leadership · Mandy Froehlich · my classroom · PLN · reflections · relationships

Five Things My Mentors Taught Me

While I truly value my professional learning network that I’ve worked so diligently to build, there a few people in my life that I have carefully chosen to study the way they operate because I have such a massive amount of personal and professional respect for them. I have learned an immense amount of life and professional lessons from them. These people have been my mentors, my friends, and my biggest supporters. They have listened to me complain, celebrated my successes, and have laughed with me when I inevitably say or do something ridiculous. They have become like family to me, like a weird concoction of uncles and step-brothers and mothers that have made me who I am by being absolutely amazing leaders and mentors. And through them, I have learned the following lessons.

Ask for what you want

I have a terrible habit of hedging or asking questions in a passive voice. I’ve learned, however, that this tends to give the impression that I’m not confident in what I’m saying or asking. The secret is that I’m usually not confident, but I certainly don’t want people to know that. One of my mentors taught me that how you speak is as important as what you’re saying, and that the confidence you exhibit can dictate the way that people react to you. I always need to be especially cognizant of this when I’m speaking with people that intimidate me.

So, what happens if you don’t have the confidence that’s necessary? Another one of my mentors taught me this: fake it ’til you make it. I’ve learned myself that when you fake it long enough, you start to believe in yourself and build your own confidence until you’re not faking it anymore. Whenever I fall upon a situation that makes me feel like I don’t have the confidence I need, I fall back upon this rule to get me through.

Leaving a legacy is not about getting the credit

Especially not in education. Recently, I was at a volleyball tournament and a few of my former students came over to tell me that one of their former classmates still talks about me all the time and wants to get in touch with me to say hi. I would be willing to bet that she couldn’t pick out anything specific I taught her, and years down the line, she might not even remember my name, but she will remember the way she felt in my classroom and the connections that she made. Leaving a legacy in education isn’t about massive changes or a total disruption, although a few people are able to create those types of movements. For most of us, the legacy is in the way that we instill certain values in our students, whether it’s a love of learning, knowing that there are consequences for our decisions, or that everyone deserves someone who sticks by them no matter what choices they make. It’s about the small changes that we create in the educators around us, the programs we start to do things like help provide canned goods to the food pantry, or even leading a school-wide or district-wide mindset change. Our legacies are not in things, and years down the road people might not remember our names, but they will remember the connections, the programs that supported them or made them feel worthwhile, and the feeling they got from changes and relationships we made.

People make time for what they think is important

If people don’t jump on a new idea or initiative, it is most likely not because they are completely unwilling to learn something new. It is usually because they have not been given the why behind the change and how it is going to enhance learning. I have learned that when people think something is important, they will make time. When they think that their students will truly benefit and it could transform learning, they will be all in. People will move mountains for the things they believe are important.

The same is true with students and their learning. If they have not been shown the importance or connection of what they’re learning, or if they are not encouraged to find what inspires them, they will not spend the time to truly engage in what they are doing. They might do it out of compliance or just to get through their days, but they won’t show the qualities of an empowered learner that we want to see when a child truly loves what they’re doing.

Never forget your teacher’s heart

It doesn’t matter what position you’re currently in. It’s that feeling you get when a kid has a lightbulb moment, or when a child with difficult behaviors seems happy instead of angry, or when a student comes back to your classroom years later and says, “Remember when we did __________ in class? That was awesome.” It is the combination of moments and feelings that you can only get from working with students, hearing them laugh, and watching them triumph over struggles. Because those are the moments that keep us pushing in education when we’re also dealing with new initiatives, rules made by government officials that have never been in a classroom as an educator, and active shooter drills. The second we forget our teacher’s heart, it will become significantly more difficult to remember why we teach to begin with, and kids deserve better than that.

Being a leader was never about you

If you are truly serving people as a leader, your personal professional agenda will never be considered, because being a real leader is never about you. Instead, it’s about what the people around you need and the best way they can be supported. All the time. Period. I’ve seen agendas that include things like being seen as the first district to “pave the way” for other districts all the time, or implementing copious numbers of devices to prove they have more than their neighbors, or building a massive football field. Many times these agendas might start out with student learning as the reason (sometimes they don’t) but the focus gets lost along the way because the focus becomes the agenda instead. Sometimes, these agendas are followed up with or connected to the desire to build a legacy. But, like legacies are not about things, a true leader is not concerned with leaving a legacy, and certainly not worried about agendas because they realize that leading is not about them but rather the ones they serve.

I continue to learn from the people around me every day, but the people who believe in me and mentor me on a daily basis have made a profound impact on my personal and professional life. It’s the reason that I believe choosing mentors that support the different areas of your different facets of your career is one of the most important professional decisions you can make. Recently, a new connection without any prior knowledge, actually asked me if I somehow knew one of my mentors because my work had pieces of him in it. At first, honestly, I was embarrassed that my work was seen as that close to his. After reflecting on it though, I thought that I couldn’t imagine connecting myself to many other people that I respected more. Eventually, I hope that there is a little of all my mentors inside my work, because I chose to model myself after these amazing people for a reason.

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Genius Bar · innovation · Mandy Froehlich · my classroom · PLN · reflections · relationships · Social Media · Trust

The Creation of a Genius Bar: How our student led tech teams have formed

Although our district has been 1:1 for about eight years, this is the first year we have implemented a student led helpdesk. I’m not going to lie, at first I was dreading it, not because I didn’t believe in the idea or think it would be fantastic for students, but because I didn’t even know where to start or how to manage it. There are logistics to the helpdesk when it’s been led by students that are difficult to anticipate. I didn’t know what they were going to do all day. I didn’t know how they would interact with our tech department. I didn’t even know how we were going to take attendance since their assigned teacher wasn’t in the same spot as the physical helpdesk. It has been a project that has taken me a year to put together with researching other helpdesks, and calling up my teacher instincts and going with them. I’m proud with what we have put together so far, but as with every major implementation, will need to continue to adjust throughout the year.

Where did you go to research?

As per usual, I used my professional learning network to really connect and see what other people were doing. I had gotten some amazing information from the Director of Technology for the Leyden School District, Bryan Weinert. Their TSI system is a nationally recognized student led tech support program with pathways that the students choose and follow to support the skills that they want to focus on. As part of the program, Leyden pays for the students to get the certifications. Thanks to Bryan, I was able to get invaluable information on how they started their program and continue to make it a successful way for students to be involved in the technology department for both students and the district.

I also loved this article by Jennifer Scheffer. I have borrowed many ideas of how they run their Genius Bar (as ours is called as well) and have implemented them. Basically, our Genius Bar is a combination of information from this article and the resources and information I received from Bryan.

How did you recruit kids?

Our Genius Bar is a class that is available every hour throughout the day. In our first semester, we have 16 kids who have taken the course. Realistically, some kids have taken it because they needed something to fill an hour in their schedule. Some have taken it because they wanted to try something different and had an interest in technology. Some are a part of the program because they had formed a relationship with our department and were excited to be a part of the Genius Bar. The most important thing we did was explain to teachers and the guidance counselors that the Genius Bar kids did NOT need to know a lot about technology. When I first told them this, they looked at me like I had lost my mind (a look that I feel I get a lot), but here’s my reasoning: if they have an interest but don’t think they know enough to be a part of the program, how are they ever going to learn if it’s something they really want to do or not? I made sure I erased “tech-savvy” out of our vocabulary. Might this change as the program becomes more popular? I have no idea, but I sure hope not. I want anyone to feel comfortable at any level coming to the Genius Bar, knowing they’re going to learn, not that they are only going to employ the skills they already have. This has hands-down been my best decision.

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When talking to one of the girls that now works the Genius Bar, she told me she doesn’t really know anything about technology and that she is not tech-savvy. The next day she was so insanely excited when we told her to YouTube how to change a Chromebook screen and handed her a broken one, and she did it on her first try (with the support of one of our tech services ladies). To me, THAT is the function of the Genius Bar. We want to open kids up to the possibility that technology might be an area they want to look at, and when we tell them they need to be tech savvy, we automatically exclude the population of kids that have an interest but don’t consider themselves to know a lot about tech.

What do they do all day?

The Genius Bar assistants are the the first line of defense for technology that faculty and other students are having difficulty with whether it’s that it is actually broken or just isn’t working right. They troubleshoot and have forms to fill out to document issues so we can see patterns in the data. They must answer help request emails and tickets assigned to them. Beyond the technical aspects of the Genius Bar, they are also responsible for researching new tech learning tools and working with students and teachers to use them. Aside from their actual desk functions, they work on these things:

Canvas LMS Course: Our students have a course that they complete in Canvas that is a work in progress. They have access to the logistical parts of the course, video explanations with how to use the forms and what their expectations are. We use discussion boards to collaborate on projects as a team since the kids are scattered across seven class periods. There are also learning modules and assignments on concepts like customer service and creating a positive digital footprint.

Blog: We have a helpdesk manager, which is a student that is a paid internship. This year, it is a student named Brock (an absolutely amazing person) who spent some of his free time last year helping me brainstorm and develop the Genius Bar, and he is in charge of various projects, and has both designed and will maintain and schedule blog posts that focus on technology integration for both students and faculty. Genius Bar students will be expected to contribute to the blog on a regular basis.

20% Time Project: Students will be creating goals based on what area of technology they would like to know more about. There are multiple ways they could design this project, but if the project requires the knowledge base of a certification to support that goal, the technology department will support them by paying for the certification. Project goals are monitored by myself and the assigned teacher, and the students will meet with us on a regular basis to update us on their progress and let us know if they need support in any way. Their 20% time project will also be documented in a portfolio on EduBlogs that they will be able to take with them when they graduate.

Additional projects: The Genius Bar assistants are also in charge of additional projects that might come up as needed. For example, currently we found that third through fifth grade kiddos are not handling their Chromebooks with as much care as we would like. As our Kinder through second graders’ touchscreen Chromebooks are coming in soon, we are anticipating a similar issue. The Genius Bar kids have been asked to create videos for each level demonstrating the proper use of the devices. So far, they have been brainstorming if they would like to create cartoons or use the green screen, but they are in charge of producing the videos.

The students always have a multitude of things to be working on. They will need to manage their time wisely, stay focused and organized. They also will need to collaborate with each other and our tech services department, as well as students and teachers that they may not know or necessarily have. They are treated as they an extension of our department. We have placed immediate trust in every student that works behind the desk, no matter what. Another decision that I think is imperative to the success of the students, and ultimately the Genius Bar.

Moreover, as a director, I have been more removed from the classroom than any other position I’ve had in education. My focus has become the adults, and I do enjoy this because I know that I can affect student learning by supporting their amazing teachers. However, an unexpected side-effect from working with the kids from the Genius Bar has been remembering how incredible it is to work directly with students again. One day, I was sitting in my office, and I could hear them laughing while they worked. I literally stopped what I was doing and just listened. Working with the Genius Bar students has kept me focused on why I do what I do. I might be supporting their learning, and I hope that I have awakened or support a love for technology in the students like I have, but they are reminding me every day why I keep going when things get difficult, and why I love being in this profession so much. They do so much more for me on a daily basis than I could ever do for them.

 

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growth mindset · Mandy Froehlich · my classroom · professional development · reflections

Student & Teacher Boredom: What can we do?

We have all read statistics on the decline of student engagement between kindergarten and graduation. I recently read the article Bored Out of their Minds which talks about students and the reasons for their lack of interest as they get older. One particular part of the article that struck me was:

“But who cares? Isn’t boredom just a natural side effect of daily life’s tedium? Until very recently, that’s how educators, academics, and neuroscientists alike have treated it. In fact, in the preface to Boredom: A Lively History, Peter Toohey presents the possibility that boredom might not even exist. What we call “boredom” might be just a “grab bag of a term” that covers “frustration, surfeit, depression, disgust, indifference, apathy.””

It’s difficult to not be frustrated by articles like this, not because they’re wrong, but because they’re right. The data is there, we see it on the faces of our students and kids everyday, and yet either don’t know what to do about it or don’t care enough to try. My own kids express their dislike for their classes and how boring they are all the time. My younger son (the same one who went on this rant regarding imaginary numbers) had been telling us that he wanted to go into Biomedical Engineering, and wanted to learn how to code because he wanted to learn to create new prosthetics for people who had lost limbs. Recently, he told me that he has changed his mind. The coding class that he took in school was so boring and frustrating (not because it was hard but because it was too easy) that he lost interest in the entire coding process. The class’s assignments consisted of repeatedly building a website with HTML with minor changes in the coding. I think of all the amazing activities that can be done with coding and I shudder at the fact that an entire semester course consisted of this one skill. He was bored out of his mind. His experience changed his entire outlook toward a profession he was confident he would pursue.

I’m not saying that all students will have wide-eyed amazement at everything they do in school. I liked school because I knew how to “play school” and it, in general, came easy to me, but math was not my strong suit. I had to work really hard to get good grades because it didn’t come naturally to me (evidenced by the fact that I told someone the other day that $1799 x 3 was $1400 – I’m not even kidding). It’s going to happen that not every student likes every subject they take. However, if we allow students more choice and create opportunities for cross curricular learning, they can couple their interests with their struggles, and be more engaged than they would be otherwise.

Because my role is to work with teachers more than students now, I also connected this article to an image by Sylvia Duckworth that I often use in Twitter PD.

duckworth twitter

Any chance that you know an educator that seems to feel “frustration, surfeit, depression, disgust, indifference, apathy”? I would say that I could probably name a few. Honestly, whether discussing student boredom or teacher boredom, I can’t even imagine being so miserable at an activity in which you spend the majority of your time.

The awesome thing about being an educator, however, is that we have control of how we handle boredom when it sets in. If we would allow the students voice and choice in their learning, like they so desperately want anyway, we would find that when we create these opportunities for students it reawakens the reason we became teachers in the first place. Their engagement in the learning process becomes your engagement in facilitating their learning. They are no longer just handing in papers. Their creativity will amaze and entertain you…probably blow you away at their resourcefulness. They will take ownership, and isn’t that exactly what we want anyway? It’s definitely a win-win.

When boredom set in for me when I was a teacher, I took matters into my own hands. I was introduced to Twitter and ran with it. I learned what personalized professional development was and became more cognizant of what it was that I wanted to learn more about and made my own opportunities. However, this required me to be reflective enough to:

  1. Recognize that I needed to be the one to change
  2. Quit blaming others for me staying inside my box
  3. Realize my strengths, weaknesses, and interests, how these affected my students, and what I could do about it

But once I did that, I was able to take control of my own learning and reengage in my profession. I could have left teaching all together or I could have become cynical and apathetic, but instead, I’m consistently thankful that I found a profession that I love so much.

Student engagement and teacher job satisfaction really aren’t that different. Each of us needs to be given the permission and authority to take ownership of what it is we want to learn and how to best engage. Every single decision we make as a teacher, including taking control of our learning and development, will affect our students. Hopefully, the ownership in our own growth provides opportunities for our students to engage and become less frustrated with their education as they get older.

adjunct teaching · Mandy Froehlich · my classroom · reflections

We Underestimate our Students

I always felt like one of my strengths as a teacher was that I always had high expectations for my students. I never lowered expectations based on a specific class or student. I expected them to grow and make progress (at their level), to enjoy learning (most of the time-we all have our days), and that each of them had strengths that made our class the community it was. Students would rise to the expectations. There was never a reason to lower them. I tried hard not to underestimate what my students could accomplish.

Yesterday, I was shopping with my daughter and I ran into one of my former pre-service teacher students from the university. She’s a super girl, appropriately candid and always asked great questions. She will be a fantastic teacher. She was in one of my first classes I taught, and we all know as teachers how first classes have the ability to create a special imprint. When I asked her how her semester was going, she replied with “It’s a joke”. Immediately, I jumped to the conclusion that it was a lot of work, that she was swamped and struggling to keep up, therefore: a joke. When I asked her some clarifying questions, I found that by “joke” she meant that her classes were too easy. She said she was able to get all her work done at her job, hence the reason she was out shopping instead of studying like a college student should. She said that she thought her classes would be more rigorous. Instead, she barely has any work to do at all.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little shocked, but my pre-service students always continue to amaze me. It’s one of the reasons that I love teaching those classes. Then I realized that I had totally underestimated her because she is a “college student” and I had fixed her with a get-out-of-as-much-work-as-possible stamp, which was wrong of me to do. In this case, she WANTS to learn. She WANTS to be a great teacher. Her classes are not providing her with enough to keep her learning, and it’s irritating to her. IRRITATING TO HER that she can’t get the learning she needs to be awesome (which she will be anyway because she will make it happen on her own – she’ll be awesome in spite of school).

I feel like we find that same thing with teachers in the field. They have a window where they are excited and want to do what’s best for their students but are not provided with the training and tools they need to move forward, so some burn out and some become cranky, but they don’t start out that way.

As for the high expectations for students part, it was a good gut check for me. I was discussing this with a teacher at the beginning of school. He’s a great guy, came into the teaching field from the private sector and is doing his absolute best while not yet having his teaching degree (he’s working on that). When I asked him how it was going (he was first-year teacher exhausted, we can all relate) he said, “I don’t know. I think I just need to lower my expectations for how my students should act”. I told him absolutely not, if anything, raise them. Have faith that your students will rise to the occasion and will probably surprise you by bypassing your expectations and coming in with ideas and behaviors that are better than expected. Yet, I did the same thing with one of my students, underestimated her because she is a college student.

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adjunct teaching · my classroom · reflections

Adjunct Teaching

Sometime last December an opportunity to teach at the University of Oshkosh literally fell into my lap. The professor for the one and only instructional technology course for students in the college of education was going on sabbatical, and the school was looking for adjuncts to pick up her classes. I applied. I interviewed. I was offered two sections on the spot. It was truly something I had wanted to do since entering into the field of education, so I was beyond excited for the opportunity.

I began planning immediately. I tried to think of what my professors had done that I really liked when I was in college. They:

  • made me feel as though they cared and formed relationships
  • gave me practical knowledge as well as theory
  • remembered that we all had lives outside of school (I happened to have 3 kids while finishing my bachelors)
  • made me laugh
  • told me stories
  • challenged me to think differently
And I tried to remember what I didn’t like:
  • when they were super unorganized (I had a prof that wore her button-up shirt inside out once)
  • the work seemed like it was designed only to keep me busy
  • they lectured – all. the. time
  • there was no “give” to their methods (due dates were due dates no matter what, how I showed my learning was nonnegotiable, etc)
  • they clearly didn’t care
I also thought about my experiences in the professional development that I provide to teachers, and how I have been working toward providing PD that is more personalized and that has voice, choice and pacing options. I wanted that for my students as well because I wanted to model that type of classroom environment and learning. I wanted to model innovative thinking. I wanted to show the importance of making connections.
In true “first year teacher fashion”, I’m not sure how much of this I did. My good intentions were definitely there. We read the Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros (clearly I have an affinity for this book). I tried to come up with innovative ways for students to do their weekly reflections/discussions on the chapters. We did EDUin30 videos, group discussions, a Twitter chat, used Padlet…I wracked my brain trying to think of different ways. We connected with Jen Hegna and her Innovation Cohort of grad students twice during the semester to grow our PLN and learn the importance of being connected. I gave choice in their assessments and modeled using rubrics to allow for that choice. Once they figured out that they could actually be creative in their assessments, mainly in our very last Innovator’s Mindset reflection, what they turned in was amazing. Certainly beyond my expectations. Every. Single. One. 
Still, I feel like I could have done more.
Now that it’s the last two weeks of the semester, it has really hit me that the two classes I had this semester are the equivalent of the first class that I ever taught in middle school and then again in the first class I taught in elementary, I am going to MISS them. Every single Monday and Wednesday I laughed, had moments of teacher pride and saw many of them grow in their thinking. Sometimes I caught them rolling their eyes at me, but hey, there are times I’d roll my eyes at myself, too. One of the reasons I love being a technology coach is because I feel like I can reach so many more students by working with their teachers, even if I don’t do it directly. I feel the same way about teaching students who will one day be teachers, and on the way I also figured out that college students are phenomenal people. When you allow them, they love to laugh and have fun while they learn. They still can have a creative side when you allow them. They will challenge themselves as evidenced by some of their EDUin30 videos and how they posted them on Twitter (SO proud of them for that-see examples here). Sometimes I think we spend so much time labeling people with their generation and focusing on what they don’t do that we forget to remember the awesome people that they are and focus on their strengths. In the past, I have been guilty of this as well. Overall, I have learned that it is possible to love students after 14 weeks, and teaching these courses might be one of the most important jobs of my career.
 

I highly recommend, if given the chance, to give being an adjunct a try. It is a truly rewarding experience. When you do, I hope you have someone like my friend Brian Bartel, who is a tech integrator like me by day and an adjunct by night, who answered every one of my questions. All 1001 of them. At least twice (I suspect he’s just copying and pasting answers to me now). Thanks Brian! 🙂

my classroom · reflections

The First Post

The first post is the hardest. It has to be. There’s no established writing style, no inside jokes from another post to fall back on, no knowledge of my credentials or if what I have to say is worth the five minutes you found to read blog posts that will challenge your thinking and improve your teaching. However, when speaking about goals, one of the smartest guys I know asked me “Why not?”, and I couldn’t answer him with anything that didn’t involve me showing a complete lack of faith in myself – something I would never have allowed in my students. Therefore, welcome to my first blog post.
I didn’t set out to be a teacher. To be honest, when I went back for my Bachelor’s degree my own kids were little and the summers off sounded fantastic. Being done for the day when they were done: phenomenal. Spring break. Winter break. Snow days. A magical place called “Teachers’ lounges”. Need I say more?
When I was hired for my first job in a middle school I was terrified. I thought middle schoolers were narcissistic, cruel, and wore their pants down to their knees. They swore like pirates while looking like 12 year olds, made crude hand gestures, and might even try SMOKING for goodness sakes. I was fairly certain that they were going to eat me alive and laugh while they were doing it. As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It took me about three months to figure out that my strong suit was humor and making connections to the students and I loved them. LOVED them. Many of them I loved like my own children. I had been right. They could be narcissistic, cruel, and all the other preconceived characteristics that I described…sometimes, but mostly they had moments of being little kids again loving a five minute hand-eye coordination game, crying when someone hurt their feelings, and were just trying to navigate their way through middle school unharmed which was not much different than what I was doing. I think they recognized that in me, and there was a great deal of mutual respect and affection because of it. Since then, I’ve always said that there is nothing like teaching middle schoolers, and I mean that in the kindest, most wistful way possible.
When I moved to teaching elementary school, I treated my students like a family. I didn’t know how else to treat them. There were days that I saw those kids more than I saw my own. I designed my classroom to look as much like a living room as possible. I had a couch against everyone’s better judgement. “I’d have lice” they said. “They’ll fight over spots” they said. And they did, no doubt. One year I even had to have a schedule on who could sit on the couch at what time, but they did it because they loved that old, ratty, 70’s style brown and orange couch. When they would leave for the year, they would say good-bye. To the couch. But, it was because it had been part of their home for a year. Before I left the classroom, I had so many different chairs and spots to sit that nobody had to fight. I was doing flexible seating before I knew what flexible seating was. Had I known then what I know now, I would have gotten rid of desks all together. Those moments of allowing the students to sit where they wanted, work how they were comfortable, even if it meant me getting down on the floor to hold our reading group, connected the kids to each other and to me in a way that desks couldn’t facilitate. There is more to flexible seating than a choice in where to sit. It helped build my classroom community.
My last experience as a classroom teacher I had looped from fourth to fifth grade with the same students. The students had the chance to opt out of my class for fifth grade and not a single one left. Having the same class two years in a row, especially the class I had, was truly the best experience of my career and I wholeheartedly recommend it to any teacher lucky enough to be given the chance. At some point in that year I discovered that I belonged in education. Actually belonged there, like a club that I originally didn’t want to be a part of. I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without the influence that all my students have had on me. I wouldn’t be the professional that I am if my students, and now other classroom teachers, hadn’t  inspired me to continue to learn and grow. So, for the teacher who didn’t want to be one, and a believer in the fact that everything happens the way it’s supposed to, I am truly grateful for teaching and how it has shaped my life. The education profession is like no other in the type of relationships you create and the influence you have on students, and we are all fortunate that our paths have brought us to students to love, protect, and teach.