Getting My “Bring It!” Back

What do crickets, design thinking, and creative time management have in common? Read on and I’ll let you know.

I knew the move to a new school, new position (hybrid teaching/admin), and a new system (from a public HS to a private boarding school) would bring challenge along with change. Still, by week three of the fall semester, my “Bring it!” attitude of summer is now colliding with the busy reality of life as a teacher-leader, leaving me in a state of “hang on for dear life!” To put it mildly, all this change has added a new level of challenge to achieving a healthy work-life balance and to solving the perennial problem of Getting Stuff Done (aka, “trying to do it all”).

No stranger to “trying to do it all,” I know that things get dropped — including regular posts to this blog. However, inspired by three seemingly divergent things — an email, a design thinking challenge, and a Twitter chat — I suspect that this just blog might just be the key to getting my “Bring it!” back.

To be sure, this was particularly challenging week due to juggling the needs of a sick child (pneumonia) with the responsibilities of my new position. Busy workdays, doctor appointments, long nights, and a whole lot of mommy-guilt left my energy-level depleted and my attitude vulnerable to negativity. Self-doubt crept in to chip away at self-confidence, making the doable feel a bit unmanageable.

And then a catchy subject line, “Crickets,” prompted me to click on Jennifer Gonzalez’s email in my inbox yesterday:

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 11.10.20 AM

In an email to followers of her Cult of Pedagogy blog, Jennifer describes how she hit a bit of a wall with her blog. On the advice of a friend, Jennifer took some time off, catching up on a long “to do” list and cooking some meals for her family. Her world did not come crashing down. Instead, Jennifer came back to her blog and a project with renewed energy and insight.

Jennifer’s “Crickets” made me think of a moment in a Design Thinking challenge we had going on at school this week. Teacher Kim Berndt reminded students of the value of sharing out their ideas (good, bad, and ugly) with other teams in the “test early, test often phase”: “Sometimes you get stuck in a loop of thinking and you need something to jar you of it in order to inspire innovation and iteration.”

Like Jennifer, I realized I was stuck in a loop. I needed to step away, take a break to move beyond my own “wall” and reconnect with the passion and energy I started the year with. I mopped the kitchen floor (sadly therapeutic), went for a long walk around a lake (beautiful fall New England day, sigh), and — with our daughter settled on the couch late yesterday afternoon — got myself a pedicure (while reading a trashy novel thanks to the SWTB blog on my iPad, no less).

The importance of taking (and giving yourself) a break was reinforced in this morning’s #sunchat on Twitter. The theme was creative time management. While the tips from participants were certainly helpful, it was the positive, supportive, can-do spirit of the educators in this chat that helped to me to break out of the unproductive loop I had been caught in.

My mind cleared, I was able to think of all sort of possibilities when reading Mei Hsieh’s Edutopia blog post, Girls Against the World.” Mei’s great post explains how the steps involved in the design thinking process can “help us frame new solutions to decreasing the gap for women in STEM.” Along with applications for STEM programming (and curriculum more generally), I considered how design thinking might help me figure out how to stay positive and productive in times of great stress or challenge. In doing so I took the first step in a design thinking process: develop “deep empathy for the people at the heart of the problem that you’re trying to solve” (Girls Against the World). I needed to empathize with myself. Reflecting on the sense of positivity and possibility inspired by this morning’s #sunchat, I came to understand that the sense of possibility and optimism is exactly what I need to capture and replicate in order to nurture my “Bring it! attitude.

Reflection is key ingredient for empathy. By using this blog to become a more reflective and more connected practitioner, I feel empowered to reframe my own thinking about challenges as well as opportunities. As I think about the other steps Mei outlines in her post — Contextualize, Rethink, & Iterate — I wonder about other ways design thinking can apply to school and life.

How do you keep positive and stay productive?How have you used design thinking? How has design thinking, Twitter, or blogging changed your approach to something or expanded your practice?

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