Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Intentionally reflecting, revisiting, practicing skill development and advancement is challenging for me both personally and professionally, as it should be. I sometimes regret it when I dive deep into “sharpening the saw” and take on really challenging new goals because it means that I was just in a comfortable place or rhythm in my life. When I left my director position to begin a special education credential program I found myself questioning my efforts and new goal. Now as I work through graduate school, I revisit the same questions and know it is because I have taken on another challenge that has pushed me out of my comfort zone. After all, “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” I learned this quote from a fitness instructor a long time ago and found that it defined my life goals in general, to get stronger, gain knowledge, skills and always work towards improvement and growth. Naturally, I have set backs, but these too are challenges which provide greater learning opportunities.
Despite my doubts and setbacks, I get really excited when I get the opportunity to attend conferences or seminars of esteemed educators. When attending professional developments and collaborating with colleagues it is like a shot in the arm, stimulating the practices of which I routinely use and apply new skills and strategies to grow professionally. As I meet with my fellow elementary SDC teachers next week to gather feedback to present at the SELPA Leadership meeting, I will take this opportunity to “teach” them the value of this habit while actually practicing it at the same time.
I need to first listen to understand, then be understood, and synthesize a collective proposal to advocate for our programs. In this effort to collaborate and gather feedback from my colleagues to create our vision for our programs and current state, I can also propose to them to include the practice of “sharpening the saw.” Then discuss what it looks like to each of them and what they need to grow and develop professionally.
Habit 6: Synergize
Two minds are better than one. This is the beauty of civilization. Also, as Dr. Pumpian explains, better solutions come from collaboration. This week I discussed some needs in our department that could be addressed with reorganization and she added some more insight that should be considered and addressed. After listening to her perspective and issues with the current state, I feel more prepared to come to leadership committee meeting. While I was not prepared to discuss or hear the concerns of a colleague, this is a perfect example of listening to understand, then be understood as we discussed together how we could synergize in our proposal to the administration of the Special Education department.
I would say my biggest challenge with this final habit, is knowing when to enlist collaboration. As demonstrated by my impromptu discussion, I listen and learn a lot from others, but am not skilled in seeking them out. I am independent and take on everything myself by nature. It is hard for me to ask for help for a couple reasons but the biggest is because I don’t want to burden others. Professionally I know when collaborative input is needed, but when taking on projects I have a hard time asking others to share in it as I know how hard others work. I think my first task as a leader will be to change this thinking by planning with others for what needs to be delegated or done in collaboration to then identify when it is appropriate to make decisions or take on tasks independently.
I am going to teach this habit to my colleague who shared in identifying needs in our department. This will give me a platform to also practice this habit and enlist her to share in this role in leadership to better serve the rest of the Special Day Class teachers/programs. Together we can speak to the needs in both north and south zones, as well as empathize for each other having both taught in the other zone. Because the demographic is so different I know that others will trust and follow if there is representation from both areas of our very large district. I think this is first step in utilizing the the benefits of synergy for my department.
Habit 5: Seek first to understand
One of the first characteristics I notice about others is their listening skills. I think I do this because I notice how it makes me feel when someone is truly listening to me. Way back in highschool my favorite teacher recruited me to start Peer Mediation program and the first thing we learned was active listening and communication in order to find conflict resolution. This was such a valuable skill to learn as a teen and is probably why I notice if others really listen or even demonstrate interest in hearing my perspective because I can then gauge the amount of work or I value I add to the relationship.
The people dearest to me, such as my husband, mother and best friend are excellent listeners. They make everyone around them feel heard and valued and thus have many friends. This is why people want to follow leaders who know how to listen. Knowing and valuing this quality in others makes me strive to make a conscious effort to listen more than I speak. Now, as I practice Habit 5: Seek to First to Understand then to be Understood, I will listen with the intent to collaborate in solutions. I find myself with the position to do this I have joined the SELPA Leadership committee as the only person representing Special Class Programs.
Teaching this habit in my classroom will be seamless as I have been teaching an empathy unit in our Social Emotional Learning. Conflict resolution is a hot topic on campus and many teachers have embedded this into their class meetings. Now that my students are familiar with what empathy is, I am going to teach them how to apply it with the habit of “Seek to First to Understand then to be Understood.” I have some prompts available for them such as “I hear you saying that you feel ___when ___...” to support my students in practicing listening. I have also written IEP goals which involve conversing with perspective taking and this could be another opportunity to support my students in meeting their goals and build social skills.
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
I work for a large district that has its own SELPA, where typically it serves several districts or county. This could be a great opportunity to organize around the needs of our district, but that just hasn’t happened yet. The good news is this year we have a new director and a new superintendent. With new administration comes new opportunities but also period of uncertainty. With a step in the right direction the new director created a Special Education Leadership Committee. After our very first job alike meeting, we learned that there is no representation for classes like mine, Elementary Mild/Moderate Special Day Classes. With “The End in Mind” I volunteered after their were crickets in the room asking for volunteers. I then listened to the concerns of my colleagues and wondered how I can positively represent our classes and our needs at a meeting of Education Specialists all advocating for their programs. Each feeling the effect of changes in General Education increasing the referrals to Special Education.
I plan to teach this habit to a trusted colleague to better prepare us both for this role in this new leadership team. With a plan on how to Think Win/Win and approach the different needs of all interested parties, we will make steps in the right direction as a Special Education Department. This approach will help us to end the separation of programs with separate agendas and unite in order to develop a more efficient service model for our students with special needs which is the ultimate Win/Win.
3. Put First Things First
I found this habit to be the one I need most (so far.) When reflecting on the third habit of “Put First Things First” I found the that placing areas or tasks in my life in their respective “quadrant” allowed me to gain perspective on how I can organize my work, school, home, health, faith, marriage and three kids (not in that order) according to my priorities and “true north.” I know have always invested in what I thought was planning, prioritizing, organizing, scheduling, etc., but I am my life is still defined as Dr. Pumpian says, “feeling like there is not enough time in the day.” I often try to eliminate things from my plate, but many are not mine to eliminate because I am the mother of three busy kids. Professionally as well because I am a Special Day Class teacher where I plan for instruction and teach my students all day, but also must manage their Individual Education Plans and Behavior Support Plans, I do not have the freedom to rearrange report deadlines first. This causes me to bring work home, which causes me to work late after I run kids around and take care of my family. Then where does my school work fit? And forget about exercising, I stand up to eat dinner because if I sit down I will fall asleep and not get to my work which takes me until late/early hours and then wake up early to start it all over again. I definitely feel it taking a toll and was relieved to hear I am not alone. After compartmentalizing tasks I found myself relieved and referring to the image of my four quadrants. I exercised this habit when a friend asked me if I was planning on joining their book club. Saying no is extremely difficult for me and I really wanted to connect with this group of women. While I do see the book club aligning with my vision both professionally and personally to put relationships first, I have other relationships in my first two Quadrants that need my attention, in addition to school reading assignments that also need my attention which leaves me to conclude that I will need to ask to join at another time.
Because my husband is also busy managing his own business and two additional positions, I am going to teach him Habit Three: Put Things First. I think he needs it as much as I need it. It has been fun to teach him these first two habits, along with my son, as he has been referencing “True North” regularly now. While we sometimes overuse it to joke around, we both know how true it really is. This next habit will have us both not only referring to “True North,” but also planning around our vision together for our family and independently for our professions. If Covey hasn’t already used this for “highly effective marriages,” I would say there is a niche.
2. Start with the End in Mind
While my discoveries and experiences over the course of my life have impacted the paths I have taken, I continue to be on course for my life’s vision in education. I knew as a child that I wanted to be a teacher. As I experienced a variety of positions as an educator I have discovered that relationships are most important to me and having a positive impact on the learning of others is what I hope to achieve. I also want others to feel encouraged and supported so I made this step to learn how I can better do that through educational leadership.
I was asked by a family friend why I chose Educational Leadership as my graduate focus and not Special Education. My reply was, and is, that I see a need and I want to know how I can address it. As a Special Education Teacher I know, hear about and have felt very little support for teachers, and thus students, which is widespread in my very large district. In a career with one of the highest burnout rates, in a district with a particularly disturbing turnover rate, there needs to be a leader who prioritizes support for teachers so that they develop professionally and increase learning for students receiving services.
My plan is to continue to take action on my own professional development to compensate where my district is lacking. To continue to learn how to deliver effective instruction meet the needs of students now and prepare them for the future. I will continue to find ways to share my findings to my colleagues. My next step is to facilitate changes for my district to create leadership opportunities to coach, support and unify teachers in this isolated field of Special Education. As a leader, I see myself facilitating and advocating for equitable delivery of support, professional development, and resources for Special Education teachers and their students. To teach this habit and share how I start with my end in mind, I am going to organize a casual “support group” with my fellow Special Education teachers. Here I want to learn what their visions and needs are to take first steps on the path to my vision.
1. Be Proactive
I listened Dr. Pumpian I found myself thinking about how I have always been independent and goal-driven, but memories of both situations where I have been both reactive and proactive came in flashes. My first thought was doubt about my leadership habits as I then realized my greatest struggle is my own control and expectations as I quickly turned to assess myself with the CAPES. However, I had to remind myself of the his statement “you are not going to be able to walk into your school and take over” that is why we are learning and practicing right now. When reflecting on my habits as a professional right now, I am improving in my control or “trying to do it all.” I tend to take on all tasks to not burden others. I also have difficulty telling other no.
“Expect the best, prepare for the worst.” To be proactive means to prepare myself for what I will do or how I respond to situations that I know are difficult for me. As a Special Education teacher, part of my job is positive behavior intervention and support requiring me to know how I am going to respond to many situations, so that to avoid what feels almost instinctual reactions. I have ten “Calming Strategies” posted in my class to prompt my students when they are angry, frustrated or sad. I plan to teach my class that I too am learning how be proactive in difficult situations. I will also take this opportunity to teach my son about taking responsibility. This has been a blue-in-the-face discussion we have had with him since he was a toddler. Here we are, 14 years later continuing the same talk. Perhaps if I apply the three person teaching process over these next weeks.