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.

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

In Pursuit of Change

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

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

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

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

change

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

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

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

 

 

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

Making Good Choices

Whenever I hear the phrase “Make good choices!” it makes me smile and brings me back to my elementary teaching days. It always seemed like a blanket statement that could mean just about anything. “Make good choices!” could translate to “Don’t hit your neighbor!” or “Throw away your scrap paper!” or “Don’t jump and hit the exit sign on the way down the hall!” It was a firm but friendly reminder that everything we do is a choice, and every choice we make has consequences. But, the choices we make go so far beyond just our actions. There are choices we make internally every day as well, and they can determine our mood, our relationships, and our interactions with others. Sometimes, I just think that those choices aren’t as obvious because they happen inside ourselves.

I’ve often written about choosing to trust and choosing to take a risks, but because we work in a people focused profession, we make more decisions internally that affect both the way we operate and the people around us. We can also choose the affect that people have us, and this might actually be one of the most important choices we make.

I once worked in a school where I did not work well with another teacher. Our personalities were vastly different, as were our teaching styles, and even our attitudes towards teaching were not the same. There were times where I felt like I was being berated, and times where I would go home from work crying because I allowed the way she treated me to affect me. I had made the choice, subconsciously at the time, to allow this person to bring me down. To make me think something about myself that I didn’t actually believe was true.

I have since realized, however, that the choice of allowing someone to make me feel something is entirely mine, and disliking someone for what they’ve done or who they are is not only giving them power over my thoughts, but making their unhappiness too important in my life. Nobody is responsible for choosing my reactions, my attitude, and my actions except me. And, it’s really not fair to the people around me, little or big, that my attitude reflects my choice of allowing negativity to affect me.

Sometimes, we tell others that they should just forget what someone has said to them, or let stuff “bounce off us” or “go in one ear and out the other”, but in reality, it takes a significant amount of mental and emotional effort to do any of those things. A friend of mine once told me that when people say things about him or to him that he disagrees with, that he acknowledges it and puts the thought away. Even thought it’s really just a change in mindset, I feel like this is a less negative way to deal with unwanted information. And like my friend Marypat says, negativity is exhausting. All of us need less of that in our lives.

Going into a new school year and having multiple discussions with people about climate and culture, I think that taking control of how you choose to let other people affect you is especially important. There will almost be that person who is disengaged from their profession, or who is ready to retire, and it is so much harder to be positive when people around you are dripping with negativity. But, we can choose to continue to be positive because when it comes down to it, we aren’t there for those people anyway. We are there for the kids, and they deserve to have the most positive, best teachers and role models that we can muster.

This is not an easy endeavor. It requires a significant amount of self-reflection and self-control to be able to recognize when what we feel is a choice, and then making the choice to feel something entirely different. But if we want a positive climate and to create a strong culture, especially if we are attempting to repair it, looking inside ourselves for our options as to how we want to move forward and be for our students should be our first stop. Change will always start with us.

Always one of my favorite quotes:

positives

So, choose positive…both inside and out.

 

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