What Do You Do?- Part I in a Series

working girl barbieOn Sunday night I had a lovely evening with 5 delicious NYC friends. And so it goes, when we had chatted long enough about everything else there is to say, someone brought up the impossible question:

“Sherri, what is it again that you do?”

Sigh. We’ve been through this a hundred times.

“I’m a coach…A consultant. I work mostly in schools…literacy, leadership, the arts. Y’know, teaching and learning.”

There are stares. Silence. They smile. Nobody knows what to say. Everybody else at the table has a very clearly defined job with a title that even a baby would understand:  fashion photographer, pediatrician, pharmacist, scientist, businessman. Three of them hold doctoral degrees, the rest masters degrees, and together we are fluent in Italian, Spanish, Japanese, French, and Chinese. We are not stupid people. I think to myself, “Why is this so hard to explain?” I leave that night resolving to keep track of what exactly it is that I do. I’m determined to have a better answer next time.

And so today I start Part I of the series: What Do You Do?

I’m going to capture my work in short spurts at differing times throughout the coming months. Today’s installment is representative of the second morning back after a long break. This day is atypical in that I’m working from NYC- my home office away from home, but quite typical in the switcheroo thinking and multiple strands I attend to on any given day. It’s July 13, 2010, 11:00 am and here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • Checked email.

I have an iPhone so I do this constantly starting the minute I wake up until I close my eyes at night. I am one of the addicted ones, I’ll admit, which works to CTL’s advantage I suppose but also saves me the headache of being surprised. I don’t like surprises. A general overview and filing of messages is how I usually start each day.

  • Clarified instructions.

In my inbox was a message pertaining to a large shipment that is heading to one of my districts. One of the things I’m learning about project management is the importance of being impeccable with my word. It’s an odd line to walk because I’m the kind of leader who likes to provide a vision and then get out of the way and let people do their own good thinking. Sometimes, however, vision isn’t sufficient. I’m working on figuring out when to be specific and when general direction is enough. I’ll let you know when I figure that out.

  • Panicked.

Another inbox message; this one pertaining to one of my project budgets. I’m still panting from this and trusting the issue will be resolved before day’s end. After a few back-and-forth email exchanges with my business manager, I’ll have to just ride this one out. I trust her and know that however it unravels, we’ll figure it out. Ambiguity tolerance is essential for a project manager.

  • Diverted attention to new work.

Can’t obsess over what I can’t control, so I decided to do some online research regarding leadership team development. I’m particularly interested in teacher leadership and it’s my default research mode when I have moments to spare. This particular work is directed toward 4 schools I’ll be engaging with this September when we kick off the year with the development of a literacy team. After some time online with general searching, I returned to an old stand-by: the Reinventing Education website. The Change Toolkit was developed in collaboration with IBM and is a virtual storehouse of resources, diagnostic tools, planning devices and even videos to assist schools and districts with the sticky planning associated with change initiatives. This morning I found a fabulous diagnostic tool about communicating a clear vision. I sent it to my project counterpoint for a review. We’ll plan later for how this gets folded into the work.

  • Skyped.

Skype has changed my life. I can honestly say I don’t know what I did without it. This morning I simply used the chat function but have set up a time for later to discuss technology plans in one of my Year 5 Striving Readers Schools.

  • Followed Up.

We’ve been struggling for over a week to get confirmation about an order shipped to one of my districts. I’ve sent a second follow-up email (with a red exclamation mark) asking for someone to please confirm whether they received the shipment.

  • Bragged a little.

A bit belated but due nonetheless, I sent congratulatory notes of appreciation to my co-facilitators from Penn High School who presented with me at the SLC conference the last week of June. I also sent notes to their administrators because I think it’s important they know what great folks they have working for them.

  • Made some tea.

In my yet-to-be-written memoir, I will list hot tea in the credits. It is how I survive most days. It’s my little bit of peace in a mug. Today’s tea: a chamomile, ginger, mint, cinnamon concoction.

  • Networked.

Several people from the conference requested copies of the power point we used. I’ve sent that off to interested parties with info about how they can work with CTL. This is a rather new facet of my work. I’m getting better at it the more I do it. But I don’t plan to win the salesperson of the year award any time soon. Selling is very difficult for me. I’d rather be doing, not talking about, the work.

  • Blogged.

And so here we are. I’m blogging. I’ll finish my post, upload for review and move on with my to-do list which includes perusing the writing of a colleague and providing feedback, fleshing out a proposal for the 2011 IRA conference, and looking ahead to the 2010-11 school year to plan out my time for my 3 Striving Readers schools. Not a bad day.

I realize there’s no fascination in reading about the minutia of my day. But the act of recording the minutes in this way has been enlightening for me. I trust that at the end of this series I’ll have something profound to share, so please stay tuned.  In the meantime, if you are a coach with a good answer to the question, “What do you do?” please send me your response. I’ve got another dinner party scheduled for Friday and I doubt I’ll have a good response formulated by then.

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