divergence · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships

Five Characteristics of the Divergent Teacher

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The idea of divergence is occasionally envisioned as two paths diverging in the wood, perhaps thanks to our friend Robert Frost. However, the idea of divergent teaching is much more than choosing the road less traveled. To clearly define what a divergent teacher is, I (Mandy) adapted the psychological definition of divergent: (of thought) using a variety of premises, especially unfamiliar premises, as bases for inference, and avoiding common limiting assumptions in making deductions. Therefore, the definition I’ve developed for divergent teaching is:

The ability to recognize our own assumptions, look for limitations and challenge our own thinking in regards to teaching and learning. It’s taking an idea and creating new thinking that will facilitate student learning in new, innovative directions for deeper understanding. It is diverging from the norm, challenging current ideas, looking for a variety of solutions, and being willing to fail and grow. (Divergent EDU, 2018)

Divergent teachers create experiences that encourage learners to consider and explore new ideas within a culture where all individuals (educators and students) are supported to step beyond their zone of comfort by developing new ways of thinking and promoting more in-depth learning. In education, we often place emphasis on convergent as opposed to divergent thinking. Although both are critical to the process of learning, fostering divergent thinking promotes the creation of new ideas or unique wonderings, while convergent thinking is necessary for engaging in critical thinking and being able to analyze problems using information and logic. More than ever, in today’s world, we need to empower learners to explore new possibilities and ideas by fostering divergent thinking, expanding on creativity. Carving out time for learners to ponder their curiosities and explore their wonderings inspires our youth to stretch their thinking to ideate. Following ample time to consider various ideas, learners then benefit from reflecting and retooling their work which entails convergent thinking. In my (Elisabeth) book, Take the L.E.A.P., Ignite a Culture of Innovation (to be released in January 2019), we will explore this concept more deeply in addition to how we can foster the conditions to empower learning and inspire a culture of innovation.

We (Mandy and Elisabeth) came together as a result of our shared passion for challenging conventional thinking and sparking innovation through fostering a growth and an innovator’s mindset within a supportive culture that embraces responsible risk-taking, deep reflection, and the ability to demonstrate tenacity as we experience and overcome failure, leading toward improvement.

Divergent teachers have certain characteristics that differentiate them from others. While the definition requires them to challenge current ideas and their own assumptions, there are additional qualities that are ingrained in their divergence. The combination of these attributes results in a well-rounded, innovative and divergent thinker.

Deeply Reflective – Divergent teachers recognize that significant growth cannot happen without taking time for deep reflection. They know how they reflect best, whether it’s through writing, meditating, or driving quietly in their car on the way home. They have strategies in place to allow them to take the time and hold reflection in high regards as one of the reasons they are who they are professionally. Deep reflection goes beyond what could go differently in a recent lesson. It also leads an educator down the path of discovering how their own beliefs and assumptions affect what they do in the classroom or how they perceive and communicate with others. Understanding the difference between surface-level reflection and deep reflection is an integral part of divergent thought. Once you understand what you believe, how it affects what you do and how you are perceived, it is easier to change your behavior and push yourself forward.

Voracious Learner – At all stages of our journey, we embrace learning as an ongoing process. There is no finality, but instead continuous growth. Divergent teachers learn in multiple ways; through reading, reflective writing, peer observations, collaborative conversations, seeking meaningful feedback, and considering how they can improve through goal setting. They are cognizant to learn from their mistakes and retool to move toward growth. With the understanding that transformation doesn’t happen overnight, they frequently immerse themselves in opportunities that foster 

deep learning and then employ new findings to the classroom. In doing so, they identify what works best for their learners and share with colleagues to contribute to the culture of learning.

Tenacious – Tenacity is a hallmark of anyone who assumes the risk and is passionate about moving forward. To fail and repeatedly get back up and try again takes the kind of tenacity that requires a significant amount of strength, reflection and personal growth to achieve. Sometimes failing can be difficult especially if what we tried is particularly far out of our comfort zone or something we really wanted to go right. This trait of a divergent teacher keeps them moving forward when others might quit. Demonstrating tenacity inspires others to understand that just because something is challenging, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth our continued effort. Our goal is to persevere while lending encouragement and support to others as well.

Mentor – Divergent teachers have a sincere appreciation for uplifting and adding value to others to elevate education. They grasp that it’s essential to inspire collective efficacy, producing a positive, long-lasting impact on learner achievement. In addition to providing support through developing trusting relationships, they demonstrate help-seeking as well, contributing to the understanding that we all have strengths to contribute. We often reference collaboration as a necessary component of effective teaching and it is. However, collaboration should be the baseline expectation. Mentorship brings an additional quality to collaboration that focuses on not only the give-and-take of collaboration, but also the guidance, support, and high expectations that only a mentor can provide

Courageous – Divergent teachers understand the importance of taking thoughtful risks. However, just because they understand the unmatched learning that can occur when risks are taken doesn’t mean that they don’t fear taking risks. They may still feel anxiety (especially if they work in a compliance-based culture) but they are courageous to move forward anyway because they understand the reward outweighs the risk. This characteristic often has the potential to spark courage in others too. When we are transparent and demonstrate the risks we’re taking, along with our vulnerabilities, we inspire others to join hands with us, collaboratively creating enhanced learning experiences for our youth.

As we strive to transform learning experiences, developing unique opportunities for students to engage in divergent thinking and leverage their strengths to shine, we benefit from employing the characteristics of the divergent teacher. Embracing these five characteristics has direct implications on the culture of learning, and we simply cannot afford to remain complacent. Innovation and divergence are more than an act, it is a way of thinking and being. Stretching ourselves encourages learners to do the same. As you move forward in your learning journey, which characteristic will you focus on and employ to grow as an educator? 

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Mandy Froehlich is the Director of Innovation and Technology for the Ripon Area School District in Ripon, Wisconsin where she supports and encourages educators to create innovative change in their classrooms. She consults with school districts and post-secondary institutions around the country in the effective use of technology to support great teaching, as a Google for Education Certified Trainer and has presented on similar topics at conferences such as CUE, TIES, FETC and ISTE. Her first book, The Fire Within: Lessons from defeat that have ignited a passion for learning (#FireWithinBook), discusses mental health awareness for teachers. Her book based on an organizational structure she developed to support teachers in innovative and divergent thinking, Divergent EDU: Challenging assumptions and limitations to create a culture of innovation (#divergentEDU), is set for release late 2018.

Elisabeth Bostwick is a teacher who’s passionate about sparking curiosity and unleashing creativity to empower learning. She continues to be a leader in education as she avidly seeks alternative methods to innovate in the classroom and support systemic change for learners to thrive. Driven to elevate education and support educators in their journey, she consults with school districts to support cultivating the maker mindset, leveraging technology to enhance learning, and fostering a culture of innovation. Elisabeth presents on these topics and more at conferences including ISTE, NYSCATE, and Model Schools. Her first book, Education Write Now Volume II, Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture, co-authored with nine other passionate educators, will release in December 2018. In early January 2019, her second book, Take the L.E.A.P., Ignite a Culture of Innovation (#LEAPeffect) will be released.

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships · Trust

People Are More Than Their Roles

I am a Director of Innovation and Technology. That is my role title. For people who don’t know me in my “every day” position, that usually surprises them because in professional conversations or interactions on social media I rarely speak of technology. Why? Because I don’t believe it to be my biggest strength nor my only passion. To silo me into the role of a technology director (networks and Google admin panel and servers and even just technology integration) would be a very low-level use of what I consider to be my strengths.

Part of the reason for this is because I don’t consider myself to be particularly technology savvy. I listen to directions and pay attention and I’m not afraid to just push buttons and pray it works (particularly in the case of projectors and copiers – seriously, they hate me). If I need to know how to do something I reach out to my PLN or I Youtube it. I’m not technology savvy, I’m just not afraid to try something and fail in that arena because I know I can try again until I make it work. That’s not necessarily a skill, it’s a mindset.

The second half of this reasoning is because I don’t believe technology integration is about the devices or infrastructure even though I recognize the importance of having both of those that work. A discussion about technology integration should start with pedagogy, classroom management, and how it’s not the technology that makes the difference in learning, it’s the teacher. As a student, if my teacher has me complete an online worksheet on my Chromebook or they have me create a digital portfolio with a variety of multimedia and reflective pieces on my Chromebook, it’s not the technology that has made the difference in learning as the device hasn’t changed. It’s the teacher’s instructional choices. Therefore, my conversations typically center around good teaching, leadership, personalized professional learning, and supporting teachers in becoming innovative, divergent thinkers.

Therefore, if you look at me and think “technology only,” you are severely limiting not only my potential but also any kind of higher-level benefit I could bring to the district in general.

I’m using myself as an example, but I’ve seen this happen over and over when stringent perceptions of a role are placed on people without looking deeper into the person and their strengths and passions. I’ve seen phenomenal phys-ed teachers who seamlessly integrate technology into their students’ learning in ways that are real-world and make sense, but they are not thought of as being leaders in the area of technology because they teach phys-ed. I’ve worked with library media specialists who have an affinity for coding and robotics but aren’t looked at as having skills beyond choosing books and digital citizenship lessons. And when I see this, I think to myself what in the world are we missing out on by placing such limitations on people? Think of the wide variety of people we work with every day who bring so much more to their role than we give them credit for. Are we even taking the time to form relationships with people in such a way that we know when we are placing the limitations?

Recently, I had the pleasure of getting to know one of our teachers a little better as she stopped in our department over the summer and chatted with me about The Fire Within. I learned that she had a strength in creating connections with students, strategies to make that happen, knowledge and concern over mental health issues, and she believed wholeheartedly in the importance of deep, meaningful relationships that in a role may even seem more connected to what a high school counselor might encompass. In my head, I questioned why we hadn’t used this person, who is highly respected in the district, to speak to the rest of the staff on the topic. Why hadn’t we recognized this particular strength and utilized her passion and knowledge to improve everyone around her? Have we not taken the time to notice? Or were we just comfortable siloing her into her role?

I don’t think that this is done intentionally. I think that when this happens it’s typically just an oversight as we focus on our everyday tasks and to do our jobs to the very best of our ability. It takes time and energy to form the relationships deep enough to recognize strengths that go beyond the role. My programmer is a perfect example of this. In looking at a typical role of a programmer, you might think of someone who’s strength is coding, writing scripts, and good with the student information system, but their affinity for computers takes away from their people skills. To the contrary, it took me about a month of working with her every day to realize she has some of the best customer service skills I’ve ever seen in a technology department position. She loves people and people love her. I have learned so much from her as she sometimes schools me in this area even though I consider myself to be adept at customer service. Because of this, I have asked her to help me with new teacher training, I often ask her to read emails and listen to how I’m going to address issues with teachers or students to get her opinion on how I’m going to handle the situation. I may be her boss, but she is my mentor when it comes to improving my people skills. My computer programmer is my people skills mentor. Let that sink in a little. And had I not taken the time to recognize that, it would have been a major loss for both myself and my staff. It’s so important that we take the time to find what drives people. Their passions and strengths outside of their role need to be discovered and recognized so we can really support and appreciate the whole of the people we serve.

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Climate · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships · Social Media

Is it better to be kind or right?

I am on Twitter because my friends are there. The ones who push my thinking and who I want to see what they are doing professionally because they make me a better person. I wholeheartedly agree with Aaron Hogan‘s famous quote, “Twitter won’t change your life, but the educators you meet there will.”

There are times, though, when I feel like Twitter is like being back in the school playground at recess. Realistically, most of us have the desire to get along with everyone, but there will always be people we gravitate toward because of similar interests, opinions, etc, but there are other groups of people who have similar beliefs who stick together, and hypothetically, (especially) because we work in a human-focused profession, we should be able to disagree respectfully and remain kind. Lately, I feel like the difference between pushing someone’s thinking and arguing in an unprofessional fashion have been separated by a very fine line. And I, honestly, don’t think that challenging thinking and rudeness should have a fine line. I think it should be very, very thick, in fact.

When someone challenges my thinking, I feel like I’ve had an ah-ha moment. I have found some way that I know I can change my own practice for the better. It leaves me feeling invigorated and ready to move forward. They have probably acknowledged what I’m doing right and have pointed out an area where I could grow with HOW I could change. Maybe they have kindly suggested a resource or person who might help me. I have probably asked more questions for clarification. Overall, it’s a good experience on both sides. This kind of push is why I get on social media. I am a better professional now than I was prior to Twitter.

What I don’t understand is when the need is so high to be right that the basics of human kindness are completely forgotten. In any argument, there is always an element of truth on both sides, even if that truth is the perception of being right. And as I’ve said before, in many instances, it is not our job to tell someone they are wrong, but instead to shift their perception. We will never shift perception with words that make people’s walls go up. The second they feel angry, resentful, backed into a corner, or like others are being unkind, they stop listening. So, if just being kind isn’t a good enough reason to push someone’s thinking versus being rude, the logical, reasonable expectation that you will not accomplish changing someone’s mind with unkind words should be. Because if you’re not trying to shift their perception, what are you trying to accomplish?

The older I’ve gotten, the more I understand that being kind is more important than being right.  I’m not going to lie, sometimes, that means I need to check my temper, bite my tongue, and take a break from a conversation because I really, really like to be right. Sometimes, I forget and need to apologize and try harder because I’m human. But, being right should never be more important than a relationship. And if I find I’m not being heard, then I need to either accept that it might not be the right time to change that person’s perception or that I’m not doing a good enough job at being persuasive. After all, we are modeling these behaviors for kids, and we shouldn’t expect any better behavior out of them than we exhibit ourselves.

Kindness

Change · Climate · Core Beliefs · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships

Who Do You Want to Mirror?

I am absolutely hooked on the book The Body Keeps Score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD. It is not a book based solely in education, but it has so many educational implications. From an academic standpoint, the material interests me because I think that the brain is fascinating. From a personal standpoint, I would like to learn more about myself and the people around me. The book is fantastic on all levels.

One of the many concepts discussed in the book is a specialized group of cells in the brain’s cortex called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are the cause of why sometimes when we spend time with someone we begin to pick up the cadence of their voice or the specific way they move. It’s the part of the brain that causes mimicking even if it is subconscious. The part of the chapter that stood out to me was:

“But our mirror neurons also make us vulnerable to others’ negativity, so that we respond to their anger with fury or are dragged down by their depression.”

The author also discusses the need for traumatized people to learn to control this mirroring as to not have their emotions “hijacked” by negative people around them.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I’ve seen it in action. In one of the districts I worked in, there was a school that had an incredibly negative climate. I was between several schools at the time in the position I was in, and this school was the only one that was so negative. I found that if I spent more than three days in a row at that school, I began hating my job. I would complain nonstop. I would want out of the building as soon as possible. I just felt all ugly and yucky inside. After reading this part of the chapter, I’m wondering if that was my mirroring neurons at work reflecting what I was seeing in the teachers I was working with.

This experience made me very aware of how the people I surround myself affect me. I began to connect with more positive people and noticed a huge change in my own personality. I didn’t want to be negative anymore. It was so much more rewarding to be positive. Sometimes, even still, I get looked at funny by people who previously knew the me that was more sarcastic and negative, but I don’t allow them to affect me. There are times that I feel like I’m surrounded by people like this:

but that’s when I know I need to move on to being with my more positive colleagues and friends. I’ve always said that I am only as good as the people I surround myself with and that doesn’t only mean professionally. It also affects everything from my positivity to my self-worth. Everyone should have people around them that makes them feel good, and our brain even functions in the way to mirror those people. So, when you find yourself in a group of people, the questions are: are these the people you want to mirror and are we being the person that others would want to mirror? By being aware of the mirroring phenomenon, we have the ability to change the climate just by making the decision to not be like the negative people around us. Then, ideally, people might see the positives as something they’d want to mirror instead eventually breaking the cycle of negativity.

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leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships · Trust

Leadership & The Depth of Relationships

The other day I was working with the administrative team at a school district near Chicago. We were dissecting the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking and, like many times during this workshop, we began to talk about relationships. Because relationships are the foundation for so much of what we do in education, it should be the focus of any conversation regarding change or growing or improvement.

What we often don’t get specific enough about is the depth of relationships we have with our colleagues. I’ve always felt like I wanted to treat the people that I work closest with like family. It was the same way in my classroom…my students were like my children. Many times there is this unspoken uncertainty about how close a leader should get to their colleagues. I can say with certainty that I spend as much if not more time at work with department people than I do at home with my family. I want to care about these people. I want them to know the actual me. I want people at work to understand that if I ask them how they are doing, I legitimately care about their answer. They need to know that if they are having a bad day, I will stop what I’m doing and listen.

This morning, I was fortunate enough that my YouTube knew I wanted to listen to Simon Sinek (one of my faves) and brought me to this video (honestly, I have no idea why it’s called Do You Love Your Wife – don’t let that throw you off from watching).

There were two specific points he made that caught my attention in regards to the depth of leadership relationships.

I’ve got your back
He begins the video with speaking about how in the military, they refer to each other as brothers and sisters, and how these kinds of relationships indicate a unique level of closeness. You may bicker and argue things out and tease each other, but if anyone attacks each other, they know that they have each other’s backs. While I would say that I definitely do not have this kind of relationship with all the teachers in the district (not that I don’t want it, but I have yet to get to know them well enough), I do have it with my immediate charges in my department. I have bickered with them and we have disagreed and I have turned around and gone to bat for them if they have been treated unfairly. I am 110% positive that they would do the same for me at all times. We have needed to apologize to each other for things and it has never changed the way our relationships function. What else it means is that I trust them to do their job and they trust me to do mine, they always know that in every decision I make I will keep their interests in mind, and if they go along with one of my decisions it’s because they agree, because if they didn’t I trust they would tell me. That is the kind of relationship I want with my team.

I have cultivated these relationships by taking the time to get to know each member of my team. I know what makes them tick, know their little eccentricities and strengths and weaknesses. I support their weaknesses sometimes without them even knowing because I feel their weaknesses don’t need to be highlighted all the time as they are making growth. Sometimes we all just need support without the reminder of our pitfalls. I have attended funerals, laughed with them until I cried, and have been honest about areas that I need professional support as well and have asked them for it. I am forthcoming about what I don’t know and when I make a mistake, I tell them and I apologize. Creating these types of relationships isn’t rocket science, it’s just treating people like they’re human and in turn, acting like you are, too.

I will follow you no matter what
For me, the most powerful and inspiring piece from the video came near the end when he said this:

Courage is not some deep, internal fortitude. You don’t dig down deep and find the courage. It just doesn’t exist. Courage is external. Our courage comes from the support we feel from others. In other words, when you feel that someone has your back, when you know that the day you admit you can’t do it someone will be there and say, “I got you. You can do this.” That’s what gives you the courage to do the difficult thing…It’s the relationships that we foster. It’s the people around us that love us and care about us and believe in us, and when we have those relationships we will find the courage to do the right thing and when you act with courage, that in turn will inspire those in your organization to also act with courage…Those relationships that we foster over the course of a lifetime will not only make us the leaders that we need to be and hope we can be, but they will often save your life. They’ll save you from depression. They’ll save you from giving up. They’ll save you from any matter of negative feelings about your own capabilities, your own future, when someone just says, “I love you and I will follow you no matter what.”

One of my mentors often asks me in regards to anything I take on, “Do you want to be good or do you want to be great?” and I know that if I want to be a great leader someday, my focus needs to be on building these kinds of relationships because there is no way that when I leave my position anyone is going to say, “Wow, she was a great leader. Remember how she had us use that Trello board for organization? I’ll never forget that. It was fantastic.” They will remember the way I made them feel, the ways I showed them I cared, and how I always had their backs. I will remember about them how they gave me the courage to try to be a better leader and teammate and to pick battles I may not have otherwise picked because of the support I knew I had when I returned to our department. The amount of growth I’ve experienced in this position can be credited to the amount of support that I have received directly from the people on my team. We all took the time to cultivate those kinds of relationships together and it has made all the difference in the way our department functions and more importantly, the positive feelings we have toward everything we are able to accomplish together.

simon sinek

Core Beliefs · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships · Social Media

My Core Beliefs: I’m Only as Good as the People I Surround Myself With

This is a post in the Core Beliefs Series. To read the introductory post, click here.

In other words, relationships are the most important investment I make.

When I was a first-year teacher, I took a one-year limited term contract job to teach cooking and Human Growth and Development to middle schoolers. I had no interest in teaching middle school. In fact, I believe that I had expressed this several times, but in an era where there were 800 applicants to every one teaching job, you didn’t turn an opportunity down. I’ll never forget walking into my office that first day. On the right of the office, on the high shelves, there were boxes of deodorant (a staple for every middle school classroom) and shaving cream. On the left, on the highest shelf, I could see laminated posters. With my elementary training, I conjured images of inspirational elephant posters or a “50 more interesting words than thing” chart. I reached up and brought them down only to discover they were posters of venereal diseases. Images I’ll never be able to erase from my brain. I slowly reached up and put them back on the shelf and wouldn’t go back in that office for a few weeks. Also, I was a terrible cook. I can’t imagine what those poor kids thought as I struggled to teach them even the basics of making an omelet. But, all of this teaching struggle taught me so many important lessons. I realized I loved middle schoolers, which taught me to never pre-judge opportunities. I also realized that many people can teach the content, after all, I had no idea what I was doing content-wise, but I knew I had to create relationships with the kids. How would I have spoken to middle schoolers about HG&D without creating a connection first? The relationships not only fulfilled that part of me that loved teaching kids, but also showed me that I could learn content if I wasn’t familiar with it but I couldn’t teach that content without the relationships.

I have also worked hard to grow my PLN, and when it comes down to it, I have really amazing friends. I know people who are very literally changing the face of education. They are caring, considerate, kind. They value students as I do and spend energy helping others as I believe in. I have been fortunate to meet these people, but it’s my desire to cultivate relationships that has kept me connected and continually learning from them. I do this by not only making time to listen when they are doing something incredible and want to share but also when they need support, even if it’s not advice they desire but just to vent. My PLN is literally world-wide. I have friends in Australia and England and Canada as well as all over the US. What I’m most proud of is when someone tells me they know they can count on me if they need me. That’s how I know I’ve done my job in that relationship, and it holds a very high value to me.

A few months ago, I read an article about Elon Musk and the Neuralink project he’s working on where he wants to have a chip planted into people’s brains. He wants to start with people who have a disability in order to assist them.  His goal is to have it available to the general public in eight to ten years.

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When I proposed this project to a group of teachers, I said to them, “Hypothetically, we could be discussing our current kindergarteners being high schoolers having chips in their brains that function like a computer. What will you do when you no longer teach facts?” The number one response was that teachers would be obsolete, but I disagree. If this would come to fruition, we would need a shift in education that focuses on real-world problem finding and solving, critical thinking skills, creativity, soft skills, innovative thinking and among other things, the ability to create positive relationships. Wait, but students have devices that function as a computer in their hands at all times now (cell phones)! While some people might be afraid of this shift, I celebrate it because our focus would become relationships. We would be able to spend more time getting to know our students and connecting with them, and THAT’S why I got into education in the first place. I wanted to teach kids first, content second.

And maybe I should be more specific, because we all create relationships with our students, but we want to focus on the positive ones. My second son had major speech issues and some small motor skills problems when he was younger. He had started early childhood two weeks after he turned three years old. When he was in an early grade, he liked his teacher. He came home one night and colored her a picture. Spent a lot of time coloring and drawing, which was really difficult for him. He got an envelope and decorated the envelope for her, stuffed the drawing in, and was so beyond excited to give it to her. When I picked him up from school the next day, I waited for him to tell me about the picture and he didn’t. So I asked. He told me that she instructed him to put the envelope on her desk. He didn’t see if she opened it or what she did with it, and she never said anything to him about it. He was heartbroken. In all the rest of his years in school, he never made a teacher another picture or wrote a teacher a note. Now I understand that the teacher was probably insanely busy and doing 100 things at once, but every move we make affects the kids around us and the relationships that we create. Kids won’t learn from people they don’t like. Positive, connected, deeply seeded relationships should be our focus, and every single small moment counts.

Relationships should be the fundamental reason that we are in education. I truly believe that we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with. Our PLN, our colleagues, and especially our students should make us better people. They should give us strength when it’s wavering and a high-five when something goes exceptionally well, just as we would do for them.

I have built my PLN through social media and have taken time to meet them or connect with them either at conferences or via apps like Voxer. It takes time, no doubt, to maintain these relationships, but anything worthwhile will take time. My friend, George Couros, always says that we make time for the things that are important to us. I have found that spending the time on relationships is the best investment I’ve made.

Getting-to-Know-Quote

 

innovation · leadership · PLN · professional development · reflections

Teacher Demo Days: Trying for a more personalized PD experience

Since beginning my administrative position, I am responsible for more professional development days and have been attempting to provide more choice and opportunity in professional development versus the traditional sit-and-get. Realistically, it’s not always easy. Time is always an issue and a lot of information needs to be disseminated in a short period of time. I know I could flip some of it, but I also know that some people need me next to them to learn technology (which is the way they learn and totally fine) and I also know that while we would love everyone to be a professional and watch the video we ask them to, not everyone will, and usually, it’s the people who need to do it the most that don’t. I could send some information in an email, but I find that if the email is longer than about three sentences, people might not read it. So, realistically, I’m moving toward more personalization for professional development, and so it’s a common topic between myself and my PLN that also plan PD. In one of those discussions with my friend Lisa Lamont (who is amazing and you should definitely follow) she had mentioned she was thinking about a poster session PD similar to what you’d see at a conference with her teachers, and I thought it was a great idea. From there, I pitched it to one of our high school teachers who helped me think through the logistics (I wanted a teacher’s point of view in case I was missing something), and it was a go!

I took the poster session idea and built on it. My goal was to give teachers a glimpse into what other teachers are doing with their students when we don’t have the subs or time that are necessary to actually spend time in classrooms for shared professional practice experiences. I hoped that they would be able to take lessons or strategies from the presentations to use in their own classroom. It’s important to note here that even though I’m the Tech Director, I was not requiring anyone to show anything to do with technology. It was about good teaching strategies and activities. Did some people feature technology? Yes, but only because it supported what/how they were teaching. As a group, we discussed the importance of picking out tidbits they could use even if it seemed initially that the topic wouldn’t fit their content area. They were given this sheet of directions at a half-day in-service in January:


Purpose

To give you a chance to showcase awesome things you’re doing in your classroom with students and learn what others are doing as well.

Vision

We will be using our morning in-service on February 9th to view a lesson, teaching strategy, or teaching tool that everyone will be showcasing. You will be working with a partner, so while your partner explains the activity that you’re showing, you will be walking around, and curating ideas for your own students. You will then switch so there is always someone at your station.

Directions

  1. Choose a partner. That partner should have completed the same or similar activity/concept in the classroom that you can both speak about it from experience.
  2. Choose the idea you’d like to talk about.
  3. Choose the way you’d like to showcase it.
    1. Your choice, examples below
      1. Multimedia: Presentation, using green screen, presenting by modeling examples (digital version of hands-on)
      2. Posters, printouts, tri-folds, models
    2. Jason H can print out posters if needed
    3. Chrissy has tri-folds
  4. Fill out this form (they had a Google Form linked) to tell me what you need set up that day.
  5. Begin working!

Teachers had roughly an hour and forty-five minutes to find a partner and begin planning. Their partner needed to have tried a similar strategy in their classroom so both of them could discuss how it worked. It didn’t need to be exactly the same, but similar enough that other teachers would be able to get their questions answered by either presenter. Teachers had to have a partner because we scheduled the day so one partner would walk the presentations while the other presented, and then they would switch. That way everyone was able to both present and see other presentations. While a few groups did take on three people, I discouraged this. For every two groups that had three people, we were down one presentation, which made for less information being shared.

The partners could choose how they would like to present. They could do an actual poster, do a digital presentation of some kind, or demo an idea like the use of a green screen. They could really present the information in any way that they thought was the best fit. This was my attempt at modeling voice and choice since I believe we should be modeling in professional development the kind of learning we would like to see in the classroom.

Because the actual Demo Day was in February, teachers had a few weeks to perfect their presentations. They were not required to be done that day in January. In looking back, this was a good idea. Because they had more time to work, they were able to think through and create quality presentations rather than just throwing something together. It also gave us time to prepare any apps or devices that they needed.

The day of presenting was structured as follows:

9:30am-9:50am Teacher Set-up
9:50am-10:00am Review of how the morning would look
10:00am-11:00am First presenter round
11:00am-noon Second presenter round
Noon-12:20 Discussion and reflection on the morning

When we came back together, I asked for overall feedback for the day. For the most part, I received positive comments. Teachers legitimately loved both sharing and seeing what others were doing, and many pulled me aside and mentioned specifics on how they might use some of the information from the day.  Here were some takeaways from the feedback:

  • Some teachers would have liked to run their presentations differently. For example, have a fixed time when their presentation would start (more structured) or run their topic as a round-table discussion.
  • There were a few teachers commended for innovative, fantastic learning opportunities for their students, but even from these awesome activities, we were able to find ways that teachers could collaborate to bring it one step further.
  • Some would have liked a “heads-up” to the activity prior to the January day so they could have spent more time looking for a partner and finding common activities.
  • A few said that an hour was too long to view the presentations, but we have a small staff, so I think the larger staff that you have the more time you might need.

I was so excited when some people began to compliment others on their topics and presentations. It was a great way to create some community between our middle and high schools who are in the same building but don’t typically work together. Overall, it was a great experience for both me and the teachers who participated. I was able to see them get excited over what their students had learned and accomplished, and give them a chance to showcase the amazing things I know that they’re doing every day. If I’ve missed information or you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships · Social Media

The Rules of Teacher Engagement

So many times we talk about teacher engagement in the form of how engrossed they are in their professional learning. However, as I’ve started speaking and working with educators on a larger scale, I’ve come to realize that engagement has more to do with the depth of the relationship that an educator still feels they have with their profession than it does their professional learning.

The teaching profession is a passionate calling. We serve kids. We desire to create better people than we consider ourselves to be. We work tirelessly, lose sleep, and get excited over an extra package of copy paper found in a back cupboard. But, year after year, we are required to do more with less. Classroom budgets dwindle while expectations rise, declining quality of health insurances leave us with more bills for general care yet our salaries rarely go up, and new challenging behaviors and mental health issues surfacing in both teachers and kids wear educators down.

Even though I would say that I’m highly engaged in my profession now, I wasn’t immune to this issue. When I hit this point in my career, I began to say things like:

“If the district is not going to do __________ for me, they can’t expect me to do __________ for them.”
“(student’s name) is doing that to me on purpose just to irritate me”
“I’m not doing _________ because the district doesn’t pay me to do that.”

I was so incredibly tired of being told that I needed to know my kids the best but then told to follow whatever canned curriculum had been adopted because some random curriculum designer must’ve known my kids better than I did. I was hurt and I didn’t feel trusted with my professional decisions that I had partially made with a very personal heart. I had checked out, and I felt I was done.

At first, I thought I was just in a district that wasn’t providing me with what I needed to be the teacher I was destined to be, which might have been true, but only to a point. However, after a district and position change, I realized that the actual issue was something that I didn’t necessarily want to admit. The issue was inside me. It took me taking control of the way that I viewed my profession through deep and sometimes difficult reflection to get to where I am today. And I need to say…it’s amazing. There are so many positives that come from being truly engaged in your profession. I am less stressed. I am a better leader and educator. I appreciate students and the quirks that make them special. I am more open to diverse opinions and ideas. I know my value. I recognize the value in others. I know my place in the education world.

Most importantly, I am happy.

When I decided to take control of my engagement, I did a few things that anyone could do. The most important one I made, however, was the decision to just be better. I knew that in order for me to love education again, the changes had to start with me.

I practiced reflecting & developed my core beliefs
My reflective thinking shifted from what other people had done to me to what I could have done better. I stopped focusing on the fact that sometimes other people’s decisions affected the outcome of something I was doing, and started focusing on what I could have done differently in the situation. When I realized that I had more control over my world than I thought I did, I was able to drive myself forward in spite of what others were doing around me, and focus on the people that were willing to support me instead.

My practice in reflection continued when I started blogging but really didn’t develop until I realized that my blog was about my own reflection for me and not writing for someone else. It was about getting my own thoughts in order to create headspace and develop my core beliefs. I’ve written about my reflection and beliefs before in my post What Is the Point In Blogging?

I grew my PLN
I have wholeheartedly recognized that I am only as good as the people I surround myself with. I have worked hard to connect with people that are amazing at what they do. I have multiple mentors because everyone has different strengths and can help me be better in those areas. I have a wide range of people I’ve connected with to the point that at any given time with any question I have, I know multiple people I could reach out to that would help me, and I have complete faith in their abilities to do so. I have used Twitter mainly to grow my PLN, but I’ve also utilized Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, as well as connected with people in person at conferences. I’ve focused on growing my PLN worldwide because I want to be challenged by a wider range of ideas and opinions.

I focused on relationships
One strength I have is creating relationships, and if you’re growing your PLN, relationships still need to be at the forefront. It’s not enough to be connected with them virtually or superficially, the relationships created in these places need to be cultivated and nurtured. Like any relationship, that takes time and effort. I do the same with the people around me. I often hear, “I feel like I have a connection to you” from people, but it’s really just because I legitimately care and will do whatever I can for the people I care about. Minimal effort into relationships will result in minimal connection and minimal support from others. People can sense when they are not seen as important, especially if they’re only connected with when there’s a need for assistance.

I read books
I began setting a goal for reading for myself, just like I had for my students. I also had a long commute so I would find audio books to listen to. I looked for books that fit particular purposes and what I needed at that moment. Sometimes, it was a book that would push my thinking, sometimes it was one that would support my thinking, and sometimes it was something that would motivate or inspire me. Prior to re-engaging, I would focus on non-fiction books and “fun reading”, but I began to understand that there is a place for both, and if I want to continue growing, I need to connect with great thinkers and authors in the education field. When growing my PLN, some of these people have become some of my best friends.

When I realized that I no longer wanted to be miserable going to work every day, that I owed my students so much better than I was, and that I had control over how I viewed and engaged in my profession, I finally discovered the educator I was meant to be. It wasn’t going to be a degree or a district that gave that to me, I needed to go out and take control of what that looked and felt like. It was me that had to make that decision and take the initiative, and it’ll always be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for both myself and the little people I work with every day.

e-teaching

Mandy Froehlich · Mental Health Issues · PLN · reflections · relationships

Destigmatizing the Depressed Educator

I have used my blog as a professional outlet, as a way to work through issues and thoughts in a way that has allowed me to grow and change as an educator. While the nature of educational blogs requires a certain level of filtering, I have been as honest as I can knowing that the best way we can all grow is if we address all the elephants in the room. But, I’ve had a personal elephant as well that I try to keep in the corner, and I’ve recently realized that ignoring the issue allows others to feel alone and perpetuates the social stigma and allows it to win, and I’m not a girl who likes to lose. Ever.

Education has gotten better at recognizing mindfulness and mental health. We take brain breaks, practice yoga in classrooms and we teach deep breathing exercises to kids. We have started to recognize teachers and their mental health as well, and have begun to teach them mindfulness as well as tips for dealing with secondary trauma and stress. But, in order for our mental health to be optimal, we need to also recognize mental illness, and nobody wants to talk about that. We want to work on getting people mentally healthy without recognizing that some people need additional help and support beyond Downward Dog. It’s a challenge for some to recognize these issues because the parts that are broken you can’t see from the outside. They are not physically obvious like a broken bone or sprained ankle. There are no casts or braces. Because of the nature of our profession, many of us are fantastic at hiding the issues with smiles and fake cheerfulness which seems genuine because we have had a ridiculous amount of practice at making it that way.

We are often told that we need to leave our personal issues in the car when we come to work, and I totally, 100% agree with this. Depression is not an excuse for dumping our problems on our students or the people around us. Our students have enough on their plates. They do not need the personal issues of adults added to them. That is incredibly unfair to do to them. That means, however, for people who are dealing with a true mental illness like depression or anxiety, our ability to hide our feelings is of the utmost importance. It is not optional. It is absolutely imperative that our students only get the best versions of us, even if it is temporarily not the real one.

Depression is not about choosing to feel happy or sad. It is not about choosing to smile or be serious. Nobody would choose to have these kinds of feelings if they could help it. It’s like having a disconnect between the logical and the emotional side of your brain. I have depression and anxiety. My emotional brain is my biggest, most effective and dangerous bully. It tells me every morning that I’m fat and worthless, that I’ve done nothing with my life and I matter to no one. It tells me that the world would be a better place without me and that although other people tell me it would be selfish, I would actually be doing a service to the people so they didn’t have to “put up” with me. My logical brain tells me that part of my brain is defective and I should ignore it, and I hold onto logic like a liferaft to get me through tough moments. Minute by minute I work through my day. I focus on breathing in and breathing out because I find sometimes that I’m  holding my breath. If I can get through one minute, I can get through the next. I have a difficult time compartmentalizing simple things because I work so hard to keep this part of myself under lock and key. I sometimes sit at my desk and cry when everyone else has left the office because I am exhausted from all the effort of being “normal”. In my darkest times, I feel like I have more than a broken heart, I have a broken soul. Yet, I get up every day, go to work, put on a smile, and work with and for our kids. I use humor as a defense mechanism. Sometimes, the happier I seem, the more depressed I actually am, which really just perpetuates the perception that I’m ok. The fact that not many people would know this about me is always a personal win.

I get through these times with a strong support system. I have people around me who believe for me when I don’t believe in myself. Some know me so well they can sense it, which is so important because it’s difficult to talk about. It’s seen as a weakness, and people say, “How can you not be happy? You’ve been successful, you have great kids, you smile and laugh…I saw you do it! You’ll be fine! Just think happy thoughts.” And that’s what my logical brain would tell me, but my emotional brain fights it, and I need my people to keep me afloat until I’m able to do it again myself.

For me, depression is also not a one-time occurrence. I have lived with it every day for at least 25 years. Sometimes I am on an upswing and I have it under control. Sometimes, there is a trigger that sets it off, sometimes it happens for no apparent reason. The idea that depression goes away or is just about being sad is a misnomer. I often think of my upswing times as just being in remission.

So many educators I’ve spoken with who have these same issues have felt a connection with people like Robin Williams. Other depressed individuals who have put everyone else’s happiness before their own, and lost their battle because they had nothing left for themselves and to deal with their own demons. Think of any great educator you know, and they would fit the mold of someone who gives everything they can to everyone around them, and you may never know the internal battle that’s raging. We have people around us every day who need additional support and we may never know it because they are doing the best they can for the people around them.

So, why would I write this post? I wholeheartedly realize that I’m going out on a limb. But, I don’t want people who are suffering from these ailments to feel like they suffer in a dark corner alone like I have. It makes me angry that I’ve thought about posting this before, but when I’ve spoken to people in person about it, I’ve watched their facial expressions turn from one of caring to one of either pity or concern that I might be “unstable”. I want others to know that they are not weird or crazy (a super irritating word for someone with true mental illness), even though they may feel like people are looking at them that way when they speak about it. I want people to recognize that mental health is more than just showing people how to reduce stress, but it is also about recognizing mental illness and supporting people when and where they need it most. I want the lucky ones who haven’t felt this way to empathize and to understand that there is nothing on Earth I’d love more than to not feel sad, so stop telling me to smile because I’m trying. So. Hard.

Most of all, I want to start the discussion. It’s about time.

broken crayons

growth mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · Social Media · Uncategorized

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