stranger from the board office and do this. I have a very few minutes to make it work. They look at me and are often unsure about what to say or do. They also enter the crisis.  When I was younger and more certain I would have filled the space up and attempted to blab them into the moment. I am quieter now. I shake hands and go slow and listen. I give them space and time and ask quieter questions and let them be alone with the words on the page.  I underline and circle and draw some arrows and sketchnote a little. The look at me sooner. They skootch in to the table and lean in more easily. The quickly understand I am not looking for a right answer. I am valuing our time and the thinking and the uncertainty. They are unsure too but somehow the space between us does not have to be filled with nonsense. I say ‘I don’t know’ a lot.  I resist feedback in the form of nodding and “great idea.” I repeat their words back to them, underline their thinking or write it on a sticky and hand it to them. I am thinking deeply about feedback with my ears and not my mouth. They look at their words on the sticky and start talking to me about them. Of course they do – those are their words. They have more to say. They smile, they thank me, they shake my hand and sometimes ask me my name again.  I never once believe for a second that they cannot think about what we are doing or that they will refuse. They are tentative. Not because they don’t know or can’t but because they are unsure as to the why. We figure that out together.

A:   You say, I worry less and think more.  The worry, frustration, self-doubt show up for me when I think I should have and when I’m trying to manage what other people know about me.

K: I read this 5 times.  Literally your words had to sink in and roll around.  I have nothing to compare this to. I had to bring you – all of you – into those words.  How do you manage the worry about what people know about you. I make considerable assumptions about people knowing me – I worry less about being everything to all people.  I assume they know me – ironically I was just in blog 6 reading the first paragraph and highlighted this:

I was deeply envious that his daughters were learning with their father in that way and I asked myself if I truly knew who I was?

The punch in the face irony is not lost on me in the least…you just made me sit back. If I am wondering this – then how do people really know me?

A:  You cannot manage what people know about you.  Like you said, it’s nonsense. The thinking is how you know yourself.  Just now, when you sit back, you check yourself. I don’t know why this nonsense enters my brain so frequently.  You’ve told me that you have metaphors for reminding yourself that it’s nonsense. Leave it in the parking lot. Put it on the bottom shelf.  Talk yourself out of that #$%@. Get out of your own way. It’s your impostor. I love your metaphors! LOL

K: Wow – so funny and yet crazy when someone writes your words down and literally hands them back to you – you saved them all up LOL.  I think about day one of this job three years ago – that was my biggest in my head fight about impostor – what if everyone found out I knew nothing.  I literally had to talk myself out of the car to go into a school to be what I thought they needed me to be. If I had not gotten out my own way at some point (this never happened in year 1) I would not have learned a damn thing from anyone around me.  I remember the first time I “heard you.” You were standing at a whiteboard and you and Nikki were alone in a room talking about children – there were pictures. I was so embarrassed that I did not even understand one word about what were you talking about but I really wanted to. It had very little to do with the what – it was how you were talking… I felt it.  

A: Nikki is the thinking in fast forward.  When I might have needed time and space to walk away and roll it around, Nikki replaces that with a conversation. A leaping conversation where all of the threads travel with us.

K: I am thinking about “a leaping conversation” and how Nikki goes forward to slow down and go back around.  That is an incredible gift. She has listened so deeply, documented the words and then hands them back knitted together like a scarf and you simply cannot turn away – you feel like you might miss the whole reason why…Ironically you have the same gift but different.  You listen for the “something” that’s woven in. You make a connection and remember what happened 5 minutes ago, an hour ago, a year ago – it’s in your sketchbook. You root around out loud as you sew the threads – you talk to yourself and resay the words and search for the thread – I am a lover of those moments – I know I am about to be changed because I didn’t hear it or see it – but you did and I can’t wait.  We are all listening for something different. It’s why we have to say it out loud and get it into the space between – where we can learn together. I have learned to be quiet in these moments with you.

A:  You are describing how I think.  It amazes me that this is visible to you. I love the idea of listening to the shape of other people’s brains.  Does your choice of what you listen to or listen for reaffirm your stance?..keep you in the knowing?

K: I watch people a lot – A LOT now when they are in learning teams and meetings.  I watch them look up from their screens and blurt out a thing that is part of what we are talking about.  They have heard something they know or something that has been bugging them or have the answer and need to share it.  When they are finished speaking, they return to their screens. I try to imagine going back to that or I think about how I listened to get the answer and add it to my repertoire and think phew!  I still miss juicy bits the minute I let my mind drift to what someone just said and I catch myself drawing conclusions – I have stopped listening. It happened last week when we were together. I listen and document, but start mulling it over and trying to figure it out and miss the best part.  I was so irritated with myself and had to sit back a relearn – I had to watch you think and make connections – you did this without even looking at people who were speaking across the room – sigh. I went to a classroom the following day and sat with a student who clearly did not want me to sit with them.  Their head was down. The teacher spoke to the student and the kind of engaged them with what was happening. I said nothing – they wrote something on their screen and I couldn’t see it. I asked them to share and read it out loud and wrote it down when they did. I looked at them as I read it and I watched his eyes.  He waited for me to draw the conclusion and I literally had to bite my lip. You do this everyday as a matter of human interaction and as who you are as a learner!!! I bite my lip. I am still learning.

A:  Crisis and urgency for that student.  The blank page, flashing cursor, what he should know and write down for you and for his teacher – is that a space of learning? What will you know about him?

K: I go back up to our first few lines this morning.  I used to worry – still do – about being all things to all people.  This student was clearly agitated and irritated I was beside him. I did not try to fix this with chit chat and smooth it over.  I read the words he wrote. I had some slides the teacher shared and I turned them towards him. He leaned in and touched my screen – a detail – I looked at him…he said it out loud, typed something on his screen, looked at me and immediately read it to me. I high-fived in my brain and we were off. He was a deep thinker. He had a SEA computer from student services, clearly a diagnosis that would impeded him socially and not let him him hide his irritation – BUT he kept spiralling back to citizens when he was discussing his theories – over and over – how and why the population was doing what they were doing and why – we had little evidence of this and he was relentless in his own theories and searching the internet – the provided slides were not enough.  He drew a conclusion – three actually, then sat back. His teacher came over and read the screen and looked at me wide eyed. As he was logging off I told him a story – we had no screens between us – he listened without moving his body and at the end of the story asked HOW I knew this story and I told I him I had read it in a magazine at the dentist. He nodded and got up and walked out of the class. I knew a little of his why and his how but I only was able to figure him out a little because my mouth was closed and my ears and heart WIDE open. He was not easy but it changed me again.  

A:  It changed him.  He let you see, without nonsense.  I think there’s something to be said about moving toward crisis and then holding yourself there.  You have to hold yourself in that space before it becomes heightened and ugly. It’s like the love/hate of creating art.  You have to argue with yourself about it – talk yourself out of the parking lot – it is just part of the process.

K: There is that moment of nothing – I actually have no idea what to do here. NOTHING.  I could have moved on to another student because a 15 year old with their head down says no thank you and is hard and tiresome.  Holding myself in the situation is not about filling it with blabber, or feedback or encouragement from someone he did not know. It was about silence and listening and waiting for the space – I am not a great waiter…you know this.  But I was dying to hear what he thought …I knew a little of this student from our learning team – he was a tough cookie. He didn’t need something from me – he needed me and my ears. That is a very tough place for an educator 🙂

A:  I was talking about him. LOL

K: LOL – of course you were…He wanted to push back – if he had known me better he would have.  Hard – he is comfortable alone in his thinking – it’s difficult to capture. He gave me some stranger honeymoon because he was unsure.  The heightened and ugly were on the table for about 10 minutes. He stared straight ahead. The quiet and the lack of repeated expectations caught him off guard…at the time he is in this crisis of unsure I am right there with him – we are learning in public and sitting in a room of people… neither of us is loving this feeling but I am not sure why we are compelled to continue when something feels like this?

A: Exactly what I’m wondering.  How do we see this in ourselves in the moment?  How do we help students identify their own crises as actual moments of change?  I want my own parking lot conversation with myself to be a little more kind and patient, so that I am compelled to continue.

K: I am compelled to wait.  I am compelled to stay in these moments of crisis for as long as we can.  I am thinking about the drive home conversations with ourselves too… perhaps that’s when we are able to let the pieces fall into place or not but to, at the very least, believe that we changed for having been in the space between long enough that we felt a nudge, a reason to return to the crisis once more.

2 thoughts on “Get Out of Your Own Way

  1. Thanks, once again, to you both for stopping me in my tracks as I read your words today. This happens each time I read your blog, and I often find such depth here that I have trouble diving in – I know that might sound a little pathetic – especially from someone who advocates for online communities of practice. I have time to let some thoughts and ideas just sit with me today, which is a welcome thing and not as regular as I would like. I continually try to work on my ‘ask to tell’ ratio and stay focused on the listening – you articulate the challenges (and the rewards) so well.


    1. We have the very same challenge. Thank you so much for your time today. It means so much to hear from you and we will pay it forward. Make no apologies for slowing down. It’s all about holding ourselves in the thinking. We were talking today about the levels of prompting while listening. The expectant pause vs giving back your own words – both send a message. Thanks again Brenda!


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