Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

The Effect a Student Can Have

Tomorrow one of my favorite students ever leaves for the Air Force. He has spent the last couple of summers working for our department. He also managed our Genius Bar and helped me fix random tech issues. He made me laugh and never flinched when I would ask him a favor. He is the kind of kid you pray your own children to grow up to be like. Kind-hearted, and sweet, he never failed to make me smile.

When his summer tech position ended through the department, he asked if he could continue working for us. I wanted to allow it so badly, unfortunately, we didn’t have a board-approved position for him to take. So instead of being irritated that he did all that work and couldn’t continue, he came back to volunteer and would spend nearly every day at the elementary working with kids, reading to them, and fixing their tech. For free. He has no interest in education, no reason to be there besides just to help. When he could have been playing XBox for the last few months before leaving for boot camp, he gave back to the schools with expecting nothing in return.

Tomorrow he leaves and today I spent trying not to cry. I used every strategy I knew during the Veteran’s Day Celebration when they recognized him for everything he has done for the school. I bit my lip. I took deep breaths until I thought I would pass out. It didn’t matter. Crying was inevitable. I think about the people who don’t come back from military service the same physically and mentally. I think about his sweet personality and how I don’t want it to change. And knowing it possibly will, I am crushed. So proud of the boy who is making a choice that I would never have the guts to do, but still so devastated.

As I was thinking about this on the way home and how deeply wounded I felt by this former student leaving, I was thankful for the discomfort and sadness because it meant that even through some of the irritation with my position or the areas where our system lacks in general or the constant, exhausting work of being an educator, I know I still belong here because anything that affects a person this deeply means you really care. When you have students that leave and you cry, it also means that at points they made you equally as happy. While you hope that you have affected their lives, you know they have affected yours. And this raw emotion that students can cause…that is why we teach: those connections that are so deep that it causes physical pain when you’re afraid something may happen to them. We are so lucky to work in an environment where we have the chance to make connections that can cause such an emotional effect because the alternative is working through our days feeling numb, and I would choose to feel any day.

So tomorrow he’ll leave and today I’ll be sad, but I’ll also try to find some solace in the knowledge that the pain is there because I made a connection, and without those feelings, I wouldn’t be an educator.

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#DivergentEDU · Core Beliefs · divergence · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships · The Fire Within Book #FireWithinBook · Trust

Five Questions to Aid in Deep Reflection

While going through the editing process for Divergent EDU my editor left me a comment in an area where I alluded to divergent thinkers using deep reflection to develop their core beliefs. She told me to give readers examples of questions that they could ask themselves to drive deep reflection. My first thought was that deep reflection is so personal, how could I give anyone directions on how to do it? But I started to pay attention to my own line of thinking while I reflect, and I think there are some questions that can be used to guide deep reflection in a variety of situations, even though the path of the reflection is very personal to the one doing it. It took me until I was an adult to figure out how to deeply reflect. Nobody taught me how to do it and the only reason I know now is that I made it a mission to discover what deep reflection could do for me. Deep reflection is also one of the five characteristics of a divergent teacher that Elisabeth Bostwick and I laid out in this blog post.

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

So often we regard the question, “How could things have gone differently/better?” as the be-all and end-all of reflective thought. It’s a fine place to start but does not necessarily lead us down a path of reflection that will end with how our involvement affected the ending. It still gives us the room to blame other people or things for anything that may have gone wrong. Deep reflection begins with questions that force us to think deeper about a situation. We may use just one of these questions or a few, but the result will be our discovery of adjustments or changes we can make within ourselves to change the trajectory of similar situations moving forward.

Is there something in my own personal or professional journey that is creating an assumption or bias?
Lately, there has been special attention brought to how our journeys and personal stories affect the way we act, believe, and teach. I am 100% in support of that being the case (as proven by my book The Fire Within). After all, it’s our differences that make us stronger together. However, it’s also our journeys that have embedded certain assumptions and biases into our thinking. It is nearly impossible to operate completely without them, but it is important that we recognize if there are internal drivers for decisions we make and the interactions we have that may be affecting them in a negative way. Recognizing assumptions and biases and opening ourselves up to testing them in favor of finding alternative ways of handling situations will move us to more effective decision-making and divergent thought.

Are my expectations appropriate?
This reflection path will most likely be followed up with additional questions that can range from logistical (Have I provided them with the professional learning opportunities they need to do what I’m asking them to do?) to spiritual (Is there something in their past/current situation that makes this change/decision/action difficult and they may need more emotional support?). In order to answer this question completely, you may need to gather additional information and return to the reflection. Another question that would fit into this category: Do I have the right to have my expectation of this person, or should it be up to them to set their own expectations upon themselves?

What could I have adjusted to create a possible alternative ending?
In Wisconsin, if you are in a motor vehicle accident and you have gotten rear-ended, you are still partially at fault. Why? How could this be when you were just sitting there waiting for the light or parked legally minding your own business? Because you were there. Because had you not been in that spot, the accident wouldn’t have happened. Every situation that we reflect on is similar to this concept. We have had a part in the outcome. Sometimes, it’s something major that affects relationships, breaks trust, or perpetuates a negative feeling. Sometimes it’s as little as an unintended initial reaction or facial expression. There is always something that we can adjust in order to adapt to any situation and possibly change the ending. Deep reflection allows to see these things and create an alternative ending when it happens again in the future.

Do I have something to apologize for?
A friend once told me, “I don’t like to apologize because it’s hard.” But I feel like if it’s really that difficult, that usually means it’s the right thing to do. Something being hard should never stop us from doing the right thing and sometimes that means swallowing our pride and apologizing. An important follow-up question is: Am I really sorry or am I just saying it to move on? Also, just saying I’m sorry really isn’t enough. When the apology isn’t specific, it loses some of its power. It needs to be truly authentic and the added specificity will help the person know that you’ve given it thought and you know where you went wrong. If you just apologize just to satisfy someone or move past a bad situation, people will know. I have actually said these words: “I’m sorry that I made a decision that didn’t make sense to you at the time. Not only did I allow other situations around me influence the decision that affected you, but I didn’t give you the information you needed to see why I was making the decision. For all that, I am sorry.” Also, just because you reflect and process and decide an apology is necessary, don’t forget that the person you’re apologizing to may need additional time to reflect and process the apology depending on the severity of the situation. Be reflective enough to understand that just because you’ve decided to say you’re sorry doesn’t mean that the other person is ready to accept it.

What did I do that went really right?
Deep reflection doesn’t always mean we are looking for ways we have screwed up. It’s just as important to remember and celebrate what went well so we can replicate it if similar situations would come up in the future. If we never celebrate the great things we do we will live with the anxiety that nothing we ever do is right and that’s certainly not true of anyone. The trick is to find the balance between recognizing what went right and what could be adjusted in order to find our areas for growth while still remaining positive about what we accomplish.

True, deep reflection is a skill that needs to be practiced. Some people do it during quiet, alone time and some need to write it down to work through it. It’s not always a fun process as we are looking for ways we can improve or situations we may have negatively impacted, but the amount of personal and professional growth that can be experienced is exceedingly rewarding. There are few other activities that can have such a lasting impact on how our relationships function and our decision-making process.

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#DivergentEDU · Core Beliefs · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships · Trust

The Value We Place on Leadership Traits

I have been paying special attention lately to what I need to do to be a good leader and in order to do that, I need to reflect on the leadership around me, the leadership I see online, and on the qualities that I possess within myself. This seems obvious, right? But many times we do not pay attention to the leadership qualities that others need from us. I believe that good leaders find the qualities that others need from them and adjust to those people rather than remain stagnant.

Within this reflection and in the experiences I’ve had both in being a leader and being lead (or managed, depending) I’ve realized that I value trust first (as most people do, I think), but more than anything else, I need to know that my leader has my back all the time.  If I don’t have that, the rest of their strengths in leadership become a lot less effective to me. When speaking to one of my mentors I asked him the same question. He said he values open communication above all else and a leader having his back is less important to him. Ironically, for me “having someone’s back” is a strength of mine and for him, open communication is one of his strengths. So, two questions have come out of this for me: 1) How can we be more effective leaders if everyone places a varying amount of value on certain characteristics and 2) Do we value leadership characteristics based on our strengths OR do we value them based on our own past experiences with other leaders (or both)?

I believe that our ultimate goal should be able to encompass all leadership qualities and then adjust to what others need in a leader by focusing in on those specific needs. In my book Divergent EDU (coming soon), I describe both characteristics of a great leader from 10 Powerful Habits of Highly Effective Leaders (Peter Economy, INC) and my added characteristics of a great educational leader. Some of the traits described in the book are:

Highly Effective Leaders
Confident but not arrogant
Sensitive and responsive to others
Determined
Supportive
Persuasive communicator

Additional Characteristics for Edu Leaders
Empathetic and compassionate
Understands appropriate communicative differences
Recognizes themselves as a servant
Truly and authentically reflective
Recognizes trust as essential

So, back to question number one: how can we be more effective leaders if everyone places a varying amount of value on certain characteristics? I think there are a few things we can do. First, we need to be reflective and know what it is we truly value in a leader and if there are certain leadership qualities we hold above all others. Second, we need to be able to effectively communicate that to our leaders. I truly believe this can be as blatant as “One leadership quality I really value above all else is…” Third, as leaders, we need to be aware enough that the people we lead may need things from us that will take more effort for us to discover and more time on relationships to discover them. And that isn’t their fault for valuing other things, it’s just our responsibility if we want to be servant leaders. It is also our responsibility to ask if we don’t understand what someone needs when they express what is important to them. If you don’t know what I mean by having my back, ask me for examples.

As far as question two: do we value leadership characteristics based on our strengths OR do we value them based on our own past experiences with other leaders (or both)? That I don’t have an answer to. I think that we the reason we develop certain thoughts and ideas is very personal and has more to do with our journey than we might even realize. I know for both myself and my mentor the value we placed on certain characteristics had to do with being lead by people who did not do those things for us. The absence of those qualities made it obvious to us that that’s what we needed. In this case, knowing how you feel best supported and communicating that to your leadership may be more important than knowing how we got there.

I’ve found that, in general, usually when people have specific needs it’s because there was a hole that was created there at some point. Leadership is really no different. I believe we all value certain qualities more than others. The important part is knowing what those are and how we can make sure we are both giving what we can and communicating what we need to really build those trusting relationships that leadership relies on.

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#DivergentEDU · Change · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships

The Little Things that Make a Difference

I have a 1-hour commute each day to work. I despise it more than words can describe. It is roughly an additional 10 hours out of my week that I can get very little done. It is a true hour-long commute. Any traffic simply makes it longer. Last summer there was construction on one of the main roads that I couldn’t avoid which added an additional 15 to 20 minutes to the commute. I was so glad this year when the construction seemed to be finished and my commute went back to being only an hour-until they started putting up signs that they were doing more construction. Again, this added 15 to 20 minutes of additional time as the construction workers stop us and wait for oncoming traffic as the two-lane road went down to one. It has made me late to appointments and meetings more than once as it’s never consistent as to when they will stop you and for how long. For someone who already despises her hour-long commute, this can be super frustrating.

Two weeks ago I was on the road for construction and one of the people who was holding the stop sign was all bundled up and looked like she was freezing. We had a freeze warning the night before and after all, this is Wisconsin. I believe it was a balmy 38 degrees that morning. I was crabby, I’m not going to lie. I was running late already. It was cold and even though I’ve never lived there, I’m a Florida girl at heart. I had been sitting in line for 10 minutes waiting for our chance to be able to pass the first section knowing there were at least two more coming up. When I passed the stop sign construction worker I noticed she was intentionally looking at every car, at every driver, and smiling and waving. And this little act seemed so out of character for the workers I had seen previously, so random, that it made me smile. Smile at a time where I began to seriously wonder if the frown creases on my face we’re going to be permanent. It lifted my spirits for a moment. But honestly, I didn’t think of it again for the rest of the day.

The next day I came to that patch of construction and noticed the same lady was there. Again, she looked at every driver and smiled and waved in her stocking cap and her thick coat and scarf – bundled up like it was the dead of winter but still with a warm smile and a wave. I thought to myself I would absolutely hate that job. I would be miserable out there standing for hours moving a sign in the cold just watching people get angry at me. Her actions made it so obvious that happiness in our everyday life is so often a choice. And spreading that happiness to other people is also a choice. I’m not talking about in our worst of times because everyone has the right to feel what they do when something bad happens, but I’m talking about the times in our day when we are put in regular situations that we have little to no control over, we still do have a choice in how we react. Considering her job standing on the highway in the freezing cold inadvertently making people late for they’re morning meetings and things to do, she chose a simple gesture of smiling and waving hoping that it might make one person smile and wave back.

For the last 2 weeks, I’ve watched for that woman because I find her amazing. And I feel a little bit of disappointment when she isn’t there because there are some days that I feel like I really need someone to smile and wave at me.

My friend, Jeff Kubiak, often does something similar to this on Twitter. He does the equivalent of a construction wave when he posts an inspirational saying and there are times that the inspiration is exactly what I need when I need it. His quirky and loveable “Yo” he uses after many of his sentences always makes me smile. Jeff does this for many of us, I’m sure. And if Jeff is anything like me (because I released The Fire Within for much of the same reason) you do something like that and you just pray but it makes a positive difference in one person’s day. Especially when we all know that our days in education don’t always feel like we’re making a positive difference and people don’t always tell us when we are.

Every interaction we have with others will create a relationship for better or worse. Focusing on the little actions we take to create positive relationships is imperative because the re

Sometimes it’s easy to slip into a pattern where we feel a little numb because we’re so busy and just trying to get through, but those little feels of kindness and positivity and a smile we get throughout the day can make the difference in how our day turns out. And ideally, that positivity would not be something that comes as a surprise or catches us off-guard but would be something that we feel so wrapped up in all the time that we notice when we don’t feel it.

I don’t shy away from taking an opportunity that I see to bring positivity to someone’s day, but I am going to put forth more effort to be proactive in finding those opportunities. If we want to talk about being a change agent or a catalyst for change we have to be the ones to put the effort in that maybe others aren’t willing, but when they see the impact it makes they will be more likely to put forth the effort themselves. Everybody could be a little bit more construction lady; a little bit more Jeff.

 

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships · Trust

When Distrust Follows the Position

I’ve been the Director of Innovation and Technology for two full years in my district and I’m a few months into my third. When I began my position in this new-to-me district, I went in wide-eyed, naive and excited. I had finally made it into an administrative role where I could develop my own leadership style and support teachers which in turn would positively affect the learning for so many students.  I was convinced that everyone would see the passion and excitement I felt, but it didn’t exactly work that way. I immediately ran into a roadblock; I wasn’t trusted by the staff because the position itself wasn’t trusted. I came in looking to move forward, but I was actually already behind the 8-ball.

I don’t honestly know why, and although I can speculate some of the reasonings, spending time doing that does little more than give me something to blame, which isn’t useful. I do know that the majority of the mistrust didn’t have much to do with me personally because nobody knew me. If anything, it had more to do with my outsiderness. When I’ve reflected on the experience, I know that there were a few necessary but unpopular decisions that the previous tech director made that I had to initiate, which fell back onto me and didn’t help the trust factor. That being said, when I began this job, there was an obvious distrust for me that was initially attached to the position I held.

There are definitely times when a new person comes into a district where they inherit the trust (or lack thereof) that was built by someone else. While this definitely isn’t fair, the unfairness doesn’t make it less true. If an administrator (and I’ll pick on them because these are often the positions we see this happen to the most) comes in and their predecessor has been weak in leadership qualities, didn’t spend much time in the classroom, or treated people poorly, the new administrator will have a more difficult time changing the perception of them in that position than an administrator who is replacing someone who had built up the trust already. If a new person replaces someone who was not trusted, there may be camps of people who are anywhere from cautiously optimistic to downright mistrustful, no matter the background or previous track record of the newbie. They will rarely come into the position with the trust they had earned elsewhere or even the trust they deserve.

Again, unfair? Maybe. But, I guarantee that if this happens to you, the best course of action is first to get over the unfairness of it all. Living in that feeling will only grate on your nerves and cause you stress and will do nothing to build up the trust you so desperately want. If anything, the attitude that accompanies that feeling will do quite the opposite.

I read this quote by Patrick Lencioni (author of books like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) today:

The key ingredient to building trust is not time. It’s courage.

I slightly (and respectfully) disagree but only because I think you need both.

Have the courage to do the opposite of what you might feel and begin doing all the things you know that good leaders should do. Be kind to people even if they aren’t always kind to you. Let go of negative interactions, be reflective on how communication can be more positive the next time, and try again. And again. And again. Assume positive intent. Surprise people with your proactiveness, your ability to appear when they need you most, and show compassion where others might not. Have difficult conversations as they are a way of building trust (see this blog post). Apologize when you’re wrong, no matter how difficult and pride swallowing that might be. Be strong. Be supportive. Be the leader you would want to have in a difficult time. And just when you’re exhausted and you start to wonder what you’re doing wrong, you will begin to see little changes; more people saying hi to you in the halls or people asking you to join them for lunch just because they enjoy your company. Building trust takes time and being courageous enough to fight our initial negative emotions and do what’s right. We want it to be fast, especially when we don’t believe ourselves to be the initial cause, but the only control we have over when others change their perceptions is the relentless fight we put up in convincing them to change. It has to be us that keeps on a steady path doing the right things and being a foundational support to make that happen. It has taken me two years and three-and-a-half months, and I’m just beginning to getting there.

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Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

Whose Life Are We Preparing Our Kids For?

I had flown down to St. Louis over the weekend for the #DigCitSummit and my layover in Chicago was met with a pleasant surprise. There were no less than 70-80 Navy sailors in full uniform. They looked beautiful and nearly surreal in their uniforms and groups. I had never seen sailors in real life and I found it difficult not to stare.

Some of them were on the flight with me to St. Louis and I followed them off the plane. When I was able to really look at them, I noticed how young they looked. They were clearly just coming back from boot camp. As per usual when I see someone in the military, I think about how they have enrolled in a program that protects our country and they put their lives on the line to protect me and my family. It makes me feel both proud and humbled.

However, this time I was on my way to a conference to discuss education and I started to think about how old they are. Maybe 19? Which means that the year prior, they had to ask to go to the bathroom. They had very little choice or freedoms. Ironically, they were now in a place to protect the thing that they didn’t have not that long prior. And it made me think…are we really setting our students up for all kinds of life after school?

Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that we should be running our schools like a military boot camp. I’m more addressing the opportunities we give our students to show their maturity, make good choices, get to know themselves so well that they know after high school that they are making the right choices for themselves? Do we lay down rules for everyone when one or two students break them? Create a glass ceiling on our students? Understand that some of them are dealing with adult issues under the rules of being a child? Do we help them find their passions? Do we prepare our students so well that a year after high school that they could choose a career where they could be sent into battle?

My summer intern through our tech department joined the Air Force recently. I am so unbelievably proud of him and heartbroken all at the same time. He is an incredibly intelligent, put-together, wise-beyond-his-years young man, but I still pray that we have prepared him for the amazing but intense life choice he has made. Have we realized that post-high school our students need more than academics? Have we helped them develop resilience? Relentlessness? Self-worth? Discipline? Have we prepared them for life after high school, no matter what that life is?

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

Five Characteristics of the Divergent Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People Are More Than Their Roles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

strength

growth mindset · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

The Beauty of a Clean Slate

When I was a teacher, I did my best to ignore the talk of students in the grades below my own. At the beginning of the year, I would be certain that I knew about any needs they had or how I could help them behaviorally (eg if they had something that triggered them) or any strategies another teacher had learned that worked for them, but other than that, I never wanted to know the negatives that had happened in the past. I tried to keep that to a minimum. Why? Because I am a firm believer in the clean slate.

We know that there are a few ways that our jobs are different than the private sector. I always consider our years to go from July 1st to June 30th. I don’t make New Year’s Eve resolutions, I create summer goals. Our “products” are children and their futures. But, my favorite aspect of being in education is that there is no other profession that has the ability to begin each new year with a clean slate, and the thought of that is so unbelievably powerful.

There were multiple times that for my students, my classroom’s clean slate meant that they had the ability to reinvent themselves once they realized I didn’t come into class with any preconceived notion about them. I had high expectations for everyone no matter what. My expectations were that they grew from wherever they were, which meant that they quickly discovered that we celebrated growth, not a number, grade, or average. For some students, they will repeatedly fail a grade, but it is much more difficult to fail completely at growing whether that growth was academic or behavioral, they had the chance to become a better version of themselves as soon as they stepped through my classroom door.

I feel this way about educators, too. I go into each school year not only giving the people around me a clean slate but myself as well. It’s the time to forgive the mistakes I had made the previous year, mend relationships after a break that had been previously strained and be a better person than I was before I wiped the slate clean. One of the beauties of education is that we have the ability once a year to start again, and we can choose how we do it.

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Change · Climate · Culture · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · Mental Health Issues · reflections · relationships

Be an Upstander: When the effect we have collides with the choices we make

In my district, the district administrators (with the exception of the superintendent and the business administrator) are all housed in the buildings in which it makes the most sense for them to serve instead of residing in offices in the administration building. For example, the SPED director is in the elementary school, the curriculum director in the high school offices, and I am in an office suite that is outside our Genius Bar between our high school and middle school (one building). I have always loved this setup. I don’t miss out on the everyday interactions between myself and staff and students because I am right in the midst of the action. Do I have students coming randomly into my office more than a typical district administrator and they distract me and keep me from my work? Yep. It’s my favorite part.

But with this setup comes the lonely summer. We are not hunkered down in the administrative office together, we are spread out across the district. The buildings are quiet. The other day I was walking down the hall with one of my favorite custodians (they’re all my favorites) and this conversation transpired:

Me: “I can never get used to how quiet it is in here.”

Him: “I know. Kids and teachers will be back soon.”

Me: “I can’t wait. The halls are so lonely. It’s so strange to look down them and not see teachers chatting in the hall or students at their locker. I miss them.”

And he looked at me with the strangest look on his face and said, “Thank you for saying that. I think so, too.” Then he gave me the biggest, kindest smile I’ve ever seen.

It dawned on me right then he may have been expecting an array of snarky comments back from needing a longer vacation to how much easier our job would be without students. I, myself, have heard it all, so I can’t even imagine what the custodians have heard. In that moment I had the choice of saying something negative. I chose to say what I feel to be true, but he interpreted that as a positive. What made my heart sink was his surprise at my response. Have we really gotten in such a habit of complaining about the entire reason for our jobs that it has become the norm? What people expect? Are we trying to be funny? Because I am widely known for my sarcasm, but I don’t think that negativity against an entire group of people we serve is funny.

I started thinking about how many times I have fallen into this trap with others in conversation, and I was embarrassed that I had sometimes taken the negative road more commonly traveled. It is so much more difficult to be positive when everyone around you is negative, but it’s also so much more important to be so. But, this goes into the deeper conversation of how we really create change. Change, by its very nature, happens by someone doing something different. When we talk about anything that goes against the grain (being positive in a negative climate, building a robust, supportive culture, speaking about teacher mental health issues when some people don’t want to hear it) we will run into adversity. If changes were easy and happened without effort, we’d never need to speak of the hard work that goes into creating real, authentic, lasting change.

The other day I was being interviewed by Forbes for an article on the status of teacher mental health and the person interviewing me asked me what it takes to be an “upstander”. She said, “You know, someone who stands up for what they believe in.” I had to really think about this because my initial reaction was I have no idea. But, I do know that as cliche as it sounds, it often involves taking the road less traveled. I know that sometimes you need to do the things that go against what everyone else seems to be doing, thinking, and saying. People may get mad, they may even get mean (hello? Twitter anyone?), and you need to be able to accept that because those are the ones who need your change the most. Sometimes, those things are difficult and test our will and dedication because there will always be people who don’t agree with you, even on topics that would seem common sense. It takes an unwavering belief in what you believe, it takes resilience when people try to take you down,  and it takes a support system to remind you that you’re not wrong when things start to look grim. Many times, being an upstander involves taking the difficult road when everyone else seems to be taking the easy, more accepted one. That’s the difference between people who stand up for what they believe in and those that just don’t.

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