Climate · Culture · growth mindset · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · professional development · reflections

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

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

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

These characteristics are as follows:

Mindset

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

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

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

Adaptability

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

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

Professional Engagement

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

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

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

Counting Your Initiatives

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

change 2

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

growth mindset · Innovator's Mindset · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections

Stop Apologizing for Not Knowing

I have always been interested in tech, and I’ve always been willing to show what I know even before I was a technology integrator. Regardless of what position I’ve been in, there are always people that have apologized while I’ve been helping them. It’s usually a “I’m sorry I’m not good at this” or “I’m sorry that I don’t know more about this stuff” or “I’m sorry I’m so stupid with tech.” My response has always been the same:

Please don’t apologize. I know what I do because early on I learned not be afraid of pushing buttons. If you knew everything I did, I wouldn’t have a job. My job is to help you learn.

While I understand that for some people (myself included) saying something like this actually translates into “Thank you for your help”, I don’t want people apologizing for a couple of reasons. First, to say your sorry means that you feel bad for something. In this case, probably believing that you’re inconveniencing the person you’re asking to assist you, but just because we’re educators does not mean that we are not allowed to ask questions or request help. We are not required to be all knowing. It certainly doesn’t mean that there should be feelings of guilt associated with being unsure about how to do something. Second, just by asking, you’ve already made my day. All I’ve ever wanted from the people that I’ve helped is the willingness to learn. Excitement for the learning is a total bonus.

I was working with one of my favorite teachers today, Lori Hron. She approached me to meet with her so she could become more innovative, not even recognizing the amount of innovation already in her classroom. She asked for a standing meeting on the calendar, so every other week around the same time we meet and discuss lessons and projects she has coming up, and we brainstorm ways to create something new out of what she has. My absolute favorite part is that she is so excited. You can see it on her face. It makes me feel the same way working with Lori as it did when I was a teacher and the students thought one of the assigned projects was awesome: total elation and a reminder of why I do my job. A couple of months ago she published her first tweet. A month ago she joined the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC). Today, she published her first blog post. She has apologized to me for not knowing, and yet has been willing to learn and move forward despite her discomfort with what she didn’t know, and I couldn’t be more proud to work with her.

I’ve had people say to me that teachers should be able to learn about new initiatives on their own because they are professionals. I disagree. It doesn’t seem like best practice to expect people to learn something new on their own without the district’s vision on the initiative and significant professional development. Instead, I believe that because teachers are professionals, they should be willing to learn, and we should respect their time and efforts by providing them with the learning that they need to be successful. That respect for professional learning leads to questions without apology, and hopefully excitement in the possibilities of learning something new.

#IMMOOC · adjunct teaching · book study · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · Mandy Froehlich · reflections

Change is an Opportunity to Do Something Amazing…All Around #IMMOOC

I have taught and read the Innovator’s Mindset several times. I read it the first time for me, the second time for a book study for my school district’s Innovation Teams, a third time through the lens of a pre-service teacher when I assigned it to my University of WI – Oshkosh students, and now again for the #IMMOOC book study. I have reflected on it repeatedly, blogged about it quite a few times, and have had/participated in multiple book studies on it, recommended it to hundreds of people. In all these discussions, the quote that seems to resonate with the most people is always:
Image result for change is an opportunity to do something amazing
It’s easy to apply this quote to education. Our world in EDU is constantly changing. New roles are created, new curriculum is adopted, new technologies are being introduced all the time. Our world is practically fluid, rarely do things stay the same. For some, these changes in education are expected and while not always embraced, they are at least accepted. For others, change is a difficult and stressful time. The quote resonates with people because it takes the constantly fluidity of education and puts a positive spin on it. We are perpetually changing, and with that change, you can either fight it or take it as an opportunity and run with it. In that case, it’s hard to imagine anyone not choosing to be amazing.
As another semester of my UWO students started and we were discussing the beginning of the book, and one student said, “I like this quote because I think it doesn’t only apply to education and our jobs, but applies to our whole lives. We are in college. We’ve experienced big changes in our lives when we came here, and we can choose to do something amazing with our experience.” I have been reflecting on what she said since that class, and it’s true. Students in college are expected to make big decisions that will affect their lives forever. I remember George telling a story in one of his keynotes about a student who said she was expected to go out and change the world when she left for college, but shortly before that she had to raise her hand to go to the bathroom when she was in high school. It’s a big change when you go from the constraints of high school to the openness of college, and the change is definitely a choice and an opportunity to do something amazing.
I’ve experienced this myself recently with taking my new position as Director of Innovation & Technology. And as much as I love my new position, there have absolutely been moments when I’ve felt like the amazing part of the change might not come, or “Who am I to think that I can do something amazing at all?”. Change in any form is hard, and to convince yourself to do something amazing with that change can be even harder. I think about friends who are going through tough times personally: job changes, divorce, financial trouble, and it’s possible that this quote might be able to be applied to all of that. In any of these cases, including in the classroom, the work related changes, the college student, the job change, the personal issues…the amazing part of the change is going to take some work.  It’s probably not going to be a lightbulb moment or some epiphany where you think, “Ahhhh…there’s the amazing!” but rather something that takes diligence and commitment, hard work and motivation, which can be the hardest to muster during difficult times. I think that remembering great quotes like these help us work through those changes in order to find the amazing, which brings me back to another one of my favorite quotes, and I think these two go hand-in-hand:
Image result for not telling you easy worth it