Leading In and From the Classroom

Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Kalexanderson.

The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel they’re valued.

~Sir Ken Robinson

 

I am a middle child and relished the role of “leading” my younger brother. He, however, wasn’t a very cooperative follower. 🙂 While I was somewhat shy as a child, I could organize my group of friends at recess like it was my job. I lived in the country without many neighbors, but the two younger neighbor girls that I played with always heeded my direction. Okay, so they didn’t have much choice, but it worked for me, nevertheless.

I had the mindset of a leader and my actions reflected that. As I entered adolescence, and then young adulthood, those leadership skills were somewhat dormant as I battled teenage angst and all that goes with it. Later, they reemerged as a classroom teacher, and then continued to strengthen and grow when I became a curriculum director, and now as a consultant.

I have always enjoyed spending time with young children, and have always enjoyed learning and growing. Those two passions led me to a career in education. That took leadership to a whole new level. I’m not of the notion that you are either born a leader, or not. No, while some people might have characteristics that make leading easier for them, we can all develop leadership capabilities.

Leadership is not about title or position, but about mindset.

Teachers, you are all leaders. You are the leaders in your classroom, in your hallway, and like it or not, in the community. The number of students you impact each year is mind blowing. Why did you become an educator? I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us became teachers because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of the students we’d be teaching. We had a desire to serve them in some way.

The best leaders have that servant’s heart for those they are leading.

Think back to a time when you were a student in your favorite teacher’s classroom. What made him/her your favorite? I bet it wasn’t because of the awesome lectures they gave, or the super fun worksheets you got to do for homework each night. I’m guessing it was more about how they related to you personally, or how engaging they made the learning process.

Exceptional teachers and exceptional leaders all seem to possess the same traits. They have a servant attitude. They work to build relationships with each of their students. They think and teach innovatively. And they each have a desire to continue growing.

In the classroom

Building relationships has to be what happens first before true learning and change can occur.

As a teacher, you enter the classroom every day with the absolute assurance that you are going to influence every student’s life that day. It’s true. You will make an impact of some kind every single day you see that child. The question is, what type of impact will you have?

  • Connect with them
  • Start each day with the goal to serve your students better than you did yesterday
  • Allow students to hold the reins of their own learning
  • Teach leadership skills (true leaders produce more leaders)

Before PokemonGo was even a thing, I had a young boy who would only write about Pokemon during writer’s workshop. Every. Single. Day. I tried to “encourage” him to investigate new topics…to no avail. In order to grow his writing skills I had to find a way to connect with him. So, I let him teach me all about the world of Pokemon through his writing. He’s twenty-three now. I’m pretty sure he grew out of the Pokemon phase, but still has writing strategies to help him be successful in everyday life. I could’ve played the teacher card and “made” him write about something else, but he wouldn’t have enjoyed that or produced his best writing. He was willing to learn what I was teaching because I met him at his place of interest. We have to allow students to hold the reins of their own learning.

Exceptional teachers ARE exceptional leaders.

In the hallway (and beyond)

Teachers are not only leaders in the classroom and to their students. You lead in the hallway. You lead in your school building. And you lead in the district. You probably all have a grade level or department chair. Most likely, that person is seen as the leader of your team. While that is true, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other leaders on the team, and multiple ways to serve as leaders.

  • Share what you are doing in the classroom
  • Be vulnerable with one another
  • Reflect on experiences and discuss best practices
  • Use your gifts (organization, etc.)
  • Open your classroom up for visitors to observe

Have you heard of the #ObserveMe movement? If you are open to having other teachers or administrators observe you during their free time, then you simply hang a sign outside your door with the hashtag #ObserveMe. Some teachers include pieces of paper, like this teacher, to inform the observer what she wants you to look for in her instruction. Others just have a dry erase board that they change when their goals change. It’s a brilliant way to increase your learning, while being vulnerable with your colleagues. Some amazing learning occurs for both the observers and the teacher being observed. And it costs you nothing but time and some brain power.

In the community

I once heard a principal say that they’d never live in the town where they worked. While I understand the need for privacy, I think that is a sad statement. You miss out on learning about your students’ lives and connecting with their families on a personal level if you aren’t a part of the community.

  • Interact with parents and students in the community
  • Go to community events
  • Attend sporting and fine arts events (shows you support your students)
  • Be real, but maintain integrity

What leadership characteristics most resonate with you? Having a servant’s heart? Building relationships? Being innovative in thinking and teaching? A strong desire to grow? In which areas do you need to try a little harder? Why do you stay in education? I stay because I believe in the power of innovative education. I believe in the foundation of servant leadership. It’s not a job. It’s not a position. And it’s more than a philosophy or style of leadership. It’s part of who we are. We are educators. AND, we are leaders.

 

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Posted in Education, Leadership, Professional Experiences | Tagged , , ,

EdTech Comfort Zones – From G Suite to Office 365

Feature image courtesy of Flickr, developer_steve.

What is your preferred platform for regular digital work? What makes it your favorite?

I learned how to use Microsoft Word and Appleworks (yes, I’m old) in high school. I continued to use those tools for basic word processing tasks through my first few years of teaching. At some point, Appleworks went away. Not a big deal. As a second-grade teacher with just a few old iMacs in my classroom for kids to play games on, I didn’t need very robust technology tools. Or so I thought.

I migrated from Microsoft to Google Drive in 2011 when I became the curriculum director for the district. It was still mostly unheard of to my colleagues, and I began evangelizing the benefits over Word. As soon as people worked on their first shared document, they were sold for new creation. I didn’t have to do much promoting other than giving them experience using it. A couple of years later, the district decided to not purchase Microsoft products for the students or renew it on the teachers’ devices, hoping to push them to make that final conversion into Google Drive.

‘Word is a teacher-comfort, not a student-necessity’ – EdTech Comfort ZonesCLICK TO TWEET

This was more of a process for “seasoned” teachers who still housed large amounts of instructional materials in a local server. They complained about the time it would take to transfer their files over to Drive. I also remember arguments claiming that we weren’t adequately preparing our students for college if they didn’t know how to use Word. To me (then and now), it makes the most sense to teach them word processing skills, spreadsheet functions, and presentation design regardless of the platform in which they choose to work. There are no guarantees that their professors and/or workplaces will only use Microsoft. A colleague said, “Word is a teacher-comfort, not a student-necessity.

I’ve worked entirely in Google Drive for the last six or so years. Recently, I have had to use Office 365 for a couple of the school districts I’m working with. So I can be better versed in it, I’m trying to use it more when my muscle memory really wants to open Google Drive. And I find myself lamenting over this change just as my former colleagues did when I asked them to totally convert to Google. It’s taking me three times as long to do anything in O365 simply because I am not used to it. Microsoft has done an outstanding job revamping their platform to compete with Google, but some of the functionalities are different. And those differences are pushing me to the verge of tantrum throwing.

‘Very little learning occurs within a comfort zone’ – EdTech Comfort ZonesCLICK TO TWEET

Most recently, I was working on a PowerPoint while sitting in the airport. I knew I had a two+ hour flight ahead of me and was happy to get some more concentrated work time in on this project. Now I have done this multiple times in the Google Slides platform with no issues. In PowerPoint, however, I opened my Chromebook (my favorite device for traveling) and discovered that I don’t have offline capabilities from OneDrive. It’s a good thing I have some traveling etiquette established, otherwise, I might have taken this discovery with a bit less decorum.

Could there be offline capabilities that I”m not aware of? Definitely. Will my work in O365 get easier as I become more accustomed to its nuances? Of course. Do I relate more with my former colleagues as I march through this change? Absolutely. Is one platform better than the other? While I want to answer “Google”, I know that’s just my comfort zone talking. And very little learning occurs within a comfort zone.

So I will keep plugging away, but maybe with a bit more sensitivity in the future when expecting others to make a change that takes them out of that zone.

Posted in Education, Professional Experiences, Technology | Tagged , , , , ,

Feeding the Fire: Finding The Key To PD and Your Passion

What sets your soul on fire?

What are you so passionate about that people can tell by the look on your face and the sound of your voice when you are talking about it?

Professionally, my short answer is education. Of course, there are many layers within that topic, and areas that excite me more than others. Overall, I believe in the power of relationships within the educational realm and the impact transformative instructional practices make on the world. My flames get fanned in multiple ways.

I was created for building relationships. That has played out in my role as a teacher and a leader. I’ve worked with teachers and administrators in ten different states and two countries (so far!). My main role is to lead change in instructional practices toward student-driven learning. My favorite part of this work is the relationships I build with those I coach through the ongoing professional development. I even love the debrief meetings with administrators at the end of a contract. These are times of reflection, celebration, and visioning for next steps. None of this work would be as impactful or sustainable if I didn’t first work to build authentic relationships.

There is power in connections. I am most energized after conversations with like-minded educators. These discussions typically happen spontaneously. They might take place online (Twitter and LinkedIn are my favorite ways to connect globally), in classrooms while I’m coaching teachers, in hallways of districts where I work, over drinks with colleagues after hours. I like talking with people who challenge my thinking or introduce me to a new idea or way of doing something.

I recently had dinner with a colleague I met almost a year ago. She was teaching in a 1:1 classroom long before it was a thing. Her innovative teaching practices and her depth of knowledge on teaching with technology have continued to grow and expand over the past decade or so. I think I’m pretty well-versed on the subject, but she always shows me something new. The best part is that a personal friendship has developed from what began as a professional partnership. She’s someone I trust to shoot straight with me. We both leave our conversations with feelings of growth and inspiration.

I am also fed by good learning. This will sound cliche, but I am a lifelong learner. I love to learn in various ways, but I especially love to share my learning with others (kinda why I became a teacher). One of the conferences I’ve had the privilege of presenting at is the HECC conference in Indianapolis. My half-day sessions were on leading change. I got to work with over fifty educational leaders from around the state on strategic planning and driving sustainable change initiatives. The actual presentation didn’t provide half as much energy as the side conversations I got to have with the leaders in the room. The collaboration that happened just because we had just the right learners together was phenomenal to experience.

Whether it’s strategic coaching, professional conversations, or personal learning, my soul is set on fire through relationships with other people. My hope is that I fan their flames as much as they fan mine. What sets your soul on fire?

Posted in Leadership, Professional Experiences, Relationships | Tagged , , , ,

The Marriage between Technology and Curriculum

I am a former curriculum director who loves technology. It’s a fairly new love affair. We’ve been a serious item for almost six years now. Here’s the backstory: I began teaching in 1998 when my students would get to go to the computer lab once a week for a lesson planned by the librarian. I was pretty much on crowd-control during these lessons. I add that to say that I’m a self-taught tech integrator who was definitely not born a digital native. As my teaching progressed, so did my time leading lessons in the computer lab. But technology available to my students in the classroom was minimal, at best. My last year in the classroom (2010-11), I had my teacher computer and three old iMacs for my students to use. They could basically only use them to play games and take Accelerated Reader quizzes. I was a pro at making copies on transparency sheets to use on my overhead projector. My weekly computer lab trips were usually reserved for publishing writing pieces, typing practice, or math fact drills. We are, obviously, not talking about any innovative technology infusion.

After I became the curriculum director for our district in the fall of 2011, I quickly realized that we needed to catch up with some forward-thinking districts when it came to tech integration. Our elementary schools were just getting equipped with SMART boards that year. Our math teachers at the high school had Promethean boards and doc cameras. The other middle and high school teachers had LCD projectors. That was as tech-rich as our district got. In that year, I started a blog, joined Twitter and LinkedIn, and began immersing myself in learning about edtech solutions for transforming instruction. I followed edtech leaders, subscribed to blogs, read articles, and attended conferences on the subject. At one point, our Director of Technology visited my office and candidly said, “You know, when I heard you were named our new Curriculum Director, I was a bit worried.” I just laughed, because I knew he was referring to the lack of technology integration I previously had in my classroom. He went on, however, to assure me that he had changed his mind and knew they’d made the right decision when they hired me. That only happened because I was motivated to further my own learning and stretch my thinking when it came to teaching and learning.

The second year in that role brought about even more growth. Our district was wanting to move to a 1:1 environment for our 5th-12th grades for the following school year. That led to me being appointed as the 1:1 steering committee chair to conduct research, explore options, and learn as a team in order to make the right decisions for our students. During another office visit from our DoT, he joked that he’d just read an article about how tech directors and curriculum directors should be married. We laughed about this, but the point was, and still is, completely valid. Technology and instruction are no longer separate entities in schools. These two facets of a student’s education must work seamlessly together. I was fortunate to work with a DoT that understood and respected that fact. I was the one who got to attend instructional technology trainings and workshops. I was the one who led that integration into our classrooms. And being a former classroom teacher, the current teachers were more open to the idea of change coming from me. But it took both departments working together to provide devices and ongoing professional development in order to sustain lasting change.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I am still working within the technology-curriculum marriage. As a consultant, I often get to work with districts who purchase Dell laptops and/or Chromebooks for their teachers and students. I get to go in and provide training for teachers and administrators, and then work one-on-one in job-embedded professional development with them multiple times throughout the school year. I like to say that Dell is the foot in the door, but the true work lies in transforming instructional practice. I show teachers how to use technology to leverage rich resources and learning opportunities to provide their students with personalized learning experiences in student-driven environments. I don’t just give them a list of good websites. I don’t just teach them on a specific student-centered learning strategy. I marry the two together, and beautiful learning is born through this union.

 

Posted in Education, Leadership, Professional Experiences, Technology | Tagged , , ,

Purposeful Collaboration

I collaborate virtually on something with someone every single day. Some recent examples include:

  • sharing a grocery list with my husband through Google Keep
  • planning an anniversary party for our parents with my siblings via group text messages
  • Scheduling school visits with teachers and administrators through a shared Google Sheet
  • Working on a writing project with a colleague using shared Google Docs
  • Collaborating with other eLearning peers in a Slack community
  • Reviewing a Policy and Procedure guide I wrote with my team via Join.Me
  • Working on a procedural table with colleagues through OneDrive
  • Having a virtual meeting to discuss a current project with district leaders in another state using Google Hangouts
  • Attending a board meeting with people in Lima, Peru from my house in Indiana via Skype.
  • Email (obviously, too many examples to discuss)
  • Messaging with my PLN via LinkedIn and Twitter to grow professionally together.

 

We live in an age of mass collaboration, and the tools provided make it easier than ever. I don’t have a favorite platform, as you can probably tell I choose the one that best meets the needs of the task. What are some of your favorite ways to collaborate?

Posted in Leadership, Professional Experiences, Relationships, Short Post Series, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

All of us are works in progress

When I started teaching, our evaluations had three categories: Excellent, Satisfactory, and Needs Improvement. Then, there was a list of characteristics and behaviors with check boxes next to it. I’m pretty sure I never received a mark less than Excellent. And that is what I wanted. That yearly evaluation was something to just get over with. The follow-up conversation with the principal was a formality to hear her say I was doing a great job, and then move on. A few years ago, Indiana adopted a more stringent plan for teacher evaluation and accountability. There was an extensive rubric with various categories and four evaluative terms for your work: Highly Effective, Effective, Improvement Necessary, and Ineffective. This occurred right as I moved from the classroom into district administration. I remember the superintendent telling principals that teachers that only had a year or two of experience couldn’t receive any Highly Effective ratings as that implied that they didn’t have any areas that needed growth. I was tapped to work with teachers who fell into the Improvement Necessary and Ineffective ranges. In my three years as the curriculum director, I was never asked to work with any of the teachers in that capacity. This new evaluation tool was more effective than the old, however, I still didn’t use it to better my own work performance. Instead, I looked to feedback from my peers, my boss, and the teachers I worked with. I knew that I wasn’t Highly Effective in every area of my job, and I also knew that there was always new learning to be found. I am a work in progress. And whenever someone gets to the place where they think they have no more improving to do, there is a major problem. Here are some ways I’ve learned to keep moving forward and making progress in my professional life:

 

  • Have an open mind.
  • Connect with others.
  • Find the ways I best learn and then seek out those opportunities.

 
These practices have done far more for my professional growth than any observation/evaluation ever did. How do you continue to progress?

Posted in Education, Leadership, personal, Professional Experiences, Short Post Series | Tagged , , , , ,

Ask Questions – Good Leaders Listen

This fall, I worked with a great group of educators in Texas as they begin the process of transforming their instruction by integrating technology into their daily lessons. I led them through a two-day process of evaluating their current teaching and thinking critically about what changes they can make in the way they interact with and instruct their students.

Toward the end of the first day, one of the young teachers approached me and explained how she began the school year teaching economics, but just a couple of weeks prior, due to staff changes, the principal came to her and asked if she’d switch and take over the AP Macroeconomics classes. What do you say to your principal, but yes? So she accepted and has been in survival mode ever since. She was frustrated by the required textbook and how boring she felt her class was (contrary to how she’d like to be teaching), and couldn’t see how to infuse technology into such a rigid curriculum.

I could’ve just heard her words, told her a couple of quick tech tools and sent her back to her table. But that wasn’t what she was needing. I chose, instead, to truly listen to her. Strong leaders take in all of the information available to them when they listen. I focused on body language (this poor lady was ready to bolt), the tone of her voice (strained, at best), and the actual words she was saying (she was literally crying for help). Then, I started asking questions.

I went back to her seat with her, pulled up a chair, asked questions, and continued to actively listen. I asked her to show me the curriculum she was supposed to use. I asked her how the students could access it. I asked her how she liked to teach in other courses. I learned so much through asking questions and listening, that I was able to be a much better support and serve her more effectively by listening first.

Do you feel listened to, or merely heard? If you are in a leadership position (and teachers, you are all the leaders of your classroom, so this definitely applies to you, as well), do you take the time to actively take in all that people are (and aren’t) saying to you? To be a servant leader, we must first be active listeners. This makes the journey about those we are serving, and not just about a title or position. The focus moves away from us, and onto those whom we are serving. So ask questions, and then just listen.

 

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