professional learning

#LeadLAP: Rapport Scores

It doesn’t matter who you lead, whether it’s students, teachers, or staff in general. If you don’t have their trust, they aren’t going to respect you or assist you in your grand visions. You can have the greatest ideas in the world. They can be the best of the best, guaranteed to succeed, but if you don’t have a crew behind you that trusts your ideas and helps bring them to fruition, then your idea ship is sunk before it even leaves the harbor.

As someone in any leadership position, you cannot lock yourself behind your doors and hide behind emails and all-call announcements to staff members. Then you’re merely a ghost in the school, haunting, but never immersing yourself with your staff. By hiding, you’ve now created a barrier with a line that divides administration from staff.

I was lucky at one of my previous schools to work under a principal who was always around. Every morning she would go to each classroom and tell the kids hello and to work their best. She was often in the halls and with staff. When bad things happened to staff, she supported them. She participated in the events with the students, and did crazy things. If I needed to see her, it wasn’t that hard to get ahold of her at all. Her staff respected and trusted her, and it was easily seen. At one point there were rumors that she might leave the school for an administration position at another, and her staff fretted at the thought of losing her. She had built rapport, and it was easily seen.

On the other hand, I’ve been in places where this wasn’t so noticeable, or was only sometimes. Being under administration that is never seen or that rules with the fist of compliance makes for a stressful workplace. Instead of feeling trusted and respected, you feel as though you’re never working hard enough or never doing anything right. Some teachers simply give up and shrug, content to float along, convinced that this too, shall pass.

Myself, I am still getting better with this. I am going to make a better effort this year to be rapport with more folks in both of my schools, especially now that I am in my second year. The second year last time made the biggest difference, and instead of being timid and hesitant, I was jumping in and getting things done. I want to do that this year in this district as well. I don’t have to worry about not knowing my way around or how things really work in the district. Those barriers are gone. Time to take some action.

I recently ordered a pirate flag, mostly because I wanted something to always remind me of the PIRATE system. I still need to get the rod and clips for it, but part of me is now thinking one way to set myself apart and spark some interesting conversations is to carry my flag around the school with me everywhere I go on my first days back with staff. This may or may not also involve a pirate hat or bandana of some kind. Parading about like this while I do my job gets me the crazy looks, and lets me talk to any staff member who calls me out on my craziness. The first days are crazy and hectic, but I can make them memorable!

I’m still working on other ways to build rapport. I need to find ways to get myself into more classrooms this year and talk with more teachers. This is something I’m still thinking about and deciding upon. I can’t do much good from my office if I’m to be assisting staff. I know I need to build it though, and I have some ideas, but they aren’t enough just yet to share. The first step though, is KNOWING I need to do better in this area and improve!

#LeadLAP: Immersion Makes a Difference

One thing I’m quickly learning from my summer reading is that immersion can make all of the difference in how others perceive a lesson or activity. In Learn Like a Pirate, it was all about how the teacher immersed themselves when working with students. In Lead Like a Pirate it’s much the same thing, except with staff and teachers. Whether teacher or principal, those that look to you for guidance know when you’re really involved in the work and when you’re just sitting on the side lines instead.

As a teacher I remember my “off” days. I remember the days where I was ill and came to work sick or when I was having a rough time with a personal issue. I also remember the times I was just “done”. We have those down days. They don’t come often, but when they do, we are not at our best, and we are not immersed in what we’re doing either. Our students and teachers pick up on it. They know when your heart just isn’t into the work you’re doing.

Off days happen to everyone. No one is perfect and no one is “on” all the time, though we may try to be. The problem arises when we are “off” more than we are “on”. Perhaps you remember a teacher from your days who was just there floating on by. May you work with or have worked with some like that. Those teachers are the ones that also tend to have more trouble. Think about administrative staff, too. Have you been lucky enough to have some working right alongside you, or are they just there watching on the sidelines?

Being immersed in our work means getting down and dirty. We’re not just observing what’s going on and providing input. We’re not trying to accomplish other things at the same time. We’re in the middle of the learning, the action, and we’re setting the example for our staff and students that we want to be there by their sides as they make discoveries. We are showing them that we care about what is going on by placing ourselves right in the action as well.

Being immersed also allows us the chance to learn right alongside our students, and to make the adjustments as we go along. We learn more by being involved than by being hands-off. Our students and staff see the difference as well. Yes, we have our boundaries and borders, but does the border gap have to be so huge that it becomes an “US” and “THEM” situation? No. When that occurs, we start positioning ourselves as better than the group we are working with, and that never accomplishes much in the longterm. I would rather have an administrator getting involved in and learning PD alongside staff than one who decides not to attend or that it doesn’t apply.

In terms of myself as an ITRT, I need to begin keeping tabs on myself as I am working with staff during times of professional development. I need to watch for myself staying on the side, instead of being in the thick of things with the learners. I know there are times where I do this, and it’s not okay. I know this, and I definitely realize it now. I have knowledge to share, but that doesn’t make me the better person, or the expert. I am a learner still, too, and that means learning from my staff and the things they can teach me about the topic that we are exploring, together.

If nothing else, I need to make the “US” and “THEM” mentality turn into a “WE” mentality. Separately, barriers create issues and a lack of team, but a “WE” mentality smashes barriers and allows everyone to benefit from each other.

#LeadLAP: P is (still for) Passion

To switch up my reading a little as I am working on The Art of Coaching, I have also decided to read Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. I’m not an administrator, nor have any desire to be one, but I am in a bit of a leadership role as an ITRT. I do work with staff, and it is supposed to be my job to move them forward in the instructional technology field. I figured this book would do better to guide me in my role better than Teach Like a Pirate so I purchased it earlier this year shortly after it was released.

The section on passion is still broken into 3 sections- content (leadership in this case), professional, and personal. I’m not going to retype those, as I recently did them when I was studying Teach Like a Pirate. If you are really curious about what I did say, then you can read all about them here. Passions drive us and they are the things we love best. We must be cautious though, as not everyone gets why we’re passionate about our favorite things. For example, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of educators who would find me an oddball for my summer of learning that I’m embarking on, but that doesn’t bother me.

Instead, I am going to focus on a couple of the questions posed at the end of the chapter:

Do you know what each member of your staff is passionate about? If not how might you encourage your staff to bring more of what they are passionate about with them to work each day?

No, I don’t know what each of the staff members I work with is passionate about. I do know some, and those tend to be the folks I see the most often. I definitely can say that I don’t have a clue when it comes to the majority of my staff. I cut myself slack during the first year in a new district and state, but this year I need to do better in getting to know more of my staff and what drives them. Knowing their passions might help me do better with connecting the professional development and edtech that I do with staff. We already know that finding ways to connect our teaching to student’s interests pulls them deeper, so why not do the same with staff?

As to the question of how I can encourage staff to bring more of what they are passionate about to work, that’s a good question. I have been thinking about this one for awhile, and so far I am coming up with the idea for a passion board that can be displayed and viewed by others. I’m not quite sure how this would work, and it still needs to be thought about more.

How might you get to know the passions of your students and families? 

I can at least attest to a way I’m trying to get to know the students’ passions more. Usually I talk with students that I spot randomly and that helps me to learn a little about the student, even if I never see that student again. I “stole” fidget spinners from students last year in order to snag a chance to talk to them. It was a neat ice breaker and they opened up after they realized I wasn’t really going to take their spinner!

One thing I am starting to do next year is a student spotlight on our social media page. I plan to focus on on positives and impacts the student wishes to make, rather than achievement through sports or academics. It’s a spotlight for any student, and I want to find a way to display it at the school as well, especially if there are students who cannot be posted on social media, but their families wouldn’t mind them being featured in the hallways of the school. One of the questions will focus on student passions and what drives them.

Beyond that, it takes getting to know more students, and being that positive impact in the hallways. I am not sure how often I will work with students this year, as it always depends on the teacher requests. I will however, make sure they remember me!

Core Values Exercise

As I read Chapter 3 of The Art of Coaching, I came across the section on core values and beliefs. As humans, most of our actions stem from our core values. Aguilar provides an activity to complete to figure out one’s core values on her website, so I decided to give it a try. It was harder than I thought it would be!

The first step is to get ahold of a copy of the list of core values. This list can be printed, but I chose to save the PDF file and then use the Snipping Tool on my computer to mark up the document. Once a copy has been obtained, the first step is to circle the ten values you find most important. I used a highlighting pen for this part:

corevaluesstep1

I chose to highlight choice, creativity, fun, goals, imagination, making a difference, passion, personal growth, positive attitude, and trust as my 10 choices.

From the list of ten, you must then narrow the results down to just five. If you thought getting ten originally was hard, getting rid of five options is even harder. I found that it wasn’t too hard to narrow mine, as I felt some of the options were similar. I ended up with this:

corevaluesstep2

For this part I crossed off fun, goals, imagination, choice, and trust.

The final step of this activity is to cross off two more items, and end up with three left. These three items are most likely your core values, which you use almost subconsciously to guide your decisions in your life. Here’s my final worksheet image:

corevaluesstep3

I finally decided to cross off Making a Difference and passion. This left me with creativity, personal growth, and positive attitude as my core values.

Of course, I’m not finished just yet. With the completed worksheet in hand, there were also some reflection questions to answer:

1. Notice the feelings that come up when you read your short list. How does your energy shift?

Looking at my final three values, it seems as though these are the values I’ve been leaning toward most of this school year after being exposed to some amazing people and events. I feel like “Yes! Let’s get started and tackle some amazing things together! Let’s learn new things and grow!” It is a feeling that I love, and what makes me love my work the most.

2. Consider how the actions you take reflect your core values. Are there values that show up more often in your actions at work? At home? In social circles? With family? Do you ever notice a discrepancy between what you consider to be a “value” and actions that you take?

If I think about it, personal growth shows up most in my work life because I’m so into using Twitter to discover new ideas and books. I always strive to learn more and build connections. I feel like some of my work bleeds into my personal life, as it simply adds to the happiness I experience from my personal hobbies and interests. Creativity is often found when I work with children or am playing Minecraft. There are also the random times that I randomly make up songs or words, just because I can. It drives my fiance crazy sometimes, but she’s used to it by this point. Positive attitude is everywhere. I try to definitely be positive at work, but I usually am at home. I try to keep myself calm and stress-free, and I will often avoid situations that would upset this balance too much.

3. Write your three core values on a piece of paper and post them somewhere prominent. Reflect on them for a week or two. See if they still feel like “core” values.

Done. They are posted above my desk here at home, as that is where I spend the majority of my week days learning and growing.

4. Reflect on them every year. Are they the same? Have they changed? Do you think these would have been your core values 10 years ago?

Ten years ago I was 20 and still in college. During the summer of 2007 I would have been assisting with daycare and helping my mom. I was working toward my teaching degree at the time, and nearing the end of my time as an undergrad student. December 2008 was not so far away. I know that creativity would probably have still been a core value, as it has always been a part of me, and what has always helped me to be different as a teacher. I would guess that positive attitude might still be there, but it may not be. I do know that personal growth probably would not have. I was not too interested in doing anything to grow or push myself to really do better. At the time, I think I was just trying to survive college.

As to where my values might be in a year or even ten, who knows? Guess that’s why we look back and reflect!

Want to try the activity for yourself? You’ll need the directions here and you’ll need the list of core values as well.

What is Coaching?

It has taken me some time to sit down and write this post. I have quickly discovered that The Art of Coaching is not a book to be taken lightly at all. I read Chapter 2 yesterday, only to realize that I needed time to let the reading soak in and the ideas marinate. The text has been on my mind and I feel as though I can finally start writing my reflection.

If you are a coach, people have to know your purpose and the reason you are there. Each coach can have a different purpose, and if your staff do not know where you fall, they’ll utilize you as they have done in the past. This means you might end up doing a lot of things that your coaching position isn’t supposed to do. Coaches are meant to be empowering to the staff that they serve, not the exact opposite. A coach’s job isn’t meant to “fix” people. A coach can assist someone often, but unless that person wants to learn and be coached, then the coaching itself is useless.

Coaches should create a vision statement for themselves. This vision will talk about what you want to do as a coach, your “big picture”, and your goals for working with staff. Like a philosophy of learning, this statement will help guide you in your practice. And if you find the vision changes as the year goes by? Then change the vision to match! Don’t be stuck in a vision that no longer suits your goals or purpose.

One thing I didn’t realize was that coaching had different models, and these models affected how staff developed and thrived. There are directive, facilitative, and transformational. If we were to assign numbers to these, directive would be a 1, facilitative a 2, and transformative a 3.

A directive coach is only providing instructions and telling someone how to do something. They share knowledge and provide resources. As an ITRT, this is where most of my work has fallen the majority of the time. I realize now that I am not very effective (yet!), and that realizing where I am as a coach is going to push me toward being a better one. The point of reading this book was to help me grow in my position, after all.

I know that changing my style of coaching will take time and that since this is considered an art, that it can’t be learned all at once. I can, however, start moving toward becoming more facilitative in my coaching as I learn what it means to be transformational. As a facilitative coach I would help them to learn new ways of thinking through many different processes. I work more with where the staff member is and build on what they already have. Instead of only sharing expert knowledge, I am instead helping them to build their own skills and reflection that will work within the walls of their classroom.

Transformational coaching will be harder to reach, but it’s not impossible. It takes the other two and goes a step further to work on changing one’s state of being. According to Aguilar, it’s not often a model that has been found in schools. One of the things that transformational coaching does is “explore language, nonverbal communication, and emotions, and how these affect relationships, performance, and results.” (pg 26) It also works to get to the “why” of causes and their occurrences.

Yes, this is going to be a long road for me, but I hope to come to the end of this journey even better at being an ITRT than before. The material is harder, but that’s okay. I’ll get there one step at a time. If you are reading this post, and are also reading this book, please consider joining me on my journey. I would love to have some others to discuss this book with so that I can see multiple viewpoints!

Traditional PD is the PITS!

If you remember that lovable cartoon from the 80’s called Rainbow Brite, you’re more than familiar with a place called The Pits. Rainbow and friends live in Rainbow Land, but there’s a part of the land that’s dark, gloomy, and void of color. This place, aptly called The Pits, is where nemesis Murky Dismal and his henchman Lurky live. Their goal is to steal Rainbow’s color belt and the color from Rainbow Land as well.

This is what was on my mind as I read through the first chapter in The Art of Coaching. I found myself nodding along and highlighting quite a few points (yes, I started marking in my books finally!). I also started sharing these points on Facebook and Twitter with colleagues, and it started some interesting discussions with them. I really could discuss the downfalls of PD for quite some time, and it was nice to take a look at yet another perspective on the topic.

The thing is, if we know traditional PD is so bad, then why in the world are we still doing it? Why are we letting ourselves muck through the junk that it provides, knowing that it does the teachers and students no real good? The teachers who really latch on to the PD topic will continue to research and learn the tool or method. Those teachers will make a difference because they are spending countless hours to learn outside of the PD session/s and work toward fluency. However, those teachers are very few in number, so the difference isn’t widely felt.

Sometimes those in charge decide that there will be one initial PD session at the beginning of the year, and then one or two more follow ups at a later time. We think this is better, but it’s really not because those teachers are still only skimming the surface, and not delving deeper. They will only go deeper if they do so on their own, or if they have the support of a coach to guide them throughout the year.

I believe this is part of the reason that George Couros mentioned in his book that districts should choose 3 tools that they are going to focus on. This gives districts and schools the chance to have their ITRTs or other coaches really work on those tools with staff so that they are able to do more than just manipulate the tool.

It is great to introduce more tools to educators so that they know what is out there. However, I think I am going to start making it clear at those sessions that unless the educator is consistently learning the ins and outs of the tool, whether alone or with ITRT help, it will not be very beneficial to them. It might be hard to hear, but it is the truth. You can’t learn everything there is to know about a tool or method from a simple session, whether it’s an hour or three.

BackgroundsTextures for Quotes (7)

One PD session isn’t enough to know everything.

Knowing all of this about traditional PD, what do we do about it? For me, it’s changing the way I work with teachers and how I coach them. I need to work more closely with them and have them select a tool that they would like to work on I know I will have my Fluco Toolbox posts, which will help teachers discover what is out there. They are meant to be “fly-by” posts to introduce a tool, but they are not meant to teach about the tool itself. However, if a teacher sees something they like featured on the toolbox, then I can help them delve deeper into the tool, or they can do so on their own.

Beyond that, there’s got to be a way to get administration to see that traditional PD is not the way to go. Sure, you can do your opening days PD sessions, but unless you do something all year long on those particular topics, your teachers are just wasting their time. First of all, they don’t want to be there because they’d rather be setting up their rooms and preparing first lessons. Second of all, they are taking in so much information at once that they don’t have any time to really process it all. Third, the sessions are one size fits all.

My suggestion would be to pick the tools/methods that will be focused on for the year. Then do the opening days PD sessions, unless a different method can be devised. However, then your coaches need to work consistently throughout the year on those tools/methods with teachers. Otherwise, it’s worthless and a waste of teachers’ time. It’s also a good idea to stick with certain tools for more than just a year instead of constantly changing things on teachers. That’s really frustrating.  I am only speaking of the edtech tools though, and not the literacy or math skills stuff… that’s a whole other ball game.

I’m definitely into this book so far though and can’t wait to see what other ideas it produces!

Tired of Your District Not Offering More PD?

Are you tired of your district not offering the PD that YOU want?

Are you tired of going to the same sessions year after year, and wondering “What’s in this for me?”

Have you just had enough of it all?

Then this is the post for you! Yes, we’ve all been down that road before. The district doesn’t offer the PD you want, or it offers hardly anything related to PD. They tell you there’s not enough money to send you to that coveted training or workshop, and you’re running low on funds to send yourself. Yes, these things are all certainly the pits.

However, educators have found ways around this tired cycle, and they are happily taking control of their own learning. After reading this post, you can, too! That’s amazing. Imagine no longer have to wait for anyone to give you the PD you want. In fact, you’ll wonder how you made it this far without it!

In this day and age, there is no need to wait for your district to offer you PD. A culture of open sharing and connecting in education has changed the bygone days of being isolated and alone. Educators are finding communities online where they can share and take resources and ideas for implementation in their classroom. They talk, they discuss, they read, and they write. They wait for no one, and they take what they want.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? You can be a part of this crowd, too! There are many ways to do so, but one of the easiest is by using Twitter and Tweetdeck in combination. Now before you brush Twitter aside as something celebrities use to insert foot into mouth, stop and think. Twitter itself is not the game changer. The educators that are there are the game changers. They start the discussions and share thoughts and ideas. How do you know if an educator is connected online? Look around their classroom and see if you can spot trends that seem outside of what the district has introduced. That’s your first sign.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Create a Twitter account
  • Log into Tweetdeck with your Twitter account
  • Search for hashtags in your area or interest
  • Tweetdeck will create columns for each hashtag
  • Use Twitter or Tweetdeck to create lists of folks in similar categories (STEAM, Edtech, etc)
  • Google your favorite educators to see if they have a Twitter handle to follow
  • Leave Tweetdeck running in the background and check when you can
  • Retweet what stands out to you

That’s all you have to do. You don’t even have to share at first. Granted, the list above doesn’t go into details, but you can easily Google instructions or watch YouTube videos. If that fails, ask a colleague for help! We are not so expert that we don’t need help every now and again. There are many folks willing to help you out if you only reach out to them.

Want other ways to get started? Here are just some of many:

  • Find a book that you want to read and go for it
    • Look for book study groups online, or start your own
    • Don’t want to write? Try using Voxer to document learning
    • Read, Reflect, Try, and Reflect again!
  • Look for Facebook groups of teachers to connect with.
  • Find online communities for your organizations
  • Seek webinars on the topic of your choice. Some cost, but not all

When we take control of our learning, then there is nothing that can stand in our way. Instead of saying “I can’t get the PD I want because my district doesn’t offer it”, say “What are some ways I can learn about Topic X on my own?” Reframe the way you look at the challenge, and you’ll find it’s just a little bit easier to learn what you want to learn.

Want help getting started? This friendly ITRT is at your service. I would be happy to work with you to get you started on your journey. Just comment below!