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Sunday, April 9, 2017

5 Things I've Learned in My First Year As an Admin

I still have 102 days until I have been in my administrative role for one year. I have a countdown on my phone, because like your first year of teaching, I'm assuming (and, for goodness sakes, hoping) that this is the year where I spend most of my day wondering if I'm making the right choices, and the rest of the day in a fog where I try to unravel all of the eccentricities and logistics of the position that I still don't know. Throughout this last year, I have grown and changed exponentially. The following are some of my biggest aha's so far.

Climate & culture dictates trust
No matter what kind of leader you are, when you enter a new district, the current climate and culture that the other leadership has established will dictate how teachers and students trust you. It is the difference between trust being freely given and the need to earn it. If there is a common understanding that the administration can't be trusted to support teachers effectively and rules are in place to measure compliance versus honor professionalism, a new administrator will be treated to the same skepticism and negativity as the other admins are thought of. On the flip side, if the administration has prioritized transparency, a shared vision, and supporting their staff, the administrator will most likely walk into a positive, welcoming environment. This experience has made me realize how absolutely imperative a focus on climate and culture is at every level. After all, it is much easier to move people forward when you're trusted, and it's much easier to maintain trust than it is to earn it.

Leaders must model what they want to see
Sometimes, I feel like I have a soapbox dedicated specifically to this topic, but I firmly believe that we cannot ask others to participate in activities, no matter how valuable we think they are, if we are not willing to do them ourselves. In my previous role, I had time set aside to research new technologies and ways to integrate them into the curriculum. It is much more difficult for me to do that now with my additional roles, but if I expect teachers to be researching and integrating technology it is necessary for me to do it as well. After all, if I say I don't have time to do it, that claim is doing two things:

1) Making my time seem more valuable than theirs. Why would I assume that I don't have the time and they do?
2) Negating the importance of the activity. Everyone makes time for the things they feel are important. If I don't make time, obviously it's not that important.

The same goes for other activities that we often ask of teachers: blogging, Twitter, reflecting, submitting artifacts to demonstrate our effectiveness...the list goes on and on. Teachers model for students and administration needs to model for teachers.

The best leadership is not necessarily by admins
As an administrator, if I really want change and buy-in into an initiative, I'm going to my strongest teacher leaders and asking for help. I can't do it on my own. I guarantee that the teacher leaders in our schools have so much more influence than I could ever have. Why? Because they're boots on the ground. They know what it takes to make initiatives and ideas work in the real world with real students who have real strengths and challenges. A teacher leader should never underestimate the power they have to create positive change in their district, because when it comes down to it, these people are one of the main drivers for change. And when these people feel supported by their administration, watch out! They'll stop at nothing to do what they can to make sure their students have what they need to excel.

Vision must be shared
There is this strange, fine line between complete transparency and too much information. Too much information can be overwhelming, and sometimes admin try to shield teachers from the minute decisions being made because teachers are working with students, and it's our job to support them in maintaining that focus. However, the vision for the district needs to be continually shared. I don't mean this in the way of referring back to the vision statement, even though I think that is important as well. I mean for administration to make connections between initiatives, trainings and professional development, and show teachers where all of the newness is leading. They must be given the why, which should be tightly correlated with the vision of the district. Administration should never assume that the vision is clear and that stakeholders automatically make the connections. The vision, connections between the initiatives and connections to student learning should be explicitly given. Without it, people will be left without reason as to why they do what they do, and there will be little buy-in. This is especially true when there is a lack of trust between teachers and admin.

Relationships, relationships, relationships
When I interviewed for this position, I must've said the word "relationships" 109 times. Valuing relationships has always been a strength of mine, but since taking this role, have become significantly more important as I work with more people and need to trust those around me to do their jobs. Recently, one of my IT team members gave me I one of the greatest compliments I have ever received. She told me that she enjoys coming to work. She said she has fun, enjoys her job, and gets more accomplished than she ever has before, and she credits me with creating that type of environment in our office. I nearly teared up. I love my profession. I can't imagine coming to work every day and hating what I do, so it makes me feel proud and humbled that I could create an environment where someone enjoys coming to work, and knows that I trust her to get her job done (and she consistently goes above and beyond her position). I've accomplished this by prioritizing the need to create relationships with the people who I support. I have not done this with every teacher in the district yet. But the idea of every teacher in the district understanding that I am there to support them and student learning would be a number one goal of mine, and I can do that through relationships and building trust.

Part of cultivating relationships is also the ability to have both difficult conversations and give useful feedback. I need to know that the people I work with trust that I will give them feedback and support them in growing in an area, as well as trust that I will take the feedback that they give me and reflect and change. By having an established relationship, feedback can go both ways as an opportunity for growth instead of one recipient feeling attacked or ashamed.

I am asked on a regular basis how I like my job. There are days that I miss teaching. There are other days when I miss my technology integrator role where I could focus on teachers and students. I'm not going to lie, budget is not my thing. But, I love my profession. When I turn the corner and realize that a teacher finally trusts me, or when I see a teacher trying something new in their classroom and then talking excitedly about how engaged his/her students were, or when a co-worker comes to me with a problem and trusts my opinion...it's those moments when I think that I could finally be seen as a leader AND an admin that remind me why I love doing what I do.

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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%.

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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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Be the Change

I had one of those days yesterday where you question how effective you truly are at your job. When you realize that thinking you're on the same page as somebody and actually being there are two different things. I tried to reflect on my leadership skills to see where it is that I'm lacking...places where I could make change in order to be the leader I need to in order to move people forward. I often see the same struggle in the people around me: the technology mentor teachers that I work with and how discouraged they are when people don't show up for their professional development, or a technology integrator friend of mine who's struggling with administration right now in trying to get them to see what's really best for teachers. It's sometimes easy to get stuck when you feel like you're pulling people along instead of supporting people in their own desire to move forward. I questioned whether I had what it takes to even live in this role, and if I was able to actually dig down and find the part that told me I could, where do I go from there?

Recently, I've had several discussions about modeling the behavior we want to see. This needs to happen at all levels. If a teacher wants a student to be an effective listener, are they modeling that behavior when the students are talking to them, or are they distracted and thinking about 10 other things? If an administrator is asking a teacher to be a global collaborator, are they connecting with people on a global scale and modeling that behavior? We can't expect things out of people that we're not willing to do ourselves. After several lengthy discussions with a few members of my PLN, I came to the conclusion that I need to be the change that I want to see. If I want people be reflective and embrace growth, or if I expect people to be uncomfortable and learn, I better be willing to do those same things myself to show them that I'm walking the walk.

I can't preach change and stay stagnant myself and expect people to take me seriously.

Recently, my phenomenal mentor has challenged me to learn more about the back end of our technology department. My strength is instruction and teaching and curriculum and not networks and switches and routers. I balked when he first told me this. "I hate that stuff," I said.It made me uncomfortable because I didn't understand it. I honestly thought to myself how much of my brain power am I willing to allocate towards learning that. But, I set up some time with my network administrator and I'm slowly becoming familiar with that area. I don't particularly like it, and it makes me uncomfortable to be so unfamiliar with a large part of our department, but if I expect other people to grow and change, I need to have those same expectations for myself, especially when it's an area that I don't particularly like.

So, at a time when initiatives are plenty and I feel like there are many days where I'm not only not on the same page but possibly in a different book, I've decided to be the change that I want to see. I could give up and say that it's not possible to make change, but I'm going to choose the higher road and continue to model this attitude and behavior because in the end it's about the students and what's best for their learning, which alone is a good enough reason to make the effort.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Supporting Instruction: How is Tech Integration Different?

I've often said that technology instructional support is different than any other content area support. I learned these lessons in my role as a technology integrator, and working closely with the wonderful math and literacy instructional support teachers. While I feel like all instructional support should work in tandem, sometimes, in order to move teachers forward, I needed to provide them with different types of support that may not have been necessary in the other areas. I narrowed them down to three main ways I provided support.

Tech Services: Can you fix this?
I was not tech services, but sometimes I needed to provide technical support when the technology was needed for the lesson immediately. Not only did it work toward cultivating relationships and building trust with the teachers I worked with, but as a professional, my job was not to dissuade the use of technology by leaving the teacher hanging if there was a quick fix in an emergency. Therefore, I did what I could if the situation warranted it. It was often the first contact with a teacher who would end up working with me later. While this was my least favorite role, I knew that some support of this kind was a necessary part of keeping a classroom comfortable with technology use, and in watching me problem solve, I was modeling some of the skills that I would like to see from teachers and students.

Training: Where do I click?
I've always said that the main difference between literacy/math support and technology support is that literacy support teachers, for example, don't need to teach teachers to read in order to teach them reading instructional strategies and best practices. However, in order for teachers to effectively integrate technology, they must have at least a baseline knowledge of what they're using. For example, in order to use Google Classroom with students, teachers really need to understand Drive. Training is the foundation for technology integration. Not only do you provide teachers with the skills they need to try new ideas in technology, but you also show them HOW to learn a technology. As technology continues to change and grow, we often say that we want students to learn how to learn as much as we want them to learn the content. This is what we are doing for teachers when teaching them the skills they need. We are providing them the content as well as the confidence to learn in the future when the technology changes.

Infusing Learning & Technology: How do I empower my students?
Even though it's difficult to get away from utilizing the term "technology integration", I feel like technology should be something that is so seamlessly infused in learning that it is difficult to separate the two. Integration sounds like it is something extra piled on top of the curriculum that is already there. This is often how technology is viewed, but my job was to support teachers in how they could look at their lessons from a new, more innovative angle, and how technology could empower their students to problem find/solve and show their learning. Ultimately, this is typically where the other content areas reside. They are supporting teachers in working with students and how to help them grow.

Oftentimes, the amount of professional development in the area of technology is significantly less than in other content areas because it's seen as an extra. When speaking with other technology integrators or coaches, their frustration is the lack of time given for professional development. I believe this is because when they do get time, it needs to be focused on training, so they never feel like they can move into the third category of learning.

However, if we truly believe that curriculum and technology should mesh seamlessly, it's reasonable to create learning opportunities for teachers where all of the instructional coaches are involved. If a presentation is being created on math strategies, for example, it could be done in Nearpod and modeled for teachers on how Nearpod could be used in the classroom. The teachers are then immersed in the technology that they could be using, and learning the math strategies at the same time, therefore fusing the two together. Not only does this benefit teachers by introducing them to ways technology can engage and empower, but there should also be a reasonable expectation that Math and Literacy instructional coaches have some tech knowledge, and that technology integrationists have general background knowledge in Math and Literacy strategies. Creating a team of instructional coaches to play off each other's strengths allows for professional development that is useful and relevant, and models the kind of collaboration that we want to see.