growth mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN

Allowing Fear to Write Your Story

I truly believe that our stories make us who we are. Our experiences come together to help us determine how we will react to situations, treat the people around us, and the path we choose to move forward. It’s one of the reasons that teaching is so complicated. There is never an easy way to account for people’s stories and how they affect their learning or the path they’ve put themselves on.

I had two experiences this week that were eye-opening while I was presenting at the #NetX17 conference in Texas. Even though these conversations came from two different people who didn’t know each other at two completely separate times, to me, they were so closely related that it was difficult to ignore.

First, I met Trevor Regan. Trevor speaks about failure and fear, how our brain is wired to make us hesitant to put ourselves out there and take risks, and how purposeful, positive reinforcement can change the way that we react to a situation. Our brains truly are amazing, and word choice can be a powerful weapon for both good and evil. While I learned a ton from Trevor, this concept really stuck with me:

Don't try to defeat fear, dance with it. When we appreciate the role of fear, we can thank it and move on anyway.

Fear keeps us from having amazing experiences when we are afraid to try in the first place. It made me reflect on my fear of getting up in front of people, and how I had to take 18 credits of public speaking in college just to gain control. People often ask me how I “got rid” of that fear, and my answer is that I haven’t. I still have it all the time. I need to take deep breaths before I present, still doubt my abilities, still sweat and shake, and I still get up and do it because I have learned that the feeling of working with people in that capacity is more important and rewarding than my fear and anxiety of public speaking. It’s definitely not gone, it’s just controlled. I danced with this fear, acknowledged it, stepped on it’s toes a little, and do my best to let it go as much as possible. The important part is that I persevered because I chose that I wouldn’t let that fear keep me from something I really wanted, but I had to make a conscious choice for that to happen, had to work at it, regularly failed but kept going, and I still actively continue to fight against it every single time I get up to speak.

That same day, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about our stories and when choices need to be made. He said, “You need to decide how you’re going to write your story. Don’t allow it to be written for you.” This really hit home for me. It’s easy to feel in control when times are good, but in times when things are difficult the amount of effort to take control can seem insurmountable. Between those two conversations, it dawned on me that all the times that I have had surprising, positive outcomes from decisions, it has been when I have gone through something difficult, struggled, and have decided to not allow fear of the unknown to dictate my life. But, every single time this has happened, it has been me that has had to decide that I was going to be the one to take control of my situation. When I was a teacher and I began to disengage from my profession after five years, I had to take the bull by the horns and figure out what I needed in order to be passionate about my work again. There was no district, administrator or curriculum that was going to do that for me. It was scary because I had to put myself out there and admit that I had been relying on other people to make me feel happy and successful. Again, and example of when I made the decision and took control of my story.

eleanor roosevelt

So often we sit back and think about everything that needs to change for us to be happy or successful, but fear keeps us from taking control and making those things happen, so we allow our stories to be written for us because then we have someone else to blame and a reason to complain. Then we have no reason to be afraid of failure because we didn’t try in the first place. Change is so difficult, but it’s also a constant. We have a choice about how we react to that change. Are we allowing change to happen to us or are we using change to work to our advantage? Does the change keep us living in whatever fear we’ve allowed our brains to hang on to, or do we decide how our stories will turn out? It doesn’t really matter what kind of change it is, whether it’s the fear of integrating more technology into your lessons, changing jobs, making a personal life change, writing a book…although there may be different levels of anxiety for each of these, if we never try, we have a 0% chance of being successful and we are allowing either our fear or other people write our stories for us. We all have the chance to make decisions that will ultimately change our trajectory. We just need to be brave, persevere, and take control.

Climate · Culture · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships · Trust

The Breakdown of Trust

Trust should be the concrete foundation of a relationship, and yet it can also be the reason that the relationship ends or is in constant question. When I talk to employees about why they are unhappy, trust for leaders is often recounted as one of the main reasons that they feel unsupported. There are so many ways that trust can be broken besides the typical flat out untruth, and sometimes I think it can happen without us really even realizing it until it’s too late. I do know that trust is imperative for a supportive culture and positive, collaborative climate.

I don’t trust you to keep me informed

I’ve often found that a lack of transparency can lead to feelings of distrust. When people feel that there is more information needed to make a decision, or to know the “why” behind a decision, they tend to feel like it’s possible that the information was intentionally hidden. This can be made worse if a decision was made that fails and subsequent data or information is released that doesn’t support the original decision. When details are missing, people wonder why, and trust in the people making decisions can be shaky. Withholding important information will often be seen as the same level as a blatant lie because both are done with intentionality.

I don’t trust you to try your hardest

In having a conversation with my friend Rodney Turner one day, he told me “You can’t place your own expectations on people and then get disappointed when they don’t live up to them. Your expectations are yours alone.” I found that when I had high expectations for someone and they didn’t rise to meet them, that I would begin to feel like I couldn’t trust that they were doing everything they could to create a successful situation. I would begin to not trust that they would ever do it, and therefore not trust the person. Knowing this has made me more cognizant of the expectations I have for people and if they are reasonable. Also, reflecting on if they would be general expectations or if I have made them higher because of who they are or their relationship to me, and also if I would place the same expectations on myself if I were in that situation. I try to be aware, however, that just because I deem them as reasonable and appropriate, still doesn’t necessarily make my expectations right.

I don’t trust you to be consistent 

Along with expectations, I have written this post about creating trust by being as close to your real self as possible all the time. When we meet people, work with them, begin to trust and know them, we begin to pick out certain aspects of their personality that are constant. When those traits unexpectedly change or a decision is made that doesn’t jive with previous decisions, we start to mistrust not only the person but question their reliability. I, personally, really struggle with people who have unreliable personalities as far as I never know what I’m going to get when I talk to them from day to day. The more constant and reliable someone is, the more likely we are to trust them because we know what to expect all the time. The problem is when they waiver from that reassuring consistency. The more consistent their personality, the more an off decision or act will give the feeling of whiplash. On the flip side, someone who’s only consistency is being inconsistent may never have the trust that is needed because people don’t ever know what to expect from them.

I don’t trust you to do what you say you will

Follow through might be one of the most important aspects of trust, especially if trust has been broken at some point. When people know that you’ll stand behind your word, they are more likely to trust that whatever needs to get done will get done. Also, the quality of follow through matters. If a task is accomplished only half-way or with little effort, trust will begin to waiver as people will wonder why it couldn’t have been done right in the first place.

I don’t trust you to tell me to do something you really believe in

People often place a high amount of value on what they choose to spend their time on. Therefore, when they’re asked to spend their time on an idea or implementation, they generally want to know the reasons behind that, and rightfully so. The problem comes in when they are asked to do something that is not being modeled for them, which brings on the question, “why is it important for me to spend my time on it, but not that person?” making people leery of the person assigning the task. When this is done repeatedly, it can lead to mistrust. (This is, of course, assuming that the task is not just part of that person’s role.)

When distrust has been part of a culture, it takes a great deal of time to get back. I know for me, when I have broken someone’s trust, it has taken effort, time & consistency to get it back. Because trust is one of the foundational tenets of any relationship, not having it can be detrimental to both the relationship and the positive climate & supportive culture we dream of building. We often discuss teachers not trusting administrators, but I’ve seen it the other way around as well. Generally, I’ve found that when administration doesn’t trust teachers, they insert compliance measures (sometimes label it as accountability), which starts the vicious cycle of the teachers then feeling not trusted, and subsequently not trusting administration to be supportive. But trust needs to go both ways, and not only do we need to work to cultivate it, but we need to also be trustworthy and reliable to sustain it.

simon

Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

We Need More Student Voice

One of my favorite people in the world, Jen Williams, shared an article today called From a Rising Senior to Her Teachers: Things to Never Say or Ask About College written by a high school student named Audrey Mullen. I’m not going to lie, as the mom of a child who was once a high school senior, and several children who will one day be high school seniors, I was a little taken back at first. Mostly because in glancing through the article, I had asked those questions not only my own children, but several friends’ kids as well, and I thought, “I was just trying my best to talk to teenagers!” (which Ms. Mullen addressed in the post when she said, “What seems like innocent small-talk to you unleashes a tidal wave of insecurities and stress for us.”). Ok, ya got me.

In reading closer, there were two parts of the post that Ms. Mullen struck me with that as an educator made me both cringe and smile. Two areas where I said, whoa, this kid gets it. The first:

Dreaded Question #2: “What do you want to study?”

Most of us shrug and say, “I’m not sure yet” with a forced laugh. Even the students who seem to have their lives together really don’t. We spent the past four years forced to take classes for credits, not on learning but rather getting an A. How are we supposed to know what we truly like? Does an A in Chem mean we should go pre-med?

They spent the last four years making sure they had their credit requirements, and figuring out what they needed to do for each teacher in order to get the grades needed to get into college. We spend so much time on making sure that kids are college and career ready, that we forget to help them figure out their passions. If our students cannot answer the question, “What are you passionate about?” when they graduate, we have absolutely failed them. Good grades in a specific content area don’t equal interest. It may simply state that area comes easier than others for the student, but certainly does not necessarily equate to passion.

I’m not going to lie, this kind of thing breaks my heart for my kids, mostly because I want kids to spend their adult lives doing what they love because I know what it’s like to work in a profession that I am passionate about. Success is not measured by how much money we make or how quickly we get a job. It is measured by how happy we are doing what we love. So many people spend way too much of our adult life trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up. If we spent more time in school trying to help kids find their passions, we might not have so many adults disliking their jobs.

Ms. Mullen goes on to say:

Dreaded Question #3: “What did you get on the SAT/ACT?”

I have a friend with a 4.6 cumulative GPA who got a 1200 on the SAT. How does someone so exceptionally successful in class get such an average SAT score? The answer is simple: standardized testing is not an accurate representation of college readiness and shouldn’t be such a major factor in the college application process. Most teachers already know this. So when it comes to SAT scores, don’t go there. Just assume we’re all perfect.

For the last few years, I have been touring college campuses with my son. I would love to say that the college application process is standardized and considers the whole child. That’s not true. We learned that some schools have a fairly comprehensive, whole child approach, but we still found that there were some schools that still fell back on a very literal calculation of numbers in order to determine admittance. If the number came in within a range, they were admitted. And this wasn’t some back-woods school, but a Division 1, well respected university.

But, what really struck me about this paragraph was that we do things in education that we know don’t work and we continue to do them anyway. We know that standardized testing is unreliable, we say that out loud, but we use it anyway to make educational decisions for students. My own kids were put into certain english and math classes in middle school, which determined their trajectory in those areas for the rest of middle and high school, based a large part on how they did on standardized tests. If we want different results from what we are doing now, we need to match what we say with what we do.

einstein.jpg

What we need the most, is more students like Ms. Mullen who are willing to put themselves out there and help us adults understand what they need. I loved how she not only provided the issue with what was happening, but gave suggestions on how adults could ask different questions that would help high schoolers feel more comfortable in these conversations. Moreover, we (adults) need to give these kids the respect they deserve by listening to their voice.

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections

Give Me Three Reasons Why

In speaking with a fellow educator and friend at the First conference today, we discussed issues between the administrators and teachers in his district. There is a group of people that desire change, and then there is the opposing group that does not. Relationships are shaky. Trust is missing. The climate is dismal. I’ve heard this story so many times.

He also told me that the opposing group often uses the phrase “That’s the way we’ve always done it” as their why. Now, in being a new admin myself and walking into a situation where we needed to make changes in order to move forward, streamline processes and create some consistency across the district, there are very few phrases that will ruffle my feathers faster, with one of the only challengers being “It is what it is”. Maybe whatever the process is has been done for so long that people have forgotten why they do it. Maybe they didn’t know the why to begin with. Or, maybe they are just satisfied and don’t want to deal with the struggle of change, but saying we will continue to do something because that’s the way we have always done it tells me nothing of what the process has to do with supporting student learning.

How much more powerful would it be if the answer to “Why do we do it that way?” would be a list of at least three why’s as to how it is effective and supports learning? If you can’t give the reasons why, then we need to seriously ask, why do we continue to do it that way? But, if I want to make a change and it’s met with solid reasons as to why it is effective, I will take these reasons into consideration as I think about moving forward. I’m not saying that the change won’t still be necessary, but in recognizing the strengths in how it had been done in the past, possibly adjustments to the new process can be made to make it even better.

always got

If we continue to do things we’ve always done, we will continue to create a system that struggles in moving forward.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

“It is what it is.”

Neither tell me a why. Neither are a convincing argument for being satisfied with the status quo.

#1stEDU

Mandy Froehlich · reflections

How High is Your Failure Threshold?

No matter how empathetic you are, it’s so much easier giving advice than it is being the receiver. I have told people countless times to embrace the learning that comes from failure. I’ve retweeted failure quotes and memes repeatedly. I have articulated how finding a bunch of ways NOT to do something is just one more step in finding the right way to do it. Before “failure” was one of the EDU buzzwords, I would tell my students that mistakes were fine as long as we learned from them and used that new knowledge in the future. We shouldn’t allow failure to scare us. When we fail and learn and move forward it brings us that much closer to success, and I truly believe all of that to the bottom of my professional soul. Really, honestly I do. I have never looked at someone who was legitimately trying and failed and thought, “Well, that was hopeless/stupid/ridiculous/fruitless/pathetic.”

Until now.

Recently, in a bout of intense reflection, I realized that professionally, I’ve never had anything but superficial failures because I have never put myself in the position of having anything else. I have begun adventures and activities that made me nervous at the time. Presenting, for example, was something that I was petrified of, but I started small, built up my confidence over time, and never forced myself to take a huge leap where I could have experienced a massive fail. Another example: putting myself out there with this blog. But really, when it came down to it, these reflections are, ultimately, for myself. What was the worst thing that could happen? Risks that I’ve taken have been relatively small in nature. Therefore, my failures were still valuable, but not something I didn’t know if I could move on from. They were shrug-your-shoulders failures. The “Oh well, it happened, now what?” type. My failure threshold was pretty low. I had never had a reason to raise it.

Once again, until now.

I recently put myself out there in a way that I never imagined I’d actually do. I had to develop a product that was based entirely on my own thinking. No one to blame and no one to credit. I was super proud of myself for even trying, and although what I came up with wasn’t exactly what I envisioned, I knew I’d have the chance to make tweaks and get it perfect with feedback from others. I told family and friends what I was attempting. I felt safe. I subsequently gave them updates on my project to the point where people would ask me how it was going. When I was partially finished and needed to get the stamp of approval, I was told it wouldn’t work. Not once, but twice, by two people I have a massive amount of respect for and absolutely value what they think of my work. I was crushed and angry and disappointed in myself. But that wasn’t even the worst of it.

People always show their true character in the moments when life gets really difficult. It’s not adversity itself that makes a person who they are, it’s how they react to the situation. Every reaction is a choice we make.

This is the part where my failure became exponentially worse. I had a long drive to think about what just happened, and I quickly decided the appropriate reaction to what had just happened would be to quit. For good measure, I even threw in there some significant amounts of self-pity and self-degradation. It lasted about two hours, which was the entire car ride. By the time I reached my destination, I was in tears just out of sheer anger at myself. I had finally experienced a massive professional failure, and my reaction was to immediately quit. Move on. Forget it happened. Hope everyone else would forget, too (ohhhhh, why did I TELL people?). I started thinking up excuses of what I would say when people asked. I was so embarrassed.

Finally, after really digging deep, there were two specific thoughts that pulled me out of my misery. The first was the fact that one of my most fundamental beliefs is that you should model the behavior you want to see, and I didn’t think I could ever look another colleague or student in the eye, or my own kids for that matter, and encourage them to “take risks” and “not be afraid to fail” when the first time I did, I quit without even a second thought. The level of hypocrisy would be almost painful. Second, one of my favorite quotes is:

fire

I’ve worked my backside off all my life to be a strong, successful person. I didn’t feel it was time to stop now. Some people might see my immediate quitter reaction as a weakness. But, that particular weakness simply makes me human. I prefer to think of the fact that I was able to pull myself up and out, dust myself off and relentlessly move on, as a strength.

So, I’ve decided on another course of action with my idea. You may be mentally waiting for me to reveal what the idea was. I’m still not ready to blog about it quite yet, but it’s not because I’m still embarrassed I failed. Honestly, I’m still mourning the failure, mourning that my idea will not go off as I had hoped and planned. I feel it’s important to take a moment to do this on my own so that when I am successful, I can fully celebrate the alternative way I made it happen, however that might look.

I bought this plaque the other day because it is one of my favorite quotes.

fail

If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you try? But now, I’d change the wording a bit. Instead, I’d change it to “What would you try in spite of knowing that you might fail?” We all have a threshold of failure that we are comfortable with. What happens when we surpass that? The more we open ourselves up, the more likely we are to fail, and the higher the cost. But, should also make the subsequent success that much more rewarding, even if it’s not how we originally planned.

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