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Sunday, March 26, 2017

We Choose Our Attitude

I innately stink at change. That probably seems like a strange quality to admit while working in the field of education, especially when my title clearly has the word "Innovation" built right in. I'm not afraid to admit it because I know that I recognize this weakness, I need to be cognizant of the way that I react to it, and I can be reflective enough to adjust the way that I react to changes in the way that I would want to model for other people. We say we are agents of change and everyone needs a growth mindset, and I heartily agree with all these things, but it doesn't mean that change is any easier for me, and it also doesn't mean that I should claim it is when it's not. I know, however, that the way that I react to change, my attitude towards whatever adjustment I need to make, will dictate the way I feel about the resulting difference going forward. It will also have a positive or negative affect, depending how I react, on the the way people around me will feel moving forward.

I was recently in two separate situations where a decision I made about a change was questioned by a colleague. The first situation, the teacher asked me about the change, I explained the why behind the decision, and even though she didn't necessarily agree with the outcome, she shrugged her shoulders, thanked me for explaining and smiled prior to walking away.

In the second situation, I was approached by a teacher in a hall. He was angry and confrontational, and even though I typically have complete faith in providing the why behind decisions, it was clear that in this case he was not ready to hear that (hopefully, yet). My attempt at explanations did nothing, and he left the conversation nearly as angry as he came to it.

Two very different reactions to change.

There are times when new initiatives and change can be extremely difficult, especially when the decisions made feel top down and we have very little control in what's happening in a profession as personal as teaching.

But the one thing we do have complete control in is how we react to a change.

We can dig our heels in, or we can make the decision to accept the change, and figure out a way that we can make it work positively for us. Maybe the change creates a situation where we need to be thinking creatively and innovative inside a box. The change might force us to think of new ways that we had done something for years and surprising ourselves by finding an activity or strategy that we wish we would have been doing all along. Maybe it's about revisiting whether the change was actually better for student learning, or if it was just more convenient for us. I admit change is hard for me because at my very soul, I could definitely be one of the teachers needing to be dragged along kicking and screaming for anything new. I need to work hard at accepting it and embracing it because it's not something that comes naturally to me. Similar to a past post about running (see I'm Not a Natural), it's not that I can't do it, it's that I need to work really hard to be successful. Knowing that I have the ability to choose the way that I react to a change is empowering. I think sometimes we assume that saying we don't like change means that we're being difficult or not exhibiting a growth mindset, but that's not true. We all have our personality quirks, and the problem only arises when you use the dislike of something new as an excuse for poor behavior or digging in your heels. When you take a deep breath, think to yourself, "I can take something positive from this" and move forward, that's when you know you've taken a huge step toward choosing a positive attitude.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Public Edu vs Private Sector: Is leadership universal?

I truly believe that as my position has changed and I have moved into administration, the more people I serve in my role. I have been absolutely blessed in having the best mentor a leader could ask for in Dave Gundlach and the other leaders who have unofficially taken me under their wing to show me the way to best support the people I work for. Proof positive that no matter how "high" you think you are on the ladder, everyone needs a mentor.

Sometimes, however, I learn just as much about leadership from people and stories that I might not want to emulate. For example, I was speaking with someone recently who works at a paper converting company. They explained that there is a supervisor who is, what I would describe as, the quintessential manager and seems to exhibit few leadership qualities.

There are two shifts at this particular plant. The first shift was performing very well. They consistently maintained producing at 115-120%. The second shift was performing significantly under 100%. In an effort to drive production in the second shift, the entire plant was brought in and sternly told they weren't working at their full capacity, and the expectation was 100% every week.

What happened? Second shift continues to be below 100%. First shift has dropped to 100%.

Image result for leader versus manager

So, the question is: how could the manager have handled the situation differently in order to keep the first shift working at above 100%, and also raise the performance of the second shift?

This scenario isn't much different than the one that I gave in a previous blog post about Teacher Evaluation Systems. Many times, initiatives seem to be implemented to bring up our teachers who need additional assistance to be successful, but in demanding additional compliance in order to help these teachers, we put a ceiling on our highest flyers. In the case of the paper converting company and education, I think that the people operating at a lower level would benefit from leadership that provides them with peer coaching, additional training, and is willing to have the difficult conversations with people who need them individually. For example, both the attitudes and the conversation would have looked much different if the manager would have said, "First shift has been doing a phenomenal job of producing at 120%. Clearly, they are doing something that is making them highly successful. We would like to see what that is, and would like to give everyone the opportunity to learn from one another. We are going to alter our schedules slightly for the next few weeks to allow for collaboration between first and second shift."

In the discussion with the employee, I also discovered that training time had been cut from a minimum of one month on a new machine down to two weeks or less but there was no adjustment to the expectation of efficiency. Often times in edu, initiatives are implemented with little training or professional development. We know this with students...practice makes perfect. As leaders, if we cut back on training and professional development, we need to reevaluate how effective we want teachers to be. If we want them to be highly effective (duh) then we need to allow them the opportunity to learn and grow and give them time to practice those skills.

We often talk about public education and the private sector as being two completely different entities, and I would agree that it is different when your "products" are children and their futures versus a ream of paper. However, I think that it is worth noticing that there are similarities as well. Leaders and managers possess similar characteristics wherever they are, whether they work in either sector. Their capabilities, strengths and weaknesses can be the catalyst for positive change or the push that plummets productivity.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Teacher Evaluation Systems: Competition vs Collaboration

Every teacher evaluation system that I have been apart of has been implemented with the best of intentions. Administrators don't start their day trying to think of ways to make teacher's lives more difficult, yet the amount of compliance typically built into an evaluation system does just that. I was recently speaking with a teacher who informed me she has put 60 hours into one of the systems put in place to evaluate her teaching, and she was concerned that she hadn't done enough. To me, that's 60 hours she could have been spending on professional development that would ultimately have more of an effect on her teaching and students than what she spent that time on. Yesterday, I was looking for a quote and happened to come across this:

There are teacher evaluation systems in place that, frankly, send the message to teachers that we don't trust them. Often what happens in districts is that we implement initiatives to bring up our most struggling teachers instead of having the tough conversations and providing professional support and coaching they need, and in doing so, the compliance measures built into the evaluation systems ultimately bring down our highest flyers as we take their choices away. There needs to be systems in place to evaluate teacher effectiveness. No doubt. But evaluation systems based on compliance measures are like giving students points for putting their name on a paper (*gasp*). They leave very little for teachers to be proud of or learn from, and rarely do they truly show what a teacher is (or isn't) capable of. Generally, I've found that there is little to no buy-in in the process.

Another side-effect of compliance dominate evaluation systems is the amount of competition that eventually develops between teachers. One district I taught in had a system where teachers received merit pay based on their evaluation, but there was only so much money to be given. Teachers became competitive and collaboration opportunities were scarce. Awesome lessons were hoarded instead of shared, and the climate of the school became "every man/woman for themselves" Hunger Games mentality. Teachers wanted the additional pay, and nobody can blame them, but the evaluation system was backfiring because it was not supporting collaboration or learning for the sake of getting better for the students. 

Again, there needs to be evaluation systems, but the systems should be in place so that the work being accomplished holds some sort of value outside of additional pay or just keeping your place as a "teacher in good standing". For example, if teachers kept an online portfolio in the form of a blog, this would serve to increase reflection, the sharing of ideas, and collaboration outside the confines of the district. The work being done would be an authentic assessment of the teachers' ability, and would be shared with more than just the admin (exactly like we desire our students to have the opportunity to showcase their work for more than just their teacher). There wouldn't be a date in which administrators would see what has been going on all year because anyone at anytime could read about the awesome learning going on in a classroom at any given time. Reflections would be timely, personalized to what the teacher is currently improving on in their practice, and a logbook of accomplishments and growth over time. 

When people feel like something they are asked to do isn't of value to their performance, they may do it to comply with the order, but it will never become part of what they do to become a better professional. We need to provide teachers with opportunities to show how awesome they are in a way that will help them become better professionals, and begin to trust that they are doing their job.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Stop Apologizing for Not Knowing

I have always been interested in tech, and I've always been willing to show what I know even before I was a technology integrator. Regardless of what position I've been in, there are always people that have apologized while I've been helping them. It's usually a "I'm sorry I'm not good at this" or "I'm sorry that I don't know more about this stuff" or "I'm sorry I'm so stupid with tech." My response has always been the same:

Please don't apologize. I know what I do because early on I learned not be afraid of pushing buttons. If you knew everything I did, I wouldn't have a job. My job is to help you learn.

While I understand that for some people (myself included) saying something like this actually translates into "Thank you for your help", I don't want people apologizing for a couple of reasons. First, to say your sorry means that you feel bad for something. In this case, probably believing that you're inconveniencing the person you're asking to assist you, but just because we're educators does not mean that we are not allowed to ask questions or request help. We are not required to be all knowing. It certainly doesn't mean that there should be feelings of guilt associated with being unsure about how to do something. Second, just by asking, you've already made my day. All I've ever wanted from the people that I've helped is the willingness to learn. Excitement for the learning is a total bonus.

I was working with one of my favorite teachers today, Lori Hron. She approached me to meet with her so she could become more innovative, not even recognizing the amount of innovation already in her classroom. She asked for a standing meeting on the calendar, so every other week around the same time we meet and discuss lessons and projects she has coming up, and we brainstorm ways to create something new out of what she has. My absolute favorite part is that she is so excited. You can see it on her face. It makes me feel the same way working with Lori as it did when I was a teacher and the students thought one of the assigned projects was awesome: total elation and a reminder of why I do my job. A couple of months ago she published her first tweet. A month ago she joined the Innovator's Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC). Today, she published her first blog post. She has apologized to me for not knowing, and yet has been willing to learn and move forward despite her discomfort with what she didn't know, and I couldn't be more proud to work with her.

I've had people say to me that teachers should be able to learn about new initiatives on their own because they are professionals. I disagree. It doesn't seem like best practice to expect people to learn something new on their own without the district's vision on the initiative and significant professional development. Instead, I believe that because teachers are professionals, they should be willing to learn, and we should respect their time and efforts by providing them with the learning that they need to be successful. That respect for professional learning leads to questions without apology, and hopefully excitement in the possibilities of learning something new.