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77. Our Development as Adults is a “Must Have” with Jennifer Abrams

by Lindsay Lyons
June 21st 2022

Today's episode features Jennifer Abrams, a communications consultant and author who works with educators and others, and new teacher and employee support. 

Have we lost sight of our own dev... More

formerly a high school english teacher and a new teacher coach in Palo Alto Unified School district, jennifer Abrams is currently a communications consultant and author who works with educators and others, a new teacher and employee support. Being generationally savvy effective collaboration skills, having hard conversations and creating identity safe workplaces. Jennifer's publications include having hard conversations, the multigenerational workplace, communicate, collaborate and create community hard conversations. Unpacked the who's wins and what ifs and swimming in the deep end for foundational skills for leading successful school initiatives. Her newest book, stretching your learning edges growing up at work came out in May 2021, jennifer has been invited to keynote facilitate and coach at schools and conferences worldwide. It is honored to have been named one of the 18 women all K 12 educators should know by education weeks finding common ground blog more about jennifer's work can be found at her website www dot jennifer Abrams dot com. And on twitter at jennifer Abrams For reference.

This conversation was recorded on August 16 of 2021. Let's hear from Jennifer. Hi, I'm lindsey Lyons and I love helping school communities envision bold possibilities, take brave action to make those dreams a reality and sustain an inclusive, anti racist culture where all students thrive. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach, educational consultant and leadership scholar. If you're a leader in the education world whether you're a principal superintendent instructional coach or a classroom teacher excited about school wide change like I was, you are a leader and if you enjoy nerd ng out about the latest educational books and podcasts, if you're committed to a lifelong journey of learning and growth and being the best version of yourself, you're going to love the time for Teacher Ship podcast. Let's dive in jennifer Abrams, welcome to the Time for Teacher Ship podcast. Thank you, Glad to be here. I'm so glad that you're here.

I just read your professional bio, but is there anything else that you want listeners to know as we hear from you today and start the episode? Oh, I think that I'm trying to be more engaged on twitter, so I'm at jennifer Abrams and please follow me because I, I follow, I follow pretty much everybody that ever follows me. So I'm not one of those, like, I don't know, it's not that I'm not discerning, but I'm very, I want to engage with educators. So yeah, please follow me on twitter, I love that, thank you. And so one of the first things we usually start with is this idea of big thinking and and knowing that as leaders and as educators, we want to really enact transformative change that advances justice. And I just love how dr Bettina love talks about this idea of freedom dreaming, she says their dreams grounded in the critique of injustice and so I'm wondering with that in mind, what's what's the big dream that you hold for the field of education for the field of leadership, um it's not just my dream, I guess I'm following on dr robert keegan's sort of dream.

My big dream for education and for the educators in the field is that we actually grow up and when I say grow up, I don't mean to be cheeky. Um although it would, it would sort of sound that way um that we actually believe in our development as adults, as much as we uh support child development, I don't think we do it enough. So, a big dream for the field is that that it is full of awake conscious, humane educators. I love that dream, that's amazing. And there's so, so much of a theme I think with everyone I talked to on this podcast that is dedicated to that dream themselves. They are passionate lifelong learners, they're constantly growing and learning and they see that as just part of their journey. And so I think that's so well connected to so many of the brilliant educators that I've had the privilege of talking to.

So I love that one of the things that I think is really challenging for folks is to kind of shift our minds away from how we've always done things, or I mean, just looking, thinking about your dream that you shared. I think sometimes there have certainly heard educators say things like I'm the one with the degree, you know, you need to listen to me and that kind of thing. That is very traditional minded, that is very much like I am the person in charge in the classroom, students obey the authority end of discussion you know which is not what we want in education but certainly exists. And so for people who either have either thought that way themselves were just working in cultures where they've heard a colleague say that or they've heard a student come to them saying like well this you know this teacher is operating in this mindset of I don't need to grow, I don't need to to learn. Um what would you tell folks who are kind of grappling with that so that they can have that mindset shift over to what you're saying. So I was looking at the state of California's standards for the teaching profession and I live in California and um here the the public schools at least um focus on the C.

S. T. P. S. The California standards. And one of those standards is developing as a professional now it doesn't say go to professional development okay. Which is great in and of itself. Um the idea that you go and you learn a little bit about assessment or instruction or management or culturally responsive pedagogy or english learner strategies, There's nothing wrong with any of those things okay and the standard says developing as a professional which includes something beyond the content. It includes something about yourself developing in a professional way for the profession and what does that take at this point that to me given your and mine, I I agree with you that strong stance of fighting against injustice.

It it requires a different type of developing and it isn't an add on and it isn't a nice to have my colleagues. Eh Faraci would say human development is not an indulgence. Okay. It is a must have. When you look at today's society, I was thinking just today and getting a little depressed that the Taliban as of today on this episode, um, is now taken over the country of Afghanistan, much more authoritarian regime. Um Haiti has been rocked by an earthquake. There's a tropical storm coming to florida. Uh, there are people defying science, um, all over our country and not wearing masks and not getting vaccinations and the world requires that we be a little more developed, I think, to recognize our interconnectedness, to recognize, um, sort of the potential that humans have.

And I think that that starts with the adults in schools being as developed as we can inside ourselves. And so I get that yes, you do have a credential. And yes, you do have a PhD and yes, you are um, very capable in certain parts of your, your job. There's there's a never ending study about being a humane human being. Um, and working on that will actually serve our profession and should be a part, I will assert of, um, of the expectations we have for our for our colleagues. So I don't know if that's going to convince anybody, but I believe it. Yeah, definitely. And I think it's really heartening to hear too, as someone who used to exist in a culture where teachers that I would co teach with would say things like that or be resistant to that kind of development. I think it's really heartening to hear if someone is like, there's, I don't believe that this is the way right?

Like I believe that we can learn and we can grow. I think that's really powerful to hear, um, coming from you and I love that you brought in so many different current events and just things that like, I think there is a call for educators and this is kind of my passion with curriculum to, um, to model and to bring into the class, um, their own development in the context of what we are all living in in the world today. And so I think to, to have that artificial barrier that sometimes people feel like needs to be present between class and real life and, and we we even use language like that, right? Like we're preparing students for when they graduate, like we're preparing students for this afternoon when they go home and they see this on the news. Right, right. That's exactly right there is to me. And we were, I was having this conversation this morning, I was up very early to do a training with, um, teacher leaders in an elementary school level, in a in a in a group. And they were talking about how they don't, they have a personal persona and a professional persona and I and I understand that you might be a little different at home.

That's a place where you can kind of let your hair down and but that idea that you're not integrated, that idea that you're not fully aware that the world isn't porous, that you're not a human in your educational role and that you're not taking in exactly what you said society every minute as you're simply at the moment in time the educator in charge of this thing. God, I mean I think about I've been teaching now for over 30 years and my former students are anesthesiologists and the head of the police force and a former mayor, if we're not preparing them for the real world, there it is. I want them to be able to lead me to sell to help me. I mean in the end I'm gonna be the elderly person and I want them to be the person that's really taking the helm. And so to me, I'm not just preparing them for graduation, I'm preparing them to be good human beings in in the world and I have to model, being an adult and I have to be the adult which sometimes we are not in our classes and be really share that, developing is a lifelong thing and there is a purpose and a goal which is so much further outside graduation then?

I mean that to me is a piece on their journey. That's it. I hope that they're constantly going to be developing and not just learning content or a craft, but how to be a better human being. That's what I'm thinking. Absolutely, and I think there's so many ways to do that and I think we all bring our own kind of niche hats for like what that looks like. So for me, for curriculum wise, I'm thinking, you know, when we create projects, we want to create projects for students actually get to take action on an issue, they get to apply the content of the scale in a meaningful way and they get to be that humane human that you're talking about. Um that gets to have agency, right? And a bit of control. And so that's just one example. But I know you talk about a lot of you know, brave actions that people can take within the context of all of the books that you've written. And so I'm curious to know like what's maybe a couple of ways that people can do this can be that kind of educator. This is going to sound awfully strange. Um I think um keep sharing that you are learning um about how to be that humane human being.

Um go into situations and ask yourself suspend your certainty, say, what am I missing, say? How could I be wrong? Say what do you think? Um what's your take on this? Give people you want to know that they have um a voice. You want them to have a voice, you want to hear their voice. So the way that you ask questions is like, can you answer my question is what are your thoughts about what's going on here? Um that to me I think will create a more just society because we are engaging in reciprocity and mutual respect for other people and and feeling and sensing the dignity. But there's just in this last book that I wrote about stretching your learning edges. Growing up at work. I also speak about um taking responsibility for your language. If you have a concern, can you express it before it becomes a complaint. Can you be responsive and not as reactive if you have to have a hard conversation, can you shape it?

So it's humane and growth producing. If you are um confused, can you ask for clarification without yelling at the person? I don't understand what you're saying. I mean, any of these things I think are so they sound easy and I see that you know, we're on zoom and I can see that you're sort of you know laughing or whatever. It's so hard, this stuff is so hard to do, but if you model that for kids and you exhibited that with your colleagues bravo. You know, I mean these are this is where I'm a work in progress with all of that. Absolutely, and I love what you just named two because I'm laughing because I think sometimes we say to students, you need to do these things, you need to engage with curiosity, you need to and then one minute in the staff meeting room and you can see that that's not how we engage with one another. And so I think so much of that is modeling in front of students, but also modeling with colleagues away from students and practicing it because it is challenging and many of us work with people who we don't always agree with and we need to have these conversations with and we're not having them yet.

We encourage students to and so I think, you know, that's a huge piece that students do. We expect mr We teach eight year olds to use their words, not their fists to have with peer mediators on playgrounds, so that we're teaching i messages starting at seven, you know, when you hurt my feelings, I go, we don't do that. We go into the parking lot, we gossip, we we are never gonna sit next to her blah blah blah. And so it's fascinating to me that we are, and I think we're doing this justifiably understandably after Covid put us in lockdown and might again, um we have decided that we need to support the well being of everybody, okay, and that's great, Okay so we have S. E. L. We have well being. We're dealing with trauma sensitive instruction. I think we need to be trauma sensitive SCL focused for the adults. And we talk a lot about we need to create um positive cultures.

We have a toxic culture in our school or we don't and we don't know how to expect from each other that we grow up, that we developed so that we are in mm we are in cognitive not social conflict, we can discuss ideas, we do not have to be mean to one another. We can um be healthy enough to show up in a staff meeting and not use our drama around everybody. Or basically we say kick the dog. You know when you go home when it was not the dog's fault that you had a bad day. Um This stuff is is pervasive in so many places and yet we say we're teacher of record, we're adults, We have a credential, we know better none of this like fluffy fluffy stuff. Um We don't need to really emphasize that. And I'm realizing and we have lots to get done and and there's been quote learning loss.

And so there's an urgency to all of this so quick, let's work on the task at hand. Meanwhile we're verbally paper cutting um each other by our language and we're not focusing on team relationship and I think that it's not either or and it's totally possible to focus on your language and get something done. It's not easy and so we we shirk the responsibility but you can change your language and have the same sentence and and it doesn't take any longer. Yeah. So well said and I also thinking too about like who's I'm guessing it's everyone but whose responsibility you see you know as as being is it like I'm working on myself and I can control myself. Is it kind of helping as at the department or great team level? Is it leader creating space at the P. D. Level? Yes. My answer is you as you are circling into all of these things.

I think that we all need to take responsibility and ownership for creating that culture. I have heard well if the meetings weren't a waste of time, if the leadership was clearer about data and the answer is yes they should be okay. There should be productive meetings that are useful. There should be as clear of a message as you can get around initiatives, all of that. And if that isn't the case for you in one particular moment, can you ask for clarity and focused and purposeful ways? Can you express challenges that you're having without getting reactive? I mean it's like it's both and all the time. That makes so much sense and I love the things that you are listing in terms of what you can literally do because I think again it it could be, you know, a rubric for a discussion for a class. You're evaluating students on this and you can also use it as your own checklist in a conversation you're having with a colleague, with a student or with your family at home.

You can always be practicing these things. You got it into the choir and so I'm wondering, I know you've written so many books. I'm wondering if there is a book that we haven't touched on as we start to close the conversation? Is there something else that feels relevant to the conversation that you want to to bring in here that I wrote or that I didn't write. Um you know, I am, I have this newsletter called Voice Lessons, which somebody at the beginning said, that sounds like you're gonna teach people to sing. And I'm like, no, it's like teaching people to sing. It's about, you know, it's about finding your voice and using your voice in more humane ways and in it, I bring out Cool Resources. So my friend Megan suggested a book which I haven't yet read. So that's why I'm not, I mean it's called Growing Up at Work, which I was like, what I just wrote a book called Growing up Work. Okay, But this is another book called Growing Up at Work. And so that's sitting next to, I'm just gonna share the three books that are sitting here, Courtney martin's learning in public where she just wrote about her daughter in a racially divided School and she's a fabulous writer and so cool resources in the last one is deep in thought and it's about um sort of the values that we're teaching in schools and so these are all there and to me it's like all of the same, it's about race and class and belonging and inclusion, it's about being an adult, it's about developing your curriculum.

It's like I read pretty extensively across stuff and I really actually, as a side note, I really liked, I thought it was lovely respect the Aretha franklin new movie from that just came out with jennifer Hudson and so I would encourage people to to check that out. It's an amazing um exploration of of um of development, let's actually say that she really, she grew, she found her voice and she grew up. Yeah, I love that you brought in that example, because I've thought too about, because I do a lot of curriculum development and unit development and thinking about how do we teach skills and how do we create more nuance for like the heroes that we celebrate in our curriculum and and that is such a profound way to do it. I mean, I I recently read the autobiography of Malcolm X. And I was like, wow, what a learner, what what a man who was capable of growth and evolution of thought, like we don't typically think of that because we don't know the nuance and complexity and like that, you know, one page of the textbook that we talked about Malcolm X in, but I think people are so complex, right?

And what a great way to bring in video or story or autobiography and study people and then use that as, you know, maybe a journal prompt to self reflect as students as adults teaching. Um and to have those conversations, I think that's just a wonderful curriculum tip to that you shared. That was fun. That'd be really fun. I wanna, I wanna create a, I wanna, I wanna find a theme and then I want to design a curriculum for myself around and just say what should I watch, which I listen to, what, you know, what music, what podcasts, what movies, what Yeah, it would be super cool, super cool. I love that idea. Um so as we kind of are wrapping up, I'd love for you to share what, you know, we've talked about so many things that listeners can do and sometimes I find that in conversation, you know, people are getting all wrapped up in, there's like 100 things I could do and I'm a bit overwhelmed by that. So what is maybe one thing that, as people are closing up the episode, putting away the headphones and kind of going out into the world, what's something that they could do to live in alignment with some of the stuff that we've been talking about today as maybe a starting point.

If you are a person who is an extrovert, wait two people before you start talking, that's one thing. So if you're in a group, you're in a breakout room, you're in a team meeting and you are the person who immediately jumps in. Don't, if you are somebody who is very much of an advocate for certain things, it's all good, you could share your um, your perspective and then say, what am I missing period, um what, what didn't I think of their, what are your thoughts? Um and I think people need more um acknowledgment of their capabilities and there um competence and if you could in very, very, very small way, I'm gonna give you an example.

Um I have a colleague who is so kind and so powerful when he talks to me or I experience him that way. We're also, I'm going to do a podcast and he'll go lucky listeners, lucky listeners. So I will say to you, lucky listeners that you have this podcast and I'm so grateful that I'm on it. That do you see how fast that was and and how powerful something like that is. So it doesn't take that long to do all of these things. It just takes intention. So those are three ideas, those are brilliant and I love that they're scaffold it too for people who feel like they tend to gravitate to one thing or gravitate away from one thing, I love that, that's so personalized. And so I know we talked about learning and growth like throughout the episode, but one of the things that I think is fun to ask at the end of each episode is something that you have been learning about lately on your own journey. Could be about anything. Oh, I am now in a relationship with a boyfriend, I've been in it for a year and that's unusual for me.

I'm never, I'm never home long enough to to create anything like that in my life. And we, what I'm learning is we do a check in every sunday and I'm learning not only so the first two questions are interesting like how how do you feel, how do you feel about me today? What do you appreciate? That's great. But the third question is what I'm learning. The question is, is there anything you feel incomplete about that you'd like to talk about at this time? And I used to be super scared that it was gonna be this huge. Y thank you so much for the question. I've been collecting data for the last seven days and here's how awful you are right, it I am learning that if I get feedback that stings in a short burst uh that And it's like one thing I can still be okay and I'll take it in and it doesn't sting as much and I'm much better.

So what I'm learning is how to accept feedback that I could perceive as negative and, and how, that if it comes to me in certain ways I can really respond in an adult way with it, but it has to be one thing and then I'll take it really seriously and I don't crumble. So that's what I'm learning about myself is that I've got more of a strength than I thought. That is beautiful. The chickens are beautiful, the questions are beautiful, but also just that realization is so beautiful and I'm just already thinking about all the implications for students and things, right? Like wow coach group, I've got a coach group that said, we're going to actually do that, we're gonna do those three questions, you know, or even to questions like what did you appreciate? And is there one thing this week that as a team you want to share that you feel incomplete about? It isn't like that, you should feel like crap. It really actually is you feeling complete, you didn't find your voice around what mattered at the moment. You feel incomplete and you want to share it. Like you have to apologize or you should have done this or it could be on you.

It does. And so those just in this group, this group of coaches said, we're going to use that at the end of, of the week together, I'm kind of excited about it. I'm kind of excited. That's amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. And then the very last question is just finally where listeners can learn more about you connect with you online. I'm sure people are gonna want to get in touch or follow what you're doing. Okay. So I'm at jennifer Abrams dot com, uh two ends and jennifer and no H in Abrams, just a b r a M s. Um, and it's jennifer dot com and I say that only because if you look me up on google, you're going to find a, a female bodybuilder because she's jennifer, Lynn Abrams. So just make sure because I'm not that person, I wish I was that strong, but I'm not that person. Um and you can find me on twitter, you can find me on instagram, you can find me on facebook. I'm sort of, I try to create lots of avenues to connect with with colleagues. So find me please.

That's amazing. Jennifer Abrams, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Thank you. Thanks for listening. Amazing educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me at lindsey Beth alliance or labor review of the show. So leaders like you will be more likely to find it to continue the conversation. You can head over to our time for teacher ship facebook group and join our community of educational visionaries until next time. Leaders continue to think, big act brave and be your best self.

77. Our Development as Adults is a “Must Have” with Jennifer Abrams
77. Our Development as Adults is a “Must Have” with Jennifer Abrams
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