Mandy Froehlich · my classroom · reflections · relationships

I Was an Imperfect Teacher

I’ve read articles that describe social media as one of the reasons that teenagers have self-esteem issues partially because of how others portray their lives and images as perfect and happy all the time. Images are filtered to the max, blemishes are removed with the touch of a finger, and friends look happy and untroubled. Therefore, teenagers start to think that there is something wrong with them when they don’t feel as perfect as the social media posts from their friends. I believe this same concept can be applied to many different areas, including the field of education. We read edu-leadership blogs where the writers sound prophetic and tweets that describe amazing ways that students are learning in a classroom and we compare our days to these posts and begin to wonder where in the world we are going wrong.

I had these days when I was a teacher. Days that I was exhausted or had come to school sick and was praying that we could have an extended independent reading time just to get me through my morning. One year, and I’m not even kidding, I actually woke up late for a grade-level fieldtrip and missed the bus. I often felt like I was screwing up way more than I was actually making a difference, but I loved my kids, and did the best I could possibly do. There are so many things that I have learned that I wish I could take back into the classroom. Places I feel I failed my kids in some way, but not intentionally, just because I really didn’t know any better. I was not a perfect teacher. Allow me to prove it to you.

It’s my job to make you social

When I taught, I did not understand the difference between having introverted and extroverted kids. I knew there was a difference, I just thought that my job was to take the introverted and make them more social. How could they not want to constantly be working with others? This is especially ironic since I was an extremely shy child myself, you might have thought I would have understood this. It wasn’t until a friend of mine explained his introvertedness to me that I finally got it, and by that time I was no longer in the classroom. Looking back, I had one student in particular who was an incredibly smart kid. Sometimes, we would be doing group projects and he would ask to do it by himself. I remember telling him, “Buddy, you need to be able to work with others. I know you don’t like it all the time, but it’s important that you learn with your groupmates.” One time I felt so bad for him that he was struggling with the kids that he worked with that I allowed him to work alone and what he produced blew me away. Still, the next time, I asked him to work in a group again. Social skills I called it. While I will stand by that all students need to be able to work with others, why I could not see that he was an introvert and needed to work on his own sometimes for his best thinking I’ll never be able to explain. I wish I would have been able to recognize this need in this student and others and adjust to them instead of creating a situation where they were forced to adjust to me.

Lack of shared professional practice

I was always willing to collaborate. The last district in which I taught I regularly collaborated with the people in my same grade level. We would discuss where we were in the curriculum and where we needed to go. We brought up specific students and their needs, and tried to bounce ideas off each other for how we could improve behavior or academics for those kids. What I totally missed, however, was that in every position I’ve been in, there have been absolutely phenomenal teachers that I never watched teach. I worked with teachers who created deeply rooted relationships with kids, others who could teach a classic novel like nobody’s business, and some who had a way with kids with negative behaviors. I missed out on opportunities to study what others do great, and to really improve my own practice for my students. And, because I wasn’t a connected educator at all at the time, I was actually learning very little from other people unless it was in the form of professional development through the district or books I read. In this regard, I failed both myself and my students.

The kids who flew under my radar

There is no doubt that my neediest kids were the ones who got the majority of my attention. Whether it was academically, socially or behaviorally, the ones who demanded it or needed it were the first I planned for and the first I checked on. While I do feel like I challenged my highest flyers, there were some kids that did what they were supposed to do, took on every challenge and did it well, never asked too many questions and didn’t demand my attention. In retrospect, I rarely gave these kids my undivided attention. When I taught, I used to tell myself that these kids could get by on their own with only my guidance, but just because they didn’t act needy, didn’t mean they didn’t need me. These kids were missed opportunities for solid connections. While I feel like, as a teacher, I have always placed a high value on relationships, I missed the boat with some of these kids because they were self-sufficient, which isn’t a great reason to not get the attention you deserve.

When I look back at my classroom career, I am proud of what I had accomplished, but there were so many areas that I could have improved and so many places I failed. I was definitely not perfect. I am experiencing similar failures as an administrator. When reflecting on my first year as an admin, it was all I could do to not put my head in my hands or bang my head against my desk for some of the decisions I made. I have learned from each mistake I’ve made, however, and I do believe that as long as I continue to recognize the areas I needed to be better and adjust my course from where I fail, I can only continue to learn and grow and be better in my profession.

failure

growth mindset · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

Make Every Moment Count

You’re at work. It’s been a tough day. You’ve had a hard lockdown drill, you were just told it’s time for another formal observation and all the extra paperwork that goes along with that, there has been a rash of kids out with the flu, which means getting their work together and planning for their return. You have a pile of work on your desk that needs feedback, late work handed in that really needs to be handed back, and the last kid that handed you a quiz had wiped a booger on it (hey, it happens). You’re wondering what to tackle first in the 25 minutes you have left for prep when you realize you haven’t gone to the bathroom or eaten lunch. Overwhelmed, you look around and one of your neediest kids in your class is walking in your door, eyes fixed on you, looking like he is in trouble…

And in these moments, we have a choice.

One option would be to give them the “now what did you do?” face and be immediately irritated that s/he interrupted the few moments that you had to try to dig out of your piles of work or just take care of your basic human needs. When they start to speak, you could couple that look of irritation with an exasperated-sounding voice and tell them that if what they need isn’t important, they need to get back to whatever or wherever they were supposed to be.

Another option would be to take a deep breath and remember your teacher’s heart. Give the child a clean slate, smile, and look at them like they were just the person that you wanted to see. The choice that you make in that moment could be the only time during the day where that child didn’t feel like they were disliked or trouble or a walking problem. I guarantee that they wouldn’t be in there if they didn’t need you in some way, and should they need to justify the importance to you in comparison to your other duties?

Our job is to teach children. Assessments, feedback, curriculum and data all have their place, but our main goal is to help develop healthy, mindful, happy kids. It doesn’t matter if they are five or 15. It is not our place, no matter how difficult our current situation is (professionally or privately) to allow our baggage to affect the students we serve. They might not understand everything that is happening in your day, nor should they be expected to. Their focus should be on developing their own skills, personalities, and working through their own adversities. They should never be the collateral damage in someone else’s bad day.

That child could have been coming in to tell you they were recognized in another class for doing something amazing and they chose to tell YOU. They could be coming in to tell you they need a hug because they can’t remember the last time they got one. They could be coming in to admit to you they’re suicidal and finally gathered the nerve to ask for help. Your reaction could determine the outcome of that moment.

It’s possible that the child you see coming into the classroom might have challenges at home that you don’t know about and can’t even dream of. That if they truly wrote their story out for you, you wouldn’t even be able to read it because it would be so heartwrenching. This could be any kid in your class at any moment of the day and there’s a good chance you don’t even know. That one smile, from that one moment, could be the entire reason that they come to school. Not only is it your job to know their stories, but it is your entire reason for being a teacher. Create the relationship that brings these kids through in their time of need. And sometimes it might feel like their time of need is every day, and if that’s true, so be it. That is why teaching is more than a profession, it is a calling.

And if you screw up and accidentally allow your irritation to come through? No doubt I’ve allowed my current situation to dictate my reaction to the people around me. However, just like we would expect out of kids, there should be an apology. Say you’re sorry. They might be kids and we might be the adults, but being an adult isn’t an excuse for poor behavior. We are not the “boss” of kids, nor are we above apologizing to them. Being nice, kind, and showing humility does not “undermine our authority”, it shows that you’re human.

It’s so important to be aware enough of what you’re doing during every moment of the day and to watch for these opportunities to build kids up. If you choose option one, that choice is more about you than it is about them. Choose to have moments that end with a smile and a high five. Those kinds of moments are the absolute best part of teaching.

make moment count

growth mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · Social Media · Uncategorized

What Is the Point In Blogging?

Lately, I have been asked repeatedly by various people why I blog. I started blogging because one of my good friends, who I have a ton of respect for professionally, told me to. That’s it. It was never an epiphany that I had on my own. Over the course of a lunch, he told me that he felt he needed to blog just to get stuff out of his head. At that point, I actually thought to myself that he must be so much more intelligent than I because there was no way that I’d ever have so much in my head that I’d need to write. I had all the typical reservations about creating a message that would be put out for the world to see. A year and a half later, blogging is one of the areas where I am so thankful that I took the leap and stepped outside my comfort zone as it has really helped me define who I am as an educator.

Why?
Yesterday, I had a meeting with our district Innovation & Leadership Cohort. We worked with George Couros over the summer to set up blog/portfolios. They did their first post with George and I had tried to send out post ideas, but realistically, as the summer began to wind down and we had conferences, back-to-school inservice, and then the beginning of the year, I had a feeling that if something had to go, it was going to be that. I knew that because when I started blogging, it was the first to be put aside for the next day or week because I didn’t “need” it. And as we are now well into the meat of the school year, as I looked around at the exhausted faces in front of me at that meeting, I felt incredibly guilty asking them to do one more thing. I know that we often run our rockstar teachers ragged because we know that they will do what’s best for students, but I really felt like this was something that might help them instead of being just one more thing. I tried to give them some of the “whys” behind why they would spend their valuable time on blogging, and they are as follows:

I give back to my PLN
I feel like this is one of the most overlooked reasons to blog, but I often felt like I was taking from my PLN and not giving back. Even though this isn’t the reason I blog, it is a great side effect. People often miss that a PLN is a community of learners and in order to receive you need to give. While I never expect my PLN to read it, I do feel like even if one person a week reads a post along with my interactions on Twitter, I am at least contributing to my PLN community.

I have developed my core beliefs
By really working on my reflection skills, I was able to develop what I consider to be my core beliefs about education. I only realized that I was even doing this after I had written awhile and noticed some patterns in my own thinking. I can now rattle these beliefs off at any point, and I bounce every decision I make off of them. Developing these beliefs has also made me more engaged in my profession. I know what I stand for. It is incredibly powerful to understand what it is that makes you tick and holds you up when it comes to certain ideas and concepts in education, especially in the face of adversity. There are times when these beliefs are my lifeline and assure me that I am making the right decisions when they align to these philosophies. I am also more bound to my thinking when I write about it and put it out there for the world to see. Similar to writing down actionable goals, I feel like if I want to be who I say I am, I need to live the ideas that I write on my blog.

I am able to create space in my head
When I realized this was happening, it officially dawned on me what my mentor was talking about. I described it to the Cohort as being able to get something off my mind, but it’s definitely not only when I need to vent. If I am turning something over in my mind, trying to reason through it, blogging forces me to get it written down. I need to make it a coherent thought in order to share it out, and that takes a significant amount of working through the issue before I can do that. Once I have done this, I am able to stop thinking about it chaotically in my head, and therefore, create some space. This is something I developed over time as I practiced effective reflection and putting my thoughts into writing. Creating space has been what keeps me blogging.

Tips
Below are a few questions and tips that I’ve been asked about blogging that I thought might be helpful for someone just starting out.

What if I write about something everyone already knows and I look stupid?
Would you ever tell your students to be careful about what they say in collaborative groups so they don’t look dumb? I didn’t think so.

This question is easy to get over when you begin to realize that you should be blogging for yourself. Even this post, which might seem like I’m writing it as being informational for a reader, is really about me getting my thoughts together about blogging. The next time someone asks me, I will be able to cohesively explain all these reasons and tips. While writing to give back to my PLN is important, I really write for me. Because I do this, it doesn’t matter if someone knows what I know or not because I am on my own learning journey. If they didn’t know, awesome. If they did, hopefully, they can bring me along faster and help me out with what they know.

Also, awhile back a teacher shared this video with me and I have found it to be true over and over, especially when I go to other districts to teach something about technology. There are always people who know how to create an amazing Hyperdoc and someone who is still trying to figure out how to get to Google Drive. There will always be someone who knows more than me, and always someone who knows less in certain areas.

Where do you find the time?
When something is important, I will make the time. Sometimes, I use Voxer or the voice recording feature in Google Keep during my commute to record my thoughts and type it up later. I have also used speech-to-text while in Google Docs to speak my post, usually with some major word choice issues that need to be fixed, but I can essentially copy it into a blog post when I am able. I have written parts of posts in the grocery store checkout line and walking to my car from work. I do it wherever I can. I am now able to write fairly quickly, although it has taken me practice to get here.

What do you use for a site?
I use WordPress, but there are many other sites depending on what style you want. Blogger, Wix, Weebly, and Webs all have great blog features.

How do I get people to read it?
Tweet it out, put it on Facebook, post it on LinkedIn. If you think certain people will like it, mention them. If you think it applies to certain PLN groups you’re in, hashtag it. When you begin, you will not get 500 people a day reading your blog, but remember, that doesn’t matter because you are writing it for you, anyway.

What do I write about?
It depends on what you want to write about. My friend, Rachelle, writes posts that are about how she uses technology in her classroom. The posts rock. They are super practical. My blog is usually ideas and reflections that I’m working through. Sometimes, they are about leadership or experiences I had with my students that I’m now looking at through an administrative lens. We each wish we could incorporate the other’s style into our own. My posts stem from articles I read, conversations I have had or overheard, or interactions with people both positive and negative. I also keep lists of potential topics that I haven’t fully thought through, but are concepts where I would like to spend more time exploring my own thinking.

The amount of professional growth I’ve experienced by blogging has completely taken me by surprise, but now that I have made this discovery, I am fully committed to continuing my reflections. Experience has taught me that there is power in becoming a true reflective professional. I have discovered my core beliefs which defines who I am as an educator, and I’m able to create extra space in my head to organize my thoughts. It is one of the most valuable tools I have to continue my own professional growth.

believing in yourself

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.

change 2

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.

influence

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