Fish out of water

The Great White Sturgeon, by SF Boater on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I’m alone in a hotel room! Darkness has arrived and I’m decompressing from a whole day spent in a windowless conference room playing the role of professional outsider.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been volunteering at my kids’ school. My mom volunteered at my school when I was a kid – she organized events like International Night, or collected lunch money. I’ve done my share of PTA work, but being part of a small, progressive school community can also offer novel opportunities to get involved.

My kids’ school is participating in a network of similar schools which each have designated teams to identify needed change in the school, and to implement this change by learning the principles of design thinking and adaptive leadership. The trick is, I am the only one in the room who is “just” a parent. Everyone else is a teacher or school administrator of some type. This was beyond intimidating for me last year, but I’m well past that now, finding myself giving advice in group discussions to heads of school who may even actually be listening to me, despite my utter lack of credentials.

Last year, our team’s work led to the very exciting apex of changing the way Young J’s classroom is set up, to accommodate kids like him with special needs. I spent a day at school with Young J, producing a “journey map” of his day, making notes of where things seemed to go differently than anticipated. Our team set up a prototype of a new classroom configuration, and had the kids test it one morning. It was incredibly satisfying to have that kind of direct and lasting impact on my kid’s learning environment.

That was last year, though. This year, our team, now reinforced by an extra member, has struggled with a number of things while trying to identify a new challenge to address. One of the many challenges was my disappearance from team meetings while I was sick last fall. Today, we had to create a team timeline showing the highlights and lowlights of our work thus far this year. I drew a line that went deep into the negative side of the graph for November, and punctuated it with a sticker of a face showing extreme disgust. It felt good to do that, and to see that that was then, and this is now.

Our team continues to have a number of challenges to its progress this year. We have all day tomorrow to grapple with them. But I am beyond happy I’m no longer one of them.

Meanwhile, back at home, J is leading the kids through the next phase of a design thinking exercise I started this weekend with Young J, focused around reducing the chaos in our house created by Legos. I spent some time interviewing Young J the other day, asking him how he thought the bricks would best be sorted and stored. We sorted a portion of the bricks that way, and then I ran a prototype in which he took an instruction booklet and tried to construct a vehicle by locating the pieces within the new categories we’d sorted them into. I took notes. I decided that sorting by color, an idea I had previously dismissed out of hand as being excessively fussy and Pinterest-y, actually did make some sense in terms of ease of locating certain pieces.

I texted J as my meeting wrapped up today suggesting that he have the kids sort the bricks by color. He’s spent the whole day with the kids, ferrying them here and there, and I assumed he would tell me to stop pestering him. Next thing I knew, he texted me a photo of Young A surrounded by bricks sorted by color and in containers! I could thank the design thinking gods, but first I need to thank J for following along and helping me achieve my vision, as hare-brained as my scheme may seem.

Thank you, J, Young J and Young A. You complete me.

One thought on “Fish out of water

  1. “I decided that sorting by color, an idea I had previously dismissed out of hand as being excessively fussy and Pinterest-y, actually did make some sense in terms of ease of locating certain pieces.”

    So librarian. 🙂


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