Active listening at a tech startup

Last week I worked on my active listening in the office. I chronicled every important meeting and conversation I had. Below are the highlights and lowlights.

What I learned

  • I was worst at active listening when I really needed it. (Darn!) I am now a believer that active listening can improve productivity and relationships in your workplace. Unfortunately this week of reflection showed me that it is hardest to do when it is most necessary- when any combination of these is true:
    • you in are a meeting with multiple people,
    • whom you don’t work with closely or daily,
    • who are expressing strong opinions,
    • and when you have strong opinions yourself.
  • It is much easier to practice active listening when any combination of these is true:
    • you are meeting with someone one on one,
    • when it is someone you work with closely,
    • and when they are expressing opinions you agree with.
  • One signal of good active listening: the person you’re talking to says “Yes!”
  • When I used active listening well, it reduced my stress at work, increased the level of trust in my professional relationships, ensured I was working with accurate information, and made meetings more productive.
  • When I did not use active listening well, it increased my stress, made me feel anxious about my professional relationships, left me at risk of missing the full picture, and made meetings less productive.
  • When I embarked on this weeklong journey I hoped that it would give insight into how I could better apply active listening in the workplace. What I did not expect is to look back at the week and realize how grateful I am to be in my job. Being a product manager is a wonderful role that gives me the ability to interact with many different parts of the company. In just one week I was part of conversations ranging from engineering to data to strategy, user research, partnerships, and sales. I am grateful for this level of exposure and involvement. It also made me realize that being good at active listening is key to being good at product management.
listen-cartoon

Calvin and Hobbes

What is active listening?

Active listening is hard to do. The premise is that when someone is speaking to you, you actually listen to them, as opposed to planning what you’re about to say next (or your grocery list, etc). Active listening does not come naturally to most people, including me.

The context in which most people hear about active listening is couples therapy. It might sound silly, but literally repeating back to the person what you just heard them say works. It works well in romantic relationships, it also works well with friends. It is validating and comforting to feel like someone understands you- and all it takes is repeating back to them what you heard! “It annoyed me that I was late to work because I had to walk the dog.” “I hear you saying that it was annoying for you to be late to work because you had to walk the dog.” YES, YES, YES! It’s magical.

I work in a fast paced startup environment, where maintaining clear communication and consideration can be challenging. So I tried doing some active listening at work to see if it was possible in a professional setting. Here are some examples.

3 Successes with Active Listening

Tuesday

  • On this day, my tech lead- let’s call him George- and I conducted many back to back video chats with teachers for user research. During these sessions, we asked teachers questions and took notes on their answers. Because a video chat can feel less personal than a face to face meeting, I routinely restated or summarized what the teacher was saying, back to them. The teachers always seemed to appreciate this- to know that on the other end of the line, they were being understood. When I correctly summarized what was said, they would often say “YES!” Active listening helped me and George conduct accurate user research.

Wednesday

  • We had our big weekly team meeting today. There was a lot to discuss as the CEO provided some critical feedback to the product team. Active listening was critical- in fact, at one point I explicitly said to the CEO, “Let me repeat back to you what I’m hearing you say.” This was a helpful point in the meeting for many of us in the room. Our team was able to process difficult information and the CEO could confirm our interpretation of his words.
  • As I was getting ready to go home, I was asked to speak with a member of our sales team, who had some questions before a call the next day. Our conversation illuminated some misalignment between what the sales team was selling and what the product team was building (a phenomenon not unheard of at many companies). This could have been an uncomfortable conversation but I was very focused on putting myself in his shoes and talking from his point of view. I knew the misalignment would have to be resolved and that it wouldn’t get done in that one conversation, which helped me stay calm and collected. Active listening helped me understand another person’s perspective, giving me necessary information to resolve a problem.

3 Failures with Active Listening

Monday

  • On Mondays we have a cross-product staff meeting with a representative from every product, where we review a document of all the work that will be completed that week. In this week’s meeting, the CEO was in attendance. The meeting was proceeding pretty routinely, but toward the end things got more heated when one of my coworkers opened a can of worms by asking a sensitive question directed at the CEO. This sparked an intense 5 minutes of conversation, with various people offering their opinions, and I couldn’t help but chime in, since the topic was something I felt strongly about. I failed to active listen in this moment, including when the CEO was speaking. The meeting ended with no positive momentum. I left the meeting feeling flustered- like my opinion had not been heard or validated in any way. I assume others in the room, including the CEO, felt the same. The lack of active listening meant the meeting ended without a cohesive understanding of key issues.

Thursday

  • My parents visited my work and we went out for lunch together. I find active listening with parents can actually be trickier than with most other people because I have a bad habit of reverting to an “eye roll” response in our conversations. Forgetting to active listen can lead to avoiding important topics.

Friday

  • During lunch I met with staff from our sales and marketing team. I did not do a great job active listening and – unsurprisingly- the meeting definitely could have gone much better. The sales and marketing folks are under a lot of pressure. Even though I can easily provide push-back to protect the work my product team is doing- especially the engineering time- I have to do it in the right way. Unfortunately  when my colleagues were speaking to me in impassioned tones, I could not help from responding in impassioned tones from my own perspective. This was not helpful, and the fact that it was a Friday lunch meeting doesn’t give me an excuse to not be as intentional about active listening. Again, the meeting ended with no positive momentum, and with skepticism rather than trust.

 

For more on what worked and didn’t work, feel free to read the full week-long chronicles. I approach this coming week in the office by trying to be intentional again with active listening, especially now that I’m more aware of the particular contexts in which it’s most difficult and important. Wish me luck!

So there you have it folks. Active listening. Do try this at home work.

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Active listening: the diary

This is the chronicle of my week, focused on active listening. To read the blog post summarizing what I learned, see “Active listening at a tech startup.”

Monday: 

  • On Mondays we have a cross-product staff meeting with a representative from every product, where we review a document of all the work that will be completed that week. In this week’s meeting, the CEO was in attendance. The meeting was proceeding pretty routinely, but toward the end things got more heated when one of my coworkers opened a can of worms by asking a sensitive question directed at the CEO. This sparked an intense 3 minutes of conversation, and I couldn’t help but chime in, since the topic was something I felt strongly about. I failed to active listen in this moment. I left the meeting feeling flustered. Instead of active listening, I had just thrown out my own opinion. I felt like my opinion had not been heard or validated in any way. I assume others in the room, including the CEO, felt the same.
  • Not long after, I was in a meeting with other members of the product team. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss  what metrics we want to look at. The answer was pretty clear in my mind and I ended up dominating the conversation with my input. Even if that was a productive way to engage in the meeting, it did not do me any favors. Though I didn’t get much push back during the meeting, I attributed that partly to people’s exhaustion from the previous meeting, which most of us had been a part of. Though I left the meeting feeling like I had contributed to the outcome, I did not leave feeling great about building relationships with my coworkers, which is equally- if not more- important to my success at work.
  • When I wasn’t in meetings, I was usually at my desk talking to the tech lead I work with- let’s call him George. George and I sit next to each other and have a lot to talk about. I think our frequent communication has greatly helped our professional relationship. I can tell we both put effort into understanding where the other person is coming from.

Tuesday:

  • My team’s morning standup went by quickly, and I did not directly respond to what anyone said. Quick standups are not necessarily a place to practice active listening, but I can still do a better job of making eye contact and paying attention to what everyone on my team is saying, rather than looking at my screen and nodding along.
  • I did not have any meetings all day (yay!), though George and I conducted many back to back video chats with teachers for user research. During these sessions, I asked teachers questions while George took notes and occasionally asked his own. Because a video chat can feel less personal than a face to face meeting, I routinely restated or summarized what the teacher was saying back to them. The teachers always seemed to appreciate this- to know that on the other end of the line, they were being understood. If I accurately restated what was said, they would often say “YES!” Teachers are also intimately familiar with the concept of “checks for understanding,” so they were quite receptive to my repeating what they said (some of them also said “great question” before responding to anything I asked, which I loved). I guess I just love talking to teachers. They’re the best.
  • In between calls, George and I continued spending much of the day talking to each other. I also noticed for the first time that I’m the only product manager who sits right next to my tech lead. I have moved desks a few times at this job and have sat next to different people. I’ve definitely noticed that sitting next to someone improves my relationship with them (on both a professional and personal level). I guess that’s the proximity principle in action. Since the most important person for me to work well with right now is George, there is no one else I’d rather be proximate to.
  • I had a brief one on one meeting with the CEO, where I started the meeting by asking him for some feedback on my performance. Asking for feedback was especially important for me that day, after the intense meeting we were both in on Monday. I was worried that I had upset him by talking back to him during Monday’s meeting when he was particularly impassioned, and I wanted to give him an opportunity to deliver feedback to me directly. Luckily he did not seem upset by my participation. He gave me some positive feedback which was nice to hear, and the constructive criticism he did give was not directed at me personally but at the overall culture on our team. Throughout his feedback, I did use active listening to repeat back what he was saying, and he exclaimed “YES!” when that happened.
  • Overall today showed me that I’m much better at active listening in a one on one setting. I also found today much less stressful than yesterday.

Wednesday:

  • We had our big weekly team meeting today. I did participate and I found myself much calmer. The CEO attended and delivered some of the same feedback he told me on Tuesday. I did actively participate in the meeting but I did not feel like I dominated the conversation. Active listening helped- in fact, at one point I explicitly said to the CEO, “Let me repeat back to you what I’m hearing you say”- which was a helpful point in the meeting for many of us in the room.
  • Two coworkers separately asked me to go on walks with them, which I really appreciated. One asked for my advice on a situation affecting their professional development, and another updated me on what was going on in their personal lives. It means a lot when coworkers confide in me, and I treasure that trust. I tried hard to practice active listening during both conversations, though I found it was more difficult to do when I had strong opinions to express.
  • George and I continued our video chats with teachers, which continued to go well.
  • Toward the end of the day I led a meeting on data analytics, looking at what new data we want to track. It was with two coworkers I work with closely so I had a good sense of where they were coming from. I wasn’t as focused on active listening but the meeting seemed to go well anyway, perhaps because we were so aligned on next steps.
  • As I was getting ready to go home, I was asked to speak with a member of our sales team, who asked me some questions before a call he had the next day. Our conversation illuminated some misalignment between what the sales team was selling and what the product team was building (a phenomenon not unheard of at many companies). This could have been an uncomfortable conversation but I was very focused on putting myself in his shoes and talking from his point of view. I knew the misalignment would have to be resolved and that it wouldn’t get done in that one conversation, which helped me stay calm and collected.

Thursday:

  • This day was relatively quiet. I had an exploratory phone call with a potential external partner in the morning, which went well- in part because it’s much easier to repeat back to someone what they’re saying when the situation is new and you’re still learning the context. Active listening comes in pretty handy, and almost a bit naturally, during these types of phone calls.
  • My parents visited my work and we went out for lunch together. I find active listening with parents can actually be trickier than with most other people because I have a bad habit of reverting to an “eye roll” response in our conversations.
  • George and I conducted more teacher video chats which all went well.
  • We had our company all-hands meeting, where I did not actively participate.

Friday:

  • George and I wrapped up all our video chats with teachers, which all went well.
  • During lunch I met with staff from our sales and marketing team. I definitely did not do a great job active listening and – unsurprisingly- the meeting definitely could have gone much better. The sales and marketing folks are under a lot of pressure. Even though there is much push back I have to provide to protect the work my product team is doing- especially the engineers- I have to do it in the right way. Unfortunately  when they were speaking to me in impassioned tones I could not help from responding in impassioned tones from my own perspective. This was not helpful, and the fact that it was a Friday lunch meeting doesn’t give me an excuse to not be as intentional about active listening.
  • I spent the end of the day Friday in front of a whiteboard with George, doing a design thinking exercise as we went over the notes from all of our user research. This was a highly productive session and we came out of it with some clear next steps. Again, the mutual respect and working relationship that George and I have built has helped us get to this point.
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More with Google Fusion Tables…

I want to make a map that changes based on user input. A map with a dynamic data source. Seems simple enough.  I hear good things about Mapbox so I downloaded Mapbox Studio and started playing with it, but it was pretty confusing to figure out how to do what I wanted. Maybe it just has way more functionality than I need.  So I went back to the simple Google Fusion Tables I’ve used before, and took them one step further.

I followed these directions on how to sync fusion tables with Google spreadsheets. It was straightforward but involved a few firsts for me:

  • My first time using the script editor on a Google spreadsheet.
  • My first time using the Google Developers Console
  • My first time enabling a Google API (Fusion Tables API)
  • My first time creating credentials to access an API
  • My first time using Advanced Google Services

Clearly, this is some 101 level stuff, but I’m still proud of getting through it! It involved some troubleshooting. Now I have a map that automatically updates when I update a spreadsheet. Yay!

Next step: turn the spreadsheet into a form, so that I have an interface for inputting information.

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Why per pupil spending?

As I learn more about public funding for education, I have been questioning why the de facto metric is per pupil spending. I’m sorry, but per pupil spending does not intuitively make sense to me. If you tell me that school A spends $5,000 per pupil and school B spends $10,000 per pupil, what am I supposed to assume?

  • That school A is hoarding money and not spending it on students.
  • That school B is wasteful and taking students on field trips to Paris.
  • That the district likes school B’s programs better.
  • That school A’s district keeps more money for itself.
  • That the two schools have the same budget of $1,000,000 but school A has 200 students and school B has 100 students.
  • That school A has more young teachers who make less money.
  • That school B has more students with special needs.
  • That school B was able to privately fundraise on top of its given budget.

For example, the website School Funding Fairness uses discrepancies in per pupil spending as the cornerstone of its argument that public school funding is unfair and inequitable. When experts present school funding numbers, I bet none of the above assumptions is what they want me to make.  But the fact remains that focusing on per pupil spending leaves me with more questions than answers.

The numbers I *actually* want to see when I think about school funding have more to do with:

  • How schools get their money
  • How schools spend the money

And when I think about the answer to either of these, I don’t think of per pupil spending.

How schools get their money

I want to see what money schools have coming in, broken down by federal, state, and local sources, as well as private fundraising. And I want to see *why* it’s coming in, such as weighted student formula, grants, etc.

How schools spend their money

I want to see a breakdown of school expenditures, including what % of the budget is spent on salaries, instructional expenses, enrichment programs, and things like food, buildings and transportation.

The good news is that budget information such as the information provided on the SFUSD website is presented in more detail than just per pupil funding. The bad news is it’s not always easily accessible in the most intuitive format.

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Donor funds used to cover salaries

When I lived in Boston I served on the board of a pilot public school, Fenway High School. Sitting on the  board’s Finance Committee, I got more comfortable looking at school budgets. In fact, one of my projects was analyzing budget data. I put together a presentation that showed while funding from BPS was declining, more and more of the funding that Fenway was raising- intended for enrichment programs- was covering basic operational expenses such as teacher salaries and instructional materials.

These types of insights into school budgets- which are just the tip of the iceberg- don’t come easily. Becoming familiar with Fenway’s budget took a lot of time and conversation with other board members and school leaders. As I learn more about public education funding, I’m interested in getting to the metrics that reflect what’s really happening inside the schools. Digging into funding for San Francisco public high schools, I hope to shed light on how schools get their money and how schools spend their money, explained in ways more intuitive than per pupil spending.

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Should schools try to boost self esteem? Can feminism help?

Note: this blog post is more personal than you might expect.

I struggled with low self esteem when I was younger, particularly in high school. As an adult who now works in education, I think about the types of educational reforms within our grasp that improve self esteem, particularly for teenage girls.

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Photo Credit: ReachingHigherGround.org

I contacted a couple friends of mine who have PhDs in Psychology, with special emphases on School Psychology. I asked if they knew of research on what school programs or interventions improve self esteem in youth. To my surprise, both of them replied basically saying “High self esteem? Why would you want that?”

 

My friend Marc said the following: “In social psychology, we generally frown on interventions that target selfesteem because we assume that what you should do is help people have genuine accomplishments, and selfesteem is the natural reward for those accomplishments.”

(This was interesting but hard for me to swallow, since I think I experienced genuine accomplishments in high school and also low self esteem.) Marc’s answer was just the tip of the iceberg.

My friend Jessica then pointed me to various journal articles written on self esteem, such as “An Alternative to Self-Esteem” from the National Association of School Psychologists and “The Truth About Self-Esteem” by one of my favorite education writers, Alfie Kohn.

As I read these articles and others (see “Self-esteem boosting is losing favor to rigor”) I quickly realized that for many people, improving self esteem means hollow praise, spoiled kids, sheltered existence, overinflated self worth, and the overall decline of American society. 

I winced as I read all this, thinking of the insecurities and low self esteem of my teenage years. I wanted to nurture and care for that fragile side of youth, and instead people see these interventions as a bad idea. Was I really wrong to think there was something schools could do to combat low self esteem? I hope not.

In the research articles and media pieces against self esteem interventions, what I see missing is the immense gendered experience of coming of age. This was central to my personal experience, where my own low self esteem was tied to my looks- I thought I was fat and ugly. When I think about the hours I spent thinking about how fat and ugly I was, and the AIM messages my friends and I were sending back and forth every night that said “you’re not fat, I’m fat,” I get angry- both at how I could have used that time better, and how I know I’m not alone. Millions of teenage girls are spending valuable time feeling bad about themselves- not to mention how this could lead to harmful behaviors- instead of channeling their energy in positive directions (and yes, genuine accomplishments). (Low self esteem in teenage boys is also often tied to gender, but I’ll save that for another blog post.)

One thing that could have helped high school Julia would have been a women’s group at school. A space for me to think critically- about why I was feeling certain feelings or thinking certain thoughts- would have helped me realize that the problem wasn’t me, it was societal pressures facing teenage girls. I came home after school every day and turned on MTV’s TRL, watching music videos of scantily clad women gyrating to the beat. Then I wondered why I felt like crap. It wasn’t until I discovered feminism that depictions of women in media became something I thought critically about and became passionate over. Being a teenager is hard for many reasons and dealing with gender identity is only a part of it, but the self esteem boost that comes from a feminist lens can transfer to dealing with non gendered struggles as well.

I did not discover feminism until I was an adult, and it changed my life for the better- primarily in opening my eyes to a world of social justice work that I could get behind- rallying together with women instead of feeling insecure and alone. I only wish I had gotten there sooner. After college, I taught high school at Leadership Public Schools in Richmond, CA. There I started a club called Ladies Outspoken, a weekly discussion group during lunch for high school students interested in exploring gender topics. Only one or two girls came each week.

As a first year teacher, I know I made mistakes and could have done better in many ways. I wish I did a better job building a community of support for teenage girls. Now I want to hear about programs that work, particularly best practices in middle and high schools. Should schools try to boost self esteem? Can feminism help? I like to think the answer is Yes and Yes please.

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Map of Public High Schools in San Francisco

I’d like to play with data visualizations of schools in San Francisco. So, let’s start with high schools, and narrow it down to non-charter public high schools. I spent some time finding data on the 18* public high schools in SF and learning how to use fusion tables (woohoo!).

So here it is, my first attempt, Part 1! A map of all the public high schools in San Francisco. Color coded markers based on # of students with free/reduced lunch. Click on the map below and you’ll be able to click on the markers and see more info about the schools. Check it out and let me know what you think!

San Francisco Public High Schools

San Francisco Public High Schools

And here is Part 2! Same map, now with color coded markers based on most recent API score (CA’s Academic Performance Index, which is currently suspended). Click on the map below and you’ll be able to click on the markers and see more info about the schools. Check it out and let me know what you think!

San Francisco Public High Schools

San Francisco Public High Schools

One of the first things we notice is the overlap between the two maps. Sad to see that the percentage of low income students persists as an indicator of school performance in San Francisco. I’m curious what else you see here and what questions this raises for you. What other ways would you like to see SF education info presented– exact correlations? a map of all the school mascots? Photos of the cafeterias? I’d love your input! Also curious how this is perceived by people who are or are not familiar with the city.

Suggestions on other mapping tools I should use are also welcome.

*According to SFUSD, there are 18 high schools in the district. According to GreatSchools, there are 23 (it seems to include 5 additional special education programs in the list). Wikipedia includes 17 of these (it doesn’t include the Academy of Arts and Sciences), listing 9 of them as “comprehensive” and 8 as “alternative.” Wiki also includes charter schools on its list. The 18 public schools in SF I mapped are:

  • Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Balboa High School
  • Burton High School
  • Downtown High School
  • Galileo Academy of Science and Technology
  • Independence High School
  • International Studies Academy
  • Jordan High School
  • Lincoln High School
  • Lowell High School
  • Marshall High School
  • Mission High School
  • O’Connell High School
  • School of the Arts
  • SF International High School
  • Wallenberg High School
  • Washington High School
  • Wells High School
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Cats, Minecraft, and Stimulating Professional Development- A recap of my first EdCamp experience!

I attended my first EdCamp on Saturday. It was, in a word, inspiring. Brought me back to my days running the DECal program at UC Berkeley, where students take ownership of their education and facilitate their own accredited group study classes. DECal sparked my passion for alternative education models, and I was glad to see those values mirrored at EdCamp. I was encouraged to attend this “unconference for educators” by my new colleagues at Remind, where I’m beginning a new role supporting the community of teachers who use Remind to communicate with students and parents. I was also happy to see a few of my Harker coworkers in attendance as well.

EdCamp San Jose (#EdcampSJ) was held at Union Middle School. Principal Todd Feinberg was kind enough to open up his beautiful campus to us. When I arrived, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect besides the general format of an unconference- participants come up with their own agenda at the beginning of the event. The first person I met at the event was Danielle Sigmon. Danielle is an awesome lady who works at Edutopia. Besides a shared interest in improving K-12 education, we quickly discovered another shared interest- cats! After going through the formal ritual known as “showing each other our cat photos,” I felt like this conference was starting out on the right foot.

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photo by Craig Yen

As expected, the morning began with participants writing on a board either what they wanted to learn or what topics they were willing to facilitate a discussion about. The board filled up quickly! Then the EdCamp organizers compiled the lists and put together the day’s schedule, which revolved around three sessions of discussion groups- everyone could attend whichever sessions they were interested in. It was awesome to see the broad spectrum of topics that the participants brought to the table.

[image]

photo by Elana Leoni

The first session I attended was on using Twitter and Voxer. I was so glad that people were interested in this topic and that someone had volunteered to lead this session! In my new role at Remind, I’ll be using social media to connect with educators, so I’m working on better understanding how these tools are used in and out of the classroom. I am not exactly an early adopter of new technology, so I tend to only join new platforms when it feels like most other people I know are using them. I have learned that there are strong educator communities on both Twitter and Voxer. (For those of you like me who hadn’t heard of Voxer before, it’s a voice-based platform where groups can chat with one another like a “walkie talkie.” It’s pretty fun and easy to use!) Thank you Craig Yen for leading this session! By the end of it, I had downloaded Voxer, created an account, joined a group, and had already participated in discussion! It was awesome to enter a session not knowing anything about a tool like Voxer, and to leave feeling comfortable using it.

The second session I attended was on using Minecraft in the classroom. My colleague from Harker, Diane Main, was facilitating this session, and she is awesome, so I knew it would be a good one. I had seen parts of the Minecraft documentary before, so at least I didn’t come to the session with the embarrassing notion that Minecraft was Minesweeper (woops… glad I cleared that up before the conference). I was only basically familiar with Minecraft — I knew it was a very popular game and that the founder is Swedish and did not set out to create a multi billion dollar company– he was just an avid gamer who happened to create a cult following. I knew from Diane that Minecraft was also used in classrooms, and I really enjoyed going to her session and hearing from many different teachers how passionate they and their students are about it. The primary theme I heard was that Minecraft is an incredibly creative tool– students can create their own worlds in the game. There is a version of the game called MinecraftEdu which is quite popular in schools. Diane showed some examples of student work using Minecraft- it was very cool to see how she integrated learning tools throughout the game, such as at one point stopping at a treasure chest and answering questions in written form. I came away from the session with a renewed interest in Minecraft- I’d love to watch the whole documentary and also read the book Diane recommended- Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus “Notch” Persson and the Game that Changed Everything. If anyone wants to watch the movie or do a book club with me, let me know!

There was a lunch break between the second and third sessions, which was a great opportunity to better get to know some of the teachers and organizations in attendance. I loved talking with an elementary school teacher who drove to the event all the way from Tuolumne County (2 and a half hours away!) and also some of the founders at Kodable, which is a computer programming curriculum for elementary school students. Great people!

I session-hopped during the third session, starting out in the GeniusHour session and finishing in the Creative Writing session. I hadn’t heard of GeniusHour before but now I love the concept. It’s also known as 20% time- similar to how some Google employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on a project of personal interest to them- some teachers encourage their students to pursue personal interests during the schoolday. Teachers Angela Der Ramos and Kathy Nichols facilitated the session, and I really appreciate the creative ways they support students in becoming self directed learners. I might have to check out this book that a teacher recommended- The 20Time Project: How educators can launch Google’s formula for future-ready innovation.

I could have stayed in that session but I was curious about what was happening in the Creative Writing session. I’m so glad I went to it for my very last session of the day! Facilitator Elana Leoni had asked everyone in the room to spend 20 minutes free writing, and I joined the session just as they were beginning to share what they wrote with the group. It’s hard to describe what it felt like in that last session- I had casually joined the group late, but was quickly drawn in, humbled and touched by the level of raw and personal emotion that the participants shared. The power of writing– especially creative, reflective writing– clearly touched not only those who shared their words but also those of us who listened. Out of respect for the personal nature of the stories, I will not share them here, but I definitely left with tangible insight into the value of creative writing curriculum and the #writeon movement.

As I walked back to the gym at the end of the last session, I was honestly sad that the EdCamp was coming to an end. And as someone who can think of a lot of things to do besides wake up early and attend a work event on a Saturday, that’s saying a lot. I truly enjoyed all the sessions I attended, appreciated the company of all the educators and educator advocates in attendance, and felt stimulated by what I learned. Throughout the day, I heard many teachers comment on how useless their district-mandated professional development was, in comparison to the self-generated, volunteer-run professional development they were experiencing here. That messages resonates with me, as I move forward with helping teachers feel supported, empowered, and part of a community that understands them. I look forward to harnessing the ethos of EdCamp in my work.

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