Five Ways to Feel Better About Where You Are

We are reminded everywhere we turn in education that we need to be reflective professionals. This means thinking about our practice, our attitude, our relationships, weaknesses, and strengths and constantly reassessing if we are doing what’s best for the people around us. If we combine that with the empathy that we are told to have, it can mean that we spend a lot of time stewing about things we’ve done wrong. It can even make us feel guilty about the things we don’t know how to do yet. Feel guilty enough and all of a sudden we are miserable and trying to figure out how we can be better constantly with no rest to appreciate where we are.

Growth is a journey. There is a continuum of feeling accomplished and looking for the next thing. It doesn’t need to be that you are either growing or happy like there is some invisible point where all of a sudden you’ve gone as far as you can and you can look back and be satisfied with everything you’ve done. You can do both. You can be both happy and have the desire to grow. You can both appreciate how far you’ve come with understanding how far you need to grow. It’s not selfish or boastful to be appreciative of how far you’ve come, and it doesn’t hold you back from growing any faster when you don’t take the time to celebrate little accomplishments.

Here are five ways to feel better about where you are:

Appreciate the now
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terrible at taking a moment to appreciate how far I’ve come. When I accomplish a goal I immediately look forward to the next one which means I’m constantly wondering what I need to do next. Not only is that a source of stress that I’m placing on myself, but what is the point in setting goals and reaching them if you never take a moment to reflect on the journey to get there? Allow the positive feelings of reaching something you’ve worked hard for to fill you up and enjoy the moment? While looking forward is valuable, keeping an eye on the rear view mirror can remind us how far we’ve come and the mistakes and celebrations we had along the way, and living right in the moment helps us understand why we are doing the things we’re doing in the first place. It provides perspective we might otherwise lose.

Let go of the guilt
There is a certain amount of guilt that accompanies educators when they feel like they are not learning enough, doing enough, moving forward fast enough for their students. We think that it’s all fine and dandy that we know what we know but there’s so much more out there to understand. And yet, because we are human we also have families to take care of and just the everyday logistics of teaching, and moving forward as quickly as we would like becomes nearly impossible. Cue the guilt. However, guilt for that reason is such a waste of energy for something that we have very little control over. Keep learning. Keep moving. Fight against becoming stagnant. Be happy with doing your absolute best and understand that one day you’ll get there. Take control of the things you actually have control over. You’re on your learning journey exactly where you’re supposed to be. Enjoy the journey instead of feeling guilty about not being further down the road.

Stop trying to be someone else
For me, this one usually came in the context of social media. I’ve written about this before in We Allow the Way Social Media Makes Us Feel. I would watch everyone around me and wonder why I couldn’t be doing more. More podcasts. More blog posts. There’s always more that could make me better. 

I’ve also experienced this with people that I’ve worked with. When I was a technology integrator I worked with an incredible team. We each brought something to the table (frankly, my contribution was usually to get everyone off task) but there were people I wanted to be just like. Well-spoken, ridiculously intelligent, knowledge in areas I had no idea about. No matter how much I tried I could never be them. When I left the team, a few of my teammates told me that the group wasn’t the same without me. My squirrel moments were the things that forged relationships between the members and gave us opportunities to laugh. I didn’t need to be someone else to contribute to the group. My strengths were mine, and come to find out, there were people on the team who wished they were more like me. While I was wishing I had their intelligence or vast vocabulary, they were wishing they were better at forming relationships and all along they were watching me to figure out better ways to do that. The only people we can be is ourselves. We all have something to contribute, and if we are always trying to be someone else, who will be us? Who will fill the gap that only we can fill? While it’s important to keep growing, our current strengths can be what is needed right in the moment. 

Set mini-goals
Set goals within goals and then take the time to celebrate meeting them. Setting a large goal without mini-goals can feel like you’re always looking forward without ever getting the opportunity to celebrate the journey. If you’re working towards a graduate degree celebrate finishing another class. If you’re writing a book, appreciate the chapter you just knocked out. If you are trying to improve your practice, celebrate the day your newly planned lesson goes smashingly well even if you have so much more that you want to implement. Just take the day to live in that feeling and  feel good about yourself and what you just did. Bask in the glory of feeling awesome. You can start looking forward again tomorrow.

Share what you know with others
One of the most effective ways to celebrate how far you’ve come is to actually share your knowledge with others who are still working on their own journeys. Not only does it help them move forward to where they want to be, but re-living what you’ve learned and proudly teaching it to someone else is a great way to appreciate your growth. Also, one day someone else who is a little farther along than you in an area is likely to pay it forward and do the same for you. 

Learning and growth should always be the goal. Consistently moving forward and aiming to be the best person we can is an appropriate way to show respect to our colleagues and ourselves. However, being so focused on goals that we lose sight of the awesomeness that we have accomplished on the way only sets us up for constant guilt and possible feelings of inadequacy when there’s no reason for it. Taking the time to both be happy with ourselves in the present while continuing to look forward to be better allows us time for reflection and celebration before taking another step in that direction.

The Feels of Learning Something New

I was asked to work on a new project where I was to design and develop a resource website for a school district’s technology department. When I first agreed to take on the project I was unconcerned about what I was supposed to be doing. Resource website. Pffffttttttt. Even though I would consider myself to be far from a pro, I could build a simple website in my sleep. Not even an issue. Then my contact said these alarming words: You must build it in Sharepoint.

My response: I’m sorry, what now?

I have my fair share of technology background. I’ve been a teacher who heavily used tech, I was a technology integrator, then a technology director. One of my Master’s degrees is even in Information and Communications Technologies. I can work it or learn it with the best of them and I will push every button there is until I can figure it out. Usually.

If he had said Wix or Webs or WordPress or Google Sites we could have just kept moving, but he didn’t. He said Sharepoint. And laugh at me all you want, even though I appreciate Office 365, I’ve always been a Google girl. I didn’t even know at first that Sharepoint was a Microsoft thing. I literally had no idea what it was. When it comes to technology, I can’t remember the last time that I couldn’t even come up with a reference for something new. The only way I could describe my feelings was that of sheer terror.

I didn’t have the time for someone to teach me and I didn’t have a lot of extra time to learn. I was on my own with no direction and I was astounded at how much panic I felt. And like any good reflective professional, I started thinking about all the times I had asked teachers to learn something new that we didn’t have the time to properly train them on or they didn’t have the background knowledge to even begin to move forward. It made me cringe at how many times I had been a part of that process just because of my position. When I discuss the need for professional learning opportunities for educators, which I do often, I’ve always thought of it in terms of responsibility. As in it’s our responsibility as a district to provide educators with these opportunities otherwise we are asking them to do something we have never taught them to do. While this is true, what I was missing was the feeling of being behind and missing something. Of there being expectations that I didn’t know I could make. The emotions: fear, uncertainty, embarrassment, disconnection.

In order to move on, I had to remind myself of what I did know how to do. I knew how to Google. I knew how to find YouTube videos. I went to the Sharepoint site and began to click buttons. I have always believed that the only differences between people who learn technology easily and the ones who don’t are A) they are willing to push buttons knowing it won’t break and B) they rely on what they already know to get started.

It took me weeks to figure out Sharepoint to the extent that I needed to in order to finish the project, but when I was done I felt accomplished and proud of myself that I was able to create what they needed out of something new. It was a risk taking on a project on a platform I wasn’t familiar with. I recognized the possibility that I would need to admit to someone that I couldn’t do the job they asked me to do which added to my panic. If I claim to be a lifelong learner, I better be one. If I want to model growing in an area that I’m unfamiliar with, I better be willing to take risks. That feeling – the one of shock and nervousness and doubtfulness that I would be able to learn something – will not be forgotten anytime soon. I believe these kinds of experiences, when we notice them and do our due diligence to reflect, is what keeps us grounded and connected with others in our field. It generates empathy. It guides us and helps remind us how we want to treat others and provide a supportive environment so we don’t need to go to school feeling bad about ourselves because we just don’t know.

Image from Smartandrelentless.com

Growing a PLN is More Than a Numbers Game

Growing your PLN is one of the most powerful things you can do for your own professional learning. Period. But, I find that people don’t always know what it truly means to “grow it” and how to maintain it. It is more than a numbers game. It is more than connecting with the people who can “do the most/best” or who are perceived as knowing more or better. When done right, there is no doubt that it’s a lot of work, but it’s also, for me, one of the most rewarding parts of being an educator.

Growing your PLN is more than how many people follow you
There is no doubt that in order to grow your PLN you need to connect with lots of people but is not the numbers that you have as much as it is that the more people you connect with the better chance you have of finding the people you have a connection with. There is a difference. So while you should go out and follow who you can that would seem like you may have similar interests, do it with the idea that you are not trying to increase followers/following as it is that you are looking for the right people.

A connection doesn’t maintain itself
Once that you have found people that you connect with, it takes an effort to maintain those connections. It means that sometimes you have conversations that are silly or seem unsubstantial in order to maintain a relationship. A PLN is all about relationships and putting forth the effort to keep them strong. It may mean sharing your story or showing your vulnerable side, but it definitely means that it is not something that will naturally happen on its own without focus.

Build it before you need it
In regards to PLNs, one scenario I see happen often is that people have a lot of followers or follow a lot of people but fail to maintain any kind of connection with people. Then, when they need help or support, they cannot figure out why their PLN doesn’t seem to notice and therefore lose faith in the process of building it. Missing the step of maintaining the PLN and building deep seeded relationships will result in people being unfamiliar with you and your needs and therefore not as supportive as they could be in a time of need. This isn’t an issue with PLNs, it’s missing part of the process. If you’ve spent time building before you need it, you’ll have no issue finding support when it’s time.

Give as much as you get
To maintain your relationship with your PLN, you need to be willing to give as much as you get. This can be looked at both from an individual standpoint and a group standpoint. It is as important to share your ideas and the amazing things you do with the people in your PLN. Even if you think that your ideas aren’t as good as someone else’s, there will always be someone that will hear your thoughts and resonate with what you say. If you find yourself always just drinking in what your PLN says, it’s time to buck up and give back. From the standpoint of the individual, support must go both ways. You must give as much support as you seek, and support doesn’t necessarily mean only sharing someone else’s posts. Sometimes it means listening to Voxes or doing a hangout solely for the purpose of emotional support.

Sounds like work? It is. But if we seriously value relationships in education, we value ALL relationships. I have learned more from my PLN than I have learned in any class, any Tweet, any session at a conference. I am only as smart as the people I surround myself and only as talented as I am open to their strengths. The amount of effort that I put into these relationships is a direct correlation to what I get back from them and the effort is so worth it.

Why Do Teachers Disengage?

A few months ago, I wrote a piece called The Rules of Teacher Engagement which discussed teacher engagement and what it means when teachers become disconnected from their profession like I did some years ago, and how I took control and turned it around. Educator disengagement is stronger than just not being interested in what your learning or teaching at the time. It’s the complete disconnection to the why behind teaching. It gives people’s minds the opportunity and permission to do things like incessantly complain about students’ laziness, roll their eyes at the teachers who are excited and still engaged, and either do anything they can to work against the administration or just do nothing exciting to fly under the radar. And sometimes the teachers who are the most disengaged expect the highest level of engagement out of their disengaged students, even though they don’t feel that connection themselves.

This came to my attention a few years ago when I disengaged. It was a terrible feeling. I hated my job, looked forward to the end of the day or end of the week, took only what I had home and rarely found interest in anything education-based. I like to tell myself that my students didn’t notice because, for me, it wasn’t the students but the politics of education that disengaged me, but that’s probably not true. They probably knew. And even though I had the sweetest, most hard-working class I had ever had my last year I was in the classroom, I couldn’t pull myself back into the groove to even really appreciate it. It’s seriously one of my biggest professional regrets. Because when the students don’t feel like we care even when they’re struggling (especially when they’re struggling) we have truly failed as educators.

I feel like many of us can think about someone who fits this description. And, like with everything, there’s a continuum of feeling this way. On one side, there is the completely engaged educator, and I feel like I am almost there today (some of the tactics I employed to get there can be found in The Rules of Teacher Engagement). So, the first question is: how do people get this way? I think there are a few possibilities to what brings this on, but part of the difficulty of “solving” the issue is that it’s so deeply personal to whoever is experiencing it. That’s why the best prevention is self-awareness and knowing if you’re beginning to fall into the trap.

Personal Hurt
Sometimes, I think what emotionally removes people from education has nothing to do with education at all. It is a personal trauma or adversity that needs a person’s full attention, and it is either so deep or takes so long that people don’t know how to get back into the education groove and find that happy place again.

Professional Hurt
One of the biggest takeaways I had from Rick Jetter and Rebecca Coda‘s book Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank was that when we suffer adversity in the workplace, it emotionally hurts us. We become a little more disheartened with every time it happens. Sometimes, it’s simply about having more put on our plates than any one person can be expected to do. It could also be workplace bullying (which can come in the form of colleagues, parents, administration), an administrator or colleagues who are against risk-taking, or policies that are compliance-based and stifle creativity and innovation. Even a lack of trust for the people around you can cause hurt. And depending on their level of resilience, everyone will have a maximum that when they reach it, they may give up. Even the most resilient people have a breaking point, and reaching that point may cause them to become disengaged.

Burnout
Sometimes, we overuse the term burnout. We say things like, “I’m so burnt out after the tough week.” But, professional burnout is absolutely a real thing, and one of the feelings that true burnout can lead to is detachment. In 2016, Psychology Today posted the article The Teacher Burnout Epidemic (Parts 1 and 2) on teacher burnout which included data that said:

About half a million (15% of) U.S. teachers leave the profession every year (Seidel, 2014).

More than 41% of teachers leave the profession within five years of starting, and teacher attrition has risen significantly over the last two decades (Ingersoll, Merrill, and Stuckey, 2014). This provides clarification to Ingersoll’s (2012) oft-cited estimate that 40%-50% of new teachers leave within their first five years on the job.

TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project) reported almost 66% of the nation’s best teachers continue to leave the profession for careers elsewhere (Chartock & Wiener, 2014).

It is clear our teachers are struggling, but we should refrain from placing the blame on them. Rather, consider the demands and unsustainability of the job.

…teachers are less likely to be able to deliver high quality instruction when they are not able to decompress (Neufeldnov, 2014). Stressed, overworked, frustrated teachers are less able to connect in positive ways with students and to offer students the best instruction. (Rankin, 2016)

Some of the symptoms of burnout include:

  • Consistently being emotionally and physically exhausted accompanied with dread of what might happen the next day
  • Impaired concentration that can get worse the longer it continues
  • Weakened immune system (ie you get sick easier)
  • Other mental health issues like anxiety or depression
  • In the beginning, constant irritability and later, angry outbursts

Many of the symptoms of burnout can affect both a person’s personal and professional life. I thought one of the most interesting ways to handle burnout was found in this article by Mayo Clinic. Among other suggestions to handle burnout like seeking support and identifying stressors, it said:

Adjust your attitude. If you’ve become cynical at work, consider ways to improve your outlook. Rediscover enjoyable aspects of your work. Recognize co-workers for valuable contributions or a job well-done. Take short breaks throughout the day. Spend time away from work doing things you enjoy.

Burnout or not, something I think we could all remember this.

Secondary Traumatic Stress
Secondary traumatic stress (STS) (also known as compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma), as discussed in my book The Fire Within, is when people who hear of other’s trauma and who work with others who have experienced a trauma and exhibit trauma behaviors begin to develop the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) even if they have never suffered a trauma themselves. I included this chart in my book from the US Department of Human Services as the symptoms to look for:

Cognitive

Lowered Concentration
Apathy
Rigid thinking
Perfectionism
Preoccupation with trauma

Emotional

Guilt
Anger
Numbness
Sadness
Helplessness

Behavioral

Withdrawal
Sleep disturbance
Appetite change
Hyper-vigilance
Elevated startle response

Physical

Increased heart rate
Difficulty breathing
Muscle and joint pain
Impaired immune system
Increased severity of medical concerns

STS and burnout have both similar symptoms and ways to handle them. For both, it’s important to recognize when you need professional help.

Regardless of the reason for disengagement, the most important step to take is developing self-awareness and being mindful of how you feel in order to catch it in the early stages. I want people to understand that these feelings are real, and they are not weird or terrible teachers for having them, but there is an underlying cause to their disengagement. Many times I find that educators who are disengaged aren’t necessarily truly happy people, at least not in their profession. And I do believe that it is so much more rewarding to love your job and what you do, and in turn, the students you teach and love will be better people for it, and that’s really why we got into education in the first place.

engagement saying

My Core Beliefs: Focus on the Why

This is the second post in the series. You can find the first post on defining your core beliefs here.

There has been a lot of discussion about the power of why. Thanks to Simon Sinek and his discussions of starting with why, knowing and explaining the why has become the driver for learning and professional discussions (or at least it should be). I truly believe these things about the why:

  • Educators need to know their why to be engaged and have buy-in
  • While “for the students” is an important (and should be obvious) why, it’s not always the only one necessary and sometimes needs to be taken a step further
  • How connected you are with your own why determines your engagement (personally or professionally)
  • When you help students know their why, it will increase their engagement in school
  • When people don’t know their why, they sometimes need to be lead down the path to finding it

Your Why and Purpose
Last summer I saw a video in a session at the FIRST Conference that summarized my feelings better than I could have ever explained. If you haven’t seen this video called Know Your Why by Michael Jr, you need to watch it.

When you know your why your what has more impact because you’re walking in and toward your purpose. – Michael Jr.

I could watch that video over and over it’s so powerful.

I was recently listening to the book The Power of Moments by Heath (which I highly recommend – it has been my reading of the year). They compare knowing your why to understanding your purpose and define purpose as “the sense that you are contributing to others, that your work has broader meaning.¹” In studies that they discuss in the book, they found that when people were only passionate about what they did, it did not necessarily equate to higher achievement in their jobs even though they were happy. However, if they knew their purpose or meaning (or why), they were found to be more likely to go above and beyond the expectations of their positions.

To me, this makes total sense. I know that if a teacher has buy-in into an initiative, they will do everything they can to make it happen. How do you create buy-in? You tell people their why. You show them the purpose, and this has to be one of the cases where the why goes beyond just “it’s what’s best for kids”. They need specifics. For example:

“We are beginning trauma-informed training and implementing social-emotional learning curriculum into the school day to help alleviate some of the trauma-related behaviors. This is better for students because it will help their stress levels, allow their brains to understand that they do not always need to be in fight or flight mode, and will allow them to use more of their brain to focus on learning.”

This is a why that goes beyond this is what’s best for students and gives purpose to the initiative. Our why for teaching is students and their learning. Teachers want to know how the new initiative is going to provide additional purpose and meaning beyond how they already care for their students. When teachers know this, they will attend the necessary professional development even if it’s after hours, they will implement the necessary components into their classroom, and they will tell their fellow teachers about their successes. They may even spend their prep times moving other teachers to get on the bandwagon. They will have complete buy-in. If an initiative hasn’t gotten the kind of attention it needs, I would guess that the majority of the time the purpose either hadn’t been identified or didn’t resonate with the staff.

Know Your Own Why
I don’t believe that there is going to be one driving force for everything we do, although there might be some that are overarching. My family, for example, is one of my driving forces for everything I do. When I taught, what drove me were the relationships that I created with students. Those times when students would come back from the middle school to see me were treasured not only because I knew they had thought enough of me to come and say hello, but because I missed them. I was aware that anyone could teach the content, but not everyone could recreate the same relationship I had with them.

When I moved into administration, my purpose shifted because I don’t have access to students in the same capacity I did as a teacher. Even though ultimately everything I do is to positively affect student learning, my focus is on educators and any and all support that I can offer. Similar to knowing my core beliefs, knowing my why and my purpose for being in education holds me up when I feel like I’m being pulled under. It drives me when I’m tired and drained and don’t feel like I have much more to give.

Also similar to my core beliefs, my meaning might be different than other’s, and that’s ok. What drives a person is incredibly personal, and it will never work for one to just adopt another’s why as their own unless they truly believe it. I have found many times that when educators have become disengaged from teaching, they have often forgotten why they became teachers in the first place. They have lost their purpose.

Students need a why, too
I’ve told this story before, but it is one of my favorites. My son, Goose, incredibly witty and intelligent and finds school a bore, came home from school last year and asked me, “Wanna know the dumbest thing I learned in school today, Mom?” (insert educator mom cringe) “I learned about imaginary numbers, Mom. IMAGINARY. As in they don’t exist. Next, we are going to be learning about unicorns in animal biology. When am I ever going to use this?” I couldn’t even argue with him. I have no idea why we teach imaginary numbers, and clearly, he didn’t either. Did he do the homework? Yes, two hours of it. Was he irritated by the experience? Yes, I believe he actually liked school a little less, even. I wanted to be able to give him a reason, but the only thing I could think of was that he had to take that class, which was enough meaning for him to finish the class with a good grade but not enough to care.

More recently, my daughter told me that her math teacher answered a similar question to a lack of real-world application like this: “I understand that you may not use this concept in your everyday life, but doing math like this exercises your brains. Just like your bodies need exercise, this math makes your brain work harder.” The answer made me smile. The teacher had at least taken the time to find a purpose for what seemed like useless math problems that did make sense. Now, whether that why resonated with the kids or not, I don’t know. But, I feel like she at least attempted to give the kids a greater purpose for doing something that felt useless.

Many times our kids’ purpose for finishing work is getting a grade so they can graduate and possibly pursue post-secondary learning, but that purpose excludes any kind of passion or desire to learn. It’s the reason that students seem so apathetic towards classes, especially in high school. Many times in elementary, they are still excited to learn, particularly about topics they’re interested in, but I think by the time high school rolls around their why shifts from learning to grades, and grades aren’t enough of a driver to keep them engaged. They can certainly have good grades and graduation as one of their purposes, but our jobs as teachers are to help them find their meaning, help them find their why, so they can be fully engaged in learning as well.

knwowhy

 

¹Heath, Chip. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact (p. 217). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.”

Developing My Core Beliefs: The importance of knowing what you stand for

Awhile back, I created a post called What is the point in blogging where I referenced the development of my core beliefs. Very quickly, this is what it said:

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 often speak of my core beliefs. I even address them in my keynotes. While I believe everyone has core beliefs, I don’t know if many people develop them over the course of time by reflecting and actually writing them down. What I find when I speak to people about it is that they are often fragmented thoughts put together on what they think they believe. I know that I developed mine over the course of keeping my blog and looking for patterns. I am positive that, for me, deep reflecting needed to come in the form of writing things down, hence my blog. For this kind of reflection and developing your core beliefs, there needs to be some sort of catalog of thinking to see the patterns, whether it’s blogging, journaling, creating reflective videos that are private or public…but something that can be reviewed and common threads can come to light.

It’s super important to understand that when I began my blog, not only did I feel like I didn’t have ideas that anyone else would want to hear, but I also wasn’t convinced that I even had that much to say. More importantly, I did not consider myself a writer. Not. At. All. I never found solace in writing poetry when I was younger, I did not write short stories for fun, I never did any of those things that would lead me to believe that I could maintain what I was attempting to do. Like most new attempts at a project, it took practice, failure, and actually realizing that I was writing my posts for myself and my own reflection and ceasing to write for what other’s might want to hear for me to become more comfortable with the discomfort of writing. When I grasped that completely, my posts because significantly easier to produce. Because I did not consider myself a writer and never had ambitions to write publicly, I am convinced that anyone can begin the journey of reflection through writing with practice just like I did.

I believe what I wrote about developing core beliefs in What’s the point in blogging with every bit of my professional heart. I am more steadfast in my decisions because I know the basic tenets of what I believe. I can list them off and I can give you information as to why I believe that just off the top of my head because they have become embedded in who I am as a professional. Developing these beliefs has been one of the best “gifts” I have given to myself. They have occasionally been my lifeline when I am unsure of myself and what I am doing, and they have tethered me to education and students in a more concrete way. Most importantly, they are mine. They are a direct result of me taking the time to reflect and find what is important to me. While people might agree with my core beliefs, they may have their own for their own reasons, and that is exactly the way it should be.

Because I believe so strongly about developing core beliefs, I have decided to do a series on mine, not only to discuss what mine are but how I found them and use them hoping that it will inspire others to do the same. They are in no particular order, and no belief, to me, holds greater weight than any of the others (ie the first one I post is no more or less important than the last).


Core Belief: We need to teach people to do the things we ask them to do

My best example of this is when we ask kids to reflect. If you have children of your own and you’ve ever told them to go to their room and think about what they’ve done, you know that you walk in ten minutes later to them playing with their Barbies or Legos most likely completely oblivious to what they were supposed to be doing when they were sent there. They probably sat on their bed for three minutes and rewound the situation in their heads, wondered how long mom or dad would be angry, and then began playing with their toys. At most, they may have thought about how angry they were at their brother/sister for getting them in trouble. They probably did not reason through what they could have done differently to avoid getting into trouble unless you, as a parent, walked them through that process.

The same holds true for our kids in school no matter the grade level. We often ask them to reflect, whether it’s about a goal or assignment or even their behavior with another student, but we never teach them what that looks like. We rarely give them examples and walk them through role play situations with an external dialog of internal thoughts. How to not start your reflection with what someone else did or blaming circumstances out of your control, but instead what role you had in the situation and what you could have done differently. I am positive that I did not learn how to be truly, deeply reflective until I was about 38 years old, and it was only because I taught myself and practiced, not because I was taught in school.

We do this with teachers and professional development as well. We say things like, “Use Twitter” or implement a new initiative but then don’t give them the necessary professional development to learn it. I once had an administrator say to me, “Teachers should be able to learn on their own because they are professionals” to which I responded, “No, teachers should be willing and open to the learning we provide them because they are professionals.” There’s a difference. We need to provide educators with an abundance of (not only the necessary) professional development and follow-up support to do the things we ask them to do with students.

This first core belief has spurred me onto finding additional ways we can provide professional development support to teachers, and has made me aware, as an administrator, of what I am asking teachers to do and if they need additional help in getting there. It may be in the form of buy-in or developing a new skill set, but I try very hard not to ask if I’m not willing to provide the learning. I have learned to never assume. This same idea can be carried over into the classroom. It’s one of the reasons that I practiced everything with my students before releasing them to do it on their own. We practiced procedures at the beginning of the year, for example. We role played and we worked through reflective practices together. While I hadn’t developed my beliefs to this extent at the time. I realized later that this has been an embedded belief even back to my classroom days, and still continues to drive me in my current role.

So, the first “lesson” of developing core beliefs is to begin to write. Even if that “writing” is jotting down three thoughts a day that you had at some point that seems significant. They don’t need to be mind-blowing or deep thoughts. Just three thoughts. You’re not necessarily looking for an epiphany, you will develop your beliefs by looking at patterns. Another option: begin a blog. Whether it’s public (which I recommend) or private, or written or a video blog (vlog), begin to chronicle your journey. The patterns you find after time will help you develop your core beliefs.

You can find the next post in the series on core beliefs here.

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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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Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: When the supports are in place

This is the fifth installment of the #hierarchyseries. You can find the first post here.

Updated 10/9/2019

The purpose of the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation and Divergent Thinking is to give a more concrete look at what supports need to be in place to give educators the best chance at thinking innovatively and divergently. Realistically, in looking at an organization, reflecting on these particular support systems is probably going to be more about plugging the holes that might be found in the foundational levels rather than creating them from scratch. For example, you may have teachers with a growth or innovator’s mindset already but may need to “patch” the areas that are predominately a fixed mindset by working with those educators on recognizing growth mindset and swinging their pendulum in that direction. While the idea of the hierarchy should help districts put the supports in place, it still does not “create” innovative and divergent thinkers and teachers. Instead, it gives the base support so educators can focus on new learning, thinking, and doing versus using brainspace for worrying about other issues around them.

The act of becoming innovative is not something you can be forced to do, nor is it something someone can give you. It is a personal choice to move outside your comfort zone and try or learn something new. Again, even with the Hierarchy complete and solid, that is only the support structure. A person still needs to make the decision personally to want to be innovative.

Innovation can be messy
As we move toward more innovative approaches, we need to learn, relearn, fail, try again, and use our knowledge to develop our new thinking. Rarely is true innovation a straight line to the end, and even when we get to the end, are we really done? Once an innovation continues to be used, doesn’t it just become part of the status quo? So, we need to continue the process of moving forward with innovation in order to not become stagnant.

Innovation is personal
I grabbed onto this idea from George Couros. Innovation is personal to each individual. What is innovative to one may not be innovative to another who has already been doing it, and that is ok. Everyone is on their own personal learning journey. Also, innovation is not “either you are or you are not innovative”. The idea of innovating and thinking divergently is a continuum, and each person falls somewhere on that continuum. That’s why when looking at the people around you, it’s best to try to discover what you can learn from that person and how they think differently than you versus trying to compare the amazing things you to do the amazing things they do.

Innovation involves failing
The quicker you accept that it is going to happen, the quicker you’ll begin your journey. Failing is not always easy, it’s not always fun, and sometimes you just want an idea to work. All of that is understandable. However, if failing stops someone from moving forward and trying again, then that’s where the problem lies. Our failures do teach us what doesn’t work. They are valuable and help us figure out what might work when we try again. That kind of learning cannot be replicated by being continuously successful all the time.

Divergent teaching will stem from divergent thinking
Divergence is the act of thinking and doing outside the box, moving outside your comfort zone, acknowledging and challenging assumptions, being forward-thinking, using known and recognizing/learning unknown information in decision-making. Divergent teaching uses divergent thinking in all aspects of teaching; from lesson planning to the moments working directly with kids. A teaching thinking divergently will try a new idea with their students instead of scrapping it because they wonder if they can handle it (assuming and forward-thinking). They will actively seek out new information on their own and not wait for the district to provide all their professional learning. They will allow students to try a new technology that they don’t know themselves because they trust their students will learn to use it without their help (recognizing unknown information in decision-making). They will be willing to make quick trajectory changes when they know that it will be better for student learning.

When the Hierarchy is in place, this gives educators the chance to move toward this kind of thinking and teaching. If they are worried about what their leadership will say if they fail (holes in climate/culture and effective leadership), they are less likely to try the new idea they had. They are less able to expend energy in bettering themselves as professionals because they are too busy with being concerned with the holes in their foundation. Providing people with the support they need in the foundational areas is imperative when expecting them to be innovative and divergent teachers.

The Hierarchy is not something that can be put to rest when most of the holes are filled. It is a structure to be constantly cognizant. One hole can create a host of issues in other levels. A change in leadership, for example, can create a domino effect hole throughout many foundations of the hierarchy, just as a change in leadership might be just what the organization needs in order to fill some of their holes. The Hierarchy is not a finished product, but rather a constant work in progress, similar to the way innovative and divergent thinking are never truly complete. We will always need to continuously improve to move forward, and that kind of innovation and divergence comes from our own motivation to be the best people we can for our students.

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: Professional Development

This is the fifth post in the #hierarchyseries. You can find the first post here.

Updated 10/9/2019

In an effort to support professional learning, personal passions, and to model how we want students to learn, there has been a shift to incorporate personalization into professional development. But, professional development, in general, is not given enough time and consideration in districts. If we make time for the things that are important, we perpetuate the idea that professional learning is unimportant by the lack of time we spend on it and opportunities that we provide educators. We say “we value learning” and then don’t embed the necessary time for educators to continue their own professional learning.

While all professional learning is generally called “professional development”, there are different types of learning that typically happen in a district. While there is a strong movement toward all personalized professional development, I believe that there is a time and place for all types of learning. Oftentimes, we lump all types of professional learning into one basket, but not all of it is created equal. There is no silver bullet in student learning, and there is no silver bullet in professional development either.

Training

Training is skills based only learning. It provides opportunities for more efficient, have a better workflow, and understand how things work.

Examples of trainings are:
How to use Gmail
Setting up your gradebook in your SIS
Utilizing a new piece of equipment or technology

Professional Development

Professional development is learning that helps an educator improve their competence and effectiveness. It provides not only best practices and instructional strategies, but also confidence helps reduce anxiety by providing answers to the question, “Am I doing this right?”

Examples of PD are:
Setting up a Reader’s Workshop
How to implement project-based learning

Personalized Professional Development

Learning that happens when educators choose where their passions or weaknesses necessitate additional coaching, resources, research or expert guidance. Personalized Professional Development supports educators in their search to become better teachers. It also allows them to continue to follow their passions while supporting their students in finding theirs.

Examples of Personalized Professional Development:
Learning about growth mindset on Twitter
Connecting via Google Hangouts with PLN members to discuss a book study
Meeting and collaborating with a technology integrator to learn more about your passion: robotics

While training and professional development are not the same as personalized professional development, there are always that these learning opportunities can have elements of personalization in order to make them more engaging. We often miss the opportunity to add these personalizations in because we are so quick to pass the information out.

  • Allowing for alternative modes of delivery: online, flipped or face to face.
  • Creating levels, gamifying learning or competency-based learning
  • Embedding voice, choice, and pacing options

By continuing the sit-and-get types of training and professional development, we are not modeling the kind of learning that we want students to have in the classroom. I’ve absolutely been guilty of this myself, but in reality, it is really difficult to add personalization any kind of professional development when you’re told, “You have 20 minutes…go!” If more time was dedicated to purposeful, personalized, and educator-driven PD, professional learning would have a chance to make it back into the classroom where it would affect students, just like it’s meant to. It takes a mindset shift and giving priority to professional learning as an integral part of education and teaching kids.

Another issue with professional development is the engagement of the participants in training and professional development and the level of empowerment they feel towards their personalized professional development. If they are not of the mindset that they are able to learn or that their students are able to learn whatever it is that is being presented, chances are that they will be less likely to implement any changes. Also, if a participant doesn’t have buy-in into the learning, they are less likely to implement it as well. There needs to be a significant level of intrinsic motivation for a teacher to try something new, fail, and then tweak it and try it again. This coupled with the buy-in to what they’ve learned can make all the difference in the success of the implementation. Finally, embedded support to assist teachers in the implementation of learning in the classroom is imperative. If that component is missing, there is nothing in place to support teachers as they begin to implement their learning and to encourage them if something goes awry.  We are often missing a few of these pieces, especially if the learning is a sit-and-get, information disseminated by an “expert” type of learning transaction.

I’m currently reading Jarod Bormann’s Professionally Driven book on personalized professional development, and loved this:

I’ve sat in with PD planning teams that give out surveys to see what topics teachers want. When the results come in, inevitably the team looks to see which categories got the most votes/comments. However, what happens is they say, “Oh, that topic got 64%, so that’s got to be a top priority for everyone.” Everyone? There’s 36% of the staff that indicateed they didn’t need it, so now it’s a priority for everyone? This is not an effective strategy.

As a planner of PD, I have absolutely made this same mistake, and have watched others do it as well. I think that sometimes as adults we panic when we are in charge of large-scale learning sessions, but if we spoke with a teacher who was creating lessons that applied to only 64% of their class, we would be questioning their professional judgment.

I have been a part of discussions repeatedly where district administrators say they value learning but undervalue professional learning, or they make the mistake of calling the logistical, housekeeping staff meetings professional development. I say with 100% certainty that as a teacher, I never left a staff meeting feeling like I was provided with a learning opportunity that made me a better teacher. At some point, I figured out that I was responsible for my own growth, and when I wasn’t supported by the district, I found my own support. While a professional educator should inherently love learning and be willing to learn from others, they should not be expected to find all of their growth options outside of what the district provides.  They should be provided the support they need to grow in the areas they have identified. If they don’t know how to identify these areas, they should be taught how to do that as well. Providing these opportunities not only shows educators that we value what they do in the classroom, but that we value who they are as a person because we are willing to spend time on them to become the teacher they want to be for their students.

You can find the next post in the #hierarchyseries here.

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: Mindset

This is the fourth post in the #hierarchyseries. The first post can be found here.

Updated 10/9/2019

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when moving between the different levels of the hierarchy, the higher up you go, the more personal of a journey the hierarchy becomes. Mindset is the section where this becomes the most obvious. The reason that mindset can be difficult to change is because although people can be offered information and research and support, it takes a person to change their own mindset. Nobody can do that for them. Therefore, it takes a person with the ability to be genuinely reflective and open to change to shift their mindset.

Most of us are familiar with Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset and understanding that abilities can be developed and are not set at a certain level and cannot be changed. George Couros has developed the idea of the Innovator’s Mindset: based on the work of Carol Dweck, an Innovator’s Mindset is the belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas. Both of these mindsets work FOR learning. They provide a positive lens for looking at growth and change through development and learning.

A Fixed Mindset is believing that abilities are predetermined and cannot be changed. Again, we regularly address Fixed Mindset and how believing in predetermined abilities hinders learning if we don’t believe our students can improve no matter what we do. One area I don’t think that we pay enough attention to, however, is the idea of a False Growth Mindest, which in my mind, is the most dangerous mindset of all. A False Growth Mindset is when a person believes that they possess a Growth Mindset, but when it comes to change, is unwilling to move forward because they believe it won’t be effective. I relate it to having an addictive type behavior. It’s difficult to get better if you don’t recognize that you have the problem. If you believe that you have mastered the Growth Mindset but don’t actually put it into practice, you may find it difficult to move to a Growth Mindset because you believe you’re already there.

Note: A False Growth Mindset or even a Fixed Mindset is not the same as fundamentally disagreeing with an initiative or change based on data or solid evidence.

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So, if mindset change is a personal journey and must be done by the person necessitating the change, how can we support someone in this endeavor? Or, how can we go about changing our mindsets if we feel we are the ones who need the change?

Six Strategies for Changing Mindset

Continue to Learn

Recognize that we are all continuous learners. Read, be open to new information, collaborate with others, seek advice from experts. When helping someone else change their mindset, provide them with information, research, and opportunities for additional learning. 

Find a Mentor

Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in education, there are people who are smarter and better at your job than you. Find them. Learn from them. I have multiple mentors depending on the realm I am working in. I have a mentor that supports me in my director role and one that supports me in my speaking role, for example. They each provide me with different kinds of support that I need to do my job better. If you’re trying to help someone else change their mindset, BE their mentor. Provide the modeling that they need to show them how awesome change can be with that type of mindset.

Create Goals

Studies show that people who write down specific, meaningful goals are more likely to reach them. We expect students to create goals and work toward them. Shouldn’t we do the same? Goals create the feeling that we should be accomplishing the task we set out to do. Incremental changes to meet goals allow us to “practice” thinking about change and growth as a positive opportunity until it becomes more of a second nature. 

Develop Core Beliefs & Find Your Voice

When you develop your core beliefs,  you have a foundation to bounce off every decision you make. When you don’t know what you stand for, it’s difficult to know if a change or new initiative is something you support or just another change for the sake of change. When you know what you believe, it gives you a platform for moving forward or moving others forward. Core beliefs support your voice. Develop that voice by blogging or participating in reflective journaling of some kind.

Know Your Weaknesses

I am confident in where I fall on the Growth or Innovator’s Mindset continuums. This is less because I think that I have a complete Growth Mindset or Innovator’s Mindset and more because I am reflective enough to know where my weaknesses are and be cognizant of how they affect my reactions. For example, I preach failing forward but my first reaction to my own failure is sometimes one of dissatisfaction and disgust. However, because I know this about myself, I am able to work through those feelings by using the information I know (we learn from failure, we can’t grow without it) and support myself with that type of thinking instead.

The absolutely most important step I took in my journey to change the way I think is to begin blogging. It has allowed me to develop the core beliefs that I use to guide my thinking and decisions. It is incredibly powerful to know what you stand for, and I developed them by the reflective thinking in my writing:

My Core Beliefs 

  • Is this what’s best for learners
  • We often ask people to do things that we don’t teach them how to do
  • We need to model the behaviors we want to see
  • Start with empathy
  • We need to take responsibility for our own learning
  • We are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with
  • Focus on the why

I believe that the most important tool we have to change mindset is reflection and focusing our energies on organizing our thoughts. If our thinking is scattered and chaotic, more energy will be necessary to focus in on change and growth. Developing the right mindset to move forward effectively will provide a base for moving forward when beginning to focus on Personalized Professional Development.

You can find the next post in the #hierarchyseries here.