Monday, August 6, 2018

Commitment in this Netflix Generation

My mother who recently discovered Facebook has been sending me quite a steady stream of videos.  Videos related to cooking but mainly videos of graduation speeches.   It's no surprise that this past June, I found my inbox with an abundance of the inspiring speeches.  I still find myself catching up on watching them.

One commencement video that stood out to me was about a man who addressed a group of soon to be college graduates and spoke to the importance of "being doers" in a society that will overfill their cup with options.   He continued to use the analogy of the "Netflix Generation."

This generation he remarked is constantly bombarded with so many options in front of them, that scrolling through them, it renders them incapable of selecting a movie after having spent thirty or more unfulfilled minutes surveying their options.  "Might as well go to bed," was the bold statement he made.   

Image from: 

His message is clear.  What his hope for this generation is that "we" (collectively) do not fear to make a commitment.  Not only to commit to our family, relatives or spouses but to each other (as humans, as colleagues, as friends). 

Somehow, this generation unintentionally limited itself by having too much in front of them.  The danger of this lies in finding ourselves more disengaged and numb to seeking out unforgettable experiences.  Scroll, scroll and scroll some more.

The remedy he proposed was simple:  Make a commitment, invest time and energy in where you find  passion, and don't be afraid to "push the button."  Learn by doing.  The world offers an abundance of opportunities.  Experiences, however, are rewarded only to those who are willing to take that leap.

My motto for this school year will follow his lead.  I will "learn by doing" and take the leap to experience new opportunities, even if it makes me uncomfortable; Actually, especially if it makes me uncomfortable.   

As for my goals this year, I resolve to stop doing for others what they can do for themselves.    This year, I hope to gain more valuable experiences in the company of others who are not afraid to commit.  I hope that in developing into a stronger Teacher Leader, that I gain more relationships and find a tribe of people equally committed to helping me grow.  

So, thanks, Mom! That video was great.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Building Capacity of Teacher Leaders

The definition of Teacher Leadership is multifaceted.  The point of this blog is to encourage fellow educators to continue their work in extending themselves to be leaders inside and outside of their classroom.

Teacher Leaders have an influence on students, other teacher leaders, and administrators.  Work must be done to develop and sustain them.

 There is no answer to build capacity that is wholesale.  You must be patient in your work to understand that persistence will get you to where you want to be; consistency will allow you to sustain the work or mindset that you hope to impart.

The approach that I have learned to build a capacity of Teacher Leaders is one teacher at a time.

I think a lot about this, especially when I see how easy it is to take shortcuts.  If you truly want to sustain the mindset overtime and exponentially build capacity, expecting everyone to "immediately subscribe" to your vision is not a goal to have in mind.

Instead, look to grow the tree and not focus on how many leaves are on your limbs.  Yes, growing a tree takes time.  Often, many give up or lose focus because of the lack of instantaneous acceptance of the mission.

Success, failure, and relationships are often words that are most readily used in Educational Leadership.  But I argue, that patience, consistency, and discipline are often key components that will allow you to build a strong foundation to build a capacity of Teacher Leaders. 

From The Man Who Planted Trees 
From Brainy Quotes

Friday, April 27, 2018

What have we accomplished this year that helped others grow?

This month, the #CompelledTribe theme is about ways to renew, recharge, or rejuvenate relationships with students and/or staff during the last quarter of the school year. 

This theme took me a long time to think through because it made me reflect on my own professional growth this year and it made me sad to think that the scholastic year is coming to a close.   It's bittersweet to think that in just two months I am going to have to take a break.  

Yes, breaks are great.  Summer is awesome.  However, in my thirteenth year of teaching, I know that having an "amazing year" does not come too often.  

This year is one that I pushed myself to grow professionally and personally.  I credit my accomplishments to having joined Twitter and made connections with amazing groups of leaders, educators, and authors who fueled my passion for reading and learning.  

I understand that the year-end does not necessarily mean I have to stop learning and growing but I am going to frame it as a time to allow me to reflect and celebrate my accomplishments and gear up for the work that needs to be done for next year. 

I do acknowledge that maybe not everyone is having a great year and there are people who are looking forward to summer break as a way to disconnect and recharge.  That's ok.  There is nothing wrong with wanting that at the end of the year.  

What I do hope that happens, however, is that we deliberately ask ourselves-- What have we accomplished this year that allowed others around us to grow?  What has brought us joy this year and what have we done that can be celebrated?  

Even those students and teachers who struggle academically, personally, and professionally would benefit from thinking introspectively about their own growth.  

In "Start. Right. Now" a book by Whitaker, Casas, and Zoul, they write about the influence you have to make those around you feel inspired.  In addition to thinking about your own growth, I challenge you to think about how you contributed to the growth of others by the attitude you chose to have.  Everyone has the capacity to lead and I hope that as a result of your reflection, you push yourself to make more positive and deliberate changes to the people and environment around you. 

The act of celebrating is something that should be done to put a closure to the end of the year.  I look forward to having conversations with students and colleagues to celebrate their positive accomplishments, large or small.  Although I am not looking to end the year yet, I have to say that this year goes down in my book as one of my favorites.  I hope that it is the same for you as well.  Keep being great and have a wonderful end of the year. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Learning How to Rest and Not to Quit

I'm writing this post to think through a hardship I encountered leading a PLC.

Many books on Instructional and Educational Leadership that I have read give really great advice on how to be a great leader, but very few actually give you guidance on when to stop a project because you feel like it's causing more harm than good.

I am by no means a quitter.  I absolutely understand that grit and resilience are factors that allow a group of people to make a change.  Especially in the hardest of times when you feel like it's going nowhere. 

But thinking this through, where do you draw the line between grit and just plain too stubborn to stop?

It's no secret every leader has faced self-doubt.  I wonder though, is self-doubt your subconscious telling you that you are headed in the wrong direction? I don't have the answer to that.

I guess it is normal to feel the urge to quit.  Leading has always been messy.  Hopefully, clarity will present itself after a break away from it.  Disconnecting might just be the answer that I need.

The quote below does resonate with me... although I have to admit I don't think my leadership capabilities are there yet.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Teacher Leadership: What We Give, Is What We Get

Return On Investment (ROI)

"Everyone is a Leader.  So Then Why Doesn't Everyone Lead?" was a blog post by Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) on March 11, 2018.

First, I echo Mr. Casas' sentiments completely.  I firmly and strongly believe in the concept of Teacher Leadership and their ability to influence Administrators, their colleagues, and other respective Teacher Leaders (in addition to their students).

No doubt about it, Teacher Leaders are the linchpins that influence culture and contribute to the health and well-being of any school.   "So why then doesn't everyone lead?"

What I have come to conclude is that it has everything to do with the relationship and investment the district is willing to put into training their teachers for this role.

The concept of a "return on investment" hit home for me when I realized just what the role of a Teacher Leader potentially 'returns.'

Teacher Leadership: It's a commitment.  A mindset.  An Art of Teaching, Coaching, and Leading.  A dedication not only to Instructional Leadership but to Servant Leadership as well.  The list goes on.

The above that I mention are just some of the "returns on the investment"  a district would benefit, or gain by investing in its teachers.

If sustaining Teacher Leadership is indeed a mutual "invest and return" principle that I just mentioned, what is the district or school leader willing to invest in their teachers to become leaders?

What resources and time are they willing to commit to foster this relationship?  What promotions are they willing to give their Teacher Leaders?  How do they, collectively, foster them so this mindset generates a staying power to create more Teacher Leaders?

Yes, all teachers are leaders.  Yes, everybody should be leading.  However, the relationship and investment that I mentioned previously have to be there on both sides.

It's a marriage.  Plain and simple.  Both parties cannot commit 50/50.  Instead, both need to invest in each other 100%.  That's how a healthy relationship can persevere and sustain a strength-based approach to leading and learning that is symbiotic.

The commitment to be a leader is demanding.  This role leaves any teacher open to criticism as doers and overachievers by their peers because they have no official administrative title.

Below is a quote that answers how to promote Teacher Leadership in any school.

If you are interested in reading further about Teacher Leadership:  Is Your District Striving or Sustaining, read my previous post here.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Teacher Leadership and the Ideal Classroom

Learner-Centered Innovation: Week 2, Season 4 #IMMOOC
Image via DevOps

Dr. Katie Martin expresses that, "teacher leaders can serve as linchpins that move systems and structures to a culture of learning and make a significant impact for those they serve."

The way that I try to create and improve my innovation ecosystem is to lead and participate in a bridging committee between the Middle School and High School World Languages Department.  Yes, it is rewarding, but it might just be the most frustrating educational experience I have ever participated in.

Vertical and horizontal alignment buzzwords aside, it's been a rocky road from the beginning.  I was so ill-prepared on how to lead it, this year we had no other alternative than to hit the reset button. Mission Impossible commences.

Slowly though, we are moving together and paving a path of least resistance.

One reason I am so obsessed with this PLCs is that I strongly believe in the concept of Teacher Leadership and Collective Teacher Efficacy as being the most effective denominator of student achievement.

For me, this is a non-negotiable and PLCs are exactly the strength-based teacher driven change that Dr. Martin mentioned in her book.  This is my way of trying to improve my ecosystem.  Despite major setbacks we experienced as a team, I will not give up.  Our work is too important.

The question was posed of what does our ideal classroom look like?

There are so many factors and @RichViolanti's post nailed it when he writes these tenants:

In addition to his list, I would look for a teacher whose passion clearly shines.  The classroom is nothing but a vessel if there is no one passionate about what they are learning and creating.

Below is also a picture of George Couros' 8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom:


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Teacher Burnout and Finding a Balance

The struggle between teacher burnout and finding a balance is an absolute constant in this profession.

With the unrealistic demands made on teachers and leaders alike, (oversized classes, grading, paperwork, and duties, etc.) the need to find ways to cope with how to spend our time and energy needs to be brought to the forefront when we examine school culture.

Teacher-student relationships are jeopardized when teacher burnout is apparent.  Our mood affects the culture of our classrooms and school, so this balance is imperative to find.  Most important, we must examine the real issue and not just apply bandage solutions. If, for example, grading burns you out, then a close examination of pedagogy is what needs to be addressed. 

While each situation is different for each person, the fight against burnout can be curbed through a diligent prioritizing of keeping students at the core of our practice.  One who finds this balance is compelled to work beyond proposed limits.

Dr. Amy Fast's (@fastcrayon) book "It's the Mission, Not the Mandates," echoes this statement when she advocates knowing your "why" so that your work becomes meaningful and purposeful; Consequently, those who know their "why" are those who do not regard their role as a vocation, but an avocation and have heightened resilience to burnout.

The truth behind this post, however, is that the chase for this balance is the same as the pursuit of happiness.  You have to work at it constantly and consistently to procure and sustain it.

Below are two great comments that contribute to the discussion of balance:

1) Teacher Kareem Farah (@kareenfarah) tweeted, "Teacher burnout can be a consequence of exhaustion but also a result of stagnation.  It is critical that districts develop teacher leadership that keeps great teachers in the classroom but allows them to elevate and scale their expertise."

Yes, the notion of teacher leadership hits home for me.  On any given staff, there are always the race boats, the sailboats, and the anchors.  Giving others too little to do is just as harmful as giving others too much to do.

2) "Give teachers their planning time.  We NEED that uninterrupted time every day.  There's so much pressure for technology-rich lessons, parent/ community contact, and relationship building, but there's no time to do it all in one day." (Kaitlyn Yvonne, @MrsEdMath)

These two tweets summarize the dichotomy within a culture that can be found in every school.  As teachers and leaders, we are those who care for others.  Therefore, we must be cognizant that we take care of ourselves first and foremost before we are able to effectively take care of others.

Personal Resiliency and The Basics of Self-Care

A question was posed in an #Edutopiachat on how you would approach a teacher who is burnt out. My answer is "approach with empathy and an open ear, some coffee and a nonjudgmental attitude," but what I neglected to add was patience.

It is my hope that we retain the great teachers in this field.  There is so much to do and we need teachers to fight the good fight.  Don't give up.

Below is a list to help you achieve this balance: 

Drink water

2 hours ago