The Things People Do When They Don’t Know You’re Watching

Since I’ve been in my current role, I have focused my efforts on what I have believed to be important supports for my department and the teachers believing that when I support my department they are better able to support teachers who then in turn are better equipped to support students. In the last couple of years we have clarified roles. We have worked on new policies and procedures. I’ve worked hard on creating trust and relationships and I believe that while we always have ways that we can grow, we have an amazing group of highly qualified, hardworking, tech people that do their jobs really, really well.

But that’s not even close to what I love best about them.

Our department is a little different than other departments in our district or even in other districts because the physical location of our office space is in the middle of the building between the middle and high schools. Unlike many other district level departments, we have students in our offices all the time. While sometimes they are in for actual technology assistance, many times they just come in to chat with my device manager and programmer.

Like, the teenagers. Come in. Just to talk.

It began a couple years ago when we started our student led Genius Bar (tech support). The GB students would come in and eventually began opening up with us; sometimes joking, sometimes telling us serious news. Then they began bringing other students in to grab a piece of candy and “say ‘hi’ to the tech ladies.” Each and every time, no matter how busy they are, my device manager and programmer will drop what they’re doing and listen to the students. They often have to scramble at the end of the day to get their work done because they took time out for the students. I’ve heard them tell the students how smart they are. I’ve watched them cry with the students when something bad happens. They work with the guidance counselors to get extra help for the students when necessary. Sometimes they hug them and hand them tissues and other times they high-five over things that to anyone else would seem like an innocuous accomplishment. I have seen it countless times. And while many might say this is how it’s supposed to be, realistically, how often is it that it’s not?

While I believe that relationships are not going to “fix” every issue you have with students, they certainly are the foundation for anything else that’s going help move a student forward. It’s definitely where we need to start. Students, especially ones in crisis, need at least one caring adult to believe in them when they have difficulty believing in themselves. For goodness sakes, I would hope at any given time students have more than one person doing this for them.

I sit back and watch the interactions in my department with a huge amount of pride. Yep, that’s our tech department. I’m so proud that we have been able to build a place where students feel comfortable to come and share their stories. And I feel a bit like if those “tech ladies” can do it, then anyone can.

The Importance of Communication in Climate and Culture

When I work with districts on the ideas in #DivergentEDU, communication is one of the most common areas recited as either supporting the positive climate and culture or being the hole in the climate and culture foundational level. Communication is so much more than telling people stuff or giving them information.

Divergent EDU is based on the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation and Divergent Thinking. Climate and culture is the bottom foundational level of the hierarchy.

Effective communication:

  • Includes a variety of ways to articulate thoughts
  • Practices effective listening strategies
  • Adapts to a variety of situations and purposes
  • Uses media/technology to effectively send messages
  • Comes from a place of empathy
  • Includes an awareness of non-verbals and their impact

Then there are the things that communication does. While the list above includes ways to be an effective communicator, the act of communicating (or a lack thereof) sends a message to anyone involved in the situation. Sometimes the message is an unintended perception and sometimes it’s intentional, but the impact is unmistakable. Communication can determine everything from the lens in which we look at a situation or the feelings we have toward a person or role.

Impacts of Communication

Transparency, Trust and Communication
I’ve written about the correlation between transparency, trust, and communication before in The Art of Transparency. Effective communicators understand the balance between what people need and want to know and what is too much information, but still open the door for discussion about anything that may be in question. However, when there is a lack of trust more transparency and communication is needed as one of the ways to rebuild trust. When I do what I say I’m going to do or situations turn out positively based on information I’ve given that increases trust. In the same vein, if there is a high level of trust, there is less information needed. Think of a person you trust and a person you don’t. Who are you going to need more information from in order to believe what they’re telling you? It doesn’t necessarily mean that the untrusted person has outright lied to you. It could mean that they broke your trust in other ways, but transparency and communication still needs to be there in order to rebuild the relationship.

Allowing People the Right to a Decision
Communication and providing people information and answers allows them to have what they need in order to make decisions that make sense for their situation. I’ve been in situations where a lack of communication has been the catalyst for decisions being made that didn’t make sense for my role/department and left me scrambling to fix the issue which could have been avoided if I would have been a part of the conversation. A lack of communication in these circumstances leaves people no choice but to be reactive instead of proactive, and when the lack of communication continues, can result in a climate with anxiety (what’s coming around the corner next?) and a culture of playing “clean-up” to avoidable messes. Clear communication with the right people ensures a proactive approach with the decision-makers that make sense for the circumstances.

Valuing the Opinions/Decisions of Others
Communicating with others also ensures that the people who should be in on a conversation or decision have a seat at that table and their opinions are valued. Not only are we all #bettertogether and have a variety of experiences that we bring to any issue but showing someone that their opinion is valued builds and strengthens relationships. By intentionally or unintentionally (doesn’t matter which) not communicating, the message being sent is that the opinions or decisions of that person are not valued because they were not taken into account.

We should always be working to be more effective communicators, but sometimes we forget that even the act of communicating has an impact on the people around us. Communication can have a direct and deep effect on trust and relationships, therefore affecting the climate and culture of a school or district as so much of climate and culture rests on the relationships we have and our ability to problem solve as a team.

Judge Me By My Worst Day, Do You?

My friend, Jaime Donally, and I were out to lunch one day at a nicer restaurant where all the waiters and waitresses wear matching black uniforms and they give you fancy water in stemmed glasses. Our waitresses came up and took our drink order and when we asked for a few minutes she said, “I can give that to you but see that large group over there? If I don’t take it now you’ll have to wait.” I was a little surprised at her bluntness but considering Jaime and I were pressed for time, grateful that she warned us. We ordered our food, but we were slow and unsure, and she was clearly trying to hurry us along. I nearly told her what beautiful blue eyes she had (striking really) but she grabbed our menus away and sped off before I could. For the rest of the meal, we had to grab an alternative waiter to get the drinks she never brought and when we asked her to take the bills, she looked at them and walked away. Not knowing how to get our bills paid for, we ended up charging everything to our rooms. We never saw her again.

I’d be lying if I said that we weren’t turned off by the service and her attitude. It was a really nice restaurant. We were expecting extraordinary service.

We could assume that she was the worst waitress ever. It would have been easy to assume that she was not a very nice person. Or, we could assume that it was a couple hours out of her really bad day. It would be two very different ways to view the same situation which results in very different empathetic reactions.

What happened with the waitress isn’t much different than when we go into any other educational setting. Whether it’s us as teachers going to a professional learning opportunity, our students coming into our classroom, our parents sending their children to spend copious amounts of time with another adult (us), we all expect outstanding service. Yet, we sometimes judge people by their bad days. It’s so easy sometimes to focus on the negative, especially when what they do hurts us and we feel like we need to protect ourselves.

For example, how about that parent whose alarm didn’t go off and they run their child to school in their pajamas. Do we see the situation without knowing and think, “Yikes, wake up a little earlier and get your stuff together” or do we think, “Oh my gosh, I wonder if the alarm didn’t go off. That is the worst! Wonder if I can help get their child going?”

How about the co-worker that gets furious in a faculty meeting about a suggestion you make that seems relatively insignificant and you allow your irritation with the outburst to continue beyond the meeting, yet you didn’t know that she stubbed her toe trying to get to her two-year-old daughter that started throwing up that morning and she’s pretty sure it’s broken but didn’t have time to go to the doctor before work and she didn’t want to leave her students with a sub so she’s been hobbling around with the pain all day. Do you hold onto the irritation or go to her and ask if there is something up?

When I look at how I am perceived, I know that I wouldn’t want to be judged by my worst day. I think of days that I’ve flipped my lid when most days I’m fairly calm and even-keel. Or days that I’ve made poor choices due to other things that had happened earlier that day or being overcome with a stressful situation that had really nothing to do with what was happening in front of me when on any other typical day I have my head on relatively straight. What if the only encounter someone had with me was on one of these days? What if someone I know saw that side of me and determined that I was a fraud because they assumed that was my normal? I can’t imagine being judged on my worst day.

While we can’t control how someone perceives us and the judgment they cast, we can control how we internalize someone else’s behaviors and be that model for others. When our students have a bad day, whether it’s individually or collectively, we can wipe the slate for the next day. Because everyone has the right to having a bad day, and we have the power to give them that grace and assume positive intent.

Quote attributed to Mother Teresa

Are You Playing to Win or Playing Not to Lose?

I’ve been watching my boys play football since they were eight years old. Actually, before that, if you include flag football. And in all their sports I have seen a multitude of different types of coaching strategies, involved parents, athlete attitudes, and how the trajectory of a game can change depending on all of these things. Our high school football team in particular, for many years, had built a culture where the kids didn’t care if they lost because they did it so often that it was a surprise if they won. Therefore, they never played to win, they played to not lose, and there is a difference in mentality when you play that way. A change in coaching has shifted that entire mentality (proving, once again, that a change in leadership can make all the difference.)

Yesterday, I was at my eldest son’s college football game and in the first half, they were playing really well when everything began to go awry. With two minutes left in the half, we were winning, but not by much. Our team began running the ball, and even when it was third and long and obvious that an alternate play needed to be called, they continued to run. They were trying to run out the clock and just make to halftime. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the first down they needed to continue and the other team took the field with 50 seconds left. They marched down and even our own fans could feel their energy. They played hard, calling plays to win, trying to score prior to halftime. Unfortunately for them, they got close enough for a missed field goal, but that drive had effectively changed the momentum of the game even with only 50 seconds to go. One team played to score by halftime. The other team was just trying to hold their lead at halftime.

One team playing to win. The other playing to not lose.

While this seems like semantics, the mindset that comes with each is very different. And it’s a fine line, really. Just the slightest movement can shift you one way or the other. Are you doing one thing, or are you just trying to not do the opposite? Are you trying to be happy, or are you just trying not to be miserable? Are you trying to be positive or are you just trying not to be negative? Are you engaged in your profession, or are you just trying not to disengage from it?

I think it’s natural that our attitudes may shift from day to day depending on things we have going on, but I also think that it’s important to be self-aware enough to check our mindsets and realize where we are most of the time. Also, are we teaching our kids to think this way? Recognize where their mindsets are and learn how to shift them?

And maybe sometimes the line isn’t exactly the opposite but is about being great or good enough. For example, are you trying to empower learners, or are you just trying to teach? Do you recognize that you may be the one person in a child’s life that is consistent and cares, or are you just concerned with teaching the content?

There are no doubt some days where I am just trying to get through the massive amount of meetings I have and put out the fires I never saw coming. There are some days I’m just trying to be and thinking about how I can be better seems like an insurmountable struggle. It’s human to have these kinds of days. But, it’s important to recognize the challenge and try for better the majority of the time. I’d rather lose while trying to win than try not to lose and lose anyway.

 

courage

Be an Upstander: When the effect we have collides with the choices we make

In my district, the district administrators (with the exception of the superintendent and the business administrator) are all housed in the buildings in which it makes the most sense for them to serve instead of residing in offices in the administration building. For example, the SPED director is in the elementary school, the curriculum director in the high school offices, and I am in an office suite that is outside our Genius Bar between our high school and middle school (one building). I have always loved this setup. I don’t miss out on the everyday interactions between myself and staff and students because I am right in the midst of the action. Do I have students coming randomly into my office more than a typical district administrator and they distract me and keep me from my work? Yep. It’s my favorite part.

But with this setup comes the lonely summer. We are not hunkered down in the administrative office together, we are spread out across the district. The buildings are quiet. The other day I was walking down the hall with one of my favorite custodians (they’re all my favorites) and this conversation transpired:

Me: “I can never get used to how quiet it is in here.”

Him: “I know. Kids and teachers will be back soon.”

Me: “I can’t wait. The halls are so lonely. It’s so strange to look down them and not see teachers chatting in the hall or students at their locker. I miss them.”

And he looked at me with the strangest look on his face and said, “Thank you for saying that. I think so, too.” Then he gave me the biggest, kindest smile I’ve ever seen.

It dawned on me right then he may have been expecting an array of snarky comments back from needing a longer vacation to how much easier our job would be without students. I, myself, have heard it all, so I can’t even imagine what the custodians have heard. In that moment I had the choice of saying something negative. I chose to say what I feel to be true, but he interpreted that as a positive. What made my heart sink was his surprise at my response. Have we really gotten in such a habit of complaining about the entire reason for our jobs that it has become the norm? What people expect? Are we trying to be funny? Because I am widely known for my sarcasm, but I don’t think that negativity against an entire group of people we serve is funny.

I started thinking about how many times I have fallen into this trap with others in conversation, and I was embarrassed that I had sometimes taken the negative road more commonly traveled. It is so much more difficult to be positive when everyone around you is negative, but it’s also so much more important to be so. But, this goes into the deeper conversation of how we really create change. Change, by its very nature, happens by someone doing something different. When we talk about anything that goes against the grain (being positive in a negative climate, building a robust, supportive culture, speaking about teacher mental health issues when some people don’t want to hear it) we will run into adversity. If changes were easy and happened without effort, we’d never need to speak of the hard work that goes into creating real, authentic, lasting change.

The other day I was being interviewed by Forbes for an article on the status of teacher mental health and the person interviewing me asked me what it takes to be an “upstander”. She said, “You know, someone who stands up for what they believe in.” I had to really think about this because my initial reaction was I have no idea. But, I do know that as cliche as it sounds, it often involves taking the road less traveled. I know that sometimes you need to do the things that go against what everyone else seems to be doing, thinking, and saying. People may get mad, they may even get mean (hello? Twitter anyone?), and you need to be able to accept that because those are the ones who need your change the most. Sometimes, those things are difficult and test our will and dedication because there will always be people who don’t agree with you, even on topics that would seem common sense. It takes an unwavering belief in what you believe, it takes resilience when people try to take you down,  and it takes a support system to remind you that you’re not wrong when things start to look grim. Many times, being an upstander involves taking the difficult road when everyone else seems to be taking the easy, more accepted one. That’s the difference between people who stand up for what they believe in and those that just don’t.

My Post (1)

When Doing Nothing Causes Distrust

I believe that it is human nature to want to trust people, but it’s definitely a feeling that when broken, takes a great deal of time to mend. It’s imperative that we have trust in the people around us for support, kindness, empathy, and collaboration. Many times we associate the breaking of trust with something someone does to us. Their words or actions cause us to feel betrayed. For example, when your principal says they support risk-taking, but then chastise you for a failed lesson attempt. It’s like an action causes a reaction, and that reaction is distrust.

I also believe, however, that distrust can also be earned by not doing. The lack of action can cause just as much of a wave in a relationship (personal or professional) as an action.

When we don’t do what we say we are going to do
If you’ve ever uttered the phrase “I’ll believe it when I see it” about someone, you’ve lost trust in that person to finish what they say they will do. A repeated lack of follow through, even if it’s not in the same area of assistance can cause trust to dwindle with every occurrence. The lack of action can be anything from not finishing assigned collaborations to not being available for support when needed. It can even be in the perception of someone not doing their job when their lack of assistance or attention affects the way that you do your job.

When we don’t anticipate needs
We obviously cannot anticipate everyone’s needs all the time, but I do believe that in this area people will award points for effort when they feel that the majority of the time people are being proactive versus reactive. Reactiveness causes anxiety and stress for many people and can cause a person to wonder why the situation couldn’t be seen coming (of course, depending on the situation). In terms of trust, if I feel you rely more on reactiveness than proactiveness, I may feel like I need to be more on point in order to catch situations for someone versus with someone because I don’t trust you to anticipate needs.

When we say nothing (or focus on the wrong feeling)
I recently saw a quote that said, “Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is nothing at all.” In regards to trust, I think of this saying more in the way of referencing when we need support. If I am asking for support and I’m not getting it, I will probably lose trust in that you will ever support me. Support also includes, however, the ability to have challenging conversations with people who need to improve their practice, so not only the positive feel-good support but holding people accountable as well. In focusing on the wrong feeling causing distrust, I worked in a school once where the principal refused to focus any energy on the issues that were plaguing the climate & culture of the building. Instead, she would point out only the good things that were happening but ignored the lack of positive relationships or accountability for everyone in the building which caused a major distrust of her.

Your choice in words and actions can convey a powerful message but your lack of them can as well. Remembering that not only our actions but our lack thereof can cause a lack of trust needs to be kept in mind when being purposeful in our leadership and communication with the people around us. Trust can be broken in an instant and takes patience, diligence, and dependability in order to rebuild.

trust

When The Ball Finally Drops

I was sitting in the car on my way to a doctor’s appointment this morning desperate, mentally willing my blood pressure to lower. I had a deep feeling of dread in my stomach. The moment that I knew was coming for the last few months had finally happened. Right before I left for the doctor’s appointment, I had found out I dropped a ball.

It wasn’t a large ball by any stretch, a medium one maybe, but the first major one I had dropped since being in my new role. I guess going into my third year, that’s not too bad, but I needed to get bailed out by my network administrator…while he was on vacation. And while I get along smashingly well with my network admin, his last words to me before he signed off were, “Try not to break anything.” Yea. It was a seriously stupid move on my part. He was very, very patient with me, which is a true testament to the amazing, working relationship that we have formed over the last couple years because believe me when I say, at that point he could have easily made me cry.

There has been a perfect storm brewing around me lately. I’ve been feeling it for months and have even spoken to my close group of friends about it. I have been saying yes too much, and I have had more and more balls in the air lately. As a result, I’ve been doing stuff halfway, and I know halfway is probably a compliment to my work. I was working hard. Always working. Continue to say yes. Put in more work. I do a fantastic job at preaching balance and a terrible job at finding it.

And the minute I try to find balance one of the balls drop because I feel like if I don’t keep working, something won’t get done. And I’m right, it won’t. What I’m trying to determine is how much it matters if it doesn’t.

Why was I going to the doctor? Stress. Oh, the irony.

I struggle with finding balance. I try to be everything to everyone. And I do really believe in balance, truly. It’s just that I wish better things for everyone else than I do myself. That’s a problem and I know it.

But one of the issues that I full on caused myself (besides consistently saying yes) was that I took this new role and was trying to push too much change. It annoys me how slow education moves and the benefit of working in a small district is how quickly the ship can be righted. However, I have been pushing my department too far too quickly. We have revamped the way we hand out devices to elementary and middle school, we reworked the Parent & Student Handbook, implemented a new way to follow our department strategic plan (along with writing one to begin with), implemented a completely new inventory system, I updated job descriptions and implemented a new system of evaluation, we went single sign-on as much as we could, refigured devices and pulled back on purchasing, pulled all old devices, implemented a device refresh, redid our district website (coming soon)…I could go on and on, and this has all been in two years. Even though I believe that our department, overall, has a positive climate, I have stressed out one of my members to the point of tears. Basically, in my quest to get logistics changed and procedures in line so I could really get to the heart of student learning, I have lead my team down a path where we were going 1000 miles per minute. I’m impressed they still allow me to lead them.

I do this to myself sometimes. Like that feeling from when you were a kid and you tried rolling down a hill and you can’t stop. The one light in the whole situation was that I found how quickly my team could rally to turn the tides on a mistake. And when I had to email my programmer, also on vacation, to do something for me asap to right the wrong, I apologized profusely for bothering her on vacation. Her response was, “You’ve done so much for me, it’s the least I can do.” I get that we all make mistakes, but my biggest error lately is not only working myself to death but dragging others along with me. Some changes aren’t immediate, and being cognizant of the way your actions affect the people around you is so much more important than a new inventory system or website. We have developed the culture in our department that when we make a mistake, we say we are sorry and we try again the next day with a clean slate. I guess I’ll be taking advantage of this belief system this time. There’s nothing that will stop you faster from rolling down the hill than hitting a tree. It hurts and you feel embarrassed, but you get up and dust yourself off and keep moving forward.


slow down

Building Trust with Challenging Conversations

Educators are nice people. We are taught to be positive and complementary and to give feedback that people can feel good about. What we often miss, though, is the importance of having challenging conversations. I see this most often with administrators, but it is certainly a problem across the board. Teachers, too, need to be able to have conversations with disengaged students or unprofessional colleagues. We all need to be willing, at some point, to have conversations that might make ourselves or the other person uncomfortable. And it’s not only about addressing issues that are seen, it’s also about building trust between the people we work with. The ability to have and to positively receive a challenging conversation helps to build this trust.

When speaking about the need for a challenging conversation, some people will do anything to avoid having it, including allowing whatever behavior to continue. However, the lack of these conversations results in consequences for all stakeholders.

  • The behavior, whatever it might be, will continue
  • Some educators might notice the behavior and begin to see it as acceptable (after all, it’s not being addressed) so they may do it as well
  • The educators that don’t see it as acceptable will be irritated that it’s not addressed
  • These differences create an “us vs them” climate
  • The trust between colleagues could be broken
  • The behavior is no doubt affecting student learning and/or the students may see the behavior

Challenging conversations also need to be had when there is a question as to why something is being done. For example, the way budget money is spent, or the implementation of a new initiative. There is definitely a level of maturity and respect that comes with being able to approach a colleague and ask them why something is happening. The ability to have these challenging conversations will get people facts instead of gossip, increase trust and transparency, and lessen negativity from a lack of information. Although challenging conversations are difficult to have, it is more difficult to work in an environment where gossip and negativity reign due to the inability to ask questions for information.

This kind of conversation holds everybody accountable. I typically find that most people want challenging conversations to happen when someone they work with is not pulling their own weight or doing what’s best for kids. Some people want it to happen, but just not to them. However, if trust is built and the climate and culture support feedback for growth, challenging conversations are more likely to be accepted as what they are… a way for everybody to be working toward the best learning environment possible for kids.

So, the ability and willingness to not only have a challenging conversation but accept the feedback given to the recipient is important in building trust. What does the willingness to have a challenging conversations say:

There is trust between us 
I trust that you will understand, process, and employ my feedback and put it to good use.
Likewise, you trust me to give you feedback when you need to improve, along with asking clarifying questions and for additional explanations.

There is transparency between us
I know I can ask you a question when I feel I need more information.
I know that you will promote a positive climate by asking instead of assuming.

You believe in me
That I can change, I can improve, and I can be better and you’re helping me do that.
I believe you have the potential to grow and be even more amazing.

If I lose my way, you’ll help me find it

Challenging conversations are sometimes necessary to support the people around us. Although they are often looked at with a negative connotation, they don’t need to be a negative experience. They can be based on a solid relationship, trust, and transparency, and result in growth and change for all involved. Moreover, they are necessary in order to create an environment where everyone feels supported and is working toward what is best for students.

difficult conversations

 

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: When the supports are in place

This is the fifth installment of the #hierarchyseries. You can find the first post here.

The purpose of the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation and Divergent Thinking is to give a more concrete look at what supports need to be in place to give educators the best chance at thinking innovatively and divergently. Realistically, in looking at an organization, reflecting on these particular support systems is probably going to be more about plugging the holes that might be found in the foundational levels rather than creating them from scratch. For example, you may have teachers with a growth or innovator’s mindset already but may need to “patch” the areas that are predominately a fixed mindset by working with those educators on recognizing growth mindset and swinging their pendulum in that direction. While the idea of the hierarchy should help districts put the supports in place, it still does not “create” innovative and divergent thinkers and teachers. Instead, it gives the base support so educators can focus on new learning, thinking, and doing versus using brainspace for worrying about other issues around them.

The act of becoming innovative is not something you can be forced to do, nor is it something someone can give you. It is a personal choice to move outside your comfort zone and try or learn something new. Again, even with the Hierarchy complete and solid, that is only the support structure. A person still needs to make the decision personally to want to be innovative.

Innovation can be messy
As we move toward more innovative approaches, we need to learn, relearn, fail, try again, and use our knowledge to develop our new thinking. Rarely is true innovation a straight line to the end, and even when we get to the end, are we really done? Once an innovation continues to be used, doesn’t it just become part of the status quo? So, we need to continue the process of moving forward with innovation in order to not become stagnant.

Innovation is personal
I grabbed onto this idea from George Couros. Innovation is personal to each individual. What is innovative to one may not be innovative to another who has already been doing it, and that is ok. Everyone is on their own personal learning journey. Also, innovation is not “either you are or you are not innovative”. The idea of innovating and thinking divergently is a continuum, and each person falls somewhere on that continuum. That’s why when looking at the people around you, it’s best to try to discover what you can learn from that person and how they think differently than you versus trying to compare the amazing things you to do the amazing things they do.

Innovation involves failing
The quicker you accept that it is going to happen, the quicker you’ll begin your journey. Failing is not always easy, it’s not always fun, and sometimes you just want an idea to work. All of that is understandable. However, if failing stops someone from moving forward and trying again, then that’s where the problem lies. Our failures do teach us what doesn’t work. They are valuable and help us figure out what might work when we try again. That kind of learning cannot be replicated by being continuously successful all the time.

Divergent teaching will stem from divergent thinking
Divergence is the act of thinking and doing outside the box, moving outside your comfort zone, acknowledging and challenging assumptions, being forward-thinking, using known and recognizing/learning unknown information in decision-making. Divergent teaching uses divergent thinking in all aspects of teaching; from lesson planning to the moments working directly with kids. A teaching thinking divergently will try a new idea with their students instead of scrapping it because they wonder if they can handle it (assuming and forward-thinking). They will actively seek out new information on their own and not wait for the district to provide all their professional learning. They will allow students to try a new technology that they don’t know themselves because they trust their students will learn to use it without their help (recognizing unknown information in decision-making). They will be willing to make quick trajectory changes when they know that it will be better for student learning.

When the Hierarchy is in place, this gives educators the chance to move toward this kind of thinking and teaching. If they are worried about what their leadership will say if they fail (holes in climate/culture and effective leadership), they are less likely to try the new idea they had. They are less able to expend energy in bettering themselves as professionals because they are too busy with being concerned with the holes in their foundation. Providing people with the support they need in the foundational areas is imperative when expecting them to be innovative and divergent teachers.

The Hierarchy is not something that can be put to rest when most of the holes are filled. It is a structure to be constantly cognizant. One hole can create a host of issues in other levels. A change in leadership, for example, can create a domino effect hole throughout many foundations of the hierarchy, just as a change in leadership might be just what the organization needs in order to fill some of their holes. The Hierarchy is not a finished product, but rather a constant work in progress, similar to the way innovative and divergent thinking are never truly complete. We will always need to continuously improve to move forward, and that kind of innovation and divergence comes from our own motivation to be the best people we can for our students.

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: Professional Development

This is the fifth post in the #hierarchyseries. You can find the first post here.

In an effort to support professional learning, personal passions, and to model how we want students to learn, there has been a shift to incorporate personalization into professional development. But, professional development, in general, is not given enough time and consideration in districts. If we make time for the things that are important, we perpetuate the idea that professional learning is unimportant by the lack of time we spend on it and opportunities that we provide educators. We say “we value learning” and then don’t embed the necessary time for educators to continue their own professional learning.

While all professional learning is generally called “professional development”, there are different types of learning that typically happen in a district. While there is a strong movement toward all personalized professional development, I believe that there is a time and place for all types of learning. Oftentimes, we lump all types of professional learning into one basket, but not all of it is created equal. There is no silver bullet in student learning, and there is no silver bullet in professional development either.

Training

Training is skills based only learning. It provides opportunities for more efficient, have a better workflow, and understand how things work.

Examples of trainings are:
How to use Gmail
Setting up your gradebook in your SIS
Utilizing a new piece of equipment or technology

Professional Development

Professional development is learning that helps an educator improve their competence and effectiveness. It provides not only best practices and instructional strategies, but also confidence helps reduce anxiety by providing answers to the question, “Am I doing this right?”

Examples of PD are:
Setting up a Reader’s Workshop
How to implement project-based learning

Personalized Professional Development

Learning that happens when educators choose where their passions or weaknesses necessitate additional coaching, resources, research or expert guidance. Personalized Professional Development supports educators in their search to become better teachers. It also allows them to continue to follow their passions while supporting their students in finding theirs.

Examples of Personalized Professional Development:
Learning about growth mindset on Twitter
Connecting via Google Hangouts with PLN members to discuss a book study
Meeting and collaborating with a technology integrator to learn more about your passion: robotics

While training and professional development are not the same as personalized professional development, there are always that these learning opportunities can have elements of personalization in order to make them more engaging. We often miss the opportunity to add these personalizations in because we are so quick to pass the information out.

  • Allowing for alternative modes of delivery: online, flipped or face to face.
  • Creating levels, gamifying learning or competency-based learning
  • Embedding voice, choice, and pacing options

By continuing the sit-and-get types of training and professional development, we are not modeling the kind of learning that we want students to have in the classroom. I’ve absolutely been guilty of this myself, but in reality, it is really difficult to add personalization any kind of professional development when you’re told, “You have 20 minutes…go!” If more time was dedicated to purposeful, personalized, and educator-driven PD, professional learning would have a chance to make it back into the classroom where it would affect students, just like it’s meant to. It takes a mindset shift and giving priority to professional learning as an integral part of education and teaching kids.

Another issue with professional development is the engagement of the participants in training and professional development and the level of empowerment they feel towards their personalized professional development. If they are not of the mindset that they are able to learn or that their students are able to learn whatever it is that is being presented, chances are that they will be less likely to implement any changes. Also, if a participant doesn’t have buy-in into the learning, they are less likely to implement it as well. There needs to be a significant level of intrinsic motivation for a teacher to try something new, fail, and then tweak it and try it again. This coupled with the buy-in to what they’ve learned can make all the difference in the success of the implementation. Finally, embedded support to assist teachers in the implementation of learning in the classroom is imperative. If that component is missing, there is nothing in place to support teachers as they begin to implement their learning and to encourage them if something goes awry.  We are often missing a few of these pieces, especially if the learning is a sit-and-get, information disseminated by an “expert” type of learning transaction.

I’m currently reading Jarod Bormann’s Professionally Driven book on personalized professional development, and loved this:

I’ve sat in with PD planning teams that give out surveys to see what topics teachers want. When the results come in, inevitably the team looks to see which categories got the most votes/comments. However, what happens is they say, “Oh, that topic got 64%, so that’s got to be a top priority for everyone.” Everyone? There’s 36% of the staff that indicateed they didn’t need it, so now it’s a priority for everyone? This is not an effective strategy.

As a planner of PD, I have absolutely made this same mistake, and have watched others do it as well. I think that sometimes as adults we panic when we are in charge of large-scale learning sessions, but if we spoke with a teacher who was creating lessons that applied to only 64% of their class, we would be questioning their professional judgment.

I have been a part of discussions repeatedly where district administrators say they value learning but undervalue professional learning, or they make the mistake of calling the logistical, housekeeping staff meetings professional development. I say with 100% certainty that as a teacher, I never left a staff meeting feeling like I was provided with a learning opportunity that made me a better teacher. At some point, I figured out that I was responsible for my own growth, and when I wasn’t supported by the district, I found my own support. While a professional educator should inherently love learning and be willing to learn from others, they should not be expected to find all of their growth options outside of what the district provides.  They should be provided the support they need to grow in the areas they have identified. If they don’t know how to identify these areas, they should be taught how to do that as well. Providing these opportunities not only shows educators that we value what they do in the classroom, but that we value who they are as a person because we are willing to spend time on them to become the teacher they want to be for their students.

You can find the next post in the #hierarchyseries here.