Framing the Work

On Sunday night, I found myself scurrying around. I took the air conditioner and fans out of the windows (I think summer is finally behind us), I folded one load of laundry and started a load of bed sheets.  I vacuumed the upstairs rooms, cleaned away some cobwebs, and dusted the bureaus. Then I started to put away summer clothes and go through my sweaters and corduroys. I was moving quickly (and a bit haphazardly) from one task to another, and as much as I felt busy, I didn’t really feel like I was accomplishing much.  Nothing was really finished. The rooms were now clean, but summer and fall clothes were scattered all over the place.  The air conditioner and fans were out of the windows, but still had to be carried to the attic, and the sheets were still rolling around in the washing machine, and the beds remained unmade.

In the middle of this hysteria, the phone rang.  It was a friend.  She asked me what I was doing, and I told her.  Her response was, “Oh, are you expecting guests?”  The fact is that yes, guests will be arriving soon and I am trying to get the house ready.  My friend’s simple question helped me to instantly frame everything that I was doing. I had a sudden sense of focus. Now, as I continued with my tasks, I started to feel like I was working toward something and everything I was doing had a purpose. It was like that ad for the antihistamine that instantly peels away the fogginess and presents a clear picture of the world around you.

I had a similar experience at work last week. I’m busy at work. Most teachers are.  We get up early, check emails, plan lessons, analyze reading and writing assessments, modify our lessons, check more emails (and maybe even send out a Tweet or check a post on Instagram), meet with colleagues, read professional books, blogs and articles, and the list goes on. We have a lot of ground to cover, but sometimes I feel like that is all I’m doing….covering ground.

This year I’ve been working with teachers on some strategies to make our Interactive Read Aloud more engaging and rigorous, studying student work, creating differentiated instruction from what students do well and can work on next, creating writing toolkits, and many other things. I’ve been busy, but not always feeling productive. Last week we had a meeting with one of our staff developers.  She started our session by presenting us with an Essential Question.  “How can we personalize student learning and improve student agency?”  I felt like everything I’ve been working on all year gained instant clarity.  I quickly saw how all of my work could fit under this idea. I can focus my work on developing personalizing learning and agency for both students and for teachers. This one simple question has helped me frame my coaching work.  The foggy lens has been stripped away and I can see my way forward.

9 thoughts on “Framing the Work”

  1. I had a similar moment on the weekend. My lesson planning was going nowhere and suddenly I realized I hadn’t established my goal for the week in math. I was trying to organize a bunch of stuff, but without a clear goal in mind it was going nowhere. As soon as I figured that out, it all fell into place.

    I think your goal sounds like a good one!

  2. This is so helpful for me right now. I am feeling very similar fogginess. I’m still in the classroom. I’m looking to move into coaching. Although I was disappointed I did not get a coaching job last summer after several interviews, I decided to spend my teaching time working toward more personal goal setting with students. Your comments about building agency and personal learning with students is the very work I am striving to improve in my teaching. To hear this very work is helping you focus and lift meaning in your tasks helps me to see how I could support other teachers in the future. It also makes me feel solid in the goals I have chosen to work on in my teaching. It was so wonderful to connect with you through your writing. Thank you.

  3. Amazing how clarity came from another person in both your scenarios – your friend and then the staff developer! Conversation is so valuable to not only our collective work but also, as your post points out, our own clarity! Keep sharing what you discover about how the kids respond to your work!

  4. You make good points. As a coach sometimes I feel that even when I can see a big picture, our team doesn’t always make that vision clear to teachers. Instead they’re left stumbling through a foggy To Do list mandated by district or school policy decisions.
    It’s not enough to help teachers master individual tools; we have to help them see with clarity how the tools and strategies fit together…and Why.
    I guess THAT becomes my new purpose.

  5. I appreciate this juxtaposition. It led me to note the empathy demanded by both situations, the thinking about the guests and the students who will soon be on the receiving end of your actions.

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