leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · professional development · reflections · relationships · Uncategorized

New Beginnings: Five Reminders For Leaders

I don’t typically make New Year’s Resolutions because I feel reflection and change should be fluid, not fixed to a certain date or time, but going into a new school is a time for new beginnings. Within this time of busyness and change, it’s imperative to take time to mindfully focus on certain things that keep us leading the way we would want to be lead.

Remember your teacher’s heart.

You were once a teacher, focusing on all the changes and new initiatives and new classrooms and new kids…returning to school at the beginning of a school year is overwhelming and exciting all at the same time. Don’t forget what it was like to reconnect with colleagues that you haven’t seen over the summer, and anticipate viewing your class lists for the first time. It’s easy to get bogged down by budgets  and making tough decisions that not everyone understands, but when it comes down to it, the people you support and the kids are why you’re there. It’s why you became a teacher in the first place. Don’t forget that.

There is always a place for fun.

dance

Like Ren McCormack says in Footloose, “A time to laugh… and a time to weep. A time to mourn… and there is a time to dance… See, this is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.” There is a time for professional development, training, and planning, but there also needs to be a time for fun. Never underestimate the power of laughter to connect people. So many deep connections can be made by getting to know people on a personal level, and the best way to do that is to give them time to interact in a non-threatening way where they can relax and enjoy themselves. Build bonds. Like each other.

Your PLN is your best asset. Cultivate it.

My PLN, which includes the teachers in my district, are the people that support, challenge and give me the best ideas. As I’ve said a hundred times, I am only as good as the people I surround myself with. Every single day I am amazed with the people that I have had the good fortune to connect with, and I am a better person and leader because of it. I need to be aware, however, that it’s important for me to give back to my PLN as well. I try to do this by being available if they need support, working on projects together, even if we are states away, tweeting ideas I find, and frankly, keeping this blog. If I’m not giving back what I’m getting, I’m not being a very good PLN member.

Model what you want to see.

All. The. Time.

We ask teachers to do this with their students. Model the behavior you want to see. If you want the students reading, you should read as well. If you want them journaling, you should keep a journal, too. Yet, sometimes we don’t put enough focus on leaders modeling what they want to see from teachers. If you want teachers tweeting, you better be on Twitter. If you want teachers integrating tech into their lessons, you better be integrating tech into their PD. Think they should be learning a new tool once a week? Then ask yourself what tool you’ve learned more about this week. There is nothing that will ruin a relationship faster than the “do as I say not as I do” mentality. If you’re afraid of a teacher asking you to show them an example of yours that you’ve asked them to do because you haven’t actually done it, that’s a problem. So, listen like you want to be listened to. Support others the way you want to be supported. Treat others they way you’d like to be treated.

Decide on the climate & culture you want to create.

I really do believe that we have the power, every one of us, from teachers and students to administrators, to create or change the climate and culture. There really are some simple truths when it comes to this. There must be trust amongst all people. They need to feel valued and that what they do actually means something. People desire positivity but are more likely to gravitate toward the negative, so what can we do about that? The amazing part of being a reflective professional is that we have the power every day to decide what kind of climate and culture we want to create in our offices, buildings and district. If we make the changes in ourselves, people will follow suit.

It’s so easy to get lost in both the craziness of the beginning of the year and then the subsequent tedium of day to day, that it’s especially important to be mindful of our objectives and goals, and purposeful in the way that we plan, implement, and interact with others so we are supporting people in the best way we can. Many of us have had the opportunity to work with leaders that we do not want to emulate. Lets decide on the leaders we want to be, and then actually be those people every day.

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

A Different Kind of Lens

Lately, I’ve had some friends and colleagues who have been going through both personal and professional struggles. For many of them, you’d never know it on the outside, but my whole life, I’ve been one of those people that have some kind of special “aura”. People tell me things that they “haven’t told many people”. In the past, I’d laugh about it when inevitably, after coming out of Walmart, I would be able to recite critical life details about the person in line behind me at the checkout. I’ve realized, however, that our histories can determine the people we become, our interactions with other people shape who we are, and how people around us react to our stories and struggles shape us as well. I am so incredibly gifted to have this…quality…because the true empathy I have for the people around me from those stories helps me cultivate the deep, meaningful relationships that I try so hard to build. As a leader, it also helps me understand what makes people tick, or what they might be sensitive to that would send them into a spiral.

Especially in education, we often keep ourselves in check because we know that any toll that our problems are taking will show up ten fold in the classroom, and we want to be good models for our students. From the outside, everyone might seem ok. It reminds me of social media and how we put our best foot forward, and then compare our lives to the carefully chosen, filtered photos and information that other people put out about theirs. Then we sit back and secretly wonder what’s wrong with us, why we aren’t getting offered the opportunities or have as much money or such a perfect world as the rest.

I have internal struggles that I wage every day. Fallout from poor choices, feelings of inadequacy, perpetually working toward being a better person and questioning if I even have the ability to do so. I know that other people do this as well, yet I look at them and see greatness or potential or kindness that they can’t see themselves. Because of this, I adopted this rule years ago: tell people the awesome things you know about them, even when it seems unnecessary. Allow them to see themselves through your lens, and take a moment to appreciate what they bring.

This seems silly, right? Like, duh. But the true power in this rules lies in the person’s face when you give them a specific compliment that they understand is meant for them. We think we do this when we say to someone, “You’re doing a great job”, but that’s too vague. Sometimes, I think we are so afraid of seeming like we are blowing smoke we choose to say nothing, or we don’t want people to get so comfortable thinking that they’re doing something amazing that they cease growing. But, the reality is that we simply don’t do enough building each other up. There is nothing wrong with making someone feel appreciated.

A few years ago, I was feeling uncertain in my role as a Technology Integrator. For anyone who has been an instructional coach, you know the identity crisis that comes along with not being a teacher, but not being admin, and what you’re supposed to do in-between. I felt like I couldn’t be the only one experiencing that, so I sent a few of my team members a short email telling them something that I felt they brought to the team, and how they made me happy every time I saw them. For one, it was their professionalism and willingness to always help me, for another, it was how they made me laugh when they knew I was having a bad day, and yet for the third it was the fact that he always had my back when I wanted to try something risky and new. At the end of the year, one of my colleagues told me he kept that email and would reread it when he was having an off moment. For me, it confirmed the importance ensuring the people around me knew how much I appreciated having them in my personal or professional life.

As I reread this post, I thought to myself, “Did I make this enough of education? It is an edu blog, after all.” But then, I realized that anytime the discussion involves relationships, you are essentially talking about the foundation of education. We work in a people driven profession. Our focus, at any level, is the people we support whether they are 5 or 50 years old. Our focus is not data, not test scores, not technology even. Relationships are the foundation to any climate/culture shift, classroom management discussion, or moving people forward. It’s so important in cultivating these relationships that we verbalize our appreciation. And, as I tell my own friends when they’re feeling insecure, “You wouldn’t feel that way if you could see you through my eyes.”


leadership and relationships

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · Uncategorized

Unmotivated vs Lazy? Re-engaging teachers in their profession

I was scrolling through the Twitters yesterday, and found this tweet by Tom Loud:

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I love discussing climate and culture because they really can be either detrimental to a school, or on the flip side, make it the supportive, engaging place of learning and innovation that we all strive for. In reading Tom’s tweet, I believe he is saying that when administration allows teachers to be lax on their professionalism, it can cause a negative effect on the culture (and I’d argue the climate as well). If I’m right in my thinking, I totally agree. When professional decisions are determined by “what is easier for me” over “what is best for students and their learning”, it causes a rift between teachers who are working diligently to support students the best way they can and the ones seen as protecting their own personal-professional interests. Working for students looks much different than working for oneself.

The part I would tweak in the tweet is the use of the word lazy. I believe that word choice can send a powerful message, and in this case, I would change lazy to unmotivated. I feel like lazy implies a fixed quality that can’t be changed, while unmotivated implies that one COULD be motivated if the right motivator was found. When I look at the teachers who would fall into this category, I mostly (and there are exceptions to every rule) find teachers who are not inherently lazy, but instead people who are disengaged from their professions. They’ve forgotten why they became teachers to begin with, and focus more on compliance and the students who are misbehaving “on purpose” to just to annoy them. I feel like the question here isn’t how admin can force feed motivation into “lazy” teachers, but rather how can we re-engage teachers into their profession so they are the relationship-building, student empowering, collaborative colleagues that would remove the unmotivated label they’ve been given. What support do they need to become the teachers everyone wants to work with?

motivation

We preach student engagement and empowerment. We work toward students taking ownership of their learning, we attempt to teach to the whole child, and we want them to WANT to come to school. We say we’ve taken the creativity out of school, we are teaching to tests, and we focus on facts. We don’t give enough time for things like passion projects or allow students to not only find what they’re good at but what actually makes them happy. Ironically, we do this same thing to teachers, but then we expect teachers to teach the opposite way from what is modeled for them. How powerful it would be if we could relax on the compliance measures for teachers and give them the opportunity to grow as professionals in the way that they want to, give them learning opportunities where they take ownership of their teaching and learning, give them freedom to be creative in their classroom again, and eventually be happy and look forward to coming to work. For some teachers, they have already done this, sometimes in spite of compliance measures, working innovatively even with the constraints put on them. However, some teachers, just like some students, are going to need additional assistance in finding their voice and being re-engaged in their profession. They need to take ownership, they need to focus on true self reflection, but they also need support. I would prefer to think of them as having the ability to be motivated, and then work towards a goal like that. A school of professionally driven educators engaged in their profession could have a significantly positive impact on climate and culture.

 

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leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

Who are you when nobody’s looking?

This is something that I have said to my own children so many times. The lecture typically went something like this:

“It’s great when kids are polite and sweet when they’re in front of adults or other people, but what really counts is what you think and what you do when nobody else is watching. Will you still make those same good choices? Would you be the same person that you show everyone else?”

I was trying really hard to get my kids to recognize that their true self must be the one that they portray all the time. Knowing several kids of the Eddie Haskell character, this became even more important as they got older. We wanted them to make responsible decisions, be polite and kind even when there wasn’t an adult around to monitor their behavior because we wanted those qualities to actually be a part of them. Not just an act they put on for people.

I have always wanted to be a WYSIWYG type person. I don’t want to portray myself as someone I’m not. Therefore, if I want people around me to see me as a friendly, kind, compassionate, helpful person, I want to be that way in “real” life. I don’t want to be someone in front of certain people, like people I don’t know, for example, and then be completely different to my friends. I recently told a friend of mine that I want people to believe I have valid opinions and a strong knowledge base, but much more importantly, I really want people to say, “Oh, you need help? Talk to Mandy. I don’t know if she’ll know the answer, but she will definitely assist you in the best way she knows how”. My goal is to be the person who would help, not just give the impression that I will.

I had this similar conversation with my friend, Tara Martin. She often talks about the REAL…the side of people that is truly them. I think that there is a spectrum of how close people actually reside to their real. I’ve had friends and known people who are one person to their friends and another to the public. While I understand the need to do this to a point, I can’t even imagine how much work that would be. Conjuring an act for people just because your real person isn’t something you want to show would be exhausting. Even more so if you need to keep it up on a regular basis. It also begs the question: What is so terrible about your real self that not everyone can see it?

As leaders and educators, when creating personal or professional relationships with people, I feel like the closer you live to your real side in all aspects initiates a trust factor that you don’t get if your personality suddenly changes depending on who you’re around. When people know that what they see is what they will always get, they will rarely be surprised by decisions or reactions. Because I try so hard to be myself all the time, I find it unsettling and unnerving when I am working with someone when I don’t know what side of them I’m about to get. I feel like I can be a better leader, friend, and person when I stay as close to my real as possible.

tara martin

 

Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships · Social Media

The ISTE Effect

There is a certain feeling, a certain effect, that going to ISTE has on the majority of the attendees. Sometimes you can see it in their glazed expressions or hear it in the animated conversations as they walk by. The hordes of people come, and then the hordes of people go, and they leave with more commonalities than just their new box of tech tools and vendor swag. Sometimes, going to ISTE reminds me of the weeks just after having a baby…you’re happy but exhausted, you want to remember everything everyone has told you, and your focus is making connections with another human being. It’s difficult to explain the ISTE effect to someone who hasn’t been there, but there are a few overarching reactions you can see wherever you go.

Exhaustion

No matter what role you have at ISTE (attendee, presenter, vendor…) you leave in a haze of complete and utter exhaustion. I was sitting, chatting with my friend Cassie Reynolds who was a first timer, and the look of “I need a nap” was written all over her face. I could tell that it was approaching the time that she needed to leave, but getting up was going to be difficult. The struggle was real. While I think that the level of exhaustion is exponentially higher for first timers, I found myself with a fog around my brain by Wednesday afternoon that I couldn’t shake regardless of the extra expresso shots I was adding into my Starbucks. The amazing Barry Haines asked me to sit and chat about some ideas he had, and I was trying. So. Hard. Had he actually picked my brain, he would have found nothing there. I stared at him with a completely blank expression. I wanted to so badly to say something intelligent, inspiring, and truly helpful, but the more I tried to think, the louder the backfire and clunking noises in my brain became. I did the only thing I could muster at the time and tried for a coherent sentence. I’m pretty sure the sentence had words. Whether they were coherent, well, not sure I reached that goal either. I counted the fact that I don’t think I was drooling as a win.

Learning, even learning about something we are passionate about and challenges us, works our brains into a frenzy. Couple that with the 20K steps Fitbits around ISTE were counting, and you may find that you are the most tired you’ve ever been. But, it’s a satisfied, elated tired. The best kind of tired. When you feel like yea, I just rocked being here and I can’t wait until I can be tired like this again.

The Inspired Glow

This is typically accompanied with a look of awe or a huge teeth baring smile.

It would be difficult not to be inspired at least once during ISTE. Whether it’s in a session or just in speaking with another attendee, there are multiple opportunities to find inspiration. While I wasn’t able to see her keynote because of another previously planned engagement, I heard cries of wonder and excitement regarding Jennie Magiera‘s keynote with words like “life changing”, “empowering”, “inspiring”, and “amazing” (which doesn’t surprise me because Jennie herself is phenomenal). Evan Abramson told me that after attending ISTE this year, he has be reminded why he entered education in the first place. That’s powerful stuff. While ISTE is a technology conference, there are so many awesome opportunities to have conversations regarding good teaching and learning, how to empower and engage students, and how we can be the people our students expect us to be and we want to be for them. Basically, I think it’s because when you’re at ISTE, everyone around you is awesome. Everyone. Not just the presenters or the keynoters, but there is a chance for a professional life changing conversation around every corner.

Power of Connection

And I don’t mean the wifi, because if that were the case, we might have had an issue.

The connections I’ve made through the Twittersphere and going to conferences is something that I have a difficult time putting into words to people who have not had the same experiences. I didn’t make it to many sessions, but my ISTE was complete by the side conversations and connections I was able to have at the Blogger’s Cafe, at the playgrounds, in the hallways, with the vendors (see upcoming post “Vendors are People, Too”) or at dinner. I have worked tirelessly building my #PLN because I truly believe in my soul that I am only as good as the people I surround myself with. My PLN, however, is more than a professional learning network. I do learn from these people, that’s true, but more often than not, they have become my extended family that just so happens to also work in the same industry. My new friend Amanda Glover (who makes me giggle every time I see her Instagram handle of redheaded_tech_child) posted a tweet with #PLF – Professional Learning Family (it did NOT mean Porcupine Leather Futon like Sarah Thomas tried to tell us it did), but after letting that soak in for a minute, I think that it is the perfect way to describe the strong connections that are there for the taking at a conference like ISTE. For me, ISTE is not about the sessions. It is about the connections I make to the people that I adore while I’m there. And I don’t mean in a fangirl way, although poor Jennifer Gonzalez could probably argue that as I knocked over my chair and accidentally pushed someone out of the way to hug her when Rodney Turner introduced us. I mean it in a you-make-me-not-only-a-better-educator-but-also-a-better-person kind of way. I love my #eduweird friends, and ISTE is one of the places that I am able to rekindle those connections and make new ones.

I’ve had discussions regarding the cost of attending conferences and if they are worth it. I actually do understand analyzing the cost when money and resources are tight. For me, however, the personal AND professional benefits that I gain from ISTE are worth the price. I come home exhausted but rejuvenated and ready to take on education. Be a difference-maker. Diverge from the norm. And I really don’t think you can ask much more than that.

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#ISTE17

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogger · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · relationships

The Heart of Connections: Creating relationships outside the classroom

Being on vacation but still desiring to keep up with my blog, I asked my good friend and colleague, Renee Reszel, to provide a guest post. She is the fantastic Library Media Specialist in our district. I worked with Renee when I was a Technology Integrationist and she was a 5th grade teacher, and her greatest strength is making connections with students and providing her class with a family/home like atmosphere. Special thanks to Renee for writing this post!

The Heart of Connections: Creating relationships outside the classroom

Sitting at lunch the last day of school and my mind is still on teacher mode. My mind is always going in different directions on how we can get teachers to “love” or at least “like” professional development. So, at lunch I decided to throw a random idea out to my Mandy. I began by telling her that I went to watch some of our track high school students after school a few times. It was great to see so many of our students engaging in conversations, cheering other athletes on, and competing against other students from our conference. As I watch many events take place, I was greeted by many of them. They even thanked me for coming. Being a new teacher in the district, this made me feel happy that they even noticed I was there and took the opportunity to talk to me.

On the way home I began to think that maybe, just maybe, we should encourage other teachers to attend events of their students whether it is a choir concert, sports event, FBLA competition, or whatever it may be. I feel the big idea right now is to create relationships with your students – what a great way to do it. See them in another area they really excel in. This could also help teachers to understand their students more…why homework may not be getting done, who they are friends with, and more. A professional development that everyone could enjoy and learn from.

As I kept thinking about this idea, I remembered when I taught in El Paso, Texas. I taught at a school that was 99% Hispanic and right on the border of the United States and Mexico. Our students really wanted to learn and get a good education for their future goals. During this teaching experience, relationship building was very, very important. One way we decided to do this was by helping our own families. During our annual food drive during the holiday season, we would choose 20 of our most needy families and deliver bags of food and a turkey to them. The teachers of our school would donate the turkeys. This experience really opened up my eyes to the children I was teaching day after day. Being invited into their homes was something I wish everyone would experience as teachers.. I realized that the students needed family time after school…They needed time to help/babysit their younger brothers and sisters…They had to cook dinner…They had to help Grandma and Grandpa and mom and dad…They had to clean the house… and soooooo much more. This is when I decided to say “getting to know your students outside the classroom is VERY important. I also said:: No more homework. I decided that school was their job and they didn’t need to take it home with them. If they chose to continue learning at home, that was their choice. And let me tell you, there were many that chose to do it on their own. They would share it with me the next day at school. (By the way, we were a Blue Ribbon School and our state test scores we always in the high 90% range.)

I could keep going on about creating relationships with your students like have a Morning Meeting time to get to know them and what they do after school/on weekends; who they hang around with; where their favorite place to eat is; what extracurricular activities they are involved in; and so much more. Another way to do this due to time is greeting them at the door each morning and having a quick “Good Morning” and a special handshake. This quick activity can really tell you a lot of how your day is going to go 🙂

But with this all being said, I feel we need to get to know our students outside of the classroom to produce better learners each day. Get to know them and give them a chance to get to know you regardless if it is a required PD or not.

Renee Reszel

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leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · relationships

Save the Teachers

I have had some of the most wonderful bosses on the planet. People that are truly still my mentors and friends, some of the first people I go to with both personal and professional issues, and who have consistently made me feel valued and appreciated. These people have never turned away from a question or a problem, never abandoned me when I’ve needed them, and who have always had encouraging words for me, even when I’m probably, no doubt, being a little overdramatic and ridiculous. Many of them have made me a better leader, but more importantly have made me a better person because they have shown me that I’m valuable and what I do and say matters.

And as with every position and every profession, I have had experiences where the leadership has felt (and have said) that everyone is replaceable. Now, I understand that most of the time, a position can be filled. But does that really mean that the people who have filled it in the past are disposable? What kind of message do we send about how the district values relationships if we don’t value the work that people are doing?

From a practical standpoint, the pot from which to choose our future teachers is becoming thinner. When I applied for teaching jobs when I first entered education, the market was flooded with wanna-be educators. There were consistently, easily 700-800 applicants for every teaching position. Regardless of what you believe to be the reason, the fact is that the colleges are turning out less graduates in teaching. The sheer number of teachers is declining, which means less applicants, and less of a chance to fill a position with a quality candidate.

From the position of a school district, it is expensive to hire and consistently retrain teachers. In my current district, our teachers go through additional paid training in the “Ripon Way” for three years after they are hired regardless of if they are new to the profession or not. We need to provide training in technology expectations and use, training & PD in literacy, math, Project Lead the Way, Project-Based Learning, standards based grading, personalized learning, continuous improvement…and the list goes on. Also, hiring new teachers is disruptive to the climate and culture of both the building and teams. While sometimes this disruption is a welcome change, sometimes it might be that the person who left had strengths that others relied upon to keep moving forward.

And then there’s from the perspective of just being, I don’t know, a human.

One of my favorite quotes has always been

angelou

When people feel they are replaceable, it makes it seem like nothing they did or do mattered. No matter how hard they tried, someone else could do their job just as well. What a terrible feeling to live with, because the truth is, while a job can be refilled, nobody is truly replaceable. The job teachers do every day is too important to even allow them to think for one second that they could leave tomorrow and nobody would notice. With every change, whether it’s for the best or not, there is a shift in the dynamic of a building or team. There are kids who will miss that teacher for various reasons, either they made a connection at some point or even just taught their favorite content. I feel like the attitude that people are replaceable is the ultimate symptom of a climate that is toxic. For the person who feels this way, they have ceased to notice the individual ways that people are valuable and the specific strengths that people bring to the table. For the employees made to feel like they are replaceable…what a horrible feeling to go to work with every day, especially in a profession where we have little people (and tall people who are still little people inside) watching our every move and listening to our every word, and everything we do matters. I have worked with people who have left and I haven’t felt bad, but that isn’t because they could be replaced, but rather that they had found a better fit opportunity. I have also worked with people who have left who are an absolute loss to the district and its students and their fellow teachers.

I often look at situations and think about how I would feel if someone treated my child in a particular way. I can say with some certainty that if someone made one of my children feel like they were replaceable, momma bear would come out so quickly that one might actually miss the transformation. This case fits the Angelou quote exactly…they may forget what you said and did, but the feeling of not being valued, that’s not something that will ever be forgotten.

This is one of those cases where true reflection is necessary because this is a major climate/culture issue. Do we value our fellow colleagues, or do we just look at the bottom line when they leave? When we get a resignation letter, do we think, “Shoot, I hate interviewing” or do we first conjure the individual strengths and recognize what a loss that person will be? Are we retaining our staff by creating an atmosphere where their professionalism and individuality is explicitly valued and celebrated? If we are not, the personal and professional toll on our employees is costing so much more than the monetary cost of replacement to the district.