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00:11 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to See Hear Speak Podcast Episode 10. In this episode I talk with Debbie O’Shea about how she thinks big, but starts small when managing burnout while leading change. Debbie shares her experiences as a reading specialist, teacher, and literacy coach balancing the urgent desire to make positive literacy changes within a US school setting with adults’ varied competencies and capacities for change, all while managing her own needs. We have an honest discussion about the key components for managing complex change, how to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others, and using the ‘Mind your Gap’ framework as a way to effectively motivate adult learners.
This conversation is part of a series on leading literacy change that I have created for a course I teach online at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.
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01:36 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to SeeHearSpeak Podcast. Today I have Debbie O'Shea and Norma Craffey, and I will start by having you introduce yourself, Debbie.
01:45 Debbie O'Shea: Hi, I am Debbie O'Shea, and I'm a teacher, and instructional coach for... In Boston Public Schools. When I started September will be my 18th year and I have transitioned from teaching directly students to focusing on teaching adult learners. I in addition to being a teacher in Boston Public, I have a Master's in Education Leadership from Northeastern, a Master's in Special Education from Michigan State, Certificate Advanced Studies from MGH Institute of Health Professions in Reading. And I recently completed my National Board Certification for Exceptional Learners.
02:20 TH: Wow, Debbie. You like to go to school.
02:23 DO: Yes, I do.
02:24 Norma Craffey: That's amazing.
02:26 TH: Put those together it's a PhD, it's two PhDs. If you put them together.
02:26 DO: Exactly, I definitely love to go to school.
02:31 DO: Maybe that would be the next step.
02:32 TF: Yeah, that's right.
02:33 NC: Yeah, definitely. Well, that's where I am. I am Norma Craffey. I'm a first-year doc student here working in SAiL Lab with Dr. Hogan. I come from a public-school background, similar to yours Debbie. I worked as an integrated special Ed teacher Pre-K to 2 for a while, and then I transitioned into a Reading Teacher role under Title 1, and I was also here at the IHP to get my Reading Specialist license.
02:59 TH: So today, we're gonna talk with Debbie, about managing burnout. And also just thinking as a leader, how to balance taking care of yourself with taking care of everyone else.
03:12 DO: So, the title of this presentation when I used to give it in person, was Think Big, Start Small: Managing Burnout While Leading Change. And I always started off with... You know that I'm a person, so I with multiple roles in life. So, in addition to being a mother and a wife and an aunt and a friend. And also next to a picture of my family, I often show a picture of me with a student and a grandfather. So, just saying that family goes a long way in the work that we do, with both my own family and that the role I have on the stakeholders of what I... With whom I work are the students, but also their families at large.
03:53 TH: Absolutely. And then yesterday we spoke with a few people about the... Julie and Kelly about compass points and I'd like how you would bring that into this discussion too.
04:03 DO: Yeah, so I'm a big fan of compass points. That's actually something, as I've transitioned into leadership, I have all of my teams do at least once a year, if not even more, 'cause I also think you can transform from being... I started directly south, when I first started with education, which then I quickly realized that the shortcoming of being in only South is that things weren't getting done. So I had to move into other directions. And it also is important that teams are made up of different directions on a group. So even within this room, we have like a west and east and a north. And so I think that that's really important to think that change happens when we are all working together with different skill-sets. Something like that.
04:43 TH: Yes, I like that, I shared that with... I've had... A couple of years ago we had, in the lab, every... We realized in this activity that we had all four points. So we've really started to use that as our kind of mantra, and you'll see on the wall of my office, I have the compass. And that's why, because we started to give each other a little compass. Because we realized that it was such a nice representation of how we worked well together, but we also recognized our differences. So I think that was a fun thing to do.
05:12 DO: And self-awareness is key because I think when I'm trying to have change occur, I have a sense of urgency like well we might have a new teacher hired but the students in front of them don't have a year for her to learn how to teach reading to students of multiple languages and different L1s that are across a variety of domains, whether it's just they only have oral language in their family's language or how that works. So we don't have a year for that person to learn when in actuality there are different ways for that... We can use each other's skill-sets to help with that, because there is a sense of urgency in education. But we feel like we want everything done now, but without ourselves making sure we're in touch with people's feelings. The east to have the vision work that is this year, next year, or 10 years from now, the west to help us plan it out and the norths to make it happen. I think this is kind of what like... When we feel a sense of urgency it slows us down, so that manageable action can happen.
06:05 TH: That makes total sense. I love when you talk about you're managing complex change like you feel this urgency but it takes time. And can you talk us through this amazing graphic that I'll put on the resources page, about managing complex change and all the different aspects. If something's missing what does it look like?
06:24 DO: So I... This is in a binder, I haven't resourced this. So I highly encourage people as they go into this work is to hold on to the touchstone text that are transformative in your own thinking and practice, that help you develop the principles of what you believe, what you stand for, and what resources can help people better comprehend, what you're saying or why you're leading people. And this is one that is tattered, it's tattered salmon colored paper. And I keep the original, because it was so pivotal in my leadership development. And it's what I got during my administrator program, and leadership program. And it just really helped me, when I could gather... That a group was feeling a certain way or even an individual, it really let me see that what was missing from this equation. So vision plus consensus plus skills plus incentive plus resources plus action plan equals change.
07:14 DO: And when trying to mobilize adult learners to make change, for again the pure benefit of our students and their families, it is really important to pay attention to where the adults are and I feel like as in a leadership role, it's our responsibility to fill in those missing parts of the equation. And when it comes to leading literacy change, and my experience in Boston Public Schools as a teacher, special education teacher, ELL teacher, classroom teacher, and then as administrator and now as a teacher leader, I think the biggest piece missing for a lot of people is this action plan. The schools tend to begin to feel like a treadmill for doing the same thing all the time, and nothing is changing. And that is where I think the skill-set of being able to develop an action plan, implementing it, holding people accountable...
08:04 DO: We were just talking. When I have personal things going on like a sick kid, something might fall through the cracks. And I need that accountability not for someone to not be compassionate about what I might be going through, but to say, "For this to happen, for our vision to occur, we need this action plan." So that sense of accountability that an action plan creates, I feel like, has for me been, in this long equation, one of the huge pieces.
08:26 TH: So in the equation, if you have, you might have vision. You can even have consensus. You have the skills needed. You have the incentive. A lot of times, maybe the incentive is just wanting children to do better in literacy, for instance. You have the resources, but then if you don't have that action plan, what I like about this is it lays out... If you have all those components and this one's missing, it equals treadmill-filling. That's so cool.
08:49 DO: Yes, yeah.
08:50 NC: I think that's such a common feeling in education is having that treadmill, whether it's curriculum fatigue 'cause we're gonna adopt something new because what we didn't do last time. So that's a really interesting way to look at it is not having that action plan. I also like how you mentioned about holding people accountable while being compassionate towards them because I think so few times in education, we experience that with our administrators and vice versa, or anyone who's coaching us, and how that can really acknowledge that we are people-first, and that there are life issues that come across our way. And it doesn't mean that we no longer want to do our best or do our best by children, but that... And acknowledging and holding them accountable, you can also give them that, that piece of compassion that builds that relationship.
09:36 DO: And with the creation of an action plan, it could be something that is very comprehensive and involves many stakeholders. It could be that while you're trying to... You go to a conference or you take a class at MGH, IHP, and you hear about this amazing program that you realized your school really needs. But you go to the administrator and you're like, "We need this program," and they're like, "No, it's not the budget. There's... " They're seeing it as a sense of urgency on... Just so it's an urgency on my part, or priority may not be that it is for them. And it's like, "How do you plant a seed and water it?" Is what I often think of to that image in my head. And so, that's where the title of this “Think big, start small”; you may not be able to get the district level or school level, but you might find a colleague who the two of you can reach out to somebody and say, "We wanna pilot this." And maybe in the budget, is willing to pilot it in one classroom, and then so think big, start small. And then that can be an action plan, that it's you and a colleague, that you have a system set up that you're gonna check in about it, evaluate its effectiveness, and then share out. So I think sometimes, I definitely know that when I was a student here, I was like, "I'm gonna go back, and I'm gonna do this at my school, and I'm gonna contact the district," and they're gonna be like, "Whoa! Debbie, bring it!" And they're like that.
10:48 DO: And it actually was started by sharing this. It starts with sharing the story starts. It starts by... It can... I realize how really is that... That's my mantra that...
10:58 NC: Yeah. Do you have any recommendations for teachers and teacher leaders, and especially in the field of literacy? What are some of those levers of change where you can think big but act small, but maybe that small impact is really going to push a bigger effect? Is there anything you can suggest?
11:17 DO: Something that's come up, and it's interesting, it came up in all of my graduate programs. And now, even at the district level, it's a large part of the work that people are recommending is done, is the data cycle, the cycle of inquiry about how you identify a dilemma, or there's a problem. And usually, it's associated with student data. Good, better, ugly, it is there. That's where, how they're accountable for, especially in public education. And how that can lead to, "Okay, here's the dilemma. What's our goal that we're going to do? How are we implementing it? How do we stop and evaluate how that's going, and change that again?"
11:51 DO: So I definitely think that cycle of inquiry, I think helps to slow everyone down, get everyone on the same page, and to create this steps of how you try... You implement that based on your theory of action, that we will be able to increase X students by Y percent to make sure that we are having eighth graders leave our school at work at our K-8 prepared for having options and opportunities for high school and beyond; a large part of making sure that they have strong literacy skills. And if their literacy skills are not as strong as we want then they know that they need to be that they are aware that that is true. And so the students and families can advocate for what they need as they transition to high school. So that cycle of inquiry has been extremely powerful.
12:34 TH: I think that makes a lot of sense. And with the action plan, thinking about having that action plan, sometimes, you can feel... I can feel, I'll just say, I won't say "you." I can feel very overwhelmed by thinking of these long-term goals. So I love how you're saying you think big, start small, and take those steps. I have a book I love that I've read many times called "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott. It's really more about writing, but I love it because it starts out... And she tells the story of having to write a report, and she forgot the deadline, and she had to write about all these birds. And so her dad just said, "Take it bird by bird. Just bird by bird." And so it's really nice to... I have to tell myself that often when I'm starting something big and to say, "Okay, just bird by bird. Just take it one step at a time, one step at a time." And then that gets you through, especially with that sense of urgency, which I often feel so impatient about wanting to move something forward. It's like no...
13:34 TH: And but I do to say now, and you probably have... Both of you probably have this experience out too, is that once you've had some experience, you do realize, "Oh actually, it does happen." But then, I just remind myself of something that did work that was big, but it took a lot of time, but it did pay off 'cause I think that's... It's almost like to me, having those mental... The mantras that you can say to yourselves that then get you through those periods of frustration, anxiety, and the burnout part where you're just really feeling burnt out. It's like I'm doing all of this and you maybe feel in the treadmill. And then it's like it brings you back to the action plan, "Okay, I'm just gonna do it little by little, and it's going to get done."
14:14 DO: And I think that another common piece I find in education, I know there's frustration about resources. And I keep thinking it's about internet, and just everything online, in general, has opened up so many more resources. And so how, as a leader in this school, either as an SLP or as a teacher, as a reading specialist, what can you learn? What skills can I hone, I should say, so that I can then become part of the resources? But the resources aren't always about buying the curricula and about buying these programs. It could be that. And there's always...
14:48 DO: We have plenty of phenomenal programs, that's true. But sometimes, the resources are right in front of us, so how do we grow leaders?
14:55 NC: Right.
14:55 DO: And I think there is this... And this is something I really struggled with, is I was down that trajectory going to school constantly, and then when I started to have a family, I don't wanna be at school 'til 10 waiting for a bus on a snowy day. In addition to worrying about how we're going to get all of our 8th graders to finish as proficient readers and writers and thinkers and speakers and listeners, and so I had to really figure that out. So now I went back to teaching, and now I'm this teacher leader role and I have to really be clear in what I will and won't do and what my priorities are as an educator. So I think that has been really helpful to know the principles on which I stand, the mantras I have, the resources that I might go to, how I'm going to develop my skills.
15:35 DO: Doing this podcast is developing my skills. So just pushing myself into uncomfortable so I can learn also, but that there are often resources right in front of us that we need to tap into. And so I think... I was just thinking about how we develop skills, get the resources, implement action plans in addition to the other pieces. But that is definitely what I've seen.
15:59 TH: I like this because you can kinda look at maybe how you feel personally or how you're sensing other people feel. So let's say, I'm sensing from my team that there's some confusion about what we're doing or maybe why, then I could look on here and say, "Okay, confusion. What is causing confusion?". In this set up, you would say that the confusion's 'cause there's a lack of vision. So you have the consensus skills and incentive resources action plan but you don't have the vision, so people are confused. It's like a time to step back and say, "Let's do the vision". And then, like how anxiety, you know, if someone's really anxious about it, we have the components of vision, consensus, but maybe they're feeling that they don't have the skill set to do it, that can cause a lot of anxiety. Even if the incentive resources and action plan. The other one we'd often see is this idea of resistance, right? So it's like everyone's... We have a vision, maybe there's consensus. The skills are there, you have the resources and action plan, but what's the incentive? Especially a lot of the times we're making change, it's something extra.
17:05 DO: Right.
17:05 NC: Yeah.
17:05 TH: Right?
17:06 DO: Yes.
17:06 TH: I mean, it really is.
17:07 DO: Yeah.
17:07 TH: That's a gap.
17:07 NC: And there's so much extra today being a... Since the time I entered education 15 years ago, even in that time, there's so much extra. And it can be such good extra, but you were talking about with the data. Data's a huge thing, and so many teachers are not trained in data. And in addition, a lot of districts mandate that their teachers write their own curriculum instead of buying their own curriculum. And I certainly, when I worked in Hartford Public Schools, I was trained as a curriculum writer, but I was paid extra. I was trained in how to do it. And then you not only get varying qualities, but you get teachers who really, not only are they resistant, but I'm thinking of the sabotage piece. And not even necessarily that I think that they're trying to sabotage or maybe that's too harsh of a word, but when they really have... Maybe they've experienced a time where they had a good curriculum, they could come in and teach, they could enjoy projects, they could connect with families, enjoy that work-life balance, and then it's just escalating to a point where all you're doing is work. So thinking about how to manage that and making sure there is things like consensus and resources, like you were saying before, building the internal capacity of your staff versus just purchasing the next best thing that has common core lined or research-based on it.
18:28 DO: 'Cause then we end up with book rooms full of books.
18:31 NC: Yeah.
18:31 DO: I'm like, "Whose hands are these in? Who's reading them?"
18:31 NC: And how many schools...
18:34 DO: I know.
18:34 NC: Have you been in where you see that? There are books in the basement, there are books in closets they never... And then they're just thrown out instead of being in the hands of kids.
18:42 DO: The other thing I think about consensus is sometimes it's not the intention of the colleague or group of colleagues just to sabotage, but it could be the perception.
18:51 TH: Yeah.
18:51 DO: So what I often find, especially in our middle school learners is we have to decide, "Are they going to algebra to get the algebra that we want to provide for them as an extra class, so that they're ready for high school math and beyond?" 'Cause research recently showed that our students who aren't getting two more years beyond geometry I think it is are not, I think, successful in college.
19:15 TH: Yeah.
19:15 DO: And so, we really responded to that at my school by offering algebra. But how does that compete with the need for a child with dyslexia who also needs explicit reading instruction on a one-to-one or small groups situation, and that's the same time we're competing with. So, the sabotage might happen by the family saying, "No. I want them to have both and we need to get there". Or the math team saying, "They really need algebra". And so how do you do those competing needs and what... And I think, then going back to the vision and the action planning and figuring that out, like, how can that happen? Because I think when it comes to literacy change, it can't just be something like, "Oh, then we won't do it". Then we won't do anything." There's always something that can be done. Even if it's that one math teacher you see like, "Oh, yeah. I can definitely see how I can incorporate more. Give him 15 minutes instead of the do now, he can do this and thinking about that." And that's the kind of thinking of a real situation we were in a couple of years ago with a student and how do we support him in that.?
20:13 TH: And now you're a teacher of teachers, as you said.
20:15 DO: Yes.
20:16 TH: So you really have to shift your thinking from teaching children to teaching adults, and that's not always a direct correlation. So how do you tackle that change?
20:25 DO: Change to teaching?
20:26 TH: Change children to adults.
20:28 DO: Yes. And all very similar needs. As humans, we are... I thankfully I am part south from the compass points, and so I definitely try to be in tuned with how people feel. Being able to meet them where they are as Mike Rose said "Meet children where they are and meet adults where they are, and then how do I push them." And I definitely think having the common vision is very helpful, so when working with the team. And I also use a lot of Elena Aguilar's work, and so she has this "Mind The Gap" framework. And when I first was introduced to it, it was thinking about, if there's... We're trying to implement change and it could be doing a variety of things in the school setting. And there's like a pause or there's some barrier, adult learning barrier, is it this person's will, skill, knowledge or capacity?
21:13 DO: And since I first was introduced that in like 2007 or eight, what's been added to it is emotional intelligence and cultural competence. And so with these components, whenever we're trying to move something forward and there's resistance I had to think, "Okay, I can go back to this equation and think okay, what's the incentive?" And then when I clarify the incentive, I now then need to look at the skills. I think you talked about this a little Tiffany about how people feel when there's so many different things being pull on us as educators and what's one more thing?
21:41 DO: And whenever I'm meeting with teachers, I will even say to them what... People can more accurately say it's my will, skill, knowledge or capacity than the emotional intelligence and cultural competence. So I tend to have people self-reflect, is it will, skill, knowledge or capacity and then give feedback on the cultural competence and emotional intelligence. Because I think those are also aligned with a person's self-journey and where we are on a continuum of both of those, people we need to respond to. But when I know that it's someone's will that there is... Do they have the desire, intrinsic motivation, passion or commitment? That's what we have to figure out. And that's... Are they on? Are they with us or without... Doing... Are they with us on this trying to do change or what's happening?
22:26 NC: Getting on the boat or...
22:27 DO: Yes.
22:27 NC: Staying on the dock.
22:28 DO: I know, I know. I was there.
22:29 NC: I had an administrator use that.
22:30 TH: Really?
22:31 NC: Yeah, yes she... That was a flat line of this is where we're going as district you're either on the boat or you're off the boat. And sometimes those things they do need to be said.
22:40 DO: Need to happen.
22:40 NC: They do.
22:41 DO: Yes.
22:41 NC: Yeah.
22:42 DO: And if you're responding to data, so we'll have a situation where we have... And I've seen this in many schools, there are people working really hard, and we're not seeing the results or student outcomes that we want so desperately for them. So we have lot of teachers working really hard, but how are we actually creating change? I'm a parent and I'm a teacher and there's all these different things and sometimes it can actually work out but it's not a fit anymore. Whether it's a certain role or it's... So I think avoiding burnout was me really responding to what my priorities were, being clear about that, and being unafraid to say it. And yes, I was being pushed in this administrator trajectory and then I said, "Stop. I can still do change without having to like rise up go up the ladder and that's okay." And I think being really cognizant of that. And then, my will is affected by what's going on around me, and so being in tuned with how people are as people first, I think is really important.
23:40 TH: I wanna just say about the capacity, what you said and that you said, "Okay, you're thinking about administrative... Change gears for a minute. But one thing that has helped me a lot 'cause it's very hard to say no, when I wanna make change and you wanna make that difference. There's two things that's helped me a ton. One is, in my mind I'll saying no to something, but my mind I'm thinking no for now. So it doesn't mean I'm saying no forever. It just means that right now it's not fitting. So before every... When I would say no, it really felt like I would never be able to open that door again. But what I realize is that that's not true, that's a limited vision. You can open the door or maybe it's a different door at a later time, but it's no for now in my head.
24:18 TH: So I say no to a person, in my mind I'm like for now, and then I move forward. The other thing I often think about is that, I used to think it was like an endless capacity that I had. Because I have this strong desire and I'm so motivated and I can just stay up late, I can get up early, whatever. But it's a zero sum game. So now, I really think of it as, "This is my time, it's limited and if I say yes to something, something has to come out.
24:43 TH: You know I mean? So every time I say, yes, I have to think, "What am I gonna let go of to make room for this new yes?" And if the answer is I can't let go of anything, then I have to say no. At the same time when I say no to things, and I start saying no maybe to me it's cyclical. I'll be really good at saying no and then I'll say yes to a lot of things and then I'll realize, "Oh no, I'm too full and I'll go back." But what's nice is, is that I've noticed that when you say no to something that's not a fit right then, so no for now, it can also open just a tiny bit of space that if something comes up that you really do wanna say yes to, then you'll realize I can say yes to that and take something out and I feel good about it. But if there's an initial response of like, "What am I gonna take out?" I think that's a really critical part.
25:26 DO: Huge. And sometimes there's something I take out, I can give it to somebody else.
25:30 TH: Yes.
25:30 DO: Who is my younger self, ready to like take it all on and stay at work really late.
25:36 NC: Yeah, yeah.
25:36 DO: And that's... They're learning and they're invigorated by it and excited by it. So I'm like, I am not going... I don't wanna go to these district PDs and learn... I will... So maybe I can still get a PowerPoint or some way, but I don't have capacity to go do that, but there's someone else who's ready for that. So, I always think like I'm looking... I would say like it's cyclical, and sometimes we're looking at our... And it doesn't have to be younger I shouldn't have said that. It could be anyone who's at that stage, where they do have more capacity and things that they can go do that. Because I do think the number one thing I hear from people is they will self-recognize they don't have capacity. And I do think sometimes that's being very cognizant of what our schedules are like, how much we're asking people to do, what's the new thing we're doing versus... What I always say this with literacy, reading research...
26:19 NC: It hasn't changed.
26:20 DO: There... It hasn't changed. Like it hasn't changed.
26:23 DO: Our students need to be reading and... Like there's... So what are we...
26:26 NC: Still on those reading systems?
26:26 DO: Exactly. [laughter]
26:27 TH: It's lack of implementation, right? Lack of implementation.
26:31 DO: So this hasn't changed.
26:32 NC: As you know, there is nothing new.
26:34 DO: Yes, right. And you can have the student on a computer assisted program. You still have to monitor it, respond to when they're not making progress...
26:40 NC: You still have to teach at some point, interact construction to know where they are.
26:45 DO: And so figuring that out. So I think capacity is often helping people realize where they do have it and helping them say, no. So where I wanna come in like, "What do you mean this hasn't happened?" I get one more time, or not enough time. Like there isn't enough time. So how are we prioritizing what we're doing? Let's figure out what you do have capacity. And is there someone else who right now has more capacity that can do more?
27:05 NC: Yeah.
27:05 DO: So it's more like not everyone has the same cup we're trying to fill or that's overflowing, but everyone has a different size cup. That's how I think of it.
27:13 TH: Yeah, I think it make sense. And also, I was thinking that... It's what I struggle with. I think this is human nature, that we often will maybe say things... To yes to things that are a short term so you can get a reinforcement. Like I will say yes to this because I know I can get it done. It feels great to check it off the list. Even me, I'm an east and I still like to check things off the list. So it's... What the hard part is when you're making big change and it goes back to that kind of bird by bird, then it's hard to check things off the list. You have to create the list... That action plan list, and you have to check it off but it's easy to say yes to these little things. You're like, "Oh, I'll do it in a week, I'll do it in a week." And next thing you know you've said yes to 52 things and your whole year’s gone. And you've... Yeah, you get some immediate feedback, but it's that long-term, delayed reinforcement that we as humans have to remind ourselves of and create the interim reinforcement. That's the hard part.
28:10 DO: That's the hard part. And I definitely think... When are we saying yes to ourselves? And so this is something I admit I'm, "Do as I say not as I do." I guess I should say. But I think in education, particularly is a field where there's always something to be done. So how do leave your bag... I'm known as the bag lady. All my colleagues who are listeners are gonna laugh so hard because for years I just roll in with so many different bags. It's like... That... What I wanna do today, what I need to think about later... Like what... And I just wanna have it with me at all times because sometimes I don't know, will I be out for two days if a kid gets sick or what's gonna happen... Will I have extra time today after a staff meeting? And I'm always carrying multiple bags and I think it's just a symbol for, that is what I'm always doing. Carrying all these ideas and this thinking is what I like to think of it. When in actuality what would happen if I left them all at home? And I've left them at home, I've left them at work one day and didn't have them.
29:00 DO: And so I often think like, "What am I saying yes to for myself?" Because if I'm not in a place to teach adult learners or teach children then... That's where I need to be. With leading change the leader does have to be in that situation of creating a shared vision, modeling the way, encouraging people's hearts, holding people accountable, giving honest feedback.
29:23 DO: And that's stuff I learned at a conference I did in college. I love that. It's like another tattered piece of my binder, a binder of all the documents I've collected over 20 years to help inform what I do. But I definitely think skill in the same mind the gap... Skill and knowledge are just things schools are responsible for providing for the staff, I think, and helping to guide what that is. That's where I find my voice is needed the most as a leader. Is when these decisions are being made about professional development and programming, what skills and knowledge are needed? And the best way to do this, is to find out from the staff, and I think that's…
30:03 NC: And I'm wondering, 'cause you had mentioned a piece about your leadership, not only about knowing your own self-capacity and being able to balance your work life, but being in that teacher of teacher roles or as a reading specialist role you obviously have people that are higher up the food chain than you. So do you have any words of wisdom or pearls for anyone that is going to get that reading specialist cert and wants to become a coach for when they are in that system and they don't perhaps have someone above them, that has that same knowledge as you do on that it is okay to say no, that they're not gonna be seen as some... Be marked down on their evaluation for not participating in the community or whatever that is. How might you manage that relationship and try to shift that? Do you have anything to share?
30:49 TH: It's like how to manage middle management. 'Cause that what you're saying, you're kinda sandwiched. And so you're a leader of teachers but you also have your own bosses per se. So in that middle, that's really hard.
30:59 NC: And that can... Kinda really facilitates real burn-out, at least for me, like some colleagues I know.
31:04 DO: Exactly, I think, that gets really... It gets exhausting 'cause I feel like a yo-yo, back and forth. I think one is over-communicating. So in the past I used... When I was first starting in leadership I would send emails. I can write... Writing is comfortable for me. I would email like a bot, like a champ.
31:17 TH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Totally.
31:18 DO: Then people who were higher up of the food chain, as you said, there my email about an idea I had about independent reading library...
31:25 NC: They've got 5,000 emails, yeah.
31:25 DO: Go like, "Okay, good idea, good idea."
31:26 DO: They have lots of that. And so if I sent again it might get noticed but... 'Cause it's a priority on my list does not mean it's a priority on theirs. And so it's like, how to do that. So one, I think is finding allies. So who are like-minded people, because if it's the voice of one versus the voice of many then leadership needs to listen. So I just have my own individual thoughts and I'm asking for all these meetings, but it's not a group... It's like finding allies who can... Who would do that. I also think that over-communicating and then today's day and age is all... Email, person to person, texting. What's the communication style of the people above and what needs to happen? And then once you get into a dialogue, even if it's that... You're a leader... An administrator forwards you something that they see, that is buy in. Now you know you're in momentum. Doesn't need to be a, "Good morning Debbie. Thank you for your investment and passion and energy." It doesn't always look like that. And so if you're looking for the unicorns that come along with it, it won't be. But if you can get a dialogue going in any way. "Hey there's this conference. Can I go, and take two people?" Okay, it didn't happen this year then you know last year we went to this conference, here's what I've learned. And that I think is the biggest thing.
32:34 DO: Whenever I have a teacher who has a great idea. I'm always like, put it in an actionable step. We could talk about ideas which I love to do, I could talk all the time. I love going out dinner with east and we talk and talk. But I definitely think if I come with a proposal... Like I had this idea about how we can improve reading for our students and so, here's my plan. If you have something to talk about beyond ideas, it is actually you're looking at it and rooted in data, even if it's qualitative data, an anecdote like that story I was just thinking of with that student is very motivational to me, and that's what I go to my leader about. Whether it's the administrator, whoever leadership role it is, whether it's school level, district level is, I had this idea, here's my passion and here's my proposal. They may or may not take it, but you still have put it in there and it's helped me clarify what I think the actionable steps are.
33:31 TH: I hear you say, too, that it's just so important to know your audience. I've learned that as well, 'cause I also have that same kind of middle management. I have my lab that I'm working with and I'm the leader there but then I also have my department head and director of research and provost. And so what I've learned is that you... When I'm sitting down to write an email I do think, who am I writing this to. So if it's to my lab I usually include more detail 'cause that's what they tend to want. It's just more detail, more of that step so I have to push myself to write more detail out. But when I'm writing to administrators that are, you know, higher up than me, and I realized all the people they're managing, [chuckle] I'm one of so many. [chuckle] Then what I do is I try to think the opposite, like, "Okay, now I have to think about how do I boil my idea down in one or two sentences."
34:20 DO: Right. Or a bulleted list.
34:21 TH: Exactly. [laughter] That's so different, so minimal, but it could be the same message. If I'm giving my lab the same message I'm giving the administrator, I have to do it in a totally different way. So it creates this kind of flexibility that you have to have in communication. I do wanna go back though, 'cause you talk about... When we were talking about burnout and thinking about your capacity and how to say no, and when you spoke to the class, you talked about "what is your oxygen mask?" Can you tell us about that a bit?
34:49 DO: Yes. I love this symbolism, if you will, about when you're on an airplane and they say, "Before helping others, you have to put on your own oxygen mask." And I actually got probed one time where I... It used this analogy, like, "What happens if you don't?" Like, "Who cares?" So I watched a video, and it was like, "The air pressure dec... " It happened so quickly that you then become unable to help anybody, not yourself, not anyone else. And I think, in education this is what the fear really is, it's they do not wanna get at a place, whether it's individuals, groups of teachers, or even whole schools or institutions where we become unable to help ourselves or others. Because the students who I have... In the beginning of the presentation I used to present, is that that is who our focus is. Ultimately, I'm a teacher of teachers with the ultimate stakeholder being students and their families, and that I think is a constant reminder. So what is your oxygen mask? What's your own mask before helping others? And for some days, for me, it's that I know what I'm wearing the next day, [chuckle] and I just have that pre-planning, that far, that small step, [chuckle] that's done, or I have some food to eat the next day. So I definitely hear more and more people say, "I didn't eat lunch, I didn't bring lunch." What are your go-to snack? [laughter] How are you gonna make sure you have something? Yes, or I'll see a bunch of hangry teachers walking around...
36:07 TH: Absolutely.
36:09 DO: Yes, and I definitely think, "Securing your own oxygen mask." And then other years, it's that I trained to run the Boston Marathon, again scary, push myself to the limit, but that was something I had capacity to do at that time and did it. So my oxygen mask will change, and I think being aware of it, and I think, I used to feel when I was starting in education that like, "Here's who I am," and checklist, like, "here's what I stand for check, here's how my days are gonna go check, it's gonna be this routine check." And I realize now like ebbs and flows, and being okay with that. And I think what experience has taught me is that I learn from people who have been doing it, and I realized that my ebbs and flows it's not always the same thing all the time, and that's... My own mask, just I'm battling constantly.
36:49 TH: Because you're thinking about it. You're thinking about it all the time. That's the thing I've started to do better, I think over time, is like, just take your gut check, "How am I feeling? I need to... " Sometimes it's like, "Okay, I need to do some things at night," let's say, when my kids go to bed, and I'll do a gut check, and it's like, "yeah, I do feel I can do this," and I'm doing doing doing. And then there's other nights where it's like, "I just can't do this, I know the work won't be good, I just need to let it go." But then communicating that, I think, because you... Like you said "The checklist" I wanna have the checklist of like, "I'm a person who says they're gonna do it, and they do it, and I wanna do it on time."
37:21 TH: That's kind of the mental image, right? But then what I've learned over time is that it's better to have, to just be open. With my collaborators I have to say, "You know what? I'm gonna get it done next week," let's say I'm getting closer so I realize it's not gonna happen, I'll just try to let them know, "You know what? I know this isn't gonna happen, this is where it is in the priority list," like it's third or something. You then try to just communicate a little bit more. I appreciate that as a leader to have people communicate to me what they are gonna do and why.
37:47 DO: Exactly, I often think about this. I don't know if there are... The deadlines for the course, [laughter] but I have to say, when I did teach some courses at UMass, I was like, "The due date is Thursday, and I'm actually not gonna do it til Sunday," so anyone who reached out to say, "can I turn it in," I'm like "sure," because I... And I will tell them, "You're right, and do not stress about this, 'cause I'm actually gonna be grading it Sunday, it's not an inconvenience, so don't stress."
38:07 TH: Absolutely, you're open.
38:07 DO: But if you make a routine of it, then you become known as that person...
38:11 TH: Yes.
38:11 DO: So I do think there's this other piece about making sure we over-communicate, but we also have to model the way. And so I think figuring out where those places, that as a leader, I really need to make sure I model the way. And so how do I not go down the teacher room talk of, "What can... " Especially, when we're so tired, and everyone is burned out at the end of the year because it's exhausting, how do we then lift each other up? How do I... My colleagues listening will laugh at this too, how do I feel that but then also show up for the cookout? So we're all laughing together. And so making sure that all those pieces are still operating.
38:42 TH: But it goes back to the saying no.
38:44 DO: Yes.
38:44 TH: Right? 'Cause it's like if you get in a habit of every night, if I catch myself every night feeling exhausted and not been able to do it and then I'm making excuses, to me that's like, "Oh, I need to say no, I need to get rid of something, I need to be there all... " it's a balance.
38:54 NC: I feel like that's such a hard thing to do in education...
38:58 DO: It is hard.
38:58 NC: It is so hard for teachers, not only to say no for, it to be okay to say no.
39:04 DO: It to say no.
39:05 TH: Exactly.
39:05 NC: It's a cultural thing. And I've reading a lot lately about, there's a huge push for social-emotional learning for our kids, but there's no talk of social-emotional wellness for our teachers and how to balance that and how to provide that type of environment so that burnout isn't so high. I think right now the average is five to seven years for teacher burnout. I don't have a citation for that, but that's a common thing that is often mentioned. And that's awful to think that people who are so passionate and want to work with kids and do good that don't make it very far.
39:44 DO: You bring up the emotional intelligence, which is on the Mind the Gap graphic, and cultural competence, and I think these are two areas that schools also need to give attention to. So when I first mentioned, I said this is why I often give people feedback, and some schools are very invested in this. I know, at my school we're doing a lot of, tons of professional development on cultural competence, which again I think is meeting our school where they are and the teachers. And I think they're giving the time for that, and so...
40:14 DO: There's a saying, one of my former bosses used to say was, inspect what you expect. So basically, what are your vision and priorities of a school, and then how do you make your time connect with that? I think that's what it is. We need to learn our families better. So we have invested a lot of time in this and making sure that that happens because that has been an identified priority. I definitely think it's one of the priorities from a school level, a district level, teacher level and if you work with more than one person what are our priorities and being very clear on that because I think that helps with the yes and no. Especially, if you're an SLP or reading specialist and you get to create your schedule based on the student case load. If you don't put in there 30 minute lunch, it's not... Then hold yourself to it or find an ally who can say we're gonna eat lunch every day so that you eat that lunch. Because to think that you would go home and not eat lunch, it's like, you would never... It's just laughable.
41:07 TH: I get into this too. And I think it's also that we... It's the expectation but it's also what drives you to be a teacher. It's like this match. Why do I wanna be a teacher? I wanna help children. That's one of the number one things you hear from teachers, SLPs, educators in general. I want to help children, I want to help the future generation. But then what you realize is that in doing that and having that caregiver giving, then you tend to neglect yourself. I was thinking recently, I am so thoughtful about what I put in my children's lunches. I make these lunches and I think okay, it's gonna have a vegetable, it's gonna have a fruit, I have to have a protein, I have to have a grain...
41:44 NC: Giving you a gold star.
41:26 TH: And temperature controlled, super chilled in a bento box. I'm like, wow! Now... Then it's like, what do I pack...
41:50 NC: Everyone's gonna move in with you.
41:52 TH: What do I pack for myself for lunch?
41:54 NC: Nothing.
41:54 TH: Nothing. It's silly, it's really silly. I could just... Instead of packing two lunches, I could put another lunch out and do the same thing. But it doesn't even occur to me.
42:08 DO: For some reason, after January, at schools... The year just seems to disappear. And there was so many times this year I had someone come in and be like exacerbated, "Debbie, I need to talk to you." I was like, "Okay, have you eaten?" Then it's like stop in the tracks. You might just be hungry. Let's go do this 'cause it's exhausting.
42:26 NC: I think I probably saw my entire teaching career like that.
42:31 DO: Kids were asking for snacks in the classroom, if kids are all asking, the teachers are.
42:34 TH: No, it's true!
42:34 NC: Not eating, loving your kids so much that you take home and you take on every piece.
42:38 DO: That, which is really hard.
42:39 NC: And that's... That's incredibly hard, especially even more so... I won't say more so Reading Specialist more than other roles but you do feel that combined with urgency, but then knowing what the outcome is in their life if you don't change that. And that's a heavy weight to carry around.
42:58 DO: But those relationships... When we were talking, I was thinking, how do you take care of yourself but also how do we help take care of each other? The relationships we develop are huge with others, colleagues, with families and students. We know, the research shows, how crucial it is with students. I think it's the same with colleagues about that.
43:15 TH: That's spoken like a true south right now.
43:17 DO: That is, I know.
43:18 TH: And I love it 'cause I do think it's critical, but it's not always on everyone's radar. I'm gonna be mindful of our time. But one thing I want to do when we wrap up here is, I'm gonna highlight the main principles that you had in your talk and also, yeah, and think about how we've covered those for the listeners. One thing you talked about is just think before you act, right? And that, you have to think, what are your fundamental principles? You have the big ideas and what's the data to support that vision. And thinking about what resources, you talked about your binder. Having that go-to references. I'm gonna give a shutout to another podcast I really like called the SLP Happy Hour, because actually, that podcast was developed to talk about managing burnout for SLPs in particular, but it applies across.
44:05 TH: And so, even just having those resources that are go to, like, I think it's a state of mind. This oxygen mask, and this idea of taking care of yourself. Knowing who your allies are. Then thinking, what are those small steps bird by bird you can make just to make that big change. Thank you for coming Debbie and sharing your amazing wealth of experience. Thank you Norma, too, for joining us and sharing your experience as well. And on that note, I'll wrap up. Thank you for coming.
44:34 DO: Thank you.
44:40 Tiffany Hogan Check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com for helpful resources associated with this podcast including, for example, the podcast transcript, research articles, & speakers bios. You can also sign up for email alerts on the website or subscribe to the podcast on apple podcasts or any other listening platform, so you will be the first to hear about new episodes.
Thank you for listening and good luck to you, making the world a better place by helping one child at a time.