Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lightrail Learnings: Situational Context

I haven't taken the train much this summer, but with the constant and overlapping meetings I had all day I figured it was a great chance to steal some "me" time before and after work.

Normally I ride the complete route from first stop to last because of where I live and work. Like usual, this morning I stepped onto a fairly empty train around 7am, chose my corner seat against the window, and went into my own world listening to music, checking up on things before the day, and reading. It is part of my routine, I know what to expect, and it feels comfortable.

Usually I would repeat a similar process on the way home since I get on the train before many others who accumulate from busier stations, but my teammate offered to drive me to the station by her house so we could catch up and chat. Lovely time well spent, but as I climbed aboard a full train of passengers at this somewhat unknown station I felt very much out of place. You see, I didn't have time to acclimate to the situation or people who were already on-board. If something funny or dramatic happened at any of the previous stops I would be none the wiser. The people who were standing and sitting had presumably claimed their spots through some kind of, usually unspoken, situations that happened already. Maybe Passenger A offered Passenger B to sit down in the last available seat, but knowing they were getting off in a couple stops Passenger B declined the seat. Perhaps someone had relinquished a seat to an older rider and chosen to stand in an awkward spot near the steps. Regardless of what had occurred so far on this train, I was walking into the situation without having any of that context. Now maybe it is my hyper awareness of others' emotions and mannerisms that causes me to notice and contemplate these things. It could be my mother's attempt to create such a polite and considerate human being that I am constantly analyzing how my actions influence others. My guess is that one contributes to another, and in this case it is a bit of both. Regardless, I climbed aboard and tentatively made my way to the middle of the train to make room for a bicyclist who was trying to stand at the front with his bike. As I stood there I was struck by just how much different this experience felt than my typical ride, and it wasn't the first time I had encountered that feeling. I started thinking about what was contributing to this discomfort and realized it was most likely that I was missing context and background by entering a situation partway through the experience. 

Now I know this is common for many, and goes unnoticed for most, but for the few who do take note this experience can vary from mildly uncomfortable to downright unsettling. Furthermore, what implications does this kind of situation have in other contexts? When students get pulled out in the middle of class and re-enter after the mini lesson has happened for the next subject, do they feel this way? I'm certain there are kids who feel this on a sometimes severe level when they move and start a new school. (I'm certain because when I was 15 I was that kid and, for a number of reasons beyond missing context as a rural Sophomore entering a close-knit urban K-12 community, it sent me for such a loop that for the first time in my life I had the great displeasure of experiencing depression for the first time...yay.) My mind then bounced from the student perspective to adults, thinking of the new employee in a well-established office or the stay at home parent who goes from book club to parent/play group trying to find the place that feels "right". 

Don't get me wrong, many of these experiences are healthy, necessary parts of life. We all have to learn to navigate the sometimes uncomfortable waters of being "the new kid" or entering at somewhat unlucky timing in a situation. I guess it just got me thinking about what the rest of us can do to help ease some of the discomfort. Do the students who come back mid-class from their pullout group know how and where to access the lesson and directions so they can re-enter seamlessly? Do the new colleagues in the office get a warm smile in the hallway and have a place to, like the students who missed the lessons, build some context on the work being done without having to wait for someone to explain it all to them? Without always knowing the people in these situations how can we ensure that they are engaged in a healthy amount of challenge or discomfort for a finite amount of time rather than being pushed past these points and plummeting into straight-up anxiety and fear? For whatever it is worth I am going to be watching for these situations a little more closely and hopefully I can help fill in some missing context or, if nothing else, make a friendly gesture towards someone who may or may not be feeling uncomfortable in that moment. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Google Slides & Who I Am as a Learner / Facilitator of Learning

I started writing this "quick little" thought (HA! Have ya' MET me?) on G+ but it turned into something lengthier and perhaps more fitting for this space, so here it is. In my ever challenging effort to blog more and worry less about formatting & perfection I am just dumping this thinking so I can process out loud for a minute. You've been warned...

Background: I have been collaborating via Slides with some of my favorite colleagues for an event we are hosting tomorrow to help any central office district folk who wish to learn more about Google Drive and the guidelines we have begun crafting. Normally I use Docs for all my adult learning facilitations, but since this was a group effort someone began the presentations and a few crazy-talented co-workers jumped in full force and built some beautiful slides. Now I fairly regularly used, and enjoyed, Slides for my 4th and 5th graders, but the more I work on them the more I recognize not just that Slides are not my happy place, but the reason that may be.

Why I think Slides don't always meet my needs as a learner or facilitator of learning. 

  1. I am a perfectionist, incredibly visual, and my skillset is not that of a graphic designer. This means I spend an inordinate amount of time moving text & images from place to place trying to make it look nice. I know when it looks bad, but I can't see exactly what to do to fix it without messing about for a long while, and even then it might still look mediocre at best.
  2. I am a content-driven person. I love all the resources, information, ideas, and incredibly transparent learning and facilitating I can get my hands, err..brain, on (i.e. don't just say /share something, explain your thought process so I can learn from that, too). This is great and all, until I am asked to put all of that thinking & learning onto a simplified, beautified slide. Ermahgerd!
  3. I am all about self-driven and asynchronous learning and anything I create/share/teach needs to be able to hold its own outside of that hour or day when it was used in a lesson or facilitation. That means anyone should be able to look at the things I create and get something from them, learn from them, and ideally transfer that learning to others if they so choose. The premise of Slides, and similar tools, is to help a speaker give a presentation. That's great, if that is your purpose. But rarely do I ever teach in this way. I don't want to be the speaker, the keeper of the knowledge, or to present learning to others. I want to engage people in conversation, answer questions, facilitate their understanding and exploration of new information, and ultimately transfer ownership of the learning (both content and process) to the learner so they can apply and share it long after I am gone. (That doesn't mean presentations don't have their time and place, but I rarely find myself in a 30-60 min keynote kind of situation, and even then I want the audience to have something to take with them, that can be shared with people who couldn't attend, and that people can connect to during and after the talk. Hmm, actually I think I am just trying to be polite and PC here.. I would be hard pressed to find a situation where, as the learner or speaker, it would not be helpful to someone to have access to the information being shared. That just seems like good practice.)
  4. As a learner I want to engage in the content being shared so I can connect to it personally and apply it to my own needs. It drives me crazy to not have access to presentation materials so I can click on links, add notes/thinking/resources, and discuss with the others in the room through a backchannel. I don't want to spend time getting distracted Googling a resource or website when I could click on it and move on, and I certainly never want my attendees to do so, either. When I sit down and realize there is no way for me to access the materials being projected or discussed I have a very strong, very visceral reaction. I think this is something fairly recent, and probably stems from being spoiled in certain circles where people operate this way by default. I remember a year ago sitting down to hour 1 of the week-long preservice PD at my school and realizing there was no way to get the PPT, Word, and Excel docs being used. I vividly recall the feeling I had as I internally flipped my shit. *How am I supposed to manipulate this data for my own needs?!* *What if I want to take notes ON the presentation materials?!* *How can I provide my 2 cents on this stuff and share resources I have and hear what others are thinking and OH MY GOD NOBODY WANTS OUR INPUT OR CARES WTF WE ARE THINKING!!!!* Yeah, it seems dramatic...but it happened. I wanted to be part of a conversation, a valued member of the community we should have been building, not a receiver of information that 1-5 people deemed best for us. Learning should ALWAYS be reciprocal.
  5. My previous rant segues into the next point: I am most fulfilled and engaged in learning when I can give back to others. When I am not positioned to help people or to give something to others I am often very unhappy. I learn so much through the process of sharing my thinking, helping answer someone's question, providing a resource I have found helpful, or just telling people I am available as a thought-partner should they choose. When people are looking for help, even if that help takes the form of listening to them process, I am learning. Everything someone else says is a chance for me to hear a new perspective, to figure out where I stand and what I think, and to identify areas of growth or interest I want to pursue. Thus if I have a space to backchannel, hear what other people are thinking or wondering, and to answer questions people have during a session or presentation I am a happy camper who is learning a ton. 

So, when these things are met I can almost guarantee I am a happy camper who is learning a whole lot, and I try to ensure my sessions meet these needs for any learners in the room who feel similarly. Does everyone feel this way or learn this way? Nope, and that is awesome! I try to meet their needs, too, and to get feedback about how I can make the experience positive for everyone in the room. 

TL;DR: Slides are awesome, if they are meeting your specific purpose, but I prefer other tools as a learner and facilitator and now I better understand why that is.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Does Your Title Define You?

I'm thinking about the roles & responsibilities we take on, the titles that are given to the work we do, and how that influences some people to work and act a certain way. Here's what I'm wondering:
  • Does your title accurately describe the roles and responsibilities you assume on a regular basis?
  • When you tell people your title, does it help them understand what you do or further confuse them?
  • Do you do certain things, and perhaps not do others, because it is or is not (by definition) part of your title? In other words, does your title limit you or what you imagine is possible for you to accomplish?
  • Do you interact with or perceive people, or yourself, differently based on their title?
  • If you had no title and were going to create one based on only the most impactful as well as interesting things you do, or want to do, what would your new title be?