I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Saturday, July 29, 2017


Every time I come home from the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston (BLC), ideas swirl around in my brain, and I have so many things I feel I need to share with other teachers. This year, however, our last keynote, Dr. Rob Evans, had the message I think all agents of change need to hear and understand.

He started by telling us (with much humor) who he was and what he does. The short version is that he is a psychologist and the director of Human Relations Service in Wellesley, MA. He used to teach HS and preschool students, and just can't imagine why anyone would choose to work with middle school students... (I LOVED laughing with him.)

Dr. Evans then dove in to share his wisdom about CHANGE. I believed him right away, because what he first shared, I share in my "Shift the Culture of Your Classroom" presentation --> We like the idea of change if it is OUR idea. When change is imposed upon us, we resist. So many conversations this week at BLC revolved around going back to school and meeting with resistance when we want the educational system to change. He threw in humor throughout his presentation, but this is the one gem I wrote down so I could quote him...

Because he has so much to share, this is going to be one of those bullet point posts - just laying it all down.

Points I need to remember and share regarding the reasons WHY change isn't easy in education:

  • Consider changes in your life - the ones you've wanted and the ones you have resisted. The "good" changes we wanted in life came with some unexpected consequences. Same for the unwanted changes - they most likely came with some unexpected consequences that were good. And, if we think of those changes in our lives and the lessons learned, the stronger lessons that were more valuable probably came from the changes that were NOT wanted. We learn in the context of loss, failure, and disappointment. Change is full of ambivalence. 
  • People resist change - ESPECIALLY if they were not the ones to come up with the idea to change. Our brains are hardwired to seek out patterns - even if we think we don't like the patterns, our brain wants them - they make life make sense. "We cling to patterns because they give life meaning, not necessarily because they make us happy. People often hate the pattern they're in, but also hate to change their situations."
  • When we're asking for colleagues to change, we need to consider this: What does this change mean to them? We think it means progress, growth, development, learning... Yet what it means to them often includes LOSS - grief and bereavement. Suddenly, an assumption they've had has been DEVALUED. So ask... what's the loss they will feel?
  • Resistance to change is NORMAL and NECESSARY.
  • Businesses deal better with conflict and problem-solving than schools do. Schools are more personal - and they should be! A school is "much harder to change than a business because a school is more like a house of worship." In schools we're skilled at congeniality (warm, friendly connections), but not at collegiality (which focuses more on growth and performance). Because of this, we have what Dr. Evans called "non-discussables" - things we don't talk about openly - only in the parking lot. "We get along great as long as we agree. When we stop agreeing, we stop talking TO each other, and start talking ABOUT each other." (He did add that if we were TOO candid, we would have a "collapse of society..." There's no need to go around telling people what you think every moment of the day!)
  • Side note: During this keynote, I was sitting next to Carol Salva, a teacher who is a brand-new author and who used to be in sales prior to teaching. (I'm sure she has a much longer story, but we didn't get to chat too much!) She said when she received harsh feedback, she would do what they suggested, get better at her job, and earn more money. It wasn't her nature to have thick skin - she grew it in this position. The feedback - although it meant change - was effective. Instead of taking the feedback personally, she used the feedback to improve
  • Too much pressure from agents of change will drive the resistance underground, yet pressure makes it harder for people to remain status quo. We need a balance of pressure and support.
  • Schools need more tolerance for conflict.
  • Teachers CHOOSE to spend time in the presence of children or adolescents. There has to be something inside us that helps us connect to these students (if we stick with the profession). Being in the classroom makes us happy. ... HOWEVER ...  "The characteristics (nurturing, sacrifice, kindness, etc.) that make us good with kids don't help us work well with ADULTS."

Mind blown right there.
WHY is this? Is this true?
He could have stopped, and I'd be satisfied knowing the reasons why schools aren't changing (fast enough - yet).

However, he kept sharing - and he got to the HOW...

  • First of all - and this notion is directed towards administrators - if you want teachers to lead change in your school, you need to tell the other teachers to listen to them. If these change-agents are not the boss, then others don't have much motivation to even begin to listen to the ideas.
  • "Buy-in" is an end state. It's not a beginning condition. Don't look for buy-in right away.
  • What matters is that people KNOW if they're going to be listened to during the process of change, or if the decision has already been made. The decision itself actually doesn't matter, even if people don't agree with the decision. It's the clarity of the process - who is involved, and who isn't - that matters. If we had to choose someone to work under, we'd choose someone who is clear about their decisions over someone we agree with but is not clear about who is deciding what. If you want change, be clear and truthful about who is involved in the decision-making process.
  • Be ready to support - What are people losing with this change? What will they grieve? 
  • When asking for change, change-agents need to be clear about the 
    • WHY - Why can't I keep doing what I've been doing? Why do I have to do this now? Why should I listen to you?  -- This is the stage where we cause the loss. This is also the stage that is often skipped. Change won't come if this stage is skipped.
    • WHAT - What do you want me to do?
    • HOW - How do you expect me to do it?
  • Difference between problems and dilemmas:
    • People solve or fix problems. People cope with dilemmas.
  • Remember that almost everything we're trying to solve in education was once a solution to something else.
  • The most productive, successful, engaged, happy people have someone who cares about their development. This is why conferences like BLC are so successful and invigorating.
    • Let's do with teachers what we do with our students...
      • Ask teachers about what they do well.
      • Build on teachers' strengths. This will help them cope with the loss and get them to where they're learning. Then change will be transformational.
THANK YOU, Dr. Robert Evans.

The Human Side of School Change is on its way to my house, and I'm sure it will be by my side when I go to the next conference where teachers wonder, "How can I get others at my own school to try this?"

And thank you to my online and face-to-face PLN who continue to challenge me. Whether I choose change or it is imposed upon me, this quote from George Couros is true...

Kudos to this teacher for sharing this mindset with her students!

Update 12/31/17:
     Want more? I've finished the book!
          Part 2: Reluctant Faculty

I'll be adding more references to change below as I find them or they are shared with me:
     Overcome Resistance to Change with Two Conversations - Harvard Business Review
     Managing Change - podcast with Dr. Rob Evans (18 min)
     Dare to Go First (How to Be a Change Agent) - Shanna Peeples in Educational Leadership
     Convince ME - George Couros
     The Grief of Accepting New Ideas - Rick Wormeli

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

One Thing Differently...

"While we can't continue to do more things, we can do things differently." ~Unmapped Potential, by Julie Hasson and Missy Lennard, pg. 109

Ain't that the truth!

This is one point that made me go "Ooooh! I have an idea for our T-Wolves of the month!"

What? You might not know what I mean, so let me back up... First off, Julie and Missy (authors of the above quote) want teachers to uncover - and tap into - the limitless potential of their students. Secondly, this was in the chapter right after the chapter about better ways to lead a team. My brain, therefore, was on my team and a struggle we often have - coming up with "T-Wolves of the month."

We currently have six teams at my middle school (two in 6th, 7th, and 8th), and each team chooses two boys and two girls (I'm waiting for the gender stipulation to be lifted soon) to receive the designation of "T-Wolf of the month." Usually our team starts the year by making a list of students that have made an impact on their class right away, and then we go from there. Some months (March or April, anyone?!) are tougher than others, when it seems even the students who are excellent in character all year suddenly are... how should I put it... not living up to their potential. Remember - this is middle school. They have a lot of growing still to do. During our 40 minutes of team time, this decision could take up to 20 minutes - as we all see students in different situations, and (even though it's a team of ELA, math, PE/health, science, and social studies) we don't each see ALL students.

As I read the above quote, I had an "aha" moment - let's invite the students to help!

First, we'd have to explain to students what the process is that the team goes through to choose this person ("character counts" traits, consistency, etc.), and then we can let them know there is a spot for them to nominate someone - this form, ideally, would be on each of our homeroom web pages. When it comes time to choose, we can use their responses as a resource! Their ideas will be taken into consideration. We'll need to let them know that the team will look at every response, and the person they nominated may or may not be chosen that month, depending on our discussion and other student names we're bringing to the table.

You KNOW the kids see a lot of what we don't see - and I'm excited to see the more quiet students step up in this fashion. I've made the form only for students in our district (yes, it will collect their name automatically), so you cannot view it, but I took a screen shot of it here for you to see the simplicity...

Thoughts? Ideas to add? Wording to change? I thought I'd bring it to my online PLN before I share it with the team school in August, so let me know! Thanks for the spark of inspiration, Julie & Missy!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Unmapped Potential

Unmapped Potential by Julie Hasson and Missy Lennard (PurposefulPrincipals) went on my list to
read after a few quotes came at me from Twitter. This is not a review; this is simply one of my take-aways.

I think I got something out of this book that might not have been the authors' intent... I believe most of the focus (except for the stellar chapter 8 which gave GREAT information about how to lead your team) was supposed to be about the potential in our students. I learned better ways to work more effectively with colleagues that don't necessarily work the same way I do - to recognize and use my colleagues' potential. Bear with me here...

"If you want to change the world, start by making your bed." This quote, by Admiral Charles McRaven, came across my twitter feed a few days ago, and then I read it in Unmapped Potential - right on page four! The authors go on to say, "Simple steps done with consistency and conviction can create a big impact. And making a small, positive change in one area will positively impact all other areas." My thoughts went right to teacher interactions.

If you've got a pretty good rapport in class with students, in the hallways and after school, and you're anything like the readers of Shift This, the most difficult part of your day might be when you interact with other staff members. I've been getting many direct messages and emails from teachers who say that chapter ten on "Resistance" from Shift This resonated with them, because they feel they have no one they can go to during the day. They're thought of as the "crazy" teacher who has "loud" classes or tries "weird" activities, where no one is learning (grrr). And since there's only a certain amount of time during the day, these teachers that encounter this resistance decide to only focus on their students, and not on their relationships with their peers. Many of them have "given up." They'd rather put their energy into their students, because INSIDE the classroom is where they see the most collaboration and growth.

My mind was on these readers when I picked up Unmapped Potential, so I kept substituting "students" for "teachers" as I read. Next, I read, "...belief plus action helps you realize your goals." Julie and Missy went on to say that what we believe is what will happen. They shared a story about a boy who lost his eraser. He BELIEVED that another student had taken it, and he became very angry. Even though his teacher gave him another, he was still angry - at his BELIEF - not at the actual situation (which had been resolved). This story will stick with me for a long time, because I do this.

I do this. I think one thing about a person, and it stays with me. I've often that "that teacher doesn't want to change. That teacher is happy with the status quo." The authors say "Your struggle to connect with some people is likely rooted in your thoughts about them" (57). My thoughts/beliefs have driven a rut into my map about this person. It's so deep, and I don't even know if it's true. "If we focus on changing our thoughts about them, we can improve our relationships with them" (58). I realized I had to take a break from the book and come up with new beliefs. Stop reading here for a moment. Think of a person you believe "doesn't care" or "is negative" or "thinks my work is crazy." Then think of a POSITIVE belief you could honestly believe about that person. Once you've done this, please keep reading... 

If the person is a teacher, we can most likely be correct believing that "all teachers want their students to learn." Another belief - on our part - could be, "I believe this will be my best school year ever." I can see how saying this daily when you get ready for school could actually work!

We need to put up the "road closed" signs on that rutted road (belief) for now, hoping weeds will sprout through the cracks in the asphalt and that our new belief will take hold - a brand new road, clean, smooth, and ready for us to travel many times. (Did you know - this new road has stops along the way for refreshments? And most likely chocolate?)

What's next after creating a new belief? When we get agitated, frustrated, angry or worried, we need to repeat the new beliefs, and not let feelings influence our actions.

Prior to this happening, however, we need to visualize how we will respond to negativity if (when) it appears. At the end of each chapter there is a section called "Map-Changing Actions." The authors give great suggestions as to how to visualize your response (at the end of the fourth chapter).  "Close your eyes and see yourself successfully performing something challenging... (this could be a conversation with that teacher) ...Imagine the sensory details - what you see, hear and feel - as you perform the task. Envisioning your state may also be helpful. For example, seeing yourself in a calm state may decrease physical symptoms of stress when the time comes to perform it. Finally, envisioning success can enhance motivation and confidence, making you more likely to continue despite challenges."

Visualization has been used for how many years? For how many reasons? Yes. This could work. We need to make the time. (Heck, why not right now??)  When I think back on situations that might arise again at my own school, I can visualize how to keep calm and patient, and then what I might ask to get the conversation going. I'll try to ask more questions than give answers, and I'll put my focus into listening to responses.

If you've got an issue with a colleague, you've got your reasons - your purpose - for mending these issues. If it affects you negatively, you want that out of your life. You can only control so much. What you can control is your new beliefs. Spend some time shutting down those negative roads on your mind map. Spend more time setting up new beliefs to latch on to. Focus and apply your efforts on what you can control. Notice and appreciate the strengths in this person, and respond in ways that make both of you better, instead of bitter (29). If you try to avoid the challenge, "you cheat yourself out of an opportunity to grow" (50). And "...you will likely regret being angry, but you will never regret being kind" (61). "Your new way of responding to this person might just reduce the very behavior frustrating you" (64).

I can see how teachers can use the authors' messages to develop better relationships with colleagues. Looking through this lens will hopefully help those that encounter resistance throughout their day! Please share with me in the comments what beliefs you may have had and any new beliefs on which you choose to focus!