“Trust Me”

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“Trust me.” The words are supposed to bring you comfort, but don’t they kind of give you the creeps? It seems like every conniving bad guy in every movie ever made has said them. I did a quick Google search when I sat down to write this blog post, and immediately came up with this chilling moment from The Godfather, when Michael Corleone tells his reasonably suspicious wife: Kay, my father’s way of doing things is over, it’s finished. Even he knows that. I mean, in five years, the Corleone Family is going to be completely legitimate. Trust me. That’s all I can tell you about my business. (If you are not a fan of the movie franchise, you’ll have to, well, trust me: Kay should not have trusted Michael in this.) However, despite all of these movie-warnings (not to mention the politicians…), over and over again we ask those with whom we work to trust us. We’re not the bad guy — that’s other people!

A few weeks ago, my colleagues, Alicia and Jeff, and I agreed to try out being Blog Buddies. This was Alicia’s brain child. All three of us are blogging, so she suggested that we all write on the same theme one day, and then link to each others’ posts, and see what would happen. How would we take the theme in different directions? What would we learn from each other? Would our readership grow? We agreed upon the theme of Trust for our first effort in this experiment, and today is that day.

When we first chose our theme, my mind went to the conversations that we often have in school leadership. We regularly think about our work through the lens of Building Trust / Earning Trust / Deserving Trust. My favorite book on this topic is Stephen M.R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust. I’ve attended and run workshops on trust-building, and believe strongly that there is always more to learn about it. No matter how good we may think we are at this, we can all falter. We can all break trust, and then need to start again.

However, lately I’ve also thought a lot about Giving Trust, and that is my lens today, exploring trust through 3 avenues — Giving Trust to our Colleagues, Giving Trust to the Process, Giving Trust to the Universe.

Giving Trust to our Colleagues

One way to give trust to colleagues is to trust their work and their opinions. This part is easy! I work with incredibly smart, talented people — without question, I trust the high quality of their work and their professional views. I also think about trusting colleagues in relation to collaboration and time. It’s this: I am lucky to work in an extremely interdependent system. We try hard not to exist in silos, and thus when there is a project to do, rarely is one leader responsible for the whole thing. Much of what each of us does touches many other people and departments. This commitment to collaboration improves our products and decisions immensely, however there is a downside regarding our day-to-day work, as collaboration takes time, and time is a very precious commodity. We are BUSY! So, we find ourselves frequently waiting for each other (while the “other” is working on equally important projects!) — for questions to be answered, for one-to-one and group meetings to be held, for drafts to be reviewed. All of us sometimes ask others to find time for something, and all of us sometimes convey that we just don’t have time right now. We will soon! Why this big lead up? Because I think that trusting colleagues can mean trusting that they indeed are eager to work with us on something, and they will do so as soon as they can. The work ethic in my school system is truly exemplary, and we have to trust this ethic and the relationships that we’ve built enough to know that the work will indeed get done, and will be better because we’ve done it together.

We also rely upon this system-wide strong work ethic when it comes to our own departments. We believe whole-heartedly in surrounding ourselves with smart people, and then trusting them to manage their own work without top-down close scrutiny. This doesn’t mean that we don’t get involved in setting priorities, and of course we believe in the importance of checks and balances. But the “checking” can come from various people. In this case, trusting your colleagues means knowing that others are just as invested as you are in excellence, and then behaving as such.

As I consider Giving Trust in this context, it is not lost on me that there is, or at least there should be, a direct relationship between Giving Trust and Building / Earning / Deserving Trust. When our teams don’t believe that we trust them, then they don’t trust us. When we do trust them, and display this regularly, then strong trust grows between us. The thing runs on a continuous loop, I think. When the loop is broken, a swift attempt at repair is important. However, the loop may, well, hang by a thread for awhile. And, the more trust that existed previously, the more quickly the loop mends.

Giving Trust to the Process

Has anyone ever reminded you to trust the process? If not, then friend, I admire your patience! For many of us, trusting the process means knowing that when we skip steps, it shows in the end product. It also means remembering (or, if need be, reminding each other) that when we are worried about a situation, we likely already have a process in place to deal with just that type of thing. We have to just trust the process. Which can be slow. Which can be hard for us when we are worried, or hurried, or just generally impatient. (Impatience… seems like a theme… I feel another blog post coming on…)

Giving Trust to the Universe

There are many variations on this, some religious, some metaphysical, some that probably came directly from your mother. And in truth, this concept can be a bit hard to take in many contexts, as there are an awful lot of terrible things that happen in this world which can make it hard to trust that there is a reason for everything. And also it can be pretty hard to remember in the moment, even when the problems only FEEL gigantic. I remember once lashing out at my bewildered husband when he was trying to comfort me with, “It will be ok,” as I was sure that he did not know that! (Sorry, Larry… that was not nice of me back then…) (And also, thanks for not doing it again.) (Enough about my marriage.) But the point is this: if we want to subtract out the truly heinous things that happen to people, Trusting the Universe is a pretty good concept. And for many people, it rings true even in the most horrible circumstances. One of my colleagues has a sign in her office that I love, which reads: Not to spoil the ending, but everything is going to be ok. In most cases, I do believe that is true.  It just may be a pretty painful route before we get there.

If you enjoyed thinking about trust with me, I hope you’ll also check out more thoughts on the subject from my colleagues, Alicia and Jeff! It was rather freeing for me to think about trust as a commodity to be given away. Its quantity isn’t finite, like for money or time. In fact, it multiplies.

Professional Learning at Starbucks

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There are about thirty of us in this Starbucks in the Chicago neighborhood where I’m  spending my afternoon, and it seems that we are all engaged in something important to us. Some of us are reading, many of us are studying or doing some type of homework. Some are writing, and some are deeply immersed in conversation. A mom snuggles the toddler on her lap while she reads the newspaper. One lady is gripping a highlighter and pouring though stacks of papers filled with text, and I feel certain that she is pulling themes for qualitative research, just as I was doing a few years ago when I was writing my dissertation. And I am sipping tea, grateful to be enjoying self-directed professional learning time for a few hours.

When do you find time for professional learning? I don’t mean when do you go to workshops or discuss and share at meetings or (for Illinois administrators) attend Administrator Academies? I mean when do you read/watch/write/talk/create/learn because doing so is meaningful to you as a learner and leader and teacher of others? I’ve tried all sorts of things… I’ve blocked out dedicated time on my calendar during the work day, but have usually not lasted past a week or so. I simply cannot ignore the ringing phone or knock on the door, and well, let’s just say that I’m still on the road to recovery when it comes to the whole Checking Your Email Thing. Bottom line: at work, work distracts me from work. Or I’ve decided that I’ll focus on professional learning while I have lunch, but then I don’t have lunch, or I meet during lunch, or I actually catch up with someone at lunch. For me, my best self-directed professional learning happens outside of the work day. It happens as I listen to an audio book or podcast in the car or on the treadmill (currently enjoying HBR’s podcast Women at Work). It happens when I read an article on Twitter while my husband drives. It happens when I dive into a book on leadership or learning on a weekend afternoon. (Recent good read: Daniel Pink’s When, which fed my nerdy interest in the topic of Time.)

Enter: The Starbucks in Lincoln Square.

My husband Larry has been taking guitar lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music for years now, and I enjoy coming down here to Lincoln Square with him, pretending I’m cool enough to actually live out here. (I’m not. I don’t.) Last spring, I even took a class myself, enjoying thinking about teamwork while singing with a nice group of people. (Curious? I wrote about it… Work Team Lessons While Singing Doo Wop… Who Knew?) However, this autumn the electric guitar class that Larry wanted to take didn’t match up with any vocal classes, and so I’ve dedicated the time to my own professional learning.

Here I sit in Starbucks down the street from the Old Town School, sipping on my hot drink, reading, writing, maybe watching, and learning. There is one simple rule: I deny the urge to do any of the work that is specific to my job description as a school district administrator. I’m not answering email and I’m not completing a project that is staring at me from my Google Task List. I have been a working adult long enough to know that the email will never be to zero, and neither will the task list. So it is up to me to save myself! This is time that I use to develop myself as a learner, teacher, and leader so that I may be useful to others in ways that may not be described within that job description. I may be reading articles, possibly those shared by people I respect in my PLN, or retrieved elsewhere. (The newest issue of Ed Leadership showed up in my email box yesterday, and I’m itching to get to those articles on Social Emotional Learning. Also, our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Learning just shared an article about listening with compassion in the classroom… looking forward to reading that today, too!) I might use the time for reflective writing. (Does this blog post count? Yes, I think so. I’m thinking about thinking. Very “meta”.)  I may be reading a book. (Next week, I plan to dig into Rath’s Strength’s Based Leadership, lent to me by colleague and Learning Leader Alicia Duell!) I may be watching a Ted Talk; I may be digging into the Illinois State Board of Education website, reading about something that is coming down the pike. Sometimes, a muffin may be involved.

Today,  I’m reflecting on how my professional learning has intersected with Starbucks. You see, back in the the late ’80s, I was a barista in one of the first Starbucks in Chicago. I was experiencing my first real job as a half-time teacher in Oak Park, IL, and making up the other half of my rent by pouring coffee. There were no Frappuccinos then, there was no Iced Peach Citrus White Tea Infusion Lemonade. There was coffee, there was espresso, there was cappuccino, there was tea. And there was this 23 year old newbie, steaming milk and thinking about how to teach my third graders how to read. I love that I’m sitting here, so many years later, enjoying this same space (well, a few neighborhoods away), still thinking about how children (and adults) learn, and where my place is in it all.

Why this blog post? In John Stepper’s Working Out LoudStepper explains that Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. Perhaps my Starbucks strategy might help someone carve out that time for professional learning. And perhaps some of you will share with me your own strategies for finding the time – I would love that! Stepper also guides people towards accountability through goal setting that is shared with others. In some ways, then, this blog post keeps me honest. If I’m writing about it today, I sure better still be doing it next week!

My colleague Catherine Joy is my model for professional learning. She always has a new book or article, and she fits learning in anywhere/anytime: she is known to watch a Ted Talk while getting ready for work in the morning. Now that is dedication! I’m still working on it all. Today, Larry told me it was time to sign up for the next set of guitar classes — did the time frame still work for me? Indeed it does. Hey, nice barista behind the counter, I’ll see you next week!