Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships · Teacher Engagement

The Value and Necessity of Forgiveness

I watched a video on Facebook yesterday about The Mengele Twins – a woman who was kept with her twin sister as a science experiment during the Holocaust. Her family was killed and she and her sister were tortured and injected with unknown substances that made them very sick. At the end of the interview, she spoke about how she met with two of the doctors that did this and forgave them for what they did. She said, “But what is my forgiveness? I like it. It is an act of self-healing, self-liberation, self-empowerment…I want everyone to remember that we can not change what happened. That is the tragic part. But we can change how we react to it.”

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on the concept of forgiveness since revisiting and sharing my story in The Fire Within, and it’s taken me a long time to even write this post. There are some commonalities between the stories within the book. In every story, there is resilience, determination, reflection, growth, and forgiveness. In every story, the choice that people made in how to react to their adversity involved forgiving the people who caused the hurt. One of my most important life lessons has been:

Quote 2

The story I share in the book that led me to this conclusion was very personal, but there are professional connotations. The Mengele Twins story from the video was heartbreaking and tragic beyond words. The stories in The Fire Within are adversities that can be difficult to read. But there are many times beyond major adversities that we need employ forgiveness. Many times I have needed to forgive someone in my professional life that may not have been ready or willing to say they were sorry. They may not have understood the damage they caused. They may not have had the tools to understand what they did. They may not, from their perspective, believe they were wrong.

I’ve been the victim of workplace bullying. I’ve been told that I’m not boots on the ground because I’m an administrator. I’ve been told that my ideas are too way out there to be real. I’ve been made to feel inferior and stupid and wrong. Sometimes, it’s been as simple as an idea I’ve been really excited about that was shot down. Sometimes, it’s been about sitting in a meeting and contributing to the conversation, only to have everything I say ignored. It doesn’t need to be a major adversity that makes me feel hurt. It can be all the small hurts along the way that add up.

And I know what people say. It’s easy to believe that people who do things wrong don’t deserve to be forgiven when you’re angry and hurt. But here’s the part of forgiveness that I figured out a long time ago: true forgiveness isn’t about those people. Forgiveness is allowing yourself to accept the things you cannot change and find the peace you need to let go of the anger. Forgiveness is actually about you and valuing your own happiness and peace over anger and sadness. It allows you to build your self-worth and confidence because there is more power in controlling your ability to forgive than allowing someone else to make you angry.

There are also a few things that I think forgiveness is not:

  • It does not mean you’re weak. To forgive someone who has hurt you actually takes a massive amount of strength to let go of the anger.
  • It does not excuse the people for their behavior.
  • It does not mean you forget what happened.
  • It does not mean you put yourself in the situation of allowing it to happen again.

It’s also important to allow forgiveness for yourself. We all make mistakes and we all have things we struggle with. So many times we feel guilty because we can’t balance, for example. A smart friend of mine told me lately that balance does not mean 50/50, yet I know that as I’m typing this post I’m feeling guilty for not speaking to my daughter sitting next to me, and when I put my work away and chat with her, I’m going to feel guilty about the work I didn’t get done during that time. But, forgiving my inability to effectively balance allows me to let go of the guilt that I constantly feel.

Developing the ability to recognize when forgiveness is necessary and what I need to reflect on to make it happen has made me a less angry person and letting go of that allows me to focus on the things that make me happy in my job and keep the negativity from dragging me down. I really do feel like adversities that hurt us are one of the reasons why teachers disengage from the profession. Forgiveness and letting go of the anger can be one of our best defenses and a way to keep us happy and engaged in our jobs and doing the best for the little people we serve.

Climate · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships · Social Media

Is it better to be kind or right?

I am on Twitter because my friends are there. The ones who push my thinking and who I want to see what they are doing professionally because they make me a better person. I wholeheartedly agree with Aaron Hogan‘s famous quote, “Twitter won’t change your life, but the educators you meet there will.”

There are times, though, when I feel like Twitter is like being back in the school playground at recess. Realistically, most of us have the desire to get along with everyone, but there will always be people we gravitate toward because of similar interests, opinions, etc, but there are other groups of people who have similar beliefs who stick together, and hypothetically, (especially) because we work in a human-focused profession, we should be able to disagree respectfully and remain kind. Lately, I feel like the difference between pushing someone’s thinking and arguing in an unprofessional fashion have been separated by a very fine line. And I, honestly, don’t think that challenging thinking and rudeness should have a fine line. I think it should be very, very thick, in fact.

When someone challenges my thinking, I feel like I’ve had an ah-ha moment. I have found some way that I know I can change my own practice for the better. It leaves me feeling invigorated and ready to move forward. They have probably acknowledged what I’m doing right and have pointed out an area where I could grow with HOW I could change. Maybe they have kindly suggested a resource or person who might help me. I have probably asked more questions for clarification. Overall, it’s a good experience on both sides. This kind of push is why I get on social media. I am a better professional now than I was prior to Twitter.

What I don’t understand is when the need is so high to be right that the basics of human kindness are completely forgotten. In any argument, there is always an element of truth on both sides, even if that truth is the perception of being right. And as I’ve said before, in many instances, it is not our job to tell someone they are wrong, but instead to shift their perception. We will never shift perception with words that make people’s walls go up. The second they feel angry, resentful, backed into a corner, or like others are being unkind, they stop listening. So, if just being kind isn’t a good enough reason to push someone’s thinking versus being rude, the logical, reasonable expectation that you will not accomplish changing someone’s mind with unkind words should be. Because if you’re not trying to shift their perception, what are you trying to accomplish?

The older I’ve gotten, the more I understand that being kind is more important than being right.  I’m not going to lie, sometimes, that means I need to check my temper, bite my tongue, and take a break from a conversation because I really, really like to be right. Sometimes, I forget and need to apologize and try harder because I’m human. But, being right should never be more important than a relationship. And if I find I’m not being heard, then I need to either accept that it might not be the right time to change that person’s perception or that I’m not doing a good enough job at being persuasive. After all, we are modeling these behaviors for kids, and we shouldn’t expect any better behavior out of them than we exhibit ourselves.

Kindness

Climate · Culture · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships · Trust

When Doing Nothing Causes Distrust

I believe that it is human nature to want to trust people, but it’s definitely a feeling that when broken, takes a great deal of time to mend. It’s imperative that we have trust in the people around us for support, kindness, empathy, and collaboration. Many times we associate the breaking of trust with something someone does to us. Their words or actions cause us to feel betrayed. For example, when your principal says they support risk-taking, but then chastise you for a failed lesson attempt. It’s like an action causes a reaction, and that reaction is distrust.

I also believe, however, that distrust can also be earned by not doing. The lack of action can cause just as much of a wave in a relationship (personal or professional) as an action.

When we don’t do what we say we are going to do
If you’ve ever uttered the phrase “I’ll believe it when I see it” about someone, you’ve lost trust in that person to finish what they say they will do. A repeated lack of follow through, even if it’s not in the same area of assistance can cause trust to dwindle with every occurrence. The lack of action can be anything from not finishing assigned collaborations to not being available for support when needed. It can even be in the perception of someone not doing their job when their lack of assistance or attention affects the way that you do your job.

When we don’t anticipate needs
We obviously cannot anticipate everyone’s needs all the time, but I do believe that in this area people will award points for effort when they feel that the majority of the time people are being proactive versus reactive. Reactiveness causes anxiety and stress for many people and can cause a person to wonder why the situation couldn’t be seen coming (of course, depending on the situation). In terms of trust, if I feel you rely more on reactiveness than proactiveness, I may feel like I need to be more on point in order to catch situations for someone versus with someone because I don’t trust you to anticipate needs.

When we say nothing (or focus on the wrong feeling)
I recently saw a quote that said, “Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is nothing at all.” In regards to trust, I think of this saying more in the way of referencing when we need support. If I am asking for support and I’m not getting it, I will probably lose trust in that you will ever support me. Support also includes, however, the ability to have challenging conversations with people who need to improve their practice, so not only the positive feel-good support but holding people accountable as well. In focusing on the wrong feeling causing distrust, I worked in a school once where the principal refused to focus any energy on the issues that were plaguing the climate & culture of the building. Instead, she would point out only the good things that were happening but ignored the lack of positive relationships or accountability for everyone in the building which caused a major distrust of her.

Your choice in words and actions can convey a powerful message but your lack of them can as well. Remembering that not only our actions but our lack thereof can cause a lack of trust needs to be kept in mind when being purposeful in our leadership and communication with the people around us. Trust can be broken in an instant and takes patience, diligence, and dependability in order to rebuild.

trust

Change · Climate · Culture · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships

When The Ball Finally Drops

I was sitting in the car on my way to a doctor’s appointment this morning desperate, mentally willing my blood pressure to lower. I had a deep feeling of dread in my stomach. The moment that I knew was coming for the last few months had finally happened. Right before I left for the doctor’s appointment, I had found out I dropped a ball.

It wasn’t a large ball by any stretch, a medium one maybe, but the first major one I had dropped since being in my new role. I guess going into my third year, that’s not too bad, but I needed to get bailed out by my network administrator…while he was on vacation. And while I get along smashingly well with my network admin, his last words to me before he signed off were, “Try not to break anything.” Yea. It was a seriously stupid move on my part. He was very, very patient with me, which is a true testament to the amazing, working relationship that we have formed over the last couple years because believe me when I say, at that point he could have easily made me cry.

There has been a perfect storm brewing around me lately. I’ve been feeling it for months and have even spoken to my close group of friends about it. I have been saying yes too much, and I have had more and more balls in the air lately. As a result, I’ve been doing stuff halfway, and I know halfway is probably a compliment to my work. I was working hard. Always working. Continue to say yes. Put in more work. I do a fantastic job at preaching balance and a terrible job at finding it.

And the minute I try to find balance one of the balls drop because I feel like if I don’t keep working, something won’t get done. And I’m right, it won’t. What I’m trying to determine is how much it matters if it doesn’t.

Why was I going to the doctor? Stress. Oh, the irony.

I struggle with finding balance. I try to be everything to everyone. And I do really believe in balance, truly. It’s just that I wish better things for everyone else than I do myself. That’s a problem and I know it.

But one of the issues that I full on caused myself (besides consistently saying yes) was that I took this new role and was trying to push too much change. It annoys me how slow education moves and the benefit of working in a small district is how quickly the ship can be righted. However, I have been pushing my department too far too quickly. We have revamped the way we hand out devices to elementary and middle school, we reworked the Parent & Student Handbook, implemented a new way to follow our department strategic plan (along with writing one to begin with), implemented a completely new inventory system, I updated job descriptions and implemented a new system of evaluation, we went single sign-on as much as we could, refigured devices and pulled back on purchasing, pulled all old devices, implemented a device refresh, redid our district website (coming soon)…I could go on and on, and this has all been in two years. Even though I believe that our department, overall, has a positive climate, I have stressed out one of my members to the point of tears. Basically, in my quest to get logistics changed and procedures in line so I could really get to the heart of student learning, I have lead my team down a path where we were going 1000 miles per minute. I’m impressed they still allow me to lead them.

I do this to myself sometimes. Like that feeling from when you were a kid and you tried rolling down a hill and you can’t stop. The one light in the whole situation was that I found how quickly my team could rally to turn the tides on a mistake. And when I had to email my programmer, also on vacation, to do something for me asap to right the wrong, I apologized profusely for bothering her on vacation. Her response was, “You’ve done so much for me, it’s the least I can do.” I get that we all make mistakes, but my biggest error lately is not only working myself to death but dragging others along with me. Some changes aren’t immediate, and being cognizant of the way your actions affect the people around you is so much more important than a new inventory system or website. We have developed the culture in our department that when we make a mistake, we say we are sorry and we try again the next day with a clean slate. I guess I’ll be taking advantage of this belief system this time. There’s nothing that will stop you faster from rolling down the hill than hitting a tree. It hurts and you feel embarrassed, but you get up and dust yourself off and keep moving forward.


slow down

Core Beliefs · Mandy Froehlich · reflections · relationships · Social Media

Kids These Days

I truly believe that part of being an advocate for kids is believing that all of them, no matter what, possess redeeming qualities. I know that I see kids do absolutely amazing things with talent and grit and an awareness of other people that I don’t remember myself or my classmates having when I was their age. On the flip side, I know we have students who are so angry and struggling and do things that are unkind and frankly, sometimes violent. But, instead of asking why the students are so poorly behaved, I think the better question is what support did we miss as parents/educators/society and how can we bring out the goodness? My point being…no matter the child, if we don’t believe that there is a place inside of them that has the potential for greatness then that is more about our shortcomings than it is about them.

I often hear adults speaking about kids like they are some lost group of souls; that they make bad choices, they have terrible attitudes, they’re impolite and spend all their time doing inappropriate things on social media. While there are many lines of thinking where I am very open to listening to the other side of the coin, believing that kids these days are inherently bad is just not one of them. If that’s truly what I believed, I clearly don’t belong in education. What I believe people sometimes miss is that kids live in a world that adults created for them and are just trying to survive the reality we concocted.

For every time that I have seen a child not say thank you, I have held the door for an adult who has given me about the same attention as a doorstop.

For every child I have seen bully someone on social media, I have seen an adult get personal and nasty over political posts on Facebook or Twitter.

For every student I have seen lash out physically at another person, I have seen an adult grab their child too roughly in a grocery store or watched brutal shows on TV.

For every inappropriate song that I’ve heard a student listening to, I have been listening to my own 80’s playlist with Pour Some Sugar On Me and She Shook Me All Night Long.

Do students make poor choices? Absolutely. As do adults, and we are supposed to be the models. But deviant or socially unacceptable behavior does not equal worthlessness. What we believe for students could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I would so much rather believe that our students have greatness in them and take the chance that that’s the prophecy that comes true than believe that they are inherently awful and perpetuate that thought into the universe. Students learning differently, speaking differently, listening and communicating differently, does not mean that the way they do it is wrong. If I have to be the one person that believes in a student when it seems hopeless I will be that person because that’s why I got into education and that’s what teachers do. If you ask me about kids these days, I will tell you about all the kids I know that are already better people than I ever was at their age.

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Change · Climate · Core Beliefs · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships

Who Do You Want to Mirror?

I am absolutely hooked on the book The Body Keeps Score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD. It is not a book based solely in education, but it has so many educational implications. From an academic standpoint, the material interests me because I think that the brain is fascinating. From a personal standpoint, I would like to learn more about myself and the people around me. The book is fantastic on all levels.

One of the many concepts discussed in the book is a specialized group of cells in the brain’s cortex called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are the cause of why sometimes when we spend time with someone we begin to pick up the cadence of their voice or the specific way they move. It’s the part of the brain that causes mimicking even if it is subconscious. The part of the chapter that stood out to me was:

“But our mirror neurons also make us vulnerable to others’ negativity, so that we respond to their anger with fury or are dragged down by their depression.”

The author also discusses the need for traumatized people to learn to control this mirroring as to not have their emotions “hijacked” by negative people around them.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I’ve seen it in action. In one of the districts I worked in, there was a school that had an incredibly negative climate. I was between several schools at the time in the position I was in, and this school was the only one that was so negative. I found that if I spent more than three days in a row at that school, I began hating my job. I would complain nonstop. I would want out of the building as soon as possible. I just felt all ugly and yucky inside. After reading this part of the chapter, I’m wondering if that was my mirroring neurons at work reflecting what I was seeing in the teachers I was working with.

This experience made me very aware of how the people I surround myself affect me. I began to connect with more positive people and noticed a huge change in my own personality. I didn’t want to be negative anymore. It was so much more rewarding to be positive. Sometimes, even still, I get looked at funny by people who previously knew the me that was more sarcastic and negative, but I don’t allow them to affect me. There are times that I feel like I’m surrounded by people like this:

but that’s when I know I need to move on to being with my more positive colleagues and friends. I’ve always said that I am only as good as the people I surround myself with and that doesn’t only mean professionally. It also affects everything from my positivity to my self-worth. Everyone should have people around them that makes them feel good, and our brain even functions in the way to mirror those people. So, when you find yourself in a group of people, the questions are: are these the people you want to mirror and are we being the person that others would want to mirror? By being aware of the mirroring phenomenon, we have the ability to change the climate just by making the decision to not be like the negative people around us. Then, ideally, people might see the positives as something they’d want to mirror instead eventually breaking the cycle of negativity.

reflect

Mandy Froehlich · Mental Health Issues · reflections · relationships · The Fire Within Book #FireWithinBook

Self-awareness & Advocacy for Educator Mental Health

Because of my upcoming book The Fire Within: Lessons from defeat that have ignited a passion for learning, I am asked a lot about social-emotional learning and support for students. I’m not sure my answer ever goes where people expect it to go. While I believe that we need to focus on the students and their needs, I do believe that there is a place where teachers need to be emotionally healthy in order to help our students the best they can. By taking care of ourselves we are ultimately helping our students. By the district supporting teachers’ emotional and mental health, we are in turn supporting students. While students certainly are our main focus for everything we do, they cannot be our only focus. Mentally and emotionally strong teachers (even if that strength comes from working through their challenges) is necessary to really know and understand what our students need.

We are beginning to recognize the mental health challenges and issues that our students are experiencing. For the last few years, we have implemented brain breaks and mindfulness techniques. Lately, I’ve seen a rise in the recommendations for teachers to practice mindfulness as well. In general, I’ve found that districts recognize the need for mindfulness and balance, but because the workload never changes, many educators feel like the idea of mindfulness is just one more thing to do.

While I do believe that everyone should learn mindfulness techniques and choose strategies that work for them, I maintain that these strategies are not going to be enough for people who suffer from a mental health issues, nor is it going to give the co-workers of these people a support structure to help when those people are struggling. Sometimes, both knowing to ask for help and knowing how to give it are not inherent qualities. Sometimes, knowing these things needs to be taught and practiced.

Awareness and Advocacy
One of the most important steps to take when beginning the journey of being the best teacher you can be is growing your self-awareness and advocating for yourself and others (think destigmatizing mental health issues). Knowing how your feeling and monitoring your stress levels, especially if you do suffer from a mental illness, is going to be the difference between being able to be proactive and reactive to an increase in the intense feelings that can come on sometimes unexpectedly. Testing strategies of what works for you when you begin to feel overwhelmed and keeping those in your back pocket will allow you to take control of the stress. For example, I have anxiety and I suffer from panic attacks. When I feel one beginning, I know I need someone to talk to me about anything silly and innocuous because it helps calm me. That is my strategy number one. My second strategy is to read a book. Altogether, I have about five strategies that I can pull out at any given time to help me work through my anxiety, however, I needed to develop a deep self-awareness to know what I needed and when I might need to deploy them. Strategies are specific to the person. I have friends who prefer to be alone to process, and that’s okay too if that’s working for them.

I am a strong advocate for districts to implement programs to provide better support for teachers. Teaching how to balance life, work smarter not harder, deal with trauma in both their own lives and their students, are issues that districts need to address. However, realistically, we need to take control of our own stories and focus on what we can do for ourselves as well. We are the holders of our own feelings, and only we can be the ones to make the decision to grow from what we learn about ourselves. If we wait around for the support to come to us, we may be waiting too long. Also, it’s important that when I’m finally offered support, I know what it is that I need. I need to know what to ask for.

Secondary Traumatic Stress
In writing my book, I’ve learned about Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) which is another issue that, as educators, we need to be aware of. STS is when a professional works with people (in our case, students) who suffer from trauma. The professionals can develop the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder including (taken from Secondary Trauma):

intrusive thoughts
chronic fatigue
sadness
anger
poor concentration
second guessing
detachment
emotional exhaustion
fearfulness
shame
physical illness
absenteeism

Secondary Traumatic Stress needs to be addressed and dealt with. Sometimes, it’s necessary to see a counselor to work through the feelings and have strategies going forward. This is another area where both teachers need to be self-aware and districts need to provide additional support. If you already suffer from PTSD, developing STS can exacerbate your own issues depending on where you are in your own healing process, which is just another reason to be reflective and self-aware enough to recognize when there are changes in your emotions.

Most importantly, the more we acknowledge these challenges and support each other instead of holding it in and feeling alone, the quicker we will destigmatize the mental health issues that everyone either has or know someone who has. Recently, my counselor (yes, I see one because sometimes I need help with my feelings and I’m not embarrassed by it) said to me, “Putting a voice to something that others keep in their heads is called bravery.” And when we are brave, we gift the others around us the courage to do the same.

courage

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

Leadership & The Depth of Relationships

The other day I was working with the administrative team at a school district near Chicago. We were dissecting the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking and, like many times during this workshop, we began to talk about relationships. Because relationships are the foundation for so much of what we do in education, it should be the focus of any conversation regarding change or growing or improvement.

What we often don’t get specific enough about is the depth of relationships we have with our colleagues. I’ve always felt like I wanted to treat the people that I work closest with like family. It was the same way in my classroom…my students were like my children. Many times there is this unspoken uncertainty about how close a leader should get to their colleagues. I can say with certainty that I spend as much if not more time at work with department people than I do at home with my family. I want to care about these people. I want them to know the actual me. I want people at work to understand that if I ask them how they are doing, I legitimately care about their answer. They need to know that if they are having a bad day, I will stop what I’m doing and listen.

This morning, I was fortunate enough that my YouTube knew I wanted to listen to Simon Sinek (one of my faves) and brought me to this video (honestly, I have no idea why it’s called Do You Love Your Wife – don’t let that throw you off from watching).

There were two specific points he made that caught my attention in regards to the depth of leadership relationships.

I’ve got your back
He begins the video with speaking about how in the military, they refer to each other as brothers and sisters, and how these kinds of relationships indicate a unique level of closeness. You may bicker and argue things out and tease each other, but if anyone attacks each other, they know that they have each other’s backs. While I would say that I definitely do not have this kind of relationship with all the teachers in the district (not that I don’t want it, but I have yet to get to know them well enough), I do have it with my immediate charges in my department. I have bickered with them and we have disagreed and I have turned around and gone to bat for them if they have been treated unfairly. I am 110% positive that they would do the same for me at all times. We have needed to apologize to each other for things and it has never changed the way our relationships function. What else it means is that I trust them to do their job and they trust me to do mine, they always know that in every decision I make I will keep their interests in mind, and if they go along with one of my decisions it’s because they agree, because if they didn’t I trust they would tell me. That is the kind of relationship I want with my team.

I have cultivated these relationships by taking the time to get to know each member of my team. I know what makes them tick, know their little eccentricities and strengths and weaknesses. I support their weaknesses sometimes without them even knowing because I feel their weaknesses don’t need to be highlighted all the time as they are making growth. Sometimes we all just need support without the reminder of our pitfalls. I have attended funerals, laughed with them until I cried, and have been honest about areas that I need professional support as well and have asked them for it. I am forthcoming about what I don’t know and when I make a mistake, I tell them and I apologize. Creating these types of relationships isn’t rocket science, it’s just treating people like they’re human and in turn, acting like you are, too.

I will follow you no matter what
For me, the most powerful and inspiring piece from the video came near the end when he said this:

Courage is not some deep, internal fortitude. You don’t dig down deep and find the courage. It just doesn’t exist. Courage is external. Our courage comes from the support we feel from others. In other words, when you feel that someone has your back, when you know that the day you admit you can’t do it someone will be there and say, “I got you. You can do this.” That’s what gives you the courage to do the difficult thing…It’s the relationships that we foster. It’s the people around us that love us and care about us and believe in us, and when we have those relationships we will find the courage to do the right thing and when you act with courage, that in turn will inspire those in your organization to also act with courage…Those relationships that we foster over the course of a lifetime will not only make us the leaders that we need to be and hope we can be, but they will often save your life. They’ll save you from depression. They’ll save you from giving up. They’ll save you from any matter of negative feelings about your own capabilities, your own future, when someone just says, “I love you and I will follow you no matter what.”

One of my mentors often asks me in regards to anything I take on, “Do you want to be good or do you want to be great?” and I know that if I want to be a great leader someday, my focus needs to be on building these kinds of relationships because there is no way that when I leave my position anyone is going to say, “Wow, she was a great leader. Remember how she had us use that Trello board for organization? I’ll never forget that. It was fantastic.” They will remember the way I made them feel, the ways I showed them I cared, and how I always had their backs. I will remember about them how they gave me the courage to try to be a better leader and teammate and to pick battles I may not have otherwise picked because of the support I knew I had when I returned to our department. The amount of growth I’ve experienced in this position can be credited to the amount of support that I have received directly from the people on my team. We all took the time to cultivate those kinds of relationships together and it has made all the difference in the way our department functions and more importantly, the positive feelings we have toward everything we are able to accomplish together.

simon sinek

Core Beliefs · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships · Social Media

My Core Beliefs: I’m Only as Good as the People I Surround Myself With

This is a post in the Core Beliefs Series. To read the introductory post, click here.

In other words, relationships are the most important investment I make.

When I was a first-year teacher, I took a one-year limited term contract job to teach cooking and Human Growth and Development to middle schoolers. I had no interest in teaching middle school. In fact, I believe that I had expressed this several times, but in an era where there were 800 applicants to every one teaching job, you didn’t turn an opportunity down. I’ll never forget walking into my office that first day. On the right of the office, on the high shelves, there were boxes of deodorant (a staple for every middle school classroom) and shaving cream. On the left, on the highest shelf, I could see laminated posters. With my elementary training, I conjured images of inspirational elephant posters or a “50 more interesting words than thing” chart. I reached up and brought them down only to discover they were posters of venereal diseases. Images I’ll never be able to erase from my brain. I slowly reached up and put them back on the shelf and wouldn’t go back in that office for a few weeks. Also, I was a terrible cook. I can’t imagine what those poor kids thought as I struggled to teach them even the basics of making an omelet. But, all of this teaching struggle taught me so many important lessons. I realized I loved middle schoolers, which taught me to never pre-judge opportunities. I also realized that many people can teach the content, after all, I had no idea what I was doing content-wise, but I knew I had to create relationships with the kids. How would I have spoken to middle schoolers about HG&D without creating a connection first? The relationships not only fulfilled that part of me that loved teaching kids, but also showed me that I could learn content if I wasn’t familiar with it but I couldn’t teach that content without the relationships.

I have also worked hard to grow my PLN, and when it comes down to it, I have really amazing friends. I know people who are very literally changing the face of education. They are caring, considerate, kind. They value students as I do and spend energy helping others as I believe in. I have been fortunate to meet these people, but it’s my desire to cultivate relationships that has kept me connected and continually learning from them. I do this by not only making time to listen when they are doing something incredible and want to share but also when they need support, even if it’s not advice they desire but just to vent. My PLN is literally world-wide. I have friends in Australia and England and Canada as well as all over the US. What I’m most proud of is when someone tells me they know they can count on me if they need me. That’s how I know I’ve done my job in that relationship, and it holds a very high value to me.

A few months ago, I read an article about Elon Musk and the Neuralink project he’s working on where he wants to have a chip planted into people’s brains. He wants to start with people who have a disability in order to assist them.  His goal is to have it available to the general public in eight to ten years.

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When I proposed this project to a group of teachers, I said to them, “Hypothetically, we could be discussing our current kindergarteners being high schoolers having chips in their brains that function like a computer. What will you do when you no longer teach facts?” The number one response was that teachers would be obsolete, but I disagree. If this would come to fruition, we would need a shift in education that focuses on real-world problem finding and solving, critical thinking skills, creativity, soft skills, innovative thinking and among other things, the ability to create positive relationships. Wait, but students have devices that function as a computer in their hands at all times now (cell phones)! While some people might be afraid of this shift, I celebrate it because our focus would become relationships. We would be able to spend more time getting to know our students and connecting with them, and THAT’S why I got into education in the first place. I wanted to teach kids first, content second.

And maybe I should be more specific, because we all create relationships with our students, but we want to focus on the positive ones. My second son had major speech issues and some small motor skills problems when he was younger. He had started early childhood two weeks after he turned three years old. When he was in an early grade, he liked his teacher. He came home one night and colored her a picture. Spent a lot of time coloring and drawing, which was really difficult for him. He got an envelope and decorated the envelope for her, stuffed the drawing in, and was so beyond excited to give it to her. When I picked him up from school the next day, I waited for him to tell me about the picture and he didn’t. So I asked. He told me that she instructed him to put the envelope on her desk. He didn’t see if she opened it or what she did with it, and she never said anything to him about it. He was heartbroken. In all the rest of his years in school, he never made a teacher another picture or wrote a teacher a note. Now I understand that the teacher was probably insanely busy and doing 100 things at once, but every move we make affects the kids around us and the relationships that we create. Kids won’t learn from people they don’t like. Positive, connected, deeply seeded relationships should be our focus, and every single small moment counts.

Relationships should be the fundamental reason that we are in education. I truly believe that we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with. Our PLN, our colleagues, and especially our students should make us better people. They should give us strength when it’s wavering and a high-five when something goes exceptionally well, just as we would do for them.

I have built my PLN through social media and have taken time to meet them or connect with them either at conferences or via apps like Voxer. It takes time, no doubt, to maintain these relationships, but anything worthwhile will take time. My friend, George Couros, always says that we make time for the things that are important to us. I have found that spending the time on relationships is the best investment I’ve made.

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Core Beliefs · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · my classroom · professional development · reflections · relationships

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.

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