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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 Drivenbook 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.
This is the fourth post in the #hierarchyseries. The first post can be found here.
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.
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.
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.
You can find the next post in the #hierarchyseries here.
This post is the third in the #HierarchySeries. You can find the first post here.
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 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 compassionate
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
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.
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.