I received a text from an administrator part of the text said, “… I don’t know all the answers and don’t pretend to know… that’s just me….everyday. As you lead Kelly- you model this as well and that helps to prod our team in the right direction…”
I thought about the number of times in the past couple of years I have said out loud how important it is not to know and being open to being changed by what happens in the learning. This text made me think about prodding in particular and about feedback. Andrea and I are obsessed about feedback (although we call it giveback) and why it we cannot stop thinking about it, nor finding ways to give it back.
I decided when I turned 50 I was not going to nod anymore. I was going to give up nodding when someone was talking – no matter about what and to never ever do it again. Nodding is the worst form of feedback. We use it to feel comfortable in a conversation that may not make sense, when we are trying to figure out and need to buy time or to simply do it because words escape us. Nodding is the worst form of prodding. In fact it doesn’t prod it simply ends the thinking. “She is nodding, I must have hit that right on the head.” Nodding gives no one anything but a reason to stop thinking. Nodding is out of my repertoire. People do not want me to nod at them, they need me to listen to them, to hear the scratch of my pen in my sketchbook and to be able to giveback what matters. Nodding distracts from the giveback.
Nodding, feels like the words “great job.” Those words are nothing. They tell the humans in front of me that I was not listening. There is no evidence of having been changed and no evidence that I listened to you deeply.
Does nodding mean I am thinking about it? Does nodding mean I don’t have to say anything or give any feedback? Does nodding mean I am awestruck and simply have no words to give?
Holding my head still, listening very very hard and responding and giving feedback that is real and important and that prods is hard. I spent the day with many educators in several settings. I had to tell myself not to nod. I had to consciously hold my head still. Listening with my ears and my eyes is much harder than I could have imagined. When my mind starts to wonder, I nod, when a person is talking and I get excited, I nod, when I try to make connections in my brain, I nod. I replaced all of that nodding with sketchnotes and stickies and with the words that were spoken to me. I gave them back in different ways but I gave them back. Sometimes the giveback is not what feels good, sometimes the words selected are the words that need to be revisited. I am privileged that I have this job. I mostly get to choose the giveback. I choose carefully as it matters deeply. What is the prod – those words matter and because they were a gift to begin with – when they are given back they are done with the utmost respect and my most grateful self. I have given up nodding. It’s harder than I ever could have imagined.
5:00 am – Kelly in Ottawa, Andrea in Belleville and a hint of winter in the air…
A: I think this is so courageous. I can feel how hard it is and you’ve given up so much more than nodding. It’s almost grief. This reminds me of the “lead learner”. Is this an oxymoron? How can you not know everything and come across as a leader?
K: I had a conversation with a new colleague around some wording being considered in a document. There was a statement about the importance of administrators celebrating their educators. I circled the word and wrote beside it “giveback”. I asked him about the word celebrate and no explanation to follow about what that might look like? I immediately thought of it as you wrote your question. Imagine seeing learning right in front of you as an administrator, in a classroom, or having your mind changed by 8-year-olds. I wanted the word celebrate to not feel hollow. I wanted it to be a giveback of the words of the students and educators and had I been the administrator, to tell them what I heard and how I felt and why I learned. The giveback meant not only was I present but I was different for having been in the room. I don’t know how you know as a leader but I know that not knowing and then learning in front of the people who expect you to notice and be there with them feels like leadership.
A: “Celebrate” and “good job” translate as “I’m secretly judging you”. If there is judgement, there is criticism – even if you use an asset lens. Having your mind changed by those 8-year-olds is the same as forcing yourself not to nod. You will not pick apart their efforts, nor will you praise them with stickers. You will actually find moments, create wide-open space, to actually learn. Learn from the 8-year-old, learn from the educator or administrator – whomever. Maybe it feels like leadership to those we’ve learned from, but how does it feel like leadership to not be right, seek proof of having been right, to verify what you’ve always thought, to check off the criteria? Yesterday while having a conversation with someone I was literally thinking the whole time about how wrong they were. It was awful.
K: I used to panic during a learning team when someone made a statement or asked a question that was so left field and what I concluded in the moment was “left field.” What am I going to do to right this ship that has clearly been thrown off course by this moment? There was sweat. This is different than having a 1:1 conversation with someone. I realize. I have come to feel, that in a learning team, that moment or question is gold. Who am I to say where left field is and what if, what if, I had not considered that course and it was literally the yellow brick road. I know, in a 1:1 I am making connections and things are firing around in my brain and scratching me like the itchy tag BUT that is not a place of learning, it is a place of gathering and thinking and considering. I need to go away and mull it over and find a way to come back to it in a place of learning… 1:1 is a standoff and no learning happens there. There are words to giveback but not then…you were changed for having been in the room and perhaps you need to make the space? How can you leave a conversation feeling like space is possible?
A: Oh I can mull. I hadn’t thought of 1:1 as gathering documentation but as collaboration or maybe what I mean by that is compromise. Hmmm. I really just walk away defeated for not having instantly changed their mind. Seems a bit ridiculous. So not only do I want to be right, I want to be right right now.
K: My mind went to two places as I read your words. It went back to the “celebrate” and why I would be celebrating with an educator? Am I celebrating the learning I see right in front of me or that an educator tried something we had been learning and did it and it “worked.” And I’m thinking about a small northern high school in our Board. I am thinking about the administration there. They have a PLC with 12 educators on it with very strong beliefs and deep commitment. I do not believe for a second the educators would come to a literacy learning team if they thought we would not be learning and figuring it together. If they thought a plan had been hatched by the admin and the facilitators to tell them where and why, there would still be 1 educator at that table as that is where we started almost 4 years ago. The journey with that learning team had zero to do with me being right or that admin being right. It had everything to do with simply being and finding our purpose. And make no mistake, the hardest questions from every field have come across that table. There was a lot of sweat. I had to check “right” at the door or it would have been closed in my face. I am wondering about us and our place in the world and what we deem as effective leadership? Are we paid to teach and know or to learn in front of people? If it’s the latter, the chances to be right are really slim.
A: What about currency? To get in the room, to grow that learning team over 4 years – you established a trusting relationship. Sometimes I feel like my badge says – expect me to tell you everything I know. I feel it when the door closes. Are we really talking about identity?
K: Currency is a great leadership word. I think I will give up that word along with nodding. My friend Andrea holds me in listening and in empathy almost 100% of the time. I am very conscious of this. I am often the one standing in the room and people speak to me in a group setting. The precise moment the look away happens, I think two things – I have spoken too long and I am not listening OR whatever we are speaking about has caused discomfort. I did not build anything with the high school in the north. We make space for each other. The passion and the feisty are in the room but not to be right. There is an educator who comes and spends full days who knows my mind can be changed and does so with such force because we are learning together. He also worked alongside every grade 10 academic student last year and that school sits at 98% in the academic pathway. The same school where in 2 weeks everyone leaves for hunting. He believes he can listen to them and can change their minds but he is also prepared to be changed. I did not build that, nor did the administration. The room itself may in fact be the most powerful of all. I believe it can change all of us. The look away excites me. If you close the door, I will knock and ask why. I will also share that first time I was in a room with you and with Troy and we spoke of identity I panicked and looked within myself and had no idea. I was standing at the front with you and had not ever considered it to be something I needed to bring with me everyday. You changed my mind.
A: The relationship is the mutual understanding that we will bring who we are – even if it’s hard or uncertain. Everyone in that room – in that learning team in the north – was vulnerable. There’s something there that makes that idea NOT completely terrifying.
K: I am drawn to two places you have taken my mind over the last three years. I am with museum George and his 17 page article around learning as constructivist and I believe as educators we find solace in our classrooms with students and in rooms filled with teachers as places where we can learn. And I am nestled in the longhouse listening deeply to words that are part of teachings and life stories. I am not alone. I think back to the 1:1 conversation you spoke of above. Theories of action, speaking back and forth trying to convince another of what you believe may in itself be like selling a raffle ticket. You could win something if you buy this ticket. There is no feeling. There is only documentation and consideration, empathy, leaning in and circling back around.