Sunday, June 19, 2016

Always Look Back

Our school sent some fifth grade students to the local Air Force base on a field trip. So much fun: flight simulators and dreams of aerial somersaults captured the attention of all but a few. The lessons were ubiquitous: engineering matters, preparation is key to a successful mission, math is EVERYWHERE. The lesson I latched on to most was this: a pilot may spend 30 minutes in a briefing meeting to prepare for a rather mundane one hour flight, then one hour in the air, but once they land, they may spend two and a half hours debriefing. That means the pilot spends more time talking about the flight after she has landed than the time it took her to prepare and fly combined!

Can you imagine the implications of this same structure in our education industry? What if for every one hour math lesson, you took 30 minutes to pre-brief the mission, then you delivered the lesson, then spent TWO HOURS debriefing that single lesson!

This past Thursday was our last day of school. We had all staff, over 120 of us, all in one great big room. We hired a fantastic caterer, we printed individualized name placards with personalized notes enclosed; we scrolled a Google Slideshow: each slide featured a staff member's picture and a note written by one of our parents showing gratitude for our staff. The day kicked off with a waffle bar and rolled right into celebrations as we passed the mic. We all laughed, a few of us cried, but we all seemed connected after 180 days of the struggle.

My favorite part of the day was the reflections. We built a 30 foot long timeline; it had the school logo and it was decked out in the school colors. The timeline started in August of 2015 and ended in June of 2016. Some amazing staff had pre-placed some pictures of major events and celebrations on the timeline, so, to someone who didn't know better, they'd think the timeline was completed before our reflection walk even stated. In front of the table were nearly 300 printed pictures from events and photo opportunities throughout the year. Staff took a gallery walk across the printed pics, grabbing the ones that made them smile, then cruised down the timeline for some inspiration. We then had time to share, via post-it note, memorable moments professionally, personally and as a team.

The end product was so amazing it was hard to take it down. Literally hundreds of post-its with truly heartfelt and impactful memories of moments that spanned across the ten month timeline. Someone remember the day they announced they were pregnant, right next to a teacher who scored their first bundle of joy from Donors Choose. On one end of the timeline somebody got engaged, and on the other end they got married. People remembered CUE Conferences, workshops, staff lead PD, field lessons, special guests, school events and one person recalled that a particular student of hers had a "Complete Breakthrough" on October 23, 2015.

Somebody might ask if it is worth it. Why take the time to feed people, celebrate them, and ask them to spend time reflecting on a year that is in the past? Some people may say it is "Touchy Feely." I once had a superintendent look me right in the face and tell me that, "Morale is bullshit, results are what matter." Well, excuse my printing it on the internet but I think that opinion is bullshit. Our staff prepare for challenging missions all the time, they often fly solo without even a wingman overseeing their six: the very least we can do is to take a little time to debrief the mission before sending them off on 8 weeks of R&R, then launching them back into it all over again in the fall.