See You In The Water

March 1, 2019

My mother called me Sarah Bernhardt when I was ‘in a mood.’ I was a tad emotional as a child. “Woe is me” was my ‘thing.’ I had a flair for the dramatic. Not much has changed. I just learned several self-regulation strategies. And yet, the Y.B. Yeats line, “the centre cannot hold” from The Second Coming keeps coming back to me against the backdrop of the ‘macro.’

In my ‘micro’ world, when I get ‘too too,’ I get metaphorical and feel that things are ‘coming apart’ as well. My watch battery died. My dry cleaner went out of business. Someone came up to me asking where I got my hair cut as her hairdresser retired. Hairdresser and retired in the same sentence is a big deal! For me, and I imagine for many others, the little things have to be taken care of so that when the big changes happen at least something is on solid ground.

And, we know things have been changing since the beginning. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher said, ‘Panta Rhei,’ which many of us have translated to ‘the only thing that is constant is change.’ Yet still, with so much of it happening so often, change ain’t easy. David Rock, one of my cognitive crushes and author of Your Brain at Work talks about a sense of uncertainty creating a strong threat response in one’s brain and with it one’s ability to focus on other things diminishes. Our brains don’t like uncertainty. For us it is a type of pain. Ouch.

Yet every day coaches and administrators push/encourage/cajole/demand that adults in schools adapt, modify and accommodate. And, that isn’t wrong to ask of educators. It’s just not easy. My ‘drama queen’ self is thinking that my dry cleaner going out of business really messes up my routine. What would happen if I was asked to change up my whole unit planning design or told that as of next year I needed to work with a co-teacher or move my classroom or teach a new subject or grade level? Or become an advisor when I was used to just teaching math, the subject I know and feel comfortable with? Or begin doing project-based learning or standards based grading or blended teaching? It’s a lot! Again, moving in these directions isn’t wrong. It just isn’t easy. John Vasconcellos, the former California State Senator, said of those who are leading and asking others to move forward into a better future that “we must become both hospice workers to support the peaceful dying and letting go of our traditional culture…, and midwives to gently usher in our emerging culture…”

I share with the participants, the teacher leaders and administrators in my workshops, that I bet they didn’t get into education to also become hospice workers and midwives, but as we need to change for the betterment of our schools and the growth of our students, there are times when we need to take on those roles as well. Change needs to take place. How can we support each other as best we can through through those changes? This is where my new book, Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives comes in. It comes out March 29th, 2019. More on how to pre-order below. See you in the water.

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at Jennifer@jenniferabrams.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Cool Resources

My new book, Swimming in the Deep End is available for pre-order. Solution Tree writes, “Cultivate the foundational leadership skills you need to enact effective organizational change for school improvement. Utilize the four explored skills to strategically plan school initiatives, have critical conversations, respond to resistance, and manage yourself through change and resistance.” I hope the book helps readers beyond leading school initiatives and assists them in planning for and dealing with change in whatever role they are currently in.

Step In, Step Up: Empowering Women for the School Leadership Journey by Jane A. G. Kise and Barbara K. Watterston “guides current and aspiring women leaders through a twelve-week development journey to discover their personal leadership identity and overcome the gender barriers to leadership in education.” I think the book is fabulous and I endorsed it so you will see my blurb on the back cover!

Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in Complexity by Jennifer Garvey Berger. Amazon writes, “Author and consultant Jennifer Garvey Berger has worked with all types of leaders – from top executives at Google to nonprofit directors who are trying to make a dent in social change. She hears a version of the same plea from every client in nearly every sector around the world: “I know that complexity and uncertainty are testing my instincts, but I don’t know which to trust. Is there some way to know what to do when I can’t know what’s next?” Her newest work is an answer to this plea. Using her background in adult development, complexity theories, and leadership consultancy, Garvey Berger discerns five pernicious and pervasive “mind traps” to frame the book. These are: the desire for simple stories, our sense that we are right, our desire to get along with others in our group, our fixation with control, and our constant quest to protect and defend our egos. In addition to understanding why these natural impulses steer us wrong in a fast-moving world, leaders will get powerful questions and approaches that help them escape these patterns.”

About Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's latest book is Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives. Her previous publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.

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Praise for Jennifer

“Jennifer has so squarely hit the mark with our teacher-leaders that she is one of the few presenters that they are always requesting when professional development is the question. Here at the University of Chicago, this acclaim and recognition does not come easily! Jennifer has a way of presenting information that gets quickly to the heart of the matter. Her ability to read the true needs of the group, regardless of the original focus, has made her a favorite among the faculty here at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.”

Jason Lopez, Associate Director, Educational Programs
University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, Chicago, IL