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.

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · Uncategorized

Unmotivated vs Lazy? Re-engaging teachers in their profession

I was scrolling through the Twitters yesterday, and found this tweet by Tom Loud:

Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 5.45.12 AM

I love discussing climate and culture because they really can be either detrimental to a school, or on the flip side, make it the supportive, engaging place of learning and innovation that we all strive for. In reading Tom’s tweet, I believe he is saying that when administration allows teachers to be lax on their professionalism, it can cause a negative effect on the culture (and I’d argue the climate as well). If I’m right in my thinking, I totally agree. When professional decisions are determined by “what is easier for me” over “what is best for students and their learning”, it causes a rift between teachers who are working diligently to support students the best way they can and the ones seen as protecting their own personal-professional interests. Working for students looks much different than working for oneself.

The part I would tweak in the tweet is the use of the word lazy. I believe that word choice can send a powerful message, and in this case, I would change lazy to unmotivated. I feel like lazy implies a fixed quality that can’t be changed, while unmotivated implies that one COULD be motivated if the right motivator was found. When I look at the teachers who would fall into this category, I mostly (and there are exceptions to every rule) find teachers who are not inherently lazy, but instead people who are disengaged from their professions. They’ve forgotten why they became teachers to begin with, and focus more on compliance and the students who are misbehaving “on purpose” to just to annoy them. I feel like the question here isn’t how admin can force feed motivation into “lazy” teachers, but rather how can we re-engage teachers into their profession so they are the relationship-building, student empowering, collaborative colleagues that would remove the unmotivated label they’ve been given. What support do they need to become the teachers everyone wants to work with?

motivation

We preach student engagement and empowerment. We work toward students taking ownership of their learning, we attempt to teach to the whole child, and we want them to WANT to come to school. We say we’ve taken the creativity out of school, we are teaching to tests, and we focus on facts. We don’t give enough time for things like passion projects or allow students to not only find what they’re good at but what actually makes them happy. Ironically, we do this same thing to teachers, but then we expect teachers to teach the opposite way from what is modeled for them. How powerful it would be if we could relax on the compliance measures for teachers and give them the opportunity to grow as professionals in the way that they want to, give them learning opportunities where they take ownership of their teaching and learning, give them freedom to be creative in their classroom again, and eventually be happy and look forward to coming to work. For some teachers, they have already done this, sometimes in spite of compliance measures, working innovatively even with the constraints put on them. However, some teachers, just like some students, are going to need additional assistance in finding their voice and being re-engaged in their profession. They need to take ownership, they need to focus on true self reflection, but they also need support. I would prefer to think of them as having the ability to be motivated, and then work towards a goal like that. A school of professionally driven educators engaged in their profession could have a significantly positive impact on climate and culture.

 

motivation-quotes-justknow-me

 

Guest Blogger · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · relationships

The Heart of Connections: Creating relationships outside the classroom

Being on vacation but still desiring to keep up with my blog, I asked my good friend and colleague, Renee Reszel, to provide a guest post. She is the fantastic Library Media Specialist in our district. I worked with Renee when I was a Technology Integrationist and she was a 5th grade teacher, and her greatest strength is making connections with students and providing her class with a family/home like atmosphere. Special thanks to Renee for writing this post!

The Heart of Connections: Creating relationships outside the classroom

Sitting at lunch the last day of school and my mind is still on teacher mode. My mind is always going in different directions on how we can get teachers to “love” or at least “like” professional development. So, at lunch I decided to throw a random idea out to my Mandy. I began by telling her that I went to watch some of our track high school students after school a few times. It was great to see so many of our students engaging in conversations, cheering other athletes on, and competing against other students from our conference. As I watch many events take place, I was greeted by many of them. They even thanked me for coming. Being a new teacher in the district, this made me feel happy that they even noticed I was there and took the opportunity to talk to me.

On the way home I began to think that maybe, just maybe, we should encourage other teachers to attend events of their students whether it is a choir concert, sports event, FBLA competition, or whatever it may be. I feel the big idea right now is to create relationships with your students – what a great way to do it. See them in another area they really excel in. This could also help teachers to understand their students more…why homework may not be getting done, who they are friends with, and more. A professional development that everyone could enjoy and learn from.

As I kept thinking about this idea, I remembered when I taught in El Paso, Texas. I taught at a school that was 99% Hispanic and right on the border of the United States and Mexico. Our students really wanted to learn and get a good education for their future goals. During this teaching experience, relationship building was very, very important. One way we decided to do this was by helping our own families. During our annual food drive during the holiday season, we would choose 20 of our most needy families and deliver bags of food and a turkey to them. The teachers of our school would donate the turkeys. This experience really opened up my eyes to the children I was teaching day after day. Being invited into their homes was something I wish everyone would experience as teachers.. I realized that the students needed family time after school…They needed time to help/babysit their younger brothers and sisters…They had to cook dinner…They had to help Grandma and Grandpa and mom and dad…They had to clean the house… and soooooo much more. This is when I decided to say “getting to know your students outside the classroom is VERY important. I also said:: No more homework. I decided that school was their job and they didn’t need to take it home with them. If they chose to continue learning at home, that was their choice. And let me tell you, there were many that chose to do it on their own. They would share it with me the next day at school. (By the way, we were a Blue Ribbon School and our state test scores we always in the high 90% range.)

I could keep going on about creating relationships with your students like have a Morning Meeting time to get to know them and what they do after school/on weekends; who they hang around with; where their favorite place to eat is; what extracurricular activities they are involved in; and so much more. Another way to do this due to time is greeting them at the door each morning and having a quick “Good Morning” and a special handshake. This quick activity can really tell you a lot of how your day is going to go 🙂

But with this all being said, I feel we need to get to know our students outside of the classroom to produce better learners each day. Get to know them and give them a chance to get to know you regardless if it is a required PD or not.

Renee Reszel

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leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · relationships

Save the Teachers

I have had some of the most wonderful bosses on the planet. People that are truly still my mentors and friends, some of the first people I go to with both personal and professional issues, and who have consistently made me feel valued and appreciated. These people have never turned away from a question or a problem, never abandoned me when I’ve needed them, and who have always had encouraging words for me, even when I’m probably, no doubt, being a little overdramatic and ridiculous. Many of them have made me a better leader, but more importantly have made me a better person because they have shown me that I’m valuable and what I do and say matters.

And as with every position and every profession, I have had experiences where the leadership has felt (and have said) that everyone is replaceable. Now, I understand that most of the time, a position can be filled. But does that really mean that the people who have filled it in the past are disposable? What kind of message do we send about how the district values relationships if we don’t value the work that people are doing?

From a practical standpoint, the pot from which to choose our future teachers is becoming thinner. When I applied for teaching jobs when I first entered education, the market was flooded with wanna-be educators. There were consistently, easily 700-800 applicants for every teaching position. Regardless of what you believe to be the reason, the fact is that the colleges are turning out less graduates in teaching. The sheer number of teachers is declining, which means less applicants, and less of a chance to fill a position with a quality candidate.

From the position of a school district, it is expensive to hire and consistently retrain teachers. In my current district, our teachers go through additional paid training in the “Ripon Way” for three years after they are hired regardless of if they are new to the profession or not. We need to provide training in technology expectations and use, training & PD in literacy, math, Project Lead the Way, Project-Based Learning, standards based grading, personalized learning, continuous improvement…and the list goes on. Also, hiring new teachers is disruptive to the climate and culture of both the building and teams. While sometimes this disruption is a welcome change, sometimes it might be that the person who left had strengths that others relied upon to keep moving forward.

And then there’s from the perspective of just being, I don’t know, a human.

One of my favorite quotes has always been

angelou

When people feel they are replaceable, it makes it seem like nothing they did or do mattered. No matter how hard they tried, someone else could do their job just as well. What a terrible feeling to live with, because the truth is, while a job can be refilled, nobody is truly replaceable. The job teachers do every day is too important to even allow them to think for one second that they could leave tomorrow and nobody would notice. With every change, whether it’s for the best or not, there is a shift in the dynamic of a building or team. There are kids who will miss that teacher for various reasons, either they made a connection at some point or even just taught their favorite content. I feel like the attitude that people are replaceable is the ultimate symptom of a climate that is toxic. For the person who feels this way, they have ceased to notice the individual ways that people are valuable and the specific strengths that people bring to the table. For the employees made to feel like they are replaceable…what a horrible feeling to go to work with every day, especially in a profession where we have little people (and tall people who are still little people inside) watching our every move and listening to our every word, and everything we do matters. I have worked with people who have left and I haven’t felt bad, but that isn’t because they could be replaced, but rather that they had found a better fit opportunity. I have also worked with people who have left who are an absolute loss to the district and its students and their fellow teachers.

I often look at situations and think about how I would feel if someone treated my child in a particular way. I can say with some certainty that if someone made one of my children feel like they were replaceable, momma bear would come out so quickly that one might actually miss the transformation. This case fits the Angelou quote exactly…they may forget what you said and did, but the feeling of not being valued, that’s not something that will ever be forgotten.

This is one of those cases where true reflection is necessary because this is a major climate/culture issue. Do we value our fellow colleagues, or do we just look at the bottom line when they leave? When we get a resignation letter, do we think, “Shoot, I hate interviewing” or do we first conjure the individual strengths and recognize what a loss that person will be? Are we retaining our staff by creating an atmosphere where their professionalism and individuality is explicitly valued and celebrated? If we are not, the personal and professional toll on our employees is costing so much more than the monetary cost of replacement to the district.

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

Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat

If I could choose one of my goals in which I was guaranteed to make happen prior to leaving education, it would be to create leaders who are engaged in their profession, energized to create meaningful change, and are willing to spend more time outside their comfort zones. I want people to love their jobs. I want them to make the people around them love their jobs. Students are watching our EVERY MOVE. If we model our love for learning and education, the students will most likely follow suit.

To me, to support teacher leaders in reaching the level where they feel this way about their profession and working with kids would be the ultimate accomplishment. Ideally,maslows-hierarchy-of-needs every education professional should have the potential and motivation to do just this, but I honestly think that there is a hierarchy of needs that needs to be met to reach professional “actualization”. We often talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs when looking at students and why or why not they might be successful in their learning, but I think that when you look at adults and their professional lives, a similar case could be made.

So, for example, if a teacher struggles with belonging in their grade level team, how does that affect their ability to try something new or think innovatively? When you spend so much of your time outside your comfort level just by being with the people that you work closely with, are you willing to push outside your comfort zone in other areas?

Another example: if potential leaders don’t feel like their jobs are secure or they don’t feel safe in their jobs for various reasons, how much can we expect that they are willing to become engaged in their profession, energized to create meaningful change, and willing to spend more time outside their comfort zones? There are many reasons that teachers might not feel safe (physically, mentally, and emotionally) even though that might sound ridiculous at a school. I worked in a school where some students with behavior issues were becoming violent, and teachers and paraprofessionals were being bruised and injured by students on a regular basis. The anxiety of being injured by an angry student could affect the feeling of being safe, and I’m positive that this is not a specific incidence, but instead more commonplace than the public would even believe.

I’ve also been involved in situations where employees are nervous for their jobs for various reasons that might or might not have to truly do with their performance (political, cultural, budget cuts, errant leadership). If any employee doesn’t feel like their positions are safe, or they feel like they could be “fired” for trying something new, they will be less likely to rock the boat. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we want these leaders to do, whether they reside in administration roles or teacher roles. We WANT them rocking the boat, thinking innovatively, pushing others to do the same. Yet, if they don’t feel safe to try new ideas, don’t feel safe to fail because their jobs are on the line, they will be less likely to do these things.

Many issues that can stop a potential leader from moving forward and reaching a level of professionalism that would keep them fulfilled and provide them with opportunities to create real change reside within issues in the climate and culture of the district. Realistically, shifts in climate and culture need to happen in order to truly give everyone this chance, but while they are happening and everyone is shifting into the new normal, here’s my question:

How can you create much-needed change in a classroom or district when in order to stay safe you feel you need to maintain the status quo, but to create the change you need to rock the boat?

I’m not actually sure I have the answer to this. So many times I feel districts are wrapped up in every new initiative that they subscribe to, that they forget to go back to the basics. (climate, culture, mindset, effective leadership, embedded support). They forget that every teacher, like every student, has different needs and personalities, and in order to bring them up to being the professionals that they desire to be, we need to give them the support they need to not only function, but then excel as well. So, what can a professional do to move forward when their basic needs aren’t being met? Is there a way to recognize those needs and get them met even if the source is external? As a district administrator, how can I find these needs and support the staff to create the leaders that rock the boat? And how do I find and support the teachers who have been told to sit down so often, that they don’t remember what it’s like to stand up?

gates

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 · my classroom · professional development · reflections

Student & Teacher Boredom: What can we do?

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

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

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

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

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

duckworth twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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