One of my fellow students is looking for people who are using open learning in their practices and would be willing to discuss this with the class. If that is you and you are interested in sharing, please see the link below and get in touch.
Today, as with most days, I was going to spend a few moments browsing through my RSS Reader as T settled in for some colouring and hot chocolate. I usually begin the day by picking few that I can highlight and get back to reading later. It’s kind of a routine. T, my 4 year old, settles in for some iPad time or colouring or both. It’s about 30 minutes.
When I start to get a bit comfortable with how things are going, I remember this quote:
The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. Gerald Burrill
The reason is that it’s so easy to move from routine to rut to, well, maybe not a grave but something that keeps us from venturing beyond. So what does my RSS Reader have to do with this? Well, I’d usually begin the process of browsing. Instead of going through the RSS feed, I mixed it up and went to Pocket and began to look around. No apparent reason other than there was an email about “What’s new for You?” Well, what is new for me?
Look What I Found!
This is where I came across this great post about Meaningful Work by Paul Jarvis. Jarvis discusses being an entrepreneur and working on his own – “innovating, hacking, making something new.” This statement resonated with me. I read the article, in some places reread. And then, instead of moving on, I stopped. It had me. It connected with my thoughts about teacher growth – professional development. Connections…..
First, it speaks directly to staying out of the rut! Or seeking new ways of looking at what is around you and being willing to ask questions and a risk or two. As an educational leader, we’re always surrounded by new ways of looking at things – ask the students, that will get you out of a rut! Ask the teachers and see what they have to say. Get parent input. Use the ideas to take a risk. Some will pan out and some won’t. As Jarvis points out, don’t think of them as risks but as experiments.
I do this because experiments don’t fail, they simply show results. Sometimes those results are great and point you in the direction for bigger and better things. Sometimes they just show you what idea isn’t worth pursuing.
The second reason I liked that line – “innovating, hacking, making something new.” – is because it’s what teachers need to do in their classrooms. They need to see themselves as “innovating, hacking and making something new” in their work. Instead of closing their doors and toiling away, they need to step out, sharing what they are doing and connecting with other educators. Administrators and other supervisors need to move away from the top-down view and instead work on a more parallel perspective, with their role being to assist teachers to make their products the absolute best they can be through additional resources, support people, mentoring and connections.
Final, the statement “innovating, hacking, making something new.” is what students should be doing in their classrooms alongside the teacher. Yes they will need to learn certain “basics” as foundations. Changing the mindset of how these “basics” are measured and how they are used within the school is where this idea of “innovating, hacking, making something new.” needs to play itself out.
After reading the article, T and I moved on to, in no apparent order:
Legos, Wii, PS2, books, Youtube – TMNT, saving the world as TMNT and some excellent chocolate milk and snack. Then it was time to make lunch. I’m learning that each day doesn’t need to be completely structured and, oddly enough, I find myself being much more open to ideas for writing and thinking about things differently, slowly letting go of years of routines. A 4 year old will do that to you – and there are no ruts when you follow a 4 year old!
As I reflect on helping teachers grow as professionals, it’s important to realize that this is a journey for all involved and that it will continue to be as such. In this series, I am looking at the process in three parts: Phase One – Reaching Out, Phase Two – Giving Support and Phase Three – Reflecting and Celebrating.
Reaching out to teachers can sometimes be difficult for administrators. In the hectic, and sometimes frantic, happenings of the school and the daily demands it is sometimes easy to put off what seem like “other” things. As Amber Teamann points out in this post, Stephen R. Covey reminds us that we need to focus on things that will help us to build our capacity as leaders and the capacity of those around us. As an administrator, it was always one of my goals to provide teachers with the supports they needed, to provide a helping hand.
Phase One – Reaching Out
In order to help teachers grow as professionals, administrators do need to be willing to reach out and listen. The key – listening. Too often the paradigm is to provide answers or solutions, to give “supports” so teachers can get on with their growth. Some will know what they want to do and quickly move forward. Many others, however, aren’t really sure of what supports they might need or where they want to focus their growth. As people, they are busy trying to meet the needs of their students through their planning, feedback and interactions. They are building communications with parents. For many, their own professional growth is keeping up with the initiatives and directives that they get.
One way to help teachers is to provide 1 to 1 PD . As an administrator, time is a diamond commodity – it precious. In order to provide 1 to 1 PD for teachers, one needs to be do some preplanning to ensure the effective use of everyone’s time.
Three Step Plan
Professional Growth Plan -
Step 1 – start with listening/Identify strengths
I would meet with each teacher to listen to their goals. In this step, asking questions and listening are so important. “I want to use more technology” might be where the conversation starts but by asking questions and listening to teacher, we were able to narrow down and decide on some specific goals. “I really don’t know what I want to do” is okay too! Changes in teaching and the classroom dynamics may have some teachers unsure what or where to begin. Again, listening and asking questions about what they are doing right now is important. Focusing on areas where they are finding success is important. These can provide insights to strengths that can then be used to redirect to an area for growth. By providing teachers with lead time before this meeting and giving them a format for the discussion – the first meeting is to identify an area for growth – the teacher isn’t feeling like they have to make this plan by themselves. You are there as a support to help them. A simple form that has the teacher identify areas of strength in their teaching, areas of interest for Professional Development and their reasons.
Be specific with the goal. This isn’t the same as creating a SMART goal but the goal needs to have a specific focus. I would highly recommend checking out Beyond the To Do List by Erik Fisher. It gives some practical ideas to helping set specific goals. The idea here is to focus on using the strengths that were identified earlier to help in creating a plan for an area of growth.
Step 2 – identify what things are within the sphere of influence of the teacher and what supports they may need from you or others. Depending on the resource people that are available, this is a good time to identify anyone who might be able to help them.
Step 3 – set a date for the next meeting where you will discuss the plan the teacher will develop. It is important that the teacher be able to visit you to discuss things. This is where you, as an administrator can organize supports – training ideas, personnel, coaching, 1 to 1 time, etc
As I worked with teachers, I realized that I couldn’t work with all of them but that, through listening to them, I could support them in their growth through support. Recently I read what George Couros has been doing with teachers. As an administrator, this is one way that you could support teachers within your building by accessing resource people. Also, the idea of sharing that time and growth with others is a great idea that, as an administrator, will help others to see possibilities.
As an educational leader, you don’t need to have all the answers. You do need to use the tools and resources at your disposal to support teachers so they can “Do what is best for Students” and, just as important, share that learning with others. This allow individuals to connect and the synergy to take over. By leading others to connect with others, a leader is helping others find their passions and grow as an individual – nothing is more powerful than that!
These past few weeks I’ve been listening to Read to Lead podcast. I came across it as I was looking for something that would help me in my quest to figure out which direction I needed to explore next. Being that I really don’t believe in coincidence, the podcast has introduced me to a number of great books and thought leaders. Better yet, it has introduced me to a number of great authors who are really at their peaks, each being an influential and successful entrepreneur.
The Read to Lead Podcast is based on the belief that intentional and consistent reading is key to success in business and in life.
As a leader in education, this is a foundational belief that I have had since I began teaching. I know that I would not have been able to make the progress nor been able to continue to grow as a teacher and an administrator without continuing to read and learn. Most of my reading was educational in nature until I ventured into social media sites and began to broaden my reading through recommendations of people within my PLN. Lately, having decided that I needed to change course, I was searching for insights and ideas, new experiences that would introduce me to things that weren’t necessarily educational in nature. This is when I found Read to Lead.
At the end of each podcast, the host, Jeff Brown asks each of his guests about a leadership lesson they’ve learned. These guests include Chris Brogan, Scott M. Fay, Dave Delaney and Todd Henry just to mention a few. Almost to a one, they all answered with a version of “Be good to other people. Help others. Build relationships.” As I listened to these, I wondered what educational leaders would say. If I were honest, I would probably have answered “Do what’s best for students.” Really, that’s probably what I would have answered. As I’ve listened to the podcasts, I began to realize that maybe in education we’ve tried to make things much more complicated than needs to be. As I listen to these leaders of today, it was clear that they genuinely were focused on helping others to get better. Do we really focus on making everyone around us better? Or just on most of the people around us? Do we have an entrepreneurial mindset of looking not to make ourselves look good but to help others? Do our divisions/districts focus on this from top to bottom or is this lost somewhere along the way?
Today I received an email from one of administrators I’m mentoring in the mentorship group that George Couros established this fall – SAVMP – about a situation. As I read through what was happening, I again wondered about the “helping others” leadership model which definitely wasn’t being followed. Why does it seem that many of the educational leaders are not understanding that in our social and connected world, the top-down hierarchical system doesn’t work? That to be effective, you must connect other people to something of value. In the case of education, connecting students to learning of value to the student is quickly shaping the change in education. Helping others is the cornerstone of this and teachers and principals, in order to do that, require new skills which in turn requires that schools, division/districts and states/provinces begin to shift away from the top-down, one-size-fits-all format. It’s becoming apparent that the traditional models of teaching and the systems of schooling are not able to meet the needs of many of the students within the system but the desire to retain “power” in some fashion limits what can be done in schools and in classrooms.
Let’s Look Outward – Our Navels Have Been Studied
I’m all for listening to the thought leaders in education and what is being said. It’s time, however, we looked around – raised our heads and looked beyond the nest of education. Not listening to Big Business and what they think of education but to listen to what thought leaders in other areas are saying from their perspectives and seeing how it might have cross-over potential and how it will help us help students find value in their learning. That’s why I believe such things as Design Thinking has so much potential in education because it has been successfully used in many different industries and situations. They focus on helping others, on creation and innovation. So if you have a few moments, I highly recommend Read to Lead Podcast.
#1 Leadership Lesson
Again and again and again – it’s helping others. A great example of this is someone like George Couros who continues to work to help others to make connections, to find value in what they are doing and bring about change and innovation in education. Helping others – who would have thought!
Where do you go for new sources of reading? Suggestions from other administrators? Other educators? Suggestions from known educational authors? From particular organizations? Do you seek ideas outside these circles? Do you go beyond the “group think”?
I’d like to suggest you check out Jeff Brown’s @THEjeffbrown podcast at ReadtoLead.com . In each episode, Jeff interviews a contemporary writer and thought leader, usually about their latest book. Each author also suggests a book or two that has had an impact on them. In between 35 and 40 minutes, you can hear some great insights and advice from some of today’s thought leaders. For me, it’s exposed me to new leaders who’s ideas and insights make me think more deeply and challenge me to reflect upon what I currently believe about learning and education, leading and change. I know that I’ve listened to a couple of them more than once. I know that a few of them have challenged my thinking about some of our current educational practices through their different perspective on learning, careers and success.
Sharing. It’s important. We teach our children to share with siblings and with other children. We see examples everyday of people sharing their time, talent and resources. WeDay is a great example of youth sharing with others. One of the youth from my own community was part of the event, sharing her story with the crowd about her sharing. The image above is one I used to share with others the books that I was reading over the summer. We share with our families, with our co-workers and with strangers around the world. Our family sponsors different charities and supports different events through our time and finances. But, when it comes to sharing online, as an educator, well, that’s not always easy.
Several post lately have focused on sharing. Dean Shareski writes about sharing our unique stories in Stop Me If You’ve Heard This Before. In the post Dean discusses that, while the stories may appear not to be new, they are:
And that’s why we share and reflect because although on the surface our stories, insights and ideas may not be new, they come with our personal context and perspectives and it’s those aspects of sharing that to me are most interesting and meaningful. It’s the reason that your “research” matters.
George Couros encourages educators to share in his post Something Old is Something New in which he discussed that what we see as being “old” is only old to us.
What is old to you might be new to someone else.
As educators, we sometimes assume that what is happening is something we’ve already seen with a new name and packaging. “Been there, done that”. However, what you might find is that what you are doing isn’t the same old, same old but indeed, something new – from a certain point of view.
Finally, David Truss discusses that we need to have people to challenge our thinking about things in Networked Chambers do Not Echo. What I appreciate about David’s sharing is that he is one busy guy so whatever he shares I know must be something that is really motivating him. How do I know this? Because I’ve connected with him on and off these past few years and know that there are nuggets of gold in what he shares.
Why Don’t Teachers Share?
Should Teachers Share is a post at Edudemic. In it, there are several reasons given that teachers don’t share – Fear being the underlying premise for some of them. And with good reason. As I read through the article, I could relate because each of the scenarios has really happened to me. And, I am still filled with fear – that someone will point out that I did this or that while I was an administrator, that they will let the world know that I wasn’t that great of an administrator – I made poor choices – (role Rob Ford media scrum here!) We all have skeletons in the closet. But, in order to get better, we need to share the good things we did. Anyone can find fault – in education we’ve been doing this for a long time and, this is partially why many educators have not made the move to sharing. It’s freaking scary!
But, from teacher’s I talk with, that’s not the largest deterrent. In fact, it seems to fall into two categories.
Comparing to others
Jon Acuff – author of Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters discusses the dangers of comparing yourself with others and the harm it does to our willingness to share. In today’s connected world, it is easy to check out and see what other people in our field are doing and writing. From there, it’s a tiny step to feeling “less than” which leads teachers to feel less than experts at what they do and have a hard time sharing less than their best. They often then talk about a few examples of prominent teacher bloggers. “I don’t have the time to do something like THAT!” “I don’t have the time to develop a blog like THAT!” They see someone’s end and think that their beginning needs to be like that – something that many people who start out fall victim to as they begin. There is no way I could compare what I am doing to what many other more prominent and established online people are doing but, at first, it happens. Nor can I compare myself to others who are more technical experts than I am but it happens. “I can’t do that” or “I don’t have access to those kind of opportunities” and the list goes on. These are true statements, kinda. In fact, I don’t have the access or opportunities YET. But, I have a great deal to share – my experiences have provided me with some wisdom. Better yet, I have worked with some incredible teachers whom I have learned from and have taught me about what it means to be a great teacher and that is definitely worth sharing!
Creating a PLN
The other part that really deters people is the lack of interaction and the time it takes to build connections. When I talk with teachers about using twitter or other SM ways to connect, they talk about “time”. Well, in listening to them, it’s not really they don’t have the “time” in the short term but they don’t see interactions happening and then life happens and they can’t get on and then when they go back it starts over again. I have heard things like “those people must not have any families” “do they teach or just go to conventions – that’s all they tweet about! ” “most of them aren’t in the classroom anymore. Some aren’t even in schools.” As I mention above, comparing our beginning to someone’s middle is dangerous. I don’t know who “they” are but I do know that I’ve had some of those thoughts – in times when I’m nose deep in what’s happening around me. At times like this, I engage them by having them look at some of my contacts and people I know who “are like them.” It makes them feel comfortable which is important. Nothing turns people off than feeling like you showed up dressed like a clown to a formal party! If you feel out of place and there is no one who seems familiar around, it’s discouraging. By being able to direct people to such things as chats, hangouts and even decamps and such articles as this allows educators to test the waters and see all that is happening.
You Need to Listen
Sometimes people are at certain life and career stages that do make it more difficult to connect. Anyone with more than no small children knows how draining having a little tike around can be, while dealing with tweenagers and teenagers can also be challenging. Some people are dealing with aging parents and other life issues. Connecting isn’t happening for some people because they have other areas of more pressing concern. Most won’t tell you, unless you have developed a trusting relationship with them, but if you listen, you will pick up that there are life issues and we need to respect that and offer, that at any time in the future they want to connect, we’ll be more than ready to help them. Online sharing isn’t for everyone at this moment and respecting that will go a long way in building a relationship that will open the door for someone later on. We need to remember why we are here.
Sharing Isn’t Easy
I don’t care what anyone says, each time, just before I put myself “out there” I hesitate. My negative experiences still lurking around whispering quietly “remember when….” But, like I indicated in my last post, Yoda was right, either Do or Do Not. So, again, I’ll press that Publish button……
For the past 4 months I’ve been pondering what route to explore next. After 23 years in education, the last 13 as an administrator, I made the decision in May not to return to my current position and resigned. Since then, I’ve done a great deal of thinking, reading, thinking, listening, thinking and then some more thinking. During this time, I’ve been able to read through blogs and articles, engage in chats and basically do a great many things that I found it hard to do. And as I’ve had time to think and play with my 4 year old son, I’ve seen that indeed, Yoda was right -
Do or Do Not, there is no try
For many things in life, it is okay to try – new foods, clothes, hairstyles, hobbies, books, blogs and various other things require us to try. But, as I’ve been reflecting, there are some things, very important things, that you either do or do not, trying doesn’t work.
The one big one I’ve discovered is forgiveness. Either you forgive or you don’t. This goes for others and for ourselves. It has taken me a some time to forgive some of the people around me – for real or imagined hurts – but before I can move on, it was absolutely necessary to do this and let the past flow away. Sounds easy. Just let it flow away. Well, for me, it wasn’t. In fact, I had to move through blame to make a decision to forgive. I couldn’t just try to, I had to do or do not. I chose to do which has allowed me to move forward and focus on positive relationship building.
Even harder was forgiving myself for past – for lousy decisions I made as an administrator, for not living up to my own idea of what I need to be as an administrator, for not fulfilling my goals of moving into central office, for poor job choices and the list went on. But in order to do this, I had to recognize that although some of them weren’t that great, I had learned a great deal from them and now could help others. Forgiving oneself, especially as an administrator and teacher, is really hard to do. We get to see the consequences of our decisions reflected in the faces of the children with whom we interact and those images can hang upon us like the proverbial albatross! Forgiving oneself is a do or do not!
As an administrator, the most important thing for building a positive and productive culture is trust. It must be developed with all partners – parents, students, teachers, community members, division personnel – all people involved in the school. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be disagreements or difficult times, but, if you have based relationships on trust, these will not harm the relationships. Trust you either do or do not. It’s either there or it isn’t. Again, this is in all relationships – marriage, friendships, family, business – and we even have to have trust in ourselves, our abilities and what we are capable of doing. I’ve been rereading Stephen R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust as it helps me to refocus and reflect on trust, building trust and trusting myself. I highly recommend it for anyone in education.
After years of working hard and feeling unfulfilled, I had to make a decision that was, from what I can gather from others’, a rather difficult one. However, when I made the decision, it was actually easy. I wasn’t feeling fulfilled as a professional, I wasn’t seeing any avenue to make advancement in the current hierarchical structures that are in place in education, I wasn’t using my talents as best I could and I was stressed and frustrated beyond belief. There was a bit of “what next” but I knew that where I was wasn’t helping others the way I wanted. Somewhere and somehow, I had lost the focus on “others” and I needed to get that back. It’s not that I didn’t make decisions as an administrator with the best interest of students in mind or I wasn’t concerned for others but I was not happy or feeling fulfilled and it showed. I either needed to figure out how to change things in my current situation or move on. Do or do not.
Helping others. Seeking to improve the lives of those around us. Sharing. Giving without expecting anything back.
All of these are part of living a life of fulfillment and joy. But, when you are in a state of depression and anxiety, these become difficult. The spiral of self-loathing leaves no room for others. In order to break that spiral and move onward and upward, I had to decide that there was a problem and seek help. Do or do not – there is no try – I had tried before and failed. So now, relationships are growing and improving, slowly.
Yoda was right when he tells Luke – “Do or Do Not – there is no try”. In life, we have times where trying isn’t an option, we need to make a decision to do or not to do. What Yoda was telling Luke at that moment was that he had to believe in himself, feel the connection to the force, feel that flow through him and do it. Luke doesn’t succeed at that time but he does learn and understands, ultimately, that there are decisions that are so important they require our resolve to do. For me, it’s taken a long time to work to this point in time. I’m not a sharing person – it’s hard to do this but to do it opens up to sharing and growth which is so important for all of us.
DO OR DO NOT – THERE IS NO TRY
I imagine Luke, standing before the evil Emperor having thrown away his his lightsaber – that when the first sparks of evil struck him he second guessed that decision. However, he believed there was good in his father – and at his most vulnerable he continued to trust – to DO – and reached out. Sometimes, as a leader, you have to make the hard choices and one of the hardest, I believe, is to let someone else leave while you move on to something else. Having left my “title” behind, I know look forward to reaching out and sharing – moving forward – like Yoda says – DOING!