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.

My #oneword for 2018

I do absolutely love the #oneword movement. It’s far more than a fad to me. It forces me to choose a focus and a motivation all in one word. And for me, choosing my #oneword is serious business. Last year, I got a tattoo of my word Relentless. Nothing says dedication by permanently etching the word into your skin.

Participating in this activity forces me into deep reflection twice a year: once when I choose it, and once at the end when I’m selecting my new one. Did I live up to what I had chosen? Were there times I didn’t? What could I have changed about myself in those moments to live up to my word? For me (and so many others) it’s about more than a tweet declaring your affiliation to one particular word, it’s a mindset…an attitude. What do I want to look like going forward? How can I put that into one word to hold me accountable and keep me inspired?

For me, both personally and professionally, I am more than willing to say goodbye to 2017. It has been a rough year, and I must’ve had a feeling that I was going to need my Relentless #oneword last year because I had no other choice but to be that way or I would have folded several times over. My word crossed my mind every single time that something happened that made me question my abilities to handle whatever situation I was in. I developed a general rule for myself for smaller disappointments: you can feel bad about this for one day, then take control and move ahead. For larger issues, it was what kept me getting up in the morning and facing the day head-on when I wanted to stay in bed under the covers away from the world. Remembering my one word gave me my attitude adjustment over the course of the year. It kept me going in times of difficulty, and in times of calm, it was the catalyst for leaping forward. In some ways, as silly as it sounds, it was my lifeline for remembering who I was and where I was going.

This year, I have given significant thought to my #oneword and it came to me in a lightbulb moment. I’ve used it multiple times when discussing my Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking series, but when it actually dawned on me that this was it, I was thinking of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.

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I already know that this will be a year, both personally and professionally, where there will be delicate decisions and major changes. But, one thing I’ve learned over the course of my life, that I truly believe, is that nothing worth it is ever easy. So, I’ve decided to go with Divergence as my #oneword2018, knowing that the road less traveled by is the path I want to be on, no matter the difficulty.
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The psychological definition of Divergent is: (of thought) using a variety of premises, especially unfamiliar premises, as bases for inference, and avoiding common limiting assumptions in making deductions.
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Could there be anything more perfect than that?
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By embracing this mindset this year, when making decisions, I will make sure I’m taking in all the possible angles and solutions, including the ones that I am not as familiar with or that make me uncomfortable. I will avoid allowing my assumptions and my unknowns to limit my thinking all the time, but especially in making decisions. In order to make this work, I will need to be more reflective as I look for areas where I might be blinded and places where I might be assuming. I will need to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable (even though I regularly joke that I very nearly live outside my comfort zone), and relentless in the pursuit of learning what is unfamiliar to me. I will recognize and control my fears in the steps and decisions needed to reach my goals. Following this “rule”, my Divergence will allow me to become a better decision-maker both personally and professionally.
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I’ve had the opportunity over the holiday break to have moments of reflection that I don’t typically get. I’ve been getting up in the morning before everyone else…sometimes sitting on the couch doing nothing, sometimes cruising through Twitter, sometimes writing blog posts or working on my book, but always thinking. It felt amazing, and it gave me the chance to go into the next year with a new attitude. And if you’re discussing strictly education, going back with a calmer heart to what is going to be a chaotic beginning of the year in my department is imperative. But overall, the time has allowed me the chance to really consider my #oneword for 2018, Divergence, and hopefully, that will make all the difference.

divergent

When Setting a Goal Isn’t Enough

When you set a goal, what does that look like for you? Do you write it down? Tell the world on Facebook or Twitter to hold yourself accountable? Or do you keep it as a secret and just keep hoping that it works out? Praying that things fall into place? Someone figures out what your goal might be and helps you? Do you take it on like a challenge? Full steam ahead?

My relentlessness and tenacity have always pushed me to continue to work toward something that seems impossible. It is not that the vast possibilities of outcomes of my decisions don’t frighten me, it’s that the fear of not achieving something that I’ve set my mind to is greater than my fear of trying. I am petrified of missing out on something that might be amazing and beautiful and phenomenal because I was afraid to put myself out there. That fear drives me every day.

This does not hold true for everyone, however.

I have a friend who is a teacher. He recently expressed a professional goal to me and at first, I was so excited for him because I could see his passion and the potential he had for reaching it. But, as I’ve further discussed reaching this goal and other issues with him, I’ve come to realize that he has set up every roadblock imaginable for himself to not reach the goals. If you can’t see yourself reaching the goal you set, how do you expect anyone else to? I look at him and see the potential for growth and happiness and it kills me. I see how changes that he might make could make him a happier person, but he is too afraid to take the steps needed to reach the goals necessary to make that happen. He has the tools, has everything he needs, but his fear of making a mistake is greater than his desire to reach his goal. Greater than the fear of not becoming the person he wants to be. So, for the time being, the potential stays only potential. Potential to reach his goal. Potential to be happier. Potential to change his life. But, you can’t create meaningful change on potential alone. At some point, action needs to be taken.

My friend, Melody McAllister, recently sent me this quote:

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This quote sums up why I embrace my relentlessness like a good friend. Why I put myself out there, why I make difficult changes and decisions, why I do what I say I’m going to do. Why I work hard and move forward even when what needs to be done ranges from “not exactly what I wanted to do” to “one of the most difficult decisions of my life”. Because at the end of the day, when I look back at everything I’ve accomplished, I would rather be a little bruised than to know that I never showed up in the first place. And when people say it can’t be done, I want to giggle and show them how I did it. The best way to entice me to accomplish something is to tell me I can’t.

I would venture to say that fear is one of the most powerful drivers of our decisions whether it is stopping us from something or begging us to keep going. To say that I continue on my path because I don’t fear failure, fear looking like a fool, or fear making a mistake so gigantic that I can’t go back would be completely inaccurate. I am typically scared as hell that I’m going to do all these things several times over. The difference is that I don’t allow my fear of those things be the driver of my decisions. As I work with more people in the education world, I’m finding that this is a common characteristic of people who have created change in the face of adversity when others said that they couldn’t, regardless if it’s a teacher in a classroom, an administrator of a school district, or a keynote speaker at conferences. We could all use a little more tenacity, a little more grit. After all, what is the point in becoming passionate about goals we set if we are not willing to do what needs to be done to reach them?

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.

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: Mindset

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.

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

Six Strategies for Changing Mindset

Continue to Learn

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

Find a Mentor

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

Create Goals

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

Develop Core Beliefs & Find Your Voice

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

Know Your Weaknesses

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

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

My Core Beliefs 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some questions to ponder:

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

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

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

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

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

Read the next post in the #hierarchyseries here: Mindset

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second post in the series is now available here

*adapted from George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset

Make Every Moment Count

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

And in these moments, we have a choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

make moment count

What Is the Point In Blogging?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

believing in yourself

The Ability to Change: It’s not about the technology

Today, I was at a Technology Director’s meeting. I know it may not sound riveting exactly, but it is one of the best cross-district meetings I attend. Basically, we get a bunch of super smart, incredibly kind and collaborative people in a room and we attempt to solve the world’s problems. My favorite part? This particular group begins almost every answer to a tech question with a focus on learning instead of tech. It makes my heart happy.

At one point, the question was raised regarding strategies for helping people deal with the constant technology changes both within schools and the growth of technology in general. I had spent a great deal of time last year and over the summer thinking about this and reaching out to my PLN to bounce ideas off of them, and what I came up with was a little bit of what we have been implementing at the beginning of this year, and it is also where I have seen the most changes in some of the teachers I work with. What I have noticed over the last few years of working with people and technology is that the ones that are the readiest for change have certain characteristics in common, and there are things that districts can do to help support teachers and admin in these areas. The part in all this that I think is the most interesting is that we are trying to get people comfortable with technology change, but it is not about the technology at all. It is about their ability to accept change in general. We are focusing on the wrong aspect of technology change if it is the technology we are concentrating on.

These characteristics are as follows:

Mindset

It’s more than Growth Mindset. Most likely Innovator’s Mindset. Maybe there’s even one step further…a Teacher’s Mindset. Knowing that change is inevitable and will continue to happen whether they accept it or not because our students are constantly changing, their needs are changing, their experience in the world is constantly changing. It doesn’t mean they like every change that comes down the pipe, but they pick their battles based off from what they feel is not good for students. They are also naturally reflective people (which, to me, is part of mindset), and their reflection goes beyond wondering if the lesson went well. They will also ask:

“Were my students engaged? Empowered?”
“Did each student get what they needed when they needed it?”
“Is there anything more I can do to support them? Help them enjoy their learning?”
“Are my expectations high enough?”

These questions don’t change much for an administrator. If you exchange “student” for “teacher”, they are actually identical.

Adaptability

People who are able to accept change are adaptable. We tell students that part of their career readiness skills is adaptability, but it is difficult to actually teach adaptability in a world where procedures and policies keep people safe (sane) and give us some controlled chaos. Through raising four of my own kids and being a teacher, I realized that kids actually LIKE structure. They like to know what is going to happen, and it makes them feel safe if they know what is expected. The same goes for when we become adults. Nothing will make a teacher more upset quicker than a new initiative that they haven’t been trained on because they don’t know what to expect or how to begin.

Anything that would work on our adaptability skills will take us out of our comfort zone. So, for some people, unless they have been regularly forced outside their comfort zone either by their own choice or by some sort of adversity, might not develop the skills to adjust to new conditions or environment as well as others. I believe that people can develop and work on their adaptability skills by pushing themselves to learn outside their comfort zones. Focusing on adaptability as a skill that we want teachers and admin to develop is the first step. Asking them to self-reflect on their skills would be the second, and then regular nudges to step outside their comfort zone, and supporting them when they do it, would be the next. This might actually be learning about and integrating technology into their classrooms, but the adaptability will come as they become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Professional Engagement

This might be one of the issues I’ve been noticing the most lately, and I only figured out it was a thing years ago after I had been disengaged, then subsequently re-engaged, from mine.

I was reading the School Leaders Dunk Tank by Rick Jetter and Rebecca Coda, and it discussed how people can become adversarial when they feel like they feel like they have not been supported and, therefore, develop feelings of hurt. The hurt turns into resentment, and that resentment infiltrates many other parts of their professional life. You could easily replace adversarial with disengaged. Disengaged professionals begin to dislike their jobs because they feel like they are no longer making a difference. They think that kids begin to do things to them “on purpose” just to irritate them, or they take new district initiatives as personal vendettas. But, they absolutely worst part of no longer being engaged is that they forget that they are there for students, and the difference they make in their lives every day. And if you’re disengaged, the positive difference that they got into teaching to make can then become a negative one.

I have been speaking with teachers about the concept of being disengaged, and the truly reflective ones can see where they have begun this transformation as well. I wholeheartedly believe that all of them can see it, some of them are just more willing to admit it than others. Noticing these parts of oneself is the first step to changing them. We have also been working on a “Back to Basics” initiative in our district. We have been trying to re-engage teachers with activities to help them remember why they got into teaching to begin with. For example, at the beginning of the year, we had all the teachers participate in a Flipgrid that asked them why they teach. We have also been focusing, in our high school, on personalized PD, not only because it is the right way to allow teachers to learn, but because we want them to remember what it’s like to be curious and love what you learn again. Back to basics.

Counting Your Initiatives

This one is a district/building level issue. I worked with a district recently who said they had five initiatives. When I heard that I thought, “Whoa, only five? Not bad!” But, the fact was that when I expanded those initiatives, there were 53 initiatives within the five overarching initiatives that were being implemented. Being adaptable and willing to change is one thing, but people cannot be overloaded and then chastised for not changing with those kinds of crazy expectations. The perception of your ability to change should not be dependent on how willing you are to go with the flow when there is an exorbitant number of things on your plate. District leaders need to be reflective enough of their own expectations to know if what they are asking for is even reasonable.

change 2

Nobody would argue that change is inevitable. In speaking with a colleague the other day, she mentioned how our students, when they are parents, will have a better idea how to work the current technology than most current parents do now just because they grew up with it. The only issue with that is that the technology in 15-20 years is not going to look anything like it does now. Which means, if education professionals are still teaching then, the technology that they’re working with isn’t going to be nearly the same. We can’t focus on technology when we are focusing on change. We need to focus on the ability to accept and grow with change. The ability to work with the changing technology, with that mindset, will come.