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.

clean slate

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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Mandy Froehlich · Mental Health Issues · reflections · relationships

When You Begin to Doubt the Power of Relationships

Quite a few people I know focus heavily on data and research. They’re all about if things have been tested out and if they can be replicated in their own classroom. I have no issue with this, but there are some concepts we talk about in education that are difficult to put a number to or maybe haven’t had a viable experiment published to look at. One of these concepts is the importance of relationships. I’ve written about the book The Body Keeps Score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma by Van Der Kolk before, and it is quickly moving up my favorite books list (even though it’s taking me forever to get through it, but that’s only because I somehow think I can read several professional books at the same time and I actually can’t). The book describes the psychological effects of trauma but also goes into some basics about psychology that, in our profession, explains so many things. Honestly, it’s almost uncanny.

In regards to the importance of relationships in general, Van Der Kolk says this:

The Polyvagal Theory “clarified why knowing that we are seen and heard by the important people in our lives can make us feel calm an safe, and why being ignored or dismissed can precipitate rage reactions or mental collapse.”

“Our inner mirror neurons register (others) inner experience, and our own bodies make internal adjustments to whatever we notice…When the message we receive from another person is “You’re safe with me,” we relax. If we’re lucky in our relationships, we also feel nourished, supported, and restored as we look into the face and eyes of the other.”

“The critical issue (of social support) is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety.”

And in regards to trauma directly:

“Many traumatized people find themselves chronically out of sync with the people around them.”

If we are focusing on the importance of relationships in general, our brains are wired to do whatever we can to be a part of a group because even at a subconscious level we are trying to constantly maintain relationships. When you try to redirect that child who constantly says they don’t care, they actually do. When that teacher you work with is disengaged and doesn’t want to participate in the professional development, they actually do. The issue isn’t that the desire isn’t there, it’s that they don’t know how to make that connection or voice their feelings or their social fears are louder than their desire to make things right.

Whether we believe it’s a part of our “personality” to do so or not, our brains desire to be in sync with the people around us. And while I either haven’t gotten this far in the book or it’s not in there, I would imagine that a constant or consistent lack of being able to feel in sync with the people around us, whether it’s because of trauma or not, will lead to an attitude of “not caring” as a defense mechanism. Saying “I’m going to not care because it protects me from the disequilibrium I feel by trying to unsuccessfully have a safe relationship with you” protects ourselves and is easier than trying for the relationship in the first place.

One of my best and worst qualities is the fact that I wear my heart completely on my sleeve. In the past, it was worse than it is now because I have worked really hard to school my features when it comes to communicating with people, but let’s face it, I still stink at it. When I’m loving and caring people love this about me because they feel that connection coming through. But, when I disagree they see that as well. I’ve noticed that because of this when I disagree with something people immediately get defensive without me saying a word. For me, it is an involuntary reaction. However, I wonder how many times I have made people feel out of sync with me just from an involuntary reaction that to me just means I need more information, but for them is perceived as I believe you’re wrong?

I’ve believed for a long time that relationships are the foundation for everything we do. Apparently, our brains believe that, too. So the question is, how can we shift what we do to ensure the people (kids and adults) around us feel safe and loved in order to shift their attitude back to believing in the power of relationships as well? How do our actions and beliefs about certain people perpetuate the lack of a relationship (ie if there’s a child that you don’t care for their attitude, are you perpetuating your lack of being in sync with your own nonverbal communication)? As per usual, the answer to change begins with looking inside ourselves and beginning with us.

connection

growth mindset · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · Mandy Froehlich · reflections

The Power of Mindset

As I’m working on the mindset chapter for my upcoming book, it has been bouncing around my brain how I can incorporate growth mindset and innovator’s mindset and use them to support divergent teaching and learning. I’ve always known that mindset seems to play a part in so much of what we do. It can make us feel better (or worse) about ourselves, our situations, or the people around us. It can make us believe we can do the impossible or convince us that whatever we try won’t work. The way we set our minds can either be one of our most powerful tools or cause destruction depending all on how we choose to think about something.

Case in point lately…when I took my Director of Innovation & Tech job two years ago, I began a commute that takes two hours a day. Over the course of a work week, I’m in the car for ten hours. With four kids, my day job, two books in the making, and presenting and traveling and such, it had become nearly impossible for me to workout. I gained a substantial amount of weight and have fought to take it off to no avail. I lived and died every morning by the scale just praying the salad I had the day before or the lunch protein shake I drank would help me take some weight off. I was so focused on losing weight I couldn’t see anything else. However, recently I began to think about how crappy I felt and began researching ways to make myself feel better. I started a new “diet” with the hopes that I would have more energy and frankly, be able to go to bed later than 9pm. I started thinking about how it was going to work long-term and changed my mindset about why I would eat healthier. It wasn’t about losing weight, it was about getting healthy. And when I could focus on feeling better and how the healthier food made me not sick, the weight began falling off. Now, I have a long way to go, and I’m not saying that if you change your mindset you’ll lose weight, but I am saying that the change in mindset allowed me to look at the reason I was eating food differently, and that has made all the difference.

Recently, I witnessed a conversation questioning the benefit of teaching a growth mindset to kids as it may not have a significant effect on student achievement. The conversation made me so glad that I believe that I teach all facets of being a person, not only student achievement. According to Carol Dweck’s website, these are definitions of growth and false mindsets:

Growth Mindset: “People believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”

Fixed Mindset: “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.”

According to George Couros‘s Innovator’s Mindset, the definition is:

Innovator’s Mindset: The belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas.

As I think about the students I had and the teachers I now work with, I want two things for them:

1) The knowledge and awareness to go with mindset so they know how to change it and 2) the belief that they can develop into more than they ever thought they could.

I don’t need a study in student achievement to know how important it is for a person to believe in themselves. They need an awareness of their own thinking and strategies for changing their mindset should they fall closer to fixed on the mindset continuum. I need them to believe that changing the way they think about something, like a diet, can alter their entire outlook on a concept. I feel like the very foundation of what I do as a teacher is to help kids (and as an administrator…teachers) believe in themselves. To have the mindset that they can develop and grow and that they can have new ideas that can lead to better things is one of the most important ways I can support the kids and adults I work with.

mindset

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.

Core Beliefs · Mandy Froehlich · reflections

On the Continuum of Teacher Engagement

One of the topics that I speak about in my keynotes most often is teacher engagement. I feel that the level of engagement and efficacy we feel in our profession directly correlates to how happy we are in our jobs and subsequently the passion we exhibit when we teach. I’ve spoken about it in the posts The Rules of Teacher Engagement and Why Do Teachers Disengage. I’ve discussed my meaning of teacher engagement as actually being how engaged teachers are in their professions (versus just their professional learning). How much they love teaching. How well they still remember the reason why they’re doing it.

Because I have disengaged from the profession before, I feel like I can talk about it with some degree of expertise, even if that expertise is only because I experienced it and beat it. So I often watch for signs or symptoms of teachers being disengaged because I do feel as part of my job it is my responsibility to help teachers either stay engaged or remember they’re why. And there’s a continuum of disengagement. You are not either engaged or disengaged. It reminds me a bit of the process by which people grieve. Even though grief a similar process and certain stages can be predicted, the actual course it takes can be different for everybody.

I think people assume that you are either happy or not happy in your job. And if you look at a continuum, many people may place happy and then sad or angry at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Even if you want to say you love your job, some may place hate at the opposite end. But I don’t believe either of these to be true. I think that the opposite of happy or love is instead, apathy. When you are sad or angry it means that you are still passionate and you care. I believe this to be true about many things, not just the engagement you feel in teaching. I feel like it’s true about life in general. When you feel numb towards something and the care is gone, you have truly, completely lost your why. And if you’re speaking in regards to emotion toward teaching, I’d most love to be happy, but my second choice would be to be angry because I would know that I still feel passionate enough to fight for what I believe. Apathy on the other hand…I’ve felt that. It’s a hopeless, lost feeling. And if you feel like nothing you do matters, where would you even get the energy to try?

I’ve given many suggestions on how to re-energize yourself into teaching in the other blog posts, but I feel like the most important is awareness of the issue. Knowing it can happen to anyone. I would have put myself up against the most passionate educator when I began teaching. I loved it. I knew about burnout and disengaging. I didn’t believe it could happen to me.

If you reach the point of apathy I don’t think all is lost. I definitely do not think that if you reach this point you need to necessarily leave the profession. Reigniting the flame for learning and loving what you do may just take a little bit more time. I really do actually think being open and talking to somebody about it can help. Blogging, finding a passion, or taking up a new interest and education are a few things that can bring a teacher back into loving what they do. Doing mental body scans, paying attention to your physical and emotional well-being to catch it early, and using self-care are all important steps as well. Blaming others and being angry will not help. Give yourself and the profession a clean slate. The reconnection is not immediate, but the same resilience and grit we ask our kids to employ every day will help get you there. It took me about eight months to figure out why I had gotten into education again after I figured out I wanted to leave. But the time and the effort it took was so worth it.

apathy

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 · Mental Health Issues · professional development · reflections · The Fire Within Book #FireWithinBook · Trust

Why Do Teachers Disengage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the symptoms of burnout include:

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

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

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

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

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

Cognitive

Lowered Concentration
Apathy
Rigid thinking
Perfectionism
Preoccupation with trauma

Emotional

Guilt
Anger
Numbness
Sadness
Helplessness

Behavioral

Withdrawal
Sleep disturbance
Appetite change
Hyper-vigilance
Elevated startle response

Physical

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

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

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

engagement saying