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.

growth mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections

The Art of Transparency

Reaching the delicate balance of transparency can be a tricky task. In all the districts that I’ve worked, I’ve never experienced the kind of complete transparency that everyone would like to see. Mostly, I think this is due to so many factors that go into being transparent that it’s difficult to have all of those components in place. You can’t just “be transparent” and everyone is happy. There is a balance.

Transparency is the releasing of information in a way that stakeholders know what is happening, the “why” behind decisions being made, and how exactly it will affect them in their roles. Many times I’ve heard how there should be “complete transparency”, but we never really define what that means, and it seems to a term that is hard to quantify. How much information is necessary for complete transparency? What crosses the lines into too much information, the wrong kinds of information, or even privacy lines? The balance for transparency comes when there is a healthy mix between the information that stakeholders are receiving and the trust that stakeholders have in the people making the decisions.

This became the most obvious to me when I was in a technology integrator and spent time working around administration, even though I wasn’t one myself, and then the rest of the time I spent in classrooms with teachers. Inevitably, I would see decisions made on the administrative side that made sense with the information and data that they had, but would then hear teachers grumble about decisions made because they didn’t understand how the admins had come to those conclusions. I remember this happening to me when I was a teacher in other districts as well. A top-down decision would be made and I would think, “What were they thinking?!?” because I didn’t have the information that brought the admins (or decision-making committees) to those conclusions.

Worst case scenario, of course, is no transparency, which I have experienced as well. A lack of any kind of transparency (ie, when you find important decisions that were made buried deep down in board meeting minutes and only knew because you read them). A lack of transparency breeds distrust. It’s like saying, “I don’t trust you to come to the right conclusions with this information.” And if someone isn’t forthcoming with info, then we immediately want to know WHAT the info is and WHY they wouldn’t tell us.

While I am a ginormous advocate for consistently giving the why, I think that there is always the issue of giving too much information to where stakeholders begin to tune out as well. At some point, we need to trust people to do their jobs and make the best decisions possible with the information they are given. In every district I’ve been in, without fail, if people do not trust the decision-makers, they will desire MORE transparency to decide for themselves if their decisions are valid. After all, when someone withholds information/reasons/data/the “why”, they are already making a decision for you by not providing you with the information that you need to make the best decision for yourself. If we trust these people, we are more likely to be ok with this than if we don’t trust them.

So, there is more to transparency than just giving out information. There is the right timing, the right amount of information, and addressing multiple possibilities of decisions & how one was made…but also the question of “how much does our staff trust us?” (with an honest reflection on this question, because if your staff doesn’t trust you, you’re already not supporting them properly). If there is a lack of trust, more transparency will be needed to support decisions, and ultimately, this transparency will help build the rapport and trust necessary for stakeholders to ultimately be accepting of the people making the decisions.

Transparency

growth mindset · innovation · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · relationships

Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat

If I could choose one of my goals in which I was guaranteed to make happen prior to leaving education, it would be to create leaders who are engaged in their profession, energized to create meaningful change, and are willing to spend more time outside their comfort zones. I want people to love their jobs. I want them to make the people around them love their jobs. Students are watching our EVERY MOVE. If we model our love for learning and education, the students will most likely follow suit.

To me, to support teacher leaders in reaching the level where they feel this way about their profession and working with kids would be the ultimate accomplishment. Ideally,maslows-hierarchy-of-needs every education professional should have the potential and motivation to do just this, but I honestly think that there is a hierarchy of needs that needs to be met to reach professional “actualization”. We often talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs when looking at students and why or why not they might be successful in their learning, but I think that when you look at adults and their professional lives, a similar case could be made.

So, for example, if a teacher struggles with belonging in their grade level team, how does that affect their ability to try something new or think innovatively? When you spend so much of your time outside your comfort level just by being with the people that you work closely with, are you willing to push outside your comfort zone in other areas?

Another example: if potential leaders don’t feel like their jobs are secure or they don’t feel safe in their jobs for various reasons, how much can we expect that they are willing to become engaged in their profession, energized to create meaningful change, and willing to spend more time outside their comfort zones? There are many reasons that teachers might not feel safe (physically, mentally, and emotionally) even though that might sound ridiculous at a school. I worked in a school where some students with behavior issues were becoming violent, and teachers and paraprofessionals were being bruised and injured by students on a regular basis. The anxiety of being injured by an angry student could affect the feeling of being safe, and I’m positive that this is not a specific incidence, but instead more commonplace than the public would even believe.

I’ve also been involved in situations where employees are nervous for their jobs for various reasons that might or might not have to truly do with their performance (political, cultural, budget cuts, errant leadership). If any employee doesn’t feel like their positions are safe, or they feel like they could be “fired” for trying something new, they will be less likely to rock the boat. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we want these leaders to do, whether they reside in administration roles or teacher roles. We WANT them rocking the boat, thinking innovatively, pushing others to do the same. Yet, if they don’t feel safe to try new ideas, don’t feel safe to fail because their jobs are on the line, they will be less likely to do these things.

Many issues that can stop a potential leader from moving forward and reaching a level of professionalism that would keep them fulfilled and provide them with opportunities to create real change reside within issues in the climate and culture of the district. Realistically, shifts in climate and culture need to happen in order to truly give everyone this chance, but while they are happening and everyone is shifting into the new normal, here’s my question:

How can you create much-needed change in a classroom or district when in order to stay safe you feel you need to maintain the status quo, but to create the change you need to rock the boat?

I’m not actually sure I have the answer to this. So many times I feel districts are wrapped up in every new initiative that they subscribe to, that they forget to go back to the basics. (climate, culture, mindset, effective leadership, embedded support). They forget that every teacher, like every student, has different needs and personalities, and in order to bring them up to being the professionals that they desire to be, we need to give them the support they need to not only function, but then excel as well. So, what can a professional do to move forward when their basic needs aren’t being met? Is there a way to recognize those needs and get them met even if the source is external? As a district administrator, how can I find these needs and support the staff to create the leaders that rock the boat? And how do I find and support the teachers who have been told to sit down so often, that they don’t remember what it’s like to stand up?

gates