leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

Don’t Mistake Control for Influence

I think sometimes there is a misperception that the amount of influence you have comes from how much control you can exert. You can influence people if you can get them to do what you want by creating a situation where they have no choice, whether they realize that or not. Some people believe that influence is the same as power, and power is gained with compliance measures that people are forced to do in order to prove that person has that power, and then that power is perceived as influence.

The fact of the matter is that even with what I know about education and my beliefs about leadership, I will still do what I’m told when it comes to compliance measures because realistically I want to keep my job. But that’s the only reason why. Compliance measures rarely create buy-in. Now accountability is another story, but creating opportunities for me to show I am doing my job well and forcing me to do something that I don’t feel is best for kids is two totally separate things. Many compliance measures that I’m made to do may not directly affect students, but they do take up valuable time that I could be spending in classrooms with teachers or with kids. But, I digress. My point is that just because I participate in a compliance measure does not mean the person who implemented that measure has influenced me.

As I’ve watched people throughout the years, there are few characteristics that I always find an influential people, at least the ones that have been influential in my life.

  • They are kind. Some of them exceedingly so.
  • They can laugh at themselves and be okay with you laughing with them.
  • They ask how you are with genuine interest.
  • They give a compliment without expecting one back.
  • They give quality feedback; feedback that people can actually implement immediately. They welcome feedback in return.
  • They admit when they don’t know, and they say they’re sorry when they are wrong.
  • They are passionate, knowledgeable and engaged in whatever their focus is because they truly believe that what they know is valuable and can help people in some way.
  • They never ask me to do anything that they wouldn’t be willing do themselves.

Influencers create change because their passion makes you want to believe what they believe. And when I look back on that list, every single characteristic that I have seen in the influencers I know have to do with creating relationships and maintaining those relationships. Just treating other people like valuable human beings. The second you forget that we work with other people, who have stories and struggles and personalities and quirks and different strengths and weaknesses, is this second that you have officially missed your mark. If you start to believe that the amount of power you exert over somebody else is more important than their well-being, you have forgotten why you’re in education. I heard a quote from an amazing commencement speech called the Wisdom of a Third Grade Dropout by Rick Rigsby the other day that said always make sure your servant’s towel is bigger than your ego. Always remembering that legitimate passion and genuine compassion for other people is the way that you change their hearts and then their minds.

steve jobs

Climate · Culture · growth mindset · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · professional development · reflections

The Ability to Change: It’s not about the technology

Today, I was at a Technology Director’s meeting. I know it may not sound riveting exactly, but it is one of the best cross-district meetings I attend. Basically, we get a bunch of super smart, incredibly kind and collaborative people in a room and we attempt to solve the world’s problems. My favorite part? This particular group begins almost every answer to a tech question with a focus on learning instead of tech. It makes my heart happy.

At one point, the question was raised regarding strategies for helping people deal with the constant technology changes both within schools and the growth of technology in general. I had spent a great deal of time last year and over the summer thinking about this and reaching out to my PLN to bounce ideas off of them, and what I came up with was a little bit of what we have been implementing at the beginning of this year, and it is also where I have seen the most changes in some of the teachers I work with. What I have noticed over the last few years of working with people and technology is that the ones that are the readiest for change have certain characteristics in common, and there are things that districts can do to help support teachers and admin in these areas. The part in all this that I think is the most interesting is that we are trying to get people comfortable with technology change, but it is not about the technology at all. It is about their ability to accept change in general. We are focusing on the wrong aspect of technology change if it is the technology we are concentrating on.

These characteristics are as follows:

Mindset

It’s more than Growth Mindset. Most likely Innovator’s Mindset. Maybe there’s even one step further…a Teacher’s Mindset. Knowing that change is inevitable and will continue to happen whether they accept it or not because our students are constantly changing, their needs are changing, their experience in the world is constantly changing. It doesn’t mean they like every change that comes down the pipe, but they pick their battles based off from what they feel is not good for students. They are also naturally reflective people (which, to me, is part of mindset), and their reflection goes beyond wondering if the lesson went well. They will also ask:

“Were my students engaged? Empowered?”
“Did each student get what they needed when they needed it?”
“Is there anything more I can do to support them? Help them enjoy their learning?”
“Are my expectations high enough?”

These questions don’t change much for an administrator. If you exchange “student” for “teacher”, they are actually identical.

Adaptability

People who are able to accept change are adaptable. We tell students that part of their career readiness skills is adaptability, but it is difficult to actually teach adaptability in a world where procedures and policies keep people safe (sane) and give us some controlled chaos. Through raising four of my own kids and being a teacher, I realized that kids actually LIKE structure. They like to know what is going to happen, and it makes them feel safe if they know what is expected. The same goes for when we become adults. Nothing will make a teacher more upset quicker than a new initiative that they haven’t been trained on because they don’t know what to expect or how to begin.

Anything that would work on our adaptability skills will take us out of our comfort zone. So, for some people, unless they have been regularly forced outside their comfort zone either by their own choice or by some sort of adversity, might not develop the skills to adjust to new conditions or environment as well as others. I believe that people can develop and work on their adaptability skills by pushing themselves to learn outside their comfort zones. Focusing on adaptability as a skill that we want teachers and admin to develop is the first step. Asking them to self-reflect on their skills would be the second, and then regular nudges to step outside their comfort zone, and supporting them when they do it, would be the next. This might actually be learning about and integrating technology into their classrooms, but the adaptability will come as they become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Professional Engagement

This might be one of the issues I’ve been noticing the most lately, and I only figured out it was a thing years ago after I had been disengaged, then subsequently re-engaged, from mine.

I was reading the School Leaders Dunk Tank by Rick Jetter and Rebecca Coda, and it discussed how people can become adversarial when they feel like they feel like they have not been supported and, therefore, develop feelings of hurt. The hurt turns into resentment, and that resentment infiltrates many other parts of their professional life. You could easily replace adversarial with disengaged. Disengaged professionals begin to dislike their jobs because they feel like they are no longer making a difference. They think that kids begin to do things to them “on purpose” just to irritate them, or they take new district initiatives as personal vendettas. But, they absolutely worst part of no longer being engaged is that they forget that they are there for students, and the difference they make in their lives every day. And if you’re disengaged, the positive difference that they got into teaching to make can then become a negative one.

I have been speaking with teachers about the concept of being disengaged, and the truly reflective ones can see where they have begun this transformation as well. I wholeheartedly believe that all of them can see it, some of them are just more willing to admit it than others. Noticing these parts of oneself is the first step to changing them. We have also been working on a “Back to Basics” initiative in our district. We have been trying to re-engage teachers with activities to help them remember why they got into teaching to begin with. For example, at the beginning of the year, we had all the teachers participate in a Flipgrid that asked them why they teach. We have also been focusing, in our high school, on personalized PD, not only because it is the right way to allow teachers to learn, but because we want them to remember what it’s like to be curious and love what you learn again. Back to basics.

Counting Your Initiatives

This one is a district/building level issue. I worked with a district recently who said they had five initiatives. When I heard that I thought, “Whoa, only five? Not bad!” But, the fact was that when I expanded those initiatives, there were 53 initiatives within the five overarching initiatives that were being implemented. Being adaptable and willing to change is one thing, but people cannot be overloaded and then chastised for not changing with those kinds of crazy expectations. The perception of your ability to change should not be dependent on how willing you are to go with the flow when there is an exorbitant number of things on your plate. District leaders need to be reflective enough of their own expectations to know if what they are asking for is even reasonable.

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Nobody would argue that change is inevitable. In speaking with a colleague the other day, she mentioned how our students, when they are parents, will have a better idea how to work the current technology than most current parents do now just because they grew up with it. The only issue with that is that the technology in 15-20 years is not going to look anything like it does now. Which means, if education professionals are still teaching then, the technology that they’re working with isn’t going to be nearly the same. We can’t focus on technology when we are focusing on change. We need to focus on the ability to accept and grow with change. The ability to work with the changing technology, with that mindset, will come.

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · my classroom · PLN · reflections · relationships

Five Things My Mentors Taught Me

While I truly value my professional learning network that I’ve worked so diligently to build, there a few people in my life that I have carefully chosen to study the way they operate because I have such a massive amount of personal and professional respect for them. I have learned an immense amount of life and professional lessons from them. These people have been my mentors, my friends, and my biggest supporters. They have listened to me complain, celebrated my successes, and have laughed with me when I inevitably say or do something ridiculous. They have become like family to me, like a weird concoction of uncles and step-brothers and mothers that have made me who I am by being absolutely amazing leaders and mentors. And through them, I have learned the following lessons.

Ask for what you want

I have a terrible habit of hedging or asking questions in a passive voice. I’ve learned, however, that this tends to give the impression that I’m not confident in what I’m saying or asking. The secret is that I’m usually not confident, but I certainly don’t want people to know that. One of my mentors taught me that how you speak is as important as what you’re saying, and that the confidence you exhibit can dictate the way that people react to you. I always need to be especially cognizant of this when I’m speaking with people that intimidate me.

So, what happens if you don’t have the confidence that’s necessary? Another one of my mentors taught me this: fake it ’til you make it. I’ve learned myself that when you fake it long enough, you start to believe in yourself and build your own confidence until you’re not faking it anymore. Whenever I fall upon a situation that makes me feel like I don’t have the confidence I need, I fall back upon this rule to get me through.

Leaving a legacy is not about getting the credit

Especially not in education. Recently, I was at a volleyball tournament and a few of my former students came over to tell me that one of their former classmates still talks about me all the time and wants to get in touch with me to say hi. I would be willing to bet that she couldn’t pick out anything specific I taught her, and years down the line, she might not even remember my name, but she will remember the way she felt in my classroom and the connections that she made. Leaving a legacy in education isn’t about massive changes or a total disruption, although a few people are able to create those types of movements. For most of us, the legacy is in the way that we instill certain values in our students, whether it’s a love of learning, knowing that there are consequences for our decisions, or that everyone deserves someone who sticks by them no matter what choices they make. It’s about the small changes that we create in the educators around us, the programs we start to do things like help provide canned goods to the food pantry, or even leading a school-wide or district-wide mindset change. Our legacies are not in things, and years down the road people might not remember our names, but they will remember the connections, the programs that supported them or made them feel worthwhile, and the feeling they got from changes and relationships we made.

People make time for what they think is important

If people don’t jump on a new idea or initiative, it is most likely not because they are completely unwilling to learn something new. It is usually because they have not been given the why behind the change and how it is going to enhance learning. I have learned that when people think something is important, they will make time. When they think that their students will truly benefit and it could transform learning, they will be all in. People will move mountains for the things they believe are important.

The same is true with students and their learning. If they have not been shown the importance or connection of what they’re learning, or if they are not encouraged to find what inspires them, they will not spend the time to truly engage in what they are doing. They might do it out of compliance or just to get through their days, but they won’t show the qualities of an empowered learner that we want to see when a child truly loves what they’re doing.

Never forget your teacher’s heart

It doesn’t matter what position you’re currently in. It’s that feeling you get when a kid has a lightbulb moment, or when a child with difficult behaviors seems happy instead of angry, or when a student comes back to your classroom years later and says, “Remember when we did __________ in class? That was awesome.” It is the combination of moments and feelings that you can only get from working with students, hearing them laugh, and watching them triumph over struggles. Because those are the moments that keep us pushing in education when we’re also dealing with new initiatives, rules made by government officials that have never been in a classroom as an educator, and active shooter drills. The second we forget our teacher’s heart, it will become significantly more difficult to remember why we teach to begin with, and kids deserve better than that.

Being a leader was never about you

If you are truly serving people as a leader, your personal professional agenda will never be considered, because being a real leader is never about you. Instead, it’s about what the people around you need and the best way they can be supported. All the time. Period. I’ve seen agendas that include things like being seen as the first district to “pave the way” for other districts all the time, or implementing copious numbers of devices to prove they have more than their neighbors, or building a massive football field. Many times these agendas might start out with student learning as the reason (sometimes they don’t) but the focus gets lost along the way because the focus becomes the agenda instead. Sometimes, these agendas are followed up with or connected to the desire to build a legacy. But, like legacies are not about things, a true leader is not concerned with leaving a legacy, and certainly not worried about agendas because they realize that leading is not about them but rather the ones they serve.

I continue to learn from the people around me every day, but the people who believe in me and mentor me on a daily basis have made a profound impact on my personal and professional life. It’s the reason that I believe choosing mentors that support the different areas of your different facets of your career is one of the most important professional decisions you can make. Recently, a new connection without any prior knowledge, actually asked me if I somehow knew one of my mentors because my work had pieces of him in it. At first, honestly, I was embarrassed that my work was seen as that close to his. After reflecting on it though, I thought that I couldn’t imagine connecting myself to many other people that I respected more. Eventually, I hope that there is a little of all my mentors inside my work, because I chose to model myself after these amazing people for a reason.

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leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections

When Believing In Them Isn’t Enough

In education, we often need to operate with a huge amount of faith in people. We need to have faith that administrators are going to lead the best way they know how, faith that co-workers are going to teach students the basics they need to know so we can build on that, faith that students are going to get exactly what it is that they need to be successful, faith that we are going to be the ones to make a difference. Of course, we back this up with best practice and data, but in our industry there isn’t one formula for “producing” a student, so we rely on faith in ourselves and the people around us to do our jobs. We must believe in them and trust them to know that all of us are doing our best for each learner that comes along.

Yesterday, one of our elementary teachers, nervous and excited, emailed me that she was trying a Mystery Skype for the first time. You could see, in her email, the trepidation that she was feeling. I wasn’t nervous for her at all. I believed that if it failed, that she would adjust and try again. I was pretty sure that the experience was going to go well, but I was 100% sure that if it didn’t, she would learn from that failure and move forward. I believe that strongly in her.

So, we must believe in students and colleagues and leaders, there are times when believing in them isn’t going to be enough. Sometimes, we need to believe for them.

When I first became a teacher, the laws regarding layoffs were written so that if teachers were laid off due to budget cuts, the ones let go were based on seniority. Sometimes, seniority was calculated to the minute contracts were signed. Because of this rule, I was laid off not once, but twice. Also, at the time, there were about 500 applicants for every one teaching job, so both times I was laid off for a year in between jobs. I had four kids and a family to support. After my second lay-off, I felt that in order for my family to stay afloat, I needed to get out of teaching. I took a job managing a website for our local newspaper, and I was absolutely miserable, but I had given up on being a teacher. Financially and emotionally, I couldn’t keep losing my job.

My former principal, Sue Werley, was a stubborn, outspoken, get-stuff-done type woman (exactly the kind I model myself after). She always believed in me when I taught for her, and was incredibly supportive and kind. More importantly though, when I had given up, she believed for me. She was so convinced that I belonged in education that one day I had an interview in a district where I had never applied, all because of her unwillingness to allow me to leave the profession. When I said that I wasn’t willing to try again for the fear of being laid off, she pushed me into taking the interview just to “see how it’d go”. If it wasn’t for that moment in time when I had someone to believe for me, I would never be where I am today.

I’ve witnessed similar things happen with students, and it doesn’t matter if they are in kindergarten or their senior year. Being a kid is not easy, and with fragile self-esteems, difficult home lives, trouble fitting in, they need people believing in them every second of every day. But, when they really fail over and over again, whether it’s on an assignment or poor choices that affect them on a daily basis, they need us to believe for them. And this, as a teacher, isn’t always easy because it takes blind faith and an internal extra push sometimes to make this happen, especially because sometimes the students that need us to believe for them the most are the same ones that actively spend their time pushing us away.

It takes a great deal of effort to take believing in someone one step further and believe for them when they’ve given up. But, honestly, that’s not only our job, but should be our mission. We work in a people profession. The most important work we do is for the people we serve, whether it’s colleagues or students. Sometimes, our faith can be stretched thin, but it’s that same faith that will someday make the difference and possibly be the belief for someone when they didn’t have it in themselves.

Bthem

Genius Bar · innovation · Mandy Froehlich · my classroom · PLN · reflections · relationships · Social Media · Trust

The Creation of a Genius Bar: How our student led tech teams have formed

Although our district has been 1:1 for about eight years, this is the first year we have implemented a student led helpdesk. I’m not going to lie, at first I was dreading it, not because I didn’t believe in the idea or think it would be fantastic for students, but because I didn’t even know where to start or how to manage it. There are logistics to the helpdesk when it’s been led by students that are difficult to anticipate. I didn’t know what they were going to do all day. I didn’t know how they would interact with our tech department. I didn’t even know how we were going to take attendance since their assigned teacher wasn’t in the same spot as the physical helpdesk. It has been a project that has taken me a year to put together with researching other helpdesks, and calling up my teacher instincts and going with them. I’m proud with what we have put together so far, but as with every major implementation, will need to continue to adjust throughout the year.

Where did you go to research?

As per usual, I used my professional learning network to really connect and see what other people were doing. I had gotten some amazing information from the Director of Technology for the Leyden School District, Bryan Weinert. Their TSI system is a nationally recognized student led tech support program with pathways that the students choose and follow to support the skills that they want to focus on. As part of the program, Leyden pays for the students to get the certifications. Thanks to Bryan, I was able to get invaluable information on how they started their program and continue to make it a successful way for students to be involved in the technology department for both students and the district.

I also loved this article by Jennifer Scheffer. I have borrowed many ideas of how they run their Genius Bar (as ours is called as well) and have implemented them. Basically, our Genius Bar is a combination of information from this article and the resources and information I received from Bryan.

How did you recruit kids?

Our Genius Bar is a class that is available every hour throughout the day. In our first semester, we have 16 kids who have taken the course. Realistically, some kids have taken it because they needed something to fill an hour in their schedule. Some have taken it because they wanted to try something different and had an interest in technology. Some are a part of the program because they had formed a relationship with our department and were excited to be a part of the Genius Bar. The most important thing we did was explain to teachers and the guidance counselors that the Genius Bar kids did NOT need to know a lot about technology. When I first told them this, they looked at me like I had lost my mind (a look that I feel I get a lot), but here’s my reasoning: if they have an interest but don’t think they know enough to be a part of the program, how are they ever going to learn if it’s something they really want to do or not? I made sure I erased “tech-savvy” out of our vocabulary. Might this change as the program becomes more popular? I have no idea, but I sure hope not. I want anyone to feel comfortable at any level coming to the Genius Bar, knowing they’re going to learn, not that they are only going to employ the skills they already have. This has hands-down been my best decision.

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When talking to one of the girls that now works the Genius Bar, she told me she doesn’t really know anything about technology and that she is not tech-savvy. The next day she was so insanely excited when we told her to YouTube how to change a Chromebook screen and handed her a broken one, and she did it on her first try (with the support of one of our tech services ladies). To me, THAT is the function of the Genius Bar. We want to open kids up to the possibility that technology might be an area they want to look at, and when we tell them they need to be tech savvy, we automatically exclude the population of kids that have an interest but don’t consider themselves to know a lot about tech.

What do they do all day?

The Genius Bar assistants are the the first line of defense for technology that faculty and other students are having difficulty with whether it’s that it is actually broken or just isn’t working right. They troubleshoot and have forms to fill out to document issues so we can see patterns in the data. They must answer help request emails and tickets assigned to them. Beyond the technical aspects of the Genius Bar, they are also responsible for researching new tech learning tools and working with students and teachers to use them. Aside from their actual desk functions, they work on these things:

Canvas LMS Course: Our students have a course that they complete in Canvas that is a work in progress. They have access to the logistical parts of the course, video explanations with how to use the forms and what their expectations are. We use discussion boards to collaborate on projects as a team since the kids are scattered across seven class periods. There are also learning modules and assignments on concepts like customer service and creating a positive digital footprint.

Blog: We have a helpdesk manager, which is a student that is a paid internship. This year, it is a student named Brock (an absolutely amazing person) who spent some of his free time last year helping me brainstorm and develop the Genius Bar, and he is in charge of various projects, and has both designed and will maintain and schedule blog posts that focus on technology integration for both students and faculty. Genius Bar students will be expected to contribute to the blog on a regular basis.

20% Time Project: Students will be creating goals based on what area of technology they would like to know more about. There are multiple ways they could design this project, but if the project requires the knowledge base of a certification to support that goal, the technology department will support them by paying for the certification. Project goals are monitored by myself and the assigned teacher, and the students will meet with us on a regular basis to update us on their progress and let us know if they need support in any way. Their 20% time project will also be documented in a portfolio on EduBlogs that they will be able to take with them when they graduate.

Additional projects: The Genius Bar assistants are also in charge of additional projects that might come up as needed. For example, currently we found that third through fifth grade kiddos are not handling their Chromebooks with as much care as we would like. As our Kinder through second graders’ touchscreen Chromebooks are coming in soon, we are anticipating a similar issue. The Genius Bar kids have been asked to create videos for each level demonstrating the proper use of the devices. So far, they have been brainstorming if they would like to create cartoons or use the green screen, but they are in charge of producing the videos.

The students always have a multitude of things to be working on. They will need to manage their time wisely, stay focused and organized. They also will need to collaborate with each other and our tech services department, as well as students and teachers that they may not know or necessarily have. They are treated as they an extension of our department. We have placed immediate trust in every student that works behind the desk, no matter what. Another decision that I think is imperative to the success of the students, and ultimately the Genius Bar.

Moreover, as a director, I have been more removed from the classroom than any other position I’ve had in education. My focus has become the adults, and I do enjoy this because I know that I can affect student learning by supporting their amazing teachers. However, an unexpected side-effect from working with the kids from the Genius Bar has been remembering how incredible it is to work directly with students again. One day, I was sitting in my office, and I could hear them laughing while they worked. I literally stopped what I was doing and just listened. Working with the Genius Bar students has kept me focused on why I do what I do. I might be supporting their learning, and I hope that I have awakened or support a love for technology in the students like I have, but they are reminding me every day why I keep going when things get difficult, and why I love being in this profession so much. They do so much more for me on a daily basis than I could ever do for them.

 

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leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

Adversity: Are you reacting like a leader?

Consistently exhibiting good leadership qualities is not always easy. Sometimes, I even find myself slipping into thoughts that would not indicate a good leadership mindset. For example, recently when a colleague relentlessly questioned a decision I had made, I eventually wanted to just tell her, “Please, just do it.” I wanted to say those words so badly. I was tired, it had been a long day, and I just wanted something accomplished so I could check it off my list. It was absolutely necessary for me to actually keep what I know about good leadership at the forefront of my mind, and run everything I was thinking through a filter prior to it coming out of my mouth. It took effort. Lots and lots of effort.

It is easy to be a leader when everything is going smoothly. It’s those times when you’re exhausted, you’re busy, and when you have people advocating strongly for their own beliefs, that it’s easy to slip into the easiest way to answer people and deal with situations; rely on compliance and “pull the boss card”, which is never the right way. Leadership is not always pretty. We often discuss leaders and managers as being opposites, like they’re good versus evil, but I don’t think that’s true. I think that there are few times when managing is appropriate. Oftentimes, people that try to lead but exhibit negative qualities are just impersonators. They may look like leaders, they think they know what leadership should look like, they might call themselves leaders, but they don’t know how to fully think like a leader. They have not been given the tools to transform how they react into a supportive, functional, relationship-based, servant leadership.

Feedback

When a leader responds to feedback, their first thought will revolve around the fact that perception is everything. They will validate the person’s feelings, but will ask themselves what they can adjust to change this perception. They will start from within.

When an impersonator responds to feedback, they will look for excuses as to why that person feels the way they do. Maybe they will blame outside influences, maybe they will say it’s personality issues, maybe they will blame their team. Either way they will have little to no internal reflection to base their response.

Tone

When a leader responds, at any time, the tone of their response will be humble and understanding. They will know that their response will determine the outcome to the situation, and that sincerity must be the foundation of their message.

When an impersonator responds, their message will either be sarcastic or defensive. They may give information, but it will be in a “I don’t have time for this” or “I am really above answering this question” manner. They might give you answers that don’t make sense because they haven’t really heard what you said. No matter the words used, an impersonator leaves behind an air of condescension.

Relationships

A leader looks at relationships as the foundation for what all other learning and interactions are based on. They know that spending the time building quality relationships creates the positive climate & robust culture that supports learning.

An impersonator values relationships only from the standpoint of when they are valuable. While they might seem to value them during good times, when adversity comes around, the relationships are valued only as much as they are useful.

Support

This one is simple. When you’ve finished working with a leader, you’ll feel lifted up.

When you’ve finished working with a impersonator, you’ll feel pushed down.

Sometimes, it takes experiencing these two different types in order to really see the difference. As I’ve always said, you can learn just as much from someone you do not want to be like as someone you do, but it’s so much more rewarding and uplifting of an experience to work with the latter. And it’s not easy to be a leader. There are times when I struggle with what is easy and what is right when situations are hectic and hard and stressful. I mess up sometimes, and then I apologize. I adjust my course to be better. I just try to be the leader that I would want to have, and learn what I don’t want to be from the impersonators I meet.

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Climate · Culture · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · Trust

In Pursuit of Change

I am in my sixth district in 12 years. There have been various reasons as to why I’ve left my positions over the years. I’ve been laid off due to budget cuts and limited-term contracts. I’ve left due to changing position types and my determination to get to the job I currently hold. While some people have told me that I’m flat out crazy for moving districts so often (although some of the moves were not intentional), I have learned a great deal from being in so many different places and working for and with various people of differing strengths and abilities. I’ve been given a fairly accurate radar of what is “normal” for a district and what is specific to that environment.

We have a ton of new teachers in our district this year. Overall, at least in Wisconsin, there is a major teacher and administrator shortage, and people are bailing from districts because they feel the grass is greener somewhere else. In some cases, this might be true, but in my experience, every district has it’s own set of special challenges. The question I always have about leaving a district is: how do you know the line between when your job is to create change in a difficult situation and that of your beliefs about education being so fundamentally different from others that it’s time to go?

One of the things I’ve realized over the last few years is that my passion for education includes a strong desire to create change. Systemic change. The kind of change that shifts an entire mindset and experience. I’ve also realized that people like me, and I’ve come to know so many amazing change agents over the last few years, are often seen as boat rockers. We are the ones to push the envelope, challenge others when we feel like what is being done isn’t best for students, hold fast to our fundamental beliefs about learning and relationships. Some people around us don’t like that, and it takes a change agent with a secure confidence in their beliefs to hold fast when other people feel threatened because you’re rocking their boat so hard it might sink. It’s a delicate balance which includes playing the political game of education, being savvy enough to pick your battles, and being able to recognize when change is necessary and when you’re just pushing for change for change sake.

Nobody can argue with the fact that change is hard, especially when you’re looking at systemic changes like wide-spread innovative teaching and learning or greater opportunities for student empowerment. If you’re looking at changes that take time, like a lack of trust or a toxic climate & culture, change can be especially daunting, especially if the people who need the most change don’t recognize that they do. The more of these kinds of people in a district, the more you might question whether your beliefs in education might be so fundamentally different from others that you can’t function to your full capacity in that environment. And there might be times when this is true, but more often than not I wholeheartedly believe that great change takes perseverance, and people who have the tenacity to create change rarely have an easy time doing it, nor do they typically see the fruits of their labors.

change

Being an agent for change is more about recognizing the small wins in failure than it is about winning the battle. It’s not about seeing quick results or even being liked by everyone all the time. It’s about patience and determination and grit and sustaining your beliefs when everyone else tells you they only sound good in theory. It’s about seeing the big picture while searching for little, quick wins that will move the system forward toward the change you want to see. And when you most disagree with the people around you, it’s about recognizing that if everyone were like you, we wouldn’t need change agents.

Recently, I had the experience of realizing that a change being implemented for teachers was a result of all of my incessant preaching about empowering all learners and modeling opportunities for personalized professional development for teachers. I’m not going to lie…this realization came at a difficult time when professionally there had been several frustrations thrown at me at once and I was beginning to second-guess whether some of my core beliefs were really just pipe dreams. I had even used the analogy to a friend of mine that I felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back, and behind me was a cliff. If I kept going, I’d just fall off. It had been a small win in the grand scheme of changes I’d like to see, but it was a win nonetheless at a time when I needed to see that I was making any difference at all. At a time when I was walking that line, this small change reminded me that my tendency to be relentless in my pursuits was given to me for a good reason.

There will always be appropriate times when a change is needed for yourself and your own professional goals or sanity, and one day that time will come for me as well. Maybe I’ll have made the changes I want to see and it’s time to move on, maybe another opportunity will present itself where I feel like I could affect learning for a greater population, or maybe I’ll be toeing the line and for whatever reason I no longer have the opportunity to create the changes I think are necessary to improve student learning. For now, I’m going to take my small, quick win, and get back to work.