growth mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN

Allowing Fear to Write Your Story

I truly believe that our stories make us who we are. Our experiences come together to help us determine how we will react to situations, treat the people around us, and the path we choose to move forward. It’s one of the reasons that teaching is so complicated. There is never an easy way to account for people’s stories and how they affect their learning or the path they’ve put themselves on.

I had two experiences this week that were eye-opening while I was presenting at the #NetX17 conference in Texas. Even though these conversations came from two different people who didn’t know each other at two completely separate times, to me, they were so closely related that it was difficult to ignore.

First, I met Trevor Regan. Trevor speaks about failure and fear, how our brain is wired to make us hesitant to put ourselves out there and take risks, and how purposeful, positive reinforcement can change the way that we react to a situation. Our brains truly are amazing, and word choice can be a powerful weapon for both good and evil. While I learned a ton from Trevor, this concept really stuck with me:

Don't try to defeat fear, dance with it. When we appreciate the role of fear, we can thank it and move on anyway.

Fear keeps us from having amazing experiences when we are afraid to try in the first place. It made me reflect on my fear of getting up in front of people, and how I had to take 18 credits of public speaking in college just to gain control. People often ask me how I “got rid” of that fear, and my answer is that I haven’t. I still have it all the time. I need to take deep breaths before I present, still doubt my abilities, still sweat and shake, and I still get up and do it because I have learned that the feeling of working with people in that capacity is more important and rewarding than my fear and anxiety of public speaking. It’s definitely not gone, it’s just controlled. I danced with this fear, acknowledged it, stepped on it’s toes a little, and do my best to let it go as much as possible. The important part is that I persevered because I chose that I wouldn’t let that fear keep me from something I really wanted, but I had to make a conscious choice for that to happen, had to work at it, regularly failed but kept going, and I still actively continue to fight against it every single time I get up to speak.

That same day, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about our stories and when choices need to be made. He said, “You need to decide how you’re going to write your story. Don’t allow it to be written for you.” This really hit home for me. It’s easy to feel in control when times are good, but in times when things are difficult the amount of effort to take control can seem insurmountable. Between those two conversations, it dawned on me that all the times that I have had surprising, positive outcomes from decisions, it has been when I have gone through something difficult, struggled, and have decided to not allow fear of the unknown to dictate my life. But, every single time this has happened, it has been me that has had to decide that I was going to be the one to take control of my situation. When I was a teacher and I began to disengage from my profession after five years, I had to take the bull by the horns and figure out what I needed in order to be passionate about my work again. There was no district, administrator or curriculum that was going to do that for me. It was scary because I had to put myself out there and admit that I had been relying on other people to make me feel happy and successful. Again, and example of when I made the decision and took control of my story.

eleanor roosevelt

So often we sit back and think about everything that needs to change for us to be happy or successful, but fear keeps us from taking control and making those things happen, so we allow our stories to be written for us because then we have someone else to blame and a reason to complain. Then we have no reason to be afraid of failure because we didn’t try in the first place. Change is so difficult, but it’s also a constant. We have a choice about how we react to that change. Are we allowing change to happen to us or are we using change to work to our advantage? Does the change keep us living in whatever fear we’ve allowed our brains to hang on to, or do we decide how our stories will turn out? It doesn’t really matter what kind of change it is, whether it’s the fear of integrating more technology into your lessons, changing jobs, making a personal life change, writing a book…although there may be different levels of anxiety for each of these, if we never try, we have a 0% chance of being successful and we are allowing either our fear or other people write our stories for us. We all have the chance to make decisions that will ultimately change our trajectory. We just need to be brave, persevere, and take control.

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections

Give Me Three Reasons Why

In speaking with a fellow educator and friend at the First conference today, we discussed issues between the administrators and teachers in his district. There is a group of people that desire change, and then there is the opposing group that does not. Relationships are shaky. Trust is missing. The climate is dismal. I’ve heard this story so many times.

He also told me that the opposing group often uses the phrase “That’s the way we’ve always done it” as their why. Now, in being a new admin myself and walking into a situation where we needed to make changes in order to move forward, streamline processes and create some consistency across the district, there are very few phrases that will ruffle my feathers faster, with one of the only challengers being “It is what it is”. Maybe whatever the process is has been done for so long that people have forgotten why they do it. Maybe they didn’t know the why to begin with. Or, maybe they are just satisfied and don’t want to deal with the struggle of change, but saying we will continue to do something because that’s the way we have always done it tells me nothing of what the process has to do with supporting student learning.

How much more powerful would it be if the answer to “Why do we do it that way?” would be a list of at least three why’s as to how it is effective and supports learning? If you can’t give the reasons why, then we need to seriously ask, why do we continue to do it that way? But, if I want to make a change and it’s met with solid reasons as to why it is effective, I will take these reasons into consideration as I think about moving forward. I’m not saying that the change won’t still be necessary, but in recognizing the strengths in how it had been done in the past, possibly adjustments to the new process can be made to make it even better.

always got

If we continue to do things we’ve always done, we will continue to create a system that struggles in moving forward.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

“It is what it is.”

Neither tell me a why. Neither are a convincing argument for being satisfied with the status quo.

#1stEDU

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · professional development · reflections · relationships · Uncategorized

New Beginnings: Five Reminders For Leaders

I don’t typically make New Year’s Resolutions because I feel reflection and change should be fluid, not fixed to a certain date or time, but going into a new school is a time for new beginnings. Within this time of busyness and change, it’s imperative to take time to mindfully focus on certain things that keep us leading the way we would want to be lead.

Remember your teacher’s heart.

You were once a teacher, focusing on all the changes and new initiatives and new classrooms and new kids…returning to school at the beginning of a school year is overwhelming and exciting all at the same time. Don’t forget what it was like to reconnect with colleagues that you haven’t seen over the summer, and anticipate viewing your class lists for the first time. It’s easy to get bogged down by budgets  and making tough decisions that not everyone understands, but when it comes down to it, the people you support and the kids are why you’re there. It’s why you became a teacher in the first place. Don’t forget that.

There is always a place for fun.

dance

Like Ren McCormack says in Footloose, “A time to laugh… and a time to weep. A time to mourn… and there is a time to dance… See, this is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.” There is a time for professional development, training, and planning, but there also needs to be a time for fun. Never underestimate the power of laughter to connect people. So many deep connections can be made by getting to know people on a personal level, and the best way to do that is to give them time to interact in a non-threatening way where they can relax and enjoy themselves. Build bonds. Like each other.

Your PLN is your best asset. Cultivate it.

My PLN, which includes the teachers in my district, are the people that support, challenge and give me the best ideas. As I’ve said a hundred times, I am only as good as the people I surround myself with. Every single day I am amazed with the people that I have had the good fortune to connect with, and I am a better person and leader because of it. I need to be aware, however, that it’s important for me to give back to my PLN as well. I try to do this by being available if they need support, working on projects together, even if we are states away, tweeting ideas I find, and frankly, keeping this blog. If I’m not giving back what I’m getting, I’m not being a very good PLN member.

Model what you want to see.

All. The. Time.

We ask teachers to do this with their students. Model the behavior you want to see. If you want the students reading, you should read as well. If you want them journaling, you should keep a journal, too. Yet, sometimes we don’t put enough focus on leaders modeling what they want to see from teachers. If you want teachers tweeting, you better be on Twitter. If you want teachers integrating tech into their lessons, you better be integrating tech into their PD. Think they should be learning a new tool once a week? Then ask yourself what tool you’ve learned more about this week. There is nothing that will ruin a relationship faster than the “do as I say not as I do” mentality. If you’re afraid of a teacher asking you to show them an example of yours that you’ve asked them to do because you haven’t actually done it, that’s a problem. So, listen like you want to be listened to. Support others the way you want to be supported. Treat others they way you’d like to be treated.

Decide on the climate & culture you want to create.

I really do believe that we have the power, every one of us, from teachers and students to administrators, to create or change the climate and culture. There really are some simple truths when it comes to this. There must be trust amongst all people. They need to feel valued and that what they do actually means something. People desire positivity but are more likely to gravitate toward the negative, so what can we do about that? The amazing part of being a reflective professional is that we have the power every day to decide what kind of climate and culture we want to create in our offices, buildings and district. If we make the changes in ourselves, people will follow suit.

It’s so easy to get lost in both the craziness of the beginning of the year and then the subsequent tedium of day to day, that it’s especially important to be mindful of our objectives and goals, and purposeful in the way that we plan, implement, and interact with others so we are supporting people in the best way we can. Many of us have had the opportunity to work with leaders that we do not want to emulate. Lets decide on the leaders we want to be, and then actually be those people every day.

Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships · Social Media

The ISTE Effect

There is a certain feeling, a certain effect, that going to ISTE has on the majority of the attendees. Sometimes you can see it in their glazed expressions or hear it in the animated conversations as they walk by. The hordes of people come, and then the hordes of people go, and they leave with more commonalities than just their new box of tech tools and vendor swag. Sometimes, going to ISTE reminds me of the weeks just after having a baby…you’re happy but exhausted, you want to remember everything everyone has told you, and your focus is making connections with another human being. It’s difficult to explain the ISTE effect to someone who hasn’t been there, but there are a few overarching reactions you can see wherever you go.

Exhaustion

No matter what role you have at ISTE (attendee, presenter, vendor…) you leave in a haze of complete and utter exhaustion. I was sitting, chatting with my friend Cassie Reynolds who was a first timer, and the look of “I need a nap” was written all over her face. I could tell that it was approaching the time that she needed to leave, but getting up was going to be difficult. The struggle was real. While I think that the level of exhaustion is exponentially higher for first timers, I found myself with a fog around my brain by Wednesday afternoon that I couldn’t shake regardless of the extra expresso shots I was adding into my Starbucks. The amazing Barry Haines asked me to sit and chat about some ideas he had, and I was trying. So. Hard. Had he actually picked my brain, he would have found nothing there. I stared at him with a completely blank expression. I wanted to so badly to say something intelligent, inspiring, and truly helpful, but the more I tried to think, the louder the backfire and clunking noises in my brain became. I did the only thing I could muster at the time and tried for a coherent sentence. I’m pretty sure the sentence had words. Whether they were coherent, well, not sure I reached that goal either. I counted the fact that I don’t think I was drooling as a win.

Learning, even learning about something we are passionate about and challenges us, works our brains into a frenzy. Couple that with the 20K steps Fitbits around ISTE were counting, and you may find that you are the most tired you’ve ever been. But, it’s a satisfied, elated tired. The best kind of tired. When you feel like yea, I just rocked being here and I can’t wait until I can be tired like this again.

The Inspired Glow

This is typically accompanied with a look of awe or a huge teeth baring smile.

It would be difficult not to be inspired at least once during ISTE. Whether it’s in a session or just in speaking with another attendee, there are multiple opportunities to find inspiration. While I wasn’t able to see her keynote because of another previously planned engagement, I heard cries of wonder and excitement regarding Jennie Magiera‘s keynote with words like “life changing”, “empowering”, “inspiring”, and “amazing” (which doesn’t surprise me because Jennie herself is phenomenal). Evan Abramson told me that after attending ISTE this year, he has be reminded why he entered education in the first place. That’s powerful stuff. While ISTE is a technology conference, there are so many awesome opportunities to have conversations regarding good teaching and learning, how to empower and engage students, and how we can be the people our students expect us to be and we want to be for them. Basically, I think it’s because when you’re at ISTE, everyone around you is awesome. Everyone. Not just the presenters or the keynoters, but there is a chance for a professional life changing conversation around every corner.

Power of Connection

And I don’t mean the wifi, because if that were the case, we might have had an issue.

The connections I’ve made through the Twittersphere and going to conferences is something that I have a difficult time putting into words to people who have not had the same experiences. I didn’t make it to many sessions, but my ISTE was complete by the side conversations and connections I was able to have at the Blogger’s Cafe, at the playgrounds, in the hallways, with the vendors (see upcoming post “Vendors are People, Too”) or at dinner. I have worked tirelessly building my #PLN because I truly believe in my soul that I am only as good as the people I surround myself with. My PLN, however, is more than a professional learning network. I do learn from these people, that’s true, but more often than not, they have become my extended family that just so happens to also work in the same industry. My new friend Amanda Glover (who makes me giggle every time I see her Instagram handle of redheaded_tech_child) posted a tweet with #PLF – Professional Learning Family (it did NOT mean Porcupine Leather Futon like Sarah Thomas tried to tell us it did), but after letting that soak in for a minute, I think that it is the perfect way to describe the strong connections that are there for the taking at a conference like ISTE. For me, ISTE is not about the sessions. It is about the connections I make to the people that I adore while I’m there. And I don’t mean in a fangirl way, although poor Jennifer Gonzalez could probably argue that as I knocked over my chair and accidentally pushed someone out of the way to hug her when Rodney Turner introduced us. I mean it in a you-make-me-not-only-a-better-educator-but-also-a-better-person kind of way. I love my #eduweird friends, and ISTE is one of the places that I am able to rekindle those connections and make new ones.

I’ve had discussions regarding the cost of attending conferences and if they are worth it. I actually do understand analyzing the cost when money and resources are tight. For me, however, the personal AND professional benefits that I gain from ISTE are worth the price. I come home exhausted but rejuvenated and ready to take on education. Be a difference-maker. Diverge from the norm. And I really don’t think you can ask much more than that.

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#ISTE17

 

 

 

 

growth mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · professional development · reflections · relationships

Celebrating Our Strengths to Support Others

I like to think that I subscribe to the humble-teacher way of thinking. I did not get into education for recognition or to tell people how great I am. I truly believe that the most awesome people I know show their greatness in their actions and never need to tell a soul how fantastic they truly are. That being said, there are times when it’s important to recognize your strengths. First, taking the time to identify your strengths means you also recognize your weaknesses, and it’s as important to know one as it is the other. Second, knowing what you excel at allows you to be aware of what you bring to the table when you collaborate with others and use your powers for good. So many times I work with teachers who are bashful when I ask them what their strengths are because they don’t want to toot their own horn, but there is definitely a difference between bragging and being willing to recognize your talents and share your ideas. Being humble and sharing your strengths are not mutually exclusive. The more I’ve moved to realizing that I do have ideas to share that would help someone else, on Twitter for example, the more support professionally I’ve received in return. Similar to the idea of if you put positive thoughts out into the universe positivity will come back to you. ‘Er something like that.

I used to have a friend that told me I hedge too much, and I ALMOST started this blog post with “I’m not good at many things, but…” which isn’t true. I do have talents. While it’s easier for me to blog about this now, it has taken me a LONG TIME and a significant amount of effort to get to this point because, I’ve found, that in general, we learn about our strengths and weaknesses best from going through a challenging situation. True reflection sometimes contains some personal and/or professional soul searching. But no matter how we come by these realizations, it’s time that we all start to wear what we know to be our great qualities at as a badge of honor so we can continue learning in the areas where we haven’t earned our badges yet. For example, a few of my strengths are as follows:

I’m an all or nothing girl – Everything I do, I am 100% in. There’s no middle ground… there’s no halfway. While some people might call this obsessiveness, I like to call it tenacity or relentlessness (or at least when people talk about me, those are the nice terms they use). The other day I was in a book study group with a teacher that I’ve known for awhile. She read a quote, and then turned to me and said, “This quote reminded me of  you. How you always seem to move forward even when someone tells you it’s impossible, and you just keep going, no matter what.” Well, this is where that strength comes in. When some people would be willing to let go and would tell me to move on, I hang on anyway, believing that something amazing can come from having faith in and working toward something that seems improbable. The things that are most worth our time and effort are rarely easy, and they typically only come with sacrifice and diligence especially when it appears they are heading toward failure. What this means: if you’re working on a difficult project and you want someone who is going to stick with you to the bitter end no matter the outcome, I’m your gal.

I can read people like a book – Because of my challenging childhood, I learned to read people very early on. I never walk into a room without taking stock of the climate of the room and the people in it. I am particularly good at watching the people I care about and knowing when they’re having an off day. This strength allows me to change my communication style to what people need at the moment which in turn allows me to make deeper connections, and the massive amount of value I put onto the relationships I create is another one of my strengths.

Like I said, knowing these strengths allows me also to recognize areas where I could use additional learning opportunities, even in relation to my perceived strengths. For example, lately I’ve been looking more into implementing balance into my life. It’s very difficult to be 100% into everything you’re doing and not find that your attention needs to be in 100 different places at once, and that’s not healthy. I also need to get better at recognizing that not everyone is like me, and I can’t push expectations that I place on myself onto other people. For example, realizing that just because I take on an additional project at work without a second thought, doesn’t mean that everyone else is going to be willing to do that as well, or just because I’m willing to take the time to create an additional learning opportunity for teachers doesn’t mean that they are going to be willing to partake in it, and that doesn’t make them poor professionals.

We have put so much time and effort in using the word reflection, but don’t take the time to do it often enough, and when people do, it usually revolves around a post on something we need to improve on. This is important, of course, but so is recognizing the great things that all of us bring to the table. When we recognize someone else’s rockstar qualities, it inspires us to be better than we already are. So, take some time and truly think about it. What are your strengths? How do they relate to you’re to-do list of learning either personally or professionally? Because this kind of reflecting is not easy, but it is definitely important when we desire to grow as a whole person.

steve jobs

growth mindset · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships

Be the Change

I had one of those days yesterday where you question how effective you truly are at your job. When you realize that thinking you’re on the same page as somebody and actually being there are two different things. I tried to reflect on my leadership skills to see where it is that I’m lacking…places where I could make change in order to be the leader I need to in order to move people forward. I often see the same struggle in the people around me: the technology mentor teachers that I work with and how discouraged they are when people don’t show up for their professional development, or a technology integrator friend of mine who’s struggling with administration right now in trying to get them to see what’s really best for teachers. It’s sometimes easy to get stuck when you feel like you’re pulling people along instead of supporting people in their own desire to move forward. I questioned whether I had what it takes to even live in this role, and if I was able to actually dig down and find the part that told me I could, where do I go from there?

Recently, I’ve had several discussions about modeling the behavior we want to see. This needs to happen at all levels. If a teacher wants a student to be an effective listener, are they modeling that behavior when the students are talking to them, or are they distracted and thinking about 10 other things? If an administrator is asking a teacher to be a global collaborator, are they connecting with people on a global scale and modeling that behavior? We can’t expect things out of people that we’re not willing to do ourselves. After several lengthy discussions with a few members of my PLN, I came to the conclusion that I need to be the change that I want to see. If I want people be reflective and embrace growth, or if I expect people to be uncomfortable and learn, I better be willing to do those same things myself to show them that I’m walking the walk.

I can’t preach change and stay stagnant myself and expect people to take me seriously.

Recently, my phenomenal mentor has challenged me to learn more about the back end of our technology department. My strength is instruction and teaching and curriculum and not networks and switches and routers. I balked when he first told me this. “I hate that stuff,” I said.It made me uncomfortable because I didn’t understand it. I honestly thought to myself how much of my brain power am I willing to allocate towards learning that. But, I set up some time with my network administrator and I’m slowly becoming familiar with that area. I don’t particularly like it, and it makes me uncomfortable to be so unfamiliar with a large part of our department, but if I expect other people to grow and change, I need to have those same expectations for myself, especially when it’s an area that I don’t particularly like.

So, at a time when initiatives are plenty and I feel like there are many days where I’m not only not on the same page but possibly in a different book, I’ve decided to be the change that I want to see. I could give up and say that it’s not possible to make change, but I’m going to choose the higher road and continue to model this attitude and behavior because in the end it’s about the students and what’s best for their learning, which alone is a good enough reason to make the effort.


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Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections

#oneword for 2017: Relentless

I work on a school calendar. My year goes from September to June (I think July and August are in there somewhere), therefore when I create goals for myself they are initialized in early September. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. We are halfway through my year by then.

I do, however, love the #oneword trend, and after watching my PLN follow through on some of their one words from last year, I have decided to choose my own. My #oneword2017 is:

Relentless

In the past, this word irritated me. It is the number one word that people have used to describe my personality (or some version of it: tenacious, persistent…) and I always felt it carried a negative connotation. I’d connect it to other things people have said to me: “Why are you constantly thinking about that?” or “Why are you so obsessed with (insert anything here)?” or “Just give it up already!” because I didn’t know how to give up. Then I realized…I didn’t know how to give up! I could look at being relentless as negative, or I could turn it into a positive personality trait that would guide me in times where giving up is the easy thing to do. Times when other people might give up. Luckily for me, I don’t do easy. Why? Because I’m relentless.

Jennifer Hogan (a seriously intelligent and kind woman whom I hope to be like one day) posted this quote on Twitter to support her new three word blog post (that you can find here), and I felt it was fitting for the pivot I needed to do in order to rework the definition to be a positive trait:

It’s all about changing my mindset.
My one word this year will guide me in my new career…relentless in creating a new culture within my department which will be more effective in giving teachers and students the tools they need to learn and be innovative thinkers and problem finders. Relentlessness will allow me to come back from failure stronger and smarter than I was prior, and be proud of any gains that I make in the process versus disgusted at not being successful the first time. Hopefully, if I model this trait, others will see the value in it, too.

I will be relentless in my personal life…balancing all of the facets of my family, career, new endeavors, relationships while continuing to try my best to be kind, empathetic, caring and giving. When I’m down and feeling like I’m not good enough for what I am trying to accomplish, relentlessness will move me past that to see what I can do to be better.

I choose to view being relentless as having courage to go on when others won’t, to continue to try to create real change even when it is difficult, and to continue to love, encourage and support others when they don’t see the value in moving forward.

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