Saturday, November 5, 2016

Orange Frog

Our team selfie at the Orange Frog Training on October 28, 2016.
Left to right: Daniel (district office), Mary (me, English), Rocky 
(technology director), Bill (math), and Theresa (orchestra, band, theater).

One of the things I will not miss after retiring is the endless district "training" we've been required to attend the past few years. Don't get me wrong; it's not that I see no value to an occasional training. I've attended many great conferences on topics ranging from special education law to behavior management for teens with oppositional defiant disorder. I always come away with new and usable ideas for my classroom.

However, our recent trainings have been what I call "rah-rah" meetings. Anyone who knows me at all knows I do not have a rah-rah personality. Oh, I can enjoy watching other people get whipped into a frenzy with enthusiasm over almost anything. They make me smile, they lighten the mood, they are fun to watch. It's just not my style.

Our most recent training, last Friday, was The Orange Frog. Provocative name, right? It's based on a parable by Shawn Achor, about an island with four ponds populated by frogs who've all turned green due to a disease known as the Thrall. Then one day a tadpole gets his legs and discovers that as a new frog he--gasp--has an orange spot. This, of course, creates all sorts of chaos on the island, but eventually he accepts his growing orangeness, which is tied to his growing sense of fulfillment, and ultimately the other frogs follow suit. The Thrall is conquered!

The basis for the parable is something called the Happiness Advantage, based on current research about the link between positive psychology and work performance. It was an interesting and even entertaining day. Our presenter from San Diego, Devin, was funny and down-to-earth. He even briefly addressed the needs of introverts like me. Most of these trainings make us non-extroverts feel like there's something wrong with us if we aren't comfortable with cheering and jumping out of our seats or dancing and singing in public.

There were still plenty of groan-worthy moments. Some of the hardest words for us introverts to hear are, "Now go find a partner who's not sitting at your table!" Flashback to the junior high awkwardness when you were the last one chosen for a team. (Thank you, Mike Caruth, for saving me.) Most of Devin's advice and many of the ideas generated by my team had to do with building connections with our colleagues, seeking them out to share energy with each other. Extroverts can't grasp the introverts' reality that spending time with people we don't know too well is draining rather than energizing.

My name tag, workshop materials, and potato soup lunch (provided
by the district) at our group's table in Orange Frog Training.

When our new principal joined our high school last year, he talked about how we "fill our buckets." For him, meeting often to talk about our successes, heaping praise, cheering and clapping, and sharing good news filled his bucket. "Give me some sunshine," he'd say. Meanwhile, he increased his expectations for the staff. He was upfront about it, telling us he wasn't going to ask us to do "this or that"; he was going to ask us to do "this and that." We were to stand in the hall between classes to greet students and "build relationships" (his catchphrase); we were to call at least fifteen parents each month (teachers at the other schools in our district were only required to make five calls); our lunch duties were tripled so that we had lunch duty every other week.

Meanwhile, no one ever asked me what fills my bucket. There's an assumption that we all get energized by the same fun social scenes and upbeat talk. Not so. First of all, social gatherings, from faculty meetings to potlucks, are almost painful for introverts. We enjoy small groups of people we know and trust, or one-on-one conversations in which we can really get to know someone. Empty chit-chat is both awkward and meaningless for us. So standing in the hall and handing out compliments and greetings to students passing by was not going to happen.

Maybe it seems strange that an introvert would even choose to be a teacher. For us, faculty meetings and committees are necessary evils. Phone calls home are hyperventilation-worthy, but we know our duty and call parents when necessary. Setting a quota we must meet feels like a punishment. But within our classrooms...yes, that's where our reward lies. That's where I come alive.

I work hard to create a classroom environment that is safe for both myself and my students. It's within the classroom, not the hall, where I successfully build relationships. Little by little, the kids learn they can trust me, that I'll do whatever it takes to help them be successful, that I'll always stop and listen, that I don't judge or discriminate, that I care about them as human beings. Those are my strengths. I don't need to be their friend. I need to be their teacher. By the end of the first semester, I've shared myself with them and they've opened up and shared with me. Students who never spoke during the first quarter begin to blossom and share their thoughts.

So what exactly fills my bucket? The gift of time. Alone time. I perform best when I have plenty of time to prepare for my classes and plenty of quiet time to reflect and plan. That's what energizes me. Maybe it makes me something of a loner, but guess what? It's okay if my needs are different from everyone else's. However, it seemed for a long while that my time was being stolen from me, that my needs were no longer being considered. Every lunch duty, every passing period spent in the hall, every meeting to share "sunshine," meant minutes and hours in which I wasn't able to prepare for my students' needs or reinvigorate myself.

At the end of the day, we each received our own little orange frog.
I keep mine on the shelf behind my desk.

Thankfully, the demands on my time have been relaxed somewhat recently. Now we can include emails in our parent communications, and our duty list has been revised. With the lessened load, my stress level has dropped and my joy in teaching has been revived. Let me also add that I like and respect every one of my high school colleagues. It's just that there are only a handful to whom I feel close enough to be comfortable in a large social situation. One-on-one is always good with any of my co-workers.

And so I survived another day-long training, enduring the awkward and enjoying the fun and the humorous. And there were some solid, usable ideas to take away in the end. And, in keeping with the Orange Frog message, a big faculty potluck was planned for yesterday afternoon, to build connections and camaraderie. Sigh... 

Our Orange Frog team drops a "Joy Bomb" on Diane at the district office and
meets up with a couple of other colleagues (Rocky was behind the camera).
Left to right: Mary, Judy (English), Theresa, Kay (culinary arts), Diane, Daniel, and Bill.

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