Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships

Destigmatizing the Depressed Educator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

broken crayons

Climate · Culture · growth mindset · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · relationships · Trust

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: Mindset

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

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

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.

change-your-mindset-in-6-steps-6-638

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.

 

Climate · Culture · growth mindset · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · professional development · reflections · relationships · Trust

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking Series: Effective Leadership

This post is the third in the #HierarchySeries. You can find the first post here.

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

The area of effective leadership encompasses everyone that influences the people around them. I do not hold the area of leadership for only administration. I’m a firm believer that teacher leaders have so much more influence than they ever give themselves credit for.

I was listening to my friend, Adam Welcome, speak about leadership a few weeks ago, and he said that you can take a great leader and put them on an ineffective team and they will be able to morph that team into effectiveness. The effectiveness of a leader or leaders in an organization can be so influential, so detrimental or beneficial depending, that a change in leadership can cause a tidal wave throughout the entire organization.

In the hierarchy, I’ve placed effective leadership above climate & culture because a positive climate and culture will continue to support an effective leader so they can move forward and create change. I believe that an effective leader put in the position of needing to fix a negative climate will be able to do that, but it will take away from their ability to move an organization forward immediately when they are forced to take time and energy away to fill the holes in the foundation. I also believe that an ineffective leader can be the catalyst for issues in a positive climate & culture.

I was reading a post by Peter Economy called the 10 Powerful Habits of Highly Effective Leaders, and this is what he listed:

  • Confident but not arrogant
  • A persuasive communicator
  • Sensitive & responsive to others
  • Determined
  • Supportive
  • Distinguished
  • Responsible
  • An optimist
  • Honest
  • Organized & together

I agree with all of these traits, but I also believe that educators need special skills to work in the industry we do, so I added these additional ones:

  • Empathetic and compassionateimages
  • Models behaviors
  • Can effectively move from student interaction to teacher interaction
  • Truly & authentically reflective
  • Recognizes themselves as a servant
  • Focuses on positive relationships
  • Recognizes trust as imperative
  • Understands perception is reality
  • Supports risk-taking & learning from failure

In the hierarchy, I added “transparent and relationship focused”. I believe that these two encompass many of the traits listed in the habits. It is difficult, if not impossible, to create authentic relationships and connections if a leader is not empathetic and compassionate, trustworthy, supportive, and sensitive to other’s needs. In an authentic connection, a teacher will never wonder if an attempt at a positive interaction was merely because the leader needed something from them. I truly believe that when there is an authentic, positive relationship between a leader and the people they serve, both sides will walk through fire to make certain that they have what they need to be successful.

An effective leader will also model what they want to see. As an administrator, if I ask you to coach other teachers, I will be working with them as well. If I ask you to expand your learning using Twitter, I am going to pull my profile up and show you how I use it. If I ask you to personalize learning, you will notice me personalizing your professional development. Modeling behaviors that we ask of others will show them that we find so much value in them that we are willing to take time to do them ourselves. It also eliminates the “do as I say, not as I do” perception, which can affect trust.

One of the biggest issues I’ve seen ineffective leadership is when the leaders do not have a true pulse on their organization. If there is a shaky trust between teachers and administration, and teachers may not give honest feedback. Therefore, the administration feels like everything is going well and it perpetuates whatever mistrust they have created. From the leadership side, whatever it is that they believe is not what is not in line with what is perceived by the rest of the district. From the teacher perspective, they don’t believe that they will make a difference anyway, and they choose not to put their positions in jeopardy. It is a Catch-22.

Leaders can become more effective by beginning to truly value the relationships with the people around them, whether we are speaking about the custodians, parents, students, teachers, paraprofessionals, or any of the other multitudes of support systems that we have in place in education. Also, becoming reflective enough to recognize if what they think about their leadership matches the perception of the people they serve.

Here are some questions to ponder:

Is your perception of your strengths and weaknesses everyone else’s reality?

How can you work with others to realize their leadership strengths? Weaknesses?

How is the leadership perceived overall in the district? Is there a way to improve this perception? How do you create buy-in amongst the leaders?

How do you really feel about risk-taking? Do you say you support it, but question others when they fail?

I believe the leadership of an organization is crucial to its success. The support that the leadership gives, regardless of if that is in an administrative capacity or not, will influence the mindset of the organization and the people in it. Because of the magnitude of difference the leadership can make, it’s imperative that effective leaders cultivate other leaders within their organization, and that ineffective leaders be given the support they need to grow and improve.

Read the next post in the #hierarchyseries here: Mindset

Climate · Culture · Hierarchy of Needs of Innovation & Divergent Thinking · innovation · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships · Trust

Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking: Climate & Culture

The idea of the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking came to me at a time when I was looking for a more concrete way to support teachers in becoming innovative thinkers. This is post two in the series. You can find the introduction here.

Hierarchy of Needs Infographic

When processing the hierarchy diagram, there are a few important points to remember:

The hierarchical structure is not about being linear but instead about there being foundational concepts that support the rest of the hierarchy. It is not gamified, you do not finish one level and move onto the rest. Instead, there may be places where the district, school, or person is strong, and then holes in other areas that need to be filled.

The hierarchy is not about answering the question, “How can I be more innovative?” nor does it represent innovative thinking and doing. The question the hierarchy is trying to answer is “How can we support an environment conducive to innovative thinking?” Each component is less of a level and more of a foundation to the following level to get to the environment that we want to provide for learners so that they have the best chance to choose-their-own-adventure…so they have the opportunity, the climate and culture, leadership support, mindset and the personalized professional development that they need in order to begin thinking innovatively. The process of innovating and ideating is messy, but the organizational support to give people the best chance at thinking this way definitely shouldn’t be.

While I developed the hierarchy for organizational change, it could definitely be applied to a classroom as well to give students the best chance at innovative thinking. Climate and culture, leadership (both teacher and student leadership), mindset, and personalized learning (versus personalized professional development) will lead to an environment that supports innovation.

The climate and culture of our district, building, and classroom is the foundation in which all of our other activities, thoughts, and daily interactions because it creates the relationship and feeling we have toward our professional environment. When we feel a connection to the rituals, traditions, people, and icons, it allows us to focus on our jobs instead of any negative outside influences.

There are many issues that can affect climate and culture: a lack of connection felt among educators, leaders skipping the “why” and moving right to the “how”, or maybe a history of opaque transparency and mixed messages in regards to district initiatives. But, if climate and culture is the foundation that supports the rest of the hierarchy, trust is the foundation of climate and culture and building and maintaining trust is imperative to supporting it.

If you don’t trust the people around you, there is a significant amount of energy expended on wonderings like this:

  • If I tell other people that my idea failed, will they think I’m an idiot?
    (You don’t trust the people around you to support you learning from failure)
  • I’d rather ask for forgiveness than permission, so I’ll just do it and hope I don’t need to say sorry later.
    (You don’t trust your leadership to be supportive of new ideas)
  • I am overwhelmed and need help, but I can’t ask for it because people will think I’m incompetent.
    (You don’t trust people to be empathetic and support you when you ask)

When people don’t feel like they can trust the people around them to be supportive and make them feel safe, it breeds overall negative feelings. That negativity can eventually seep into other cracks in the climate and culture foundation. Unfortunately, the only way to combat distrust is to either never break the trust bond to begin with or to build it back up after it’s been broken. I’ve spoken with leaders who have clear trust issues with their staff, and they’re always disappointed when they feel like they’re trying but it’s not working. Trust is not an overnight fix. When trust is broken, it takes a significant amount of effort and time to bring it back. Another issue with rebuilding trust is that it’s the perception and acceptance of the trusting relationship on the part of the person whose trust has been broken that matters, not the person who broke the trust. In other words, if a leader has broken trust with a teacher, it is up to the teacher to decide when enough has been done to restore the trust, not the leader.

To build trust, one must do what they say they’re going to do, be consistent and fair, have policies and procedures that are followed the same for everyone, and place a high value on the feelings, attitudes, and actions of the people around them. This needs to be done purposefully and with legitimate concern over improving trust. If it’s faked, everyone will know. 

An example of a common scenario that has the potential to create broken trust: A teacher has decided to take a risk and try a new technology in his classroom with kids. It doesn’t go as well as he would have hoped, but he considers tweaking what he did and try again the next day. The school administrator, who regularly discusses risk-taking and how to be more innovative, comes in, witnesses the failure, and advises the teacher that they shouldn’t try that again because it “clearly didn’t work”, types up some notes, and leaves. In this case, the administrator has taken the chance that they have broken trust. They said one thing (risk-taking is encouraged to be innovative) but did another (sent a message of “you failed at that, don’t do it again”). The administrator has shown that while they might support the idea of risk-taking, ACTUAL risk-taking and failing is not acceptable. Result: possible broken trust.

Another issue that can affect climate and culture is the prevalence of teachers who are disengaged from their profession. We often speak about teachers who are disengaged from professional development, but don’t know what to do with the teachers who have become apathetic towards teaching. We often say they’re “checked out”, ready for retirement, should get out of teaching, etc. I’ve found more often than not, these teachers were not always like that, but have become this way due to not feeling supported or trust that was broken somewhere along the line. At some point, they gave up trying. For teachers who are still engaged in what they are doing, these people can bring a negativity to otherwise pleasant interactions that ruin any positive climate or culture that could develop. Leaders often give up on these people, feeling like no amount of coaching or professional development is going to change how they are. I feel, however, that they don’t need “fixing”. What we can do for them is remind them why they became teachers in the first place. Allow them room to find and follow their passions in teaching, and then give them the support they need. Reignite them. They were a teacher superhero at one point, too. They deserve that attention. 

Climate and culture drive the decisions we make and how much buy-in we will receive. They determine how we feel about our jobs, how we talk about our schools and kids, and how supported we are in our journey to become the innovators that we know we want to be. It can be the most time-consuming and difficult of the levels to fix because it involves a unified effort by all to solve issues and improve. It is also incredibly rewarding to work in an environment where everyone feels connected, supported, and joined in the mission to do the best job we can for our students, and is definitely worth the effort. This kind of positive climate and culture is one of the first steps in developing an environment ripe for innovation and divergent thinking.

You can find the third post in the #hierarchyseries on Effective Leadership here.

Mandy Froehlich · my classroom · reflections · relationships

I Was an Imperfect Teacher

I’ve read articles that describe social media as one of the reasons that teenagers have self-esteem issues partially because of how others portray their lives and images as perfect and happy all the time. Images are filtered to the max, blemishes are removed with the touch of a finger, and friends look happy and untroubled. Therefore, teenagers start to think that there is something wrong with them when they don’t feel as perfect as the social media posts from their friends. I believe this same concept can be applied to many different areas, including the field of education. We read edu-leadership blogs where the writers sound prophetic and tweets that describe amazing ways that students are learning in a classroom and we compare our days to these posts and begin to wonder where in the world we are going wrong.

I had these days when I was a teacher. Days that I was exhausted or had come to school sick and was praying that we could have an extended independent reading time just to get me through my morning. One year, and I’m not even kidding, I actually woke up late for a grade-level fieldtrip and missed the bus. I often felt like I was screwing up way more than I was actually making a difference, but I loved my kids, and did the best I could possibly do. There are so many things that I have learned that I wish I could take back into the classroom. Places I feel I failed my kids in some way, but not intentionally, just because I really didn’t know any better. I was not a perfect teacher. Allow me to prove it to you.

It’s my job to make you social

When I taught, I did not understand the difference between having introverted and extroverted kids. I knew there was a difference, I just thought that my job was to take the introverted and make them more social. How could they not want to constantly be working with others? This is especially ironic since I was an extremely shy child myself, you might have thought I would have understood this. It wasn’t until a friend of mine explained his introvertedness to me that I finally got it, and by that time I was no longer in the classroom. Looking back, I had one student in particular who was an incredibly smart kid. Sometimes, we would be doing group projects and he would ask to do it by himself. I remember telling him, “Buddy, you need to be able to work with others. I know you don’t like it all the time, but it’s important that you learn with your groupmates.” One time I felt so bad for him that he was struggling with the kids that he worked with that I allowed him to work alone and what he produced blew me away. Still, the next time, I asked him to work in a group again. Social skills I called it. While I will stand by that all students need to be able to work with others, why I could not see that he was an introvert and needed to work on his own sometimes for his best thinking I’ll never be able to explain. I wish I would have been able to recognize this need in this student and others and adjust to them instead of creating a situation where they were forced to adjust to me.

Lack of shared professional practice

I was always willing to collaborate. The last district in which I taught I regularly collaborated with the people in my same grade level. We would discuss where we were in the curriculum and where we needed to go. We brought up specific students and their needs, and tried to bounce ideas off each other for how we could improve behavior or academics for those kids. What I totally missed, however, was that in every position I’ve been in, there have been absolutely phenomenal teachers that I never watched teach. I worked with teachers who created deeply rooted relationships with kids, others who could teach a classic novel like nobody’s business, and some who had a way with kids with negative behaviors. I missed out on opportunities to study what others do great, and to really improve my own practice for my students. And, because I wasn’t a connected educator at all at the time, I was actually learning very little from other people unless it was in the form of professional development through the district or books I read. In this regard, I failed both myself and my students.

The kids who flew under my radar

There is no doubt that my neediest kids were the ones who got the majority of my attention. Whether it was academically, socially or behaviorally, the ones who demanded it or needed it were the first I planned for and the first I checked on. While I do feel like I challenged my highest flyers, there were some kids that did what they were supposed to do, took on every challenge and did it well, never asked too many questions and didn’t demand my attention. In retrospect, I rarely gave these kids my undivided attention. When I taught, I used to tell myself that these kids could get by on their own with only my guidance, but just because they didn’t act needy, didn’t mean they didn’t need me. These kids were missed opportunities for solid connections. While I feel like, as a teacher, I have always placed a high value on relationships, I missed the boat with some of these kids because they were self-sufficient, which isn’t a great reason to not get the attention you deserve.

When I look back at my classroom career, I am proud of what I had accomplished, but there were so many areas that I could have improved and so many places I failed. I was definitely not perfect. I am experiencing similar failures as an administrator. When reflecting on my first year as an admin, it was all I could do to not put my head in my hands or bang my head against my desk for some of the decisions I made. I have learned from each mistake I’ve made, however, and I do believe that as long as I continue to recognize the areas I needed to be better and adjust my course from where I fail, I can only continue to learn and grow and be better in my profession.

failure

growth mindset · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

Make Every Moment Count

You’re at work. It’s been a tough day. You’ve had a hard lockdown drill, you were just told it’s time for another formal observation and all the extra paperwork that goes along with that, there has been a rash of kids out with the flu, which means getting their work together and planning for their return. You have a pile of work on your desk that needs feedback, late work handed in that really needs to be handed back, and the last kid that handed you a quiz had wiped a booger on it (hey, it happens). You’re wondering what to tackle first in the 25 minutes you have left for prep when you realize you haven’t gone to the bathroom or eaten lunch. Overwhelmed, you look around and one of your neediest kids in your class is walking in your door, eyes fixed on you, looking like he is in trouble…

And in these moments, we have a choice.

One option would be to give them the “now what did you do?” face and be immediately irritated that s/he interrupted the few moments that you had to try to dig out of your piles of work or just take care of your basic human needs. When they start to speak, you could couple that look of irritation with an exasperated-sounding voice and tell them that if what they need isn’t important, they need to get back to whatever or wherever they were supposed to be.

Another option would be to take a deep breath and remember your teacher’s heart. Give the child a clean slate, smile, and look at them like they were just the person that you wanted to see. The choice that you make in that moment could be the only time during the day where that child didn’t feel like they were disliked or trouble or a walking problem. I guarantee that they wouldn’t be in there if they didn’t need you in some way, and should they need to justify the importance to you in comparison to your other duties?

Our job is to teach children. Assessments, feedback, curriculum and data all have their place, but our main goal is to help develop healthy, mindful, happy kids. It doesn’t matter if they are five or 15. It is not our place, no matter how difficult our current situation is (professionally or privately) to allow our baggage to affect the students we serve. They might not understand everything that is happening in your day, nor should they be expected to. Their focus should be on developing their own skills, personalities, and working through their own adversities. They should never be the collateral damage in someone else’s bad day.

That child could have been coming in to tell you they were recognized in another class for doing something amazing and they chose to tell YOU. They could be coming in to tell you they need a hug because they can’t remember the last time they got one. They could be coming in to admit to you they’re suicidal and finally gathered the nerve to ask for help. Your reaction could determine the outcome of that moment.

It’s possible that the child you see coming into the classroom might have challenges at home that you don’t know about and can’t even dream of. That if they truly wrote their story out for you, you wouldn’t even be able to read it because it would be so heartwrenching. This could be any kid in your class at any moment of the day and there’s a good chance you don’t even know. That one smile, from that one moment, could be the entire reason that they come to school. Not only is it your job to know their stories, but it is your entire reason for being a teacher. Create the relationship that brings these kids through in their time of need. And sometimes it might feel like their time of need is every day, and if that’s true, so be it. That is why teaching is more than a profession, it is a calling.

And if you screw up and accidentally allow your irritation to come through? No doubt I’ve allowed my current situation to dictate my reaction to the people around me. However, just like we would expect out of kids, there should be an apology. Say you’re sorry. They might be kids and we might be the adults, but being an adult isn’t an excuse for poor behavior. We are not the “boss” of kids, nor are we above apologizing to them. Being nice, kind, and showing humility does not “undermine our authority”, it shows that you’re human.

It’s so important to be aware enough of what you’re doing during every moment of the day and to watch for these opportunities to build kids up. If you choose option one, that choice is more about you than it is about them. Choose to have moments that end with a smile and a high five. Those kinds of moments are the absolute best part of teaching.

make moment count

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

Don’t Mistake Control for Influence

I think sometimes there is a misperception that the amount of influence you have comes from how much control you can exert. You can influence people if you can get them to do what you want by creating a situation where they have no choice, whether they realize that or not. Some people believe that influence is the same as power, and power is gained with compliance measures that people are forced to do in order to prove that person has that power, and then that power is perceived as influence.

The fact of the matter is that even with what I know about education and my beliefs about leadership, I will still do what I’m told when it comes to compliance measures because realistically I want to keep my job. But that’s the only reason why. Compliance measures rarely create buy-in. Now accountability is another story, but creating opportunities for me to show I am doing my job well and forcing me to do something that I don’t feel is best for kids is two totally separate things. Many compliance measures that I’m made to do may not directly affect students, but they do take up valuable time that I could be spending in classrooms with teachers or with kids. But, I digress. My point is that just because I participate in a compliance measure does not mean the person who implemented that measure has influenced me.

As I’ve watched people throughout the years, there are few characteristics that I always find an influential people, at least the ones that have been influential in my life.

  • They are kind. Some of them exceedingly so.
  • They can laugh at themselves and be okay with you laughing with them.
  • They ask how you are with genuine interest.
  • They give a compliment without expecting one back.
  • They give quality feedback; feedback that people can actually implement immediately. They welcome feedback in return.
  • They admit when they don’t know, and they say they’re sorry when they are wrong.
  • They are passionate, knowledgeable and engaged in whatever their focus is because they truly believe that what they know is valuable and can help people in some way.
  • They never ask me to do anything that they wouldn’t be willing do themselves.

Influencers create change because their passion makes you want to believe what they believe. And when I look back on that list, every single characteristic that I have seen in the influencers I know have to do with creating relationships and maintaining those relationships. Just treating other people like valuable human beings. The second you forget that we work with other people, who have stories and struggles and personalities and quirks and different strengths and weaknesses, is this second that you have officially missed your mark. If you start to believe that the amount of power you exert over somebody else is more important than their well-being, you have forgotten why you’re in education. I heard a quote from an amazing commencement speech called the Wisdom of a Third Grade Dropout by Rick Rigsby the other day that said always make sure your servant’s towel is bigger than your ego. Always remembering that legitimate passion and genuine compassion for other people is the way that you change their hearts and then their minds.

steve jobs