Climate · Culture · growth mindset · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · relationships · Trust

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: Mindset

This is the fourth post in the #hierarchyseries. The first post can be found here.

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when moving between the different levels of the hierarchy, the higher up you go, the more personal of a journey the hierarchy becomes. Mindset is the section where this becomes the most obvious. The reason that mindset can be difficult to change is because although people can be offered information and research and support, it takes a person to change their own mindset. Nobody can do that for them. Therefore, it takes a person with the ability to be genuinely reflective and open to change to shift their mindset.

Most of us are familiar with Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset and understanding that abilities can be developed and are not set at a certain level and cannot be changed. George Couros has developed the idea of the Innovator’s Mindset: based on the work of Carol Dweck, an Innovator’s Mindset is the belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas. Both of these mindsets work FOR learning. They provide a positive lens for looking at growth and change through development and learning.

A Fixed Mindset is believing that abilities are predetermined and cannot be changed. Again, we regularly address Fixed Mindset and how believing in predetermined abilities hinders learning if we don’t believe our students can improve no matter what we do. One area I don’t think that we pay enough attention to, however, is the idea of a False Growth Mindest, which in my mind, is the most dangerous mindset of all. A False Growth Mindset is when a person believes that they possess a Growth Mindset, but when it comes to change, is unwilling to move forward because they believe it won’t be effective. I relate it to having an addictive type behavior. It’s difficult to get better if you don’t recognize that you have the problem. If you believe that you have mastered the Growth Mindset but don’t actually put it into practice, you may find it difficult to move to a Growth Mindset because you believe you’re already there.

Note: A False Growth Mindset or even a Fixed Mindset is not the same as fundamentally disagreeing with an initiative or change based on data or solid evidence.

change-your-mindset-in-6-steps-6-638

So, if mindset change is a personal journey and must be done by the person necessitating the change, how can we support someone in this endeavor? Or, how can we go about changing our mindsets if we feel we are the ones who need the change?

Six Strategies for Changing Mindset

Continue to Learn

Recognize that we are all continuous learners. Read, be open to new information, collaborate with others, seek advice from experts. When helping someone else change their mindset, provide them with information, research, and opportunities for additional learning. 

Find a Mentor

Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in education, there are people who are smarter and better at your job than you. Find them. Learn from them. I have multiple mentors depending on the realm I am working in. I have a mentor that supports me in my director role and one that supports me in my speaking role, for example. They each provide me with different kinds of support that I need to do my job better. If you’re trying to help someone else change their mindset, BE their mentor. Provide the modeling that they need to show them how awesome change can be with that type of mindset.

Create Goals

Studies show that people who write down specific, meaningful goals are more likely to reach them. We expect students to create goals and work toward them. Shouldn’t we do the same? Goals create the feeling that we should be accomplishing the task we set out to do. Incremental changes to meet goals allow us to “practice” thinking about change and growth as a positive opportunity until it becomes more of a second nature. 

Develop Core Beliefs & Find Your Voice

When you develop your core beliefs,  you have a foundation to bounce off every decision you make. When you don’t know what you stand for, it’s difficult to know if a change or new initiative is something you support or just another change for the sake of change. When you know what you believe, it gives you a platform for moving forward or moving others forward. Core beliefs support your voice. Develop that voice by blogging or participating in reflective journaling of some kind.

Know Your Weaknesses

I am confident in where I fall on the Growth or Innovator’s Mindset continuums. This is less because I think that I have a complete Growth Mindset or Innovator’s Mindset and more because I am reflective enough to know where my weaknesses are and be cognizant of how they affect my reactions. For example, I preach failing forward but my first reaction to my own failure is sometimes one of dissatisfaction and disgust. However, because I know this about myself, I am able to work through those feelings by using the information I know (we learn from failure, we can’t grow without it) and support myself with that type of thinking instead.

The absolutely most important step I took in my journey to change the way I think is to begin blogging. It has allowed me to develop the core beliefs that I use to guide my thinking and decisions. It is incredibly powerful to know what you stand for, and I developed them by the reflective thinking in my writing:

My Core Beliefs 

 

  • Is this what’s best for learners
  • We often ask people to do things that we don’t teach them how to do
  • We need to model the behaviors we want to see
  • Start with empathy
  • We need to take responsibility for our own learning
  • We are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with
  • Focus on the why

I believe that the most important tool we have to change mindset is reflection and focusing our energies on organizing our thoughts. If our thinking is scattered and chaotic, more energy will be necessary to focus in on change and growth. Developing the right mindset to move forward effectively will provide a base for moving forward when beginning to focus on Personalized Professional Development.

 

Climate · Culture · growth mindset · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · relationships · Trust

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking Series: Effective Leadership

This post is the third in the #HierarchySeries. You can find the first post here.

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

The area of effective leadership encompasses everyone that influences the people around them. I do not hold the area of leadership for only administration. I’m a firm believer that teacher leaders have so much more influence than they ever give themselves credit for.

I was listening to my friend, Adam Welcome, speak about leadership a few weeks ago, and he said that you can take a great leader and put them on an ineffective team and they will be able to morph that team into effectiveness. The effectiveness of a leader or leaders in an organization can be so influential, so detrimental or beneficial depending, that a change in leadership can cause a tidal wave throughout the entire organization.

In the hierarchy, I’ve placed effective leadership above climate & culture because a positive climate and culture will continue to support an effective leader so they can move forward and create change. I believe that an effective leader put in the position of needing to fix a negative climate will be able to do that, but it will take away from their ability to move an organization forward immediately when they are forced to take time and energy away to fill the holes in the foundation. I also believe that an ineffective leader can be the catalyst for issues in a positive climate & culture.

I was reading a post by Peter Economy called the 10 Powerful Habits of Highly Effective Leaders, and this is what he listed:

  • Confident but not arrogant
  • A persuasive communicator
  • Sensitive & responsive to others
  • Determined
  • Supportive
  • Distinguished
  • Responsible
  • An optimist
  • Honest
  • Organized & together

I agree with all of these traits, but I also believe that educators need special skills to work in the industry we do, so I added these additional ones:

  • Empathetic and compassionateimages
  • Models behaviors
  • Can effectively move from student interaction to teacher interaction
  • Truly & authentically reflective
  • Recognizes themselves as a servant
  • Focuses on positive relationships
  • Recognizes trust as imperative
  • Understands perception is reality
  • Supports risk-taking & learning from failure

In the hierarchy, I added “transparent and relationship focused”. I believe that these two encompass many of the traits listed in the habits. It is difficult, if not impossible, to create authentic relationships and connections if a leader is not empathetic and compassionate, trustworthy, supportive, and sensitive to other’s needs. In an authentic connection, a teacher will never wonder if an attempt at a positive interaction was merely because the leader needed something from them. I truly believe that when there is an authentic, positive relationship between a leader and the people they serve, both sides will walk through fire to make certain that they have what they need to be successful.

An effective leader will also model what they want to see. As an administrator, if I ask you to coach other teachers, I will be working with them as well. If I ask you to expand your learning using Twitter, I am going to pull my profile up and show you how I use it. If I ask you to personalize learning, you will notice me personalizing your professional development. Modeling behaviors that we ask of others will show them that we find so much value in them that we are willing to take time to do them ourselves. It also eliminates the “do as I say, not as I do” perception, which can affect trust.

One of the biggest issues I’ve seen ineffective leadership is when the leaders do not have a true pulse on their organization. If there is a shaky trust between teachers and administration, and teachers may not give honest feedback. Therefore, the administration feels like everything is going well and it perpetuates whatever mistrust they have created. From the leadership side, whatever it is that they believe is not what is not in line with what is perceived by the rest of the district. From the teacher perspective, they don’t believe that they will make a difference anyway, and they choose not to put their positions in jeopardy. It is a Catch-22.

Leaders can become more effective by beginning to truly value the relationships with the people around them, whether we are speaking about the custodians, parents, students, teachers, paraprofessionals, or any of the other multitudes of support systems that we have in place in education. Also, becoming reflective enough to recognize if what they think about their leadership matches the perception of the people they serve.

Here are some questions to ponder:

Is your perception of your strengths and weaknesses everyone else’s reality?

How can you work with others to realize their leadership strengths? Weaknesses?

How is the leadership perceived overall in the district? Is there a way to improve this perception? How do you create buy-in amongst the leaders?

How do you really feel about risk-taking? Do you say you support it, but question others when they fail?

I believe the leadership of an organization is crucial to its success. The support that the leadership gives, regardless of if that is in an administrative capacity or not, will influence the mindset of the organization and the people in it. Because of the magnitude of difference the leadership can make, it’s imperative that effective leaders cultivate other leaders within their organization, and that ineffective leaders be given the support they need to grow and improve.

Read the next post in the #hierarchyseries here: Mindset

Climate · Culture · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships · Trust

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: Climate & Culture

The idea of the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking came to me at a time when I was looking for a more concrete way to support teachers in becoming innovative thinkers. This is post two in the series. You can find the introduction here.

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

When processing the hierarchy diagram, there are a few important points to remember:

The hierarchical structure is not about being linear but instead about there being foundational concepts that support the rest of the hierarchy. It is not gamified, you do not finish one level and move onto the rest. Instead, there may be places where the district, school, or person is strong, and then holes in other areas that need to be filled.

The hierarchy is not about answering the question, “How can I be more innovative?” nor does it represent innovative thinking and doing. The question the hierarchy is trying to answer is “How can we support an environment conducive to innovative thinking?” Each component is less of a level and more of a foundation to the following level to get to the environment that we want to provide for learners so that they have the best chance to choose-their-own-adventure…so they have the opportunity, the climate and culture, leadership support, mindset and the personalized professional development that they need in order to begin thinking innovatively. The process of innovating and ideating is messy, but the organizational support to give people the best chance at thinking this way definitely shouldn’t be.

While I developed the hierarchy for organizational change, it could definitely be applied to a classroom as well to give students the best chance at innovative thinking. Climate and culture, leadership (both teacher and student leadership), mindset, and personalized learning (versus personalized professional development) will lead to an environment that supports innovation.

The climate and culture of our district, building, and classroom is the foundation in which all of our other activities, thoughts, and daily interactions because it creates the relationship and feeling we have toward our professional environment. When we feel a connection to the rituals, traditions, people, and icons, it allows us to focus on our jobs instead of any negative outside influences.

There are many issues that can affect climate and culture: a lack of connection felt among educators, leaders skipping the “why” and moving right to the “how”, or maybe a history of opaque transparency and mixed messages in regards to district initiatives. But, if climate and culture is the foundation that supports the rest of the hierarchy, trust is the foundation of climate and culture and building and maintaining trust is imperative to supporting it.

If you don’t trust the people around you, there is a significant amount of energy expended on wonderings like this:

  • If I tell other people that my idea failed, will they think I’m an idiot?
    (You don’t trust the people around you to support you learning from failure)
  • I’d rather ask for forgiveness than permission, so I’ll just do it and hope I don’t need to say sorry later.
    (You don’t trust your leadership to be supportive of new ideas)
  • I am overwhelmed and need help, but I can’t ask for it because people will think I’m incompetent.
    (You don’t trust people to be empathetic and support you when you ask)

When people don’t feel like they can trust the people around them to be supportive and make them feel safe, it breeds overall negative feelings. That negativity can eventually seep into other cracks in the climate and culture foundation. Unfortunately, the only way to combat distrust is to either never break the trust bond to begin with or to build it back up after it’s been broken. I’ve spoken with leaders who have clear trust issues with their staff, and they’re always disappointed when they feel like they’re trying but it’s not working. Trust is not an overnight fix. When trust is broken, it takes a significant amount of effort and time to bring it back. Another issue with rebuilding trust is that it’s the perception and acceptance of the trusting relationship on the part of the person whose trust has been broken that matters, not the person who broke the trust. In other words, if a leader has broken trust with a teacher, it is up to the teacher to decide when enough has been done to restore the trust, not the leader.

To build trust, one must do what they say they’re going to do, be consistent and fair, have policies and procedures that are followed the same for everyone, and place a high value on the feelings, attitudes, and actions of the people around them. This needs to be done purposefully and with legitimate concern over improving trust. If it’s faked, everyone will know. 

An example of a common scenario that has the potential to create broken trust: A teacher has decided to take a risk and try a new technology in his classroom with kids. It doesn’t go as well as he would have hoped, but he considers tweaking what he did and try again the next day. The school administrator, who regularly discusses risk-taking and how to be more innovative, comes in, witnesses the failure, and advises the teacher that they shouldn’t try that again because it “clearly didn’t work”, types up some notes, and leaves. In this case, the administrator has taken the chance that they have broken trust. They said one thing (risk-taking is encouraged to be innovative) but did another (sent a message of “you failed at that, don’t do it again”). The administrator has shown that while they might support the idea of risk-taking, ACTUAL risk-taking and failing is not acceptable. Result: possible broken trust.

Another issue that can affect climate and culture is the prevalence of teachers who are disengaged from their profession. We often speak about teachers who are disengaged from professional development, but don’t know what to do with the teachers who have become apathetic towards teaching. We often say they’re “checked out”, ready for retirement, should get out of teaching, etc. I’ve found more often than not, these teachers were not always like that, but have become this way due to not feeling supported or trust that was broken somewhere along the line. At some point, they gave up trying. For teachers who are still engaged in what they are doing, these people can bring a negativity to otherwise pleasant interactions that ruin any positive climate or culture that could develop. Leaders often give up on these people, feeling like no amount of coaching or professional development is going to change how they are. I feel, however, that they don’t need “fixing”. What we can do for them is remind them why they became teachers in the first place. Allow them room to find and follow their passions in teaching, and then give them the support they need. Reignite them. They were a teacher superhero at one point, too. They deserve that attention. 

Climate and culture drive the decisions we make and how much buy-in we will receive. They determine how we feel about our jobs, how we talk about our schools and kids, and how supported we are in our journey to become the innovators that we know we want to be. It can be the most time-consuming and difficult of the levels to fix because it involves a unified effort by all to solve issues and improve. It is also incredibly rewarding to work in an environment where everyone feels connected, supported, and joined in the mission to do the best job we can for our students, and is definitely worth the effort. This kind of positive climate and culture is one of the first steps in developing an environment ripe for innovation and divergent thinking.

You can find the third post in the #hierarchyseries on Effective Leadership here.

Climate · Culture · growth mindset · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking

Awhile back, I began trying to delineate what needed to be in place for a teacher to really have the best chance of being innovative in their classrooms. Whenever I’m looking for where changes need to be made, it is easiest for me to have some sort of graphical representation of where I want to go and what is necessary to accomplish what I’m setting out to do. I am a very linear thinker and checking a box gives me true euphoria. I needed to solidify my thinking into something more concrete.

Asking myself “how do I make people more innovative?” was not only a daunting question but the wrong one. I cannot force people to be more innovative. In fact, forcing any kind of change in thinking takes time and support. Compliance measures will most likely have the opposite effect. The only thing I can do is take away as many barriers as possible and create an atmosphere where they have everything they need to be innovative and give their students a chance to be as well.

While trying to reason through this issue, I developed the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking and this graphic:

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

I’ve moved each section multiple times, and while there are arguments for why one might be interchangeable with another, this is what I have decided makes the most sense to me as to what needs to be in place to move up the hierarchy. As I’ve compared the hierarchy to my own district, I’ve realized that it’s not about completely missing a level. Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, most likely there are holes in each level that need to be filled. Some schools, or even people, are closer to the top than others.

I have also discovered that as you go higher in the hierarchy, the more the change moves from organizational focus to an individual change. For example, a change in climate and culture is more of an organizational change than personalized professional development. Personalized PD is really about what an individual needs and pairing that with support. While it could be argued that mindset is perhaps the most individual level on the hierarchy, I felt like if you did not have a mindset that was ready to take on the personalized professional development and become professionally driven, you couldn’t be successful at that level. That means that as you move up the hierarchy, the individual support needed to create change grows higher because the changes that need to occur become a change that needs to happen within people versus at an organizational level.

This post is the first in a series going through each level of the hierarchy, and in the next post, when I work through climate and culture, I’ll also be talking about the importance of creating a common language. In order to do that going forward, I want to define two of the terms I’ve used for the hierarchy.

Innovation* – An idea, concept or product that is new, different and better. Need not to be something completely new, but can also be a new way to use the original idea. Innovation is a personal journey.

Divergent Thinking – The ability to take one idea and create new thinking that will bring teaching and learning in new, innovative direction for deeper learning. It is diverging from the norm, the ability to turn an idea on its head, and being willing to fail and grow.

As always, blog posts are my way to organize my thinking. I welcome any feedback on how the hierarchy could be organized to be more accurate or effective. As I’ve worked on my Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking workshop for #TIES17, questions and support for moving up the hierarchy have become more clear (you can sign up for the workshop here), and my hope is that as I share my ideas going forward in the next few weeks, actionable items can be taken away to help move other districts/schools/people forward as well.

The second post in the series is now available here

*adapted from George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset

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.