The ‘Virtual’ First Day…

Many of you are about to venture into the first day on a virtual platform with your students, are supporting children with their first adventure on a virtual platform for learning, or are supporting someone behind the scenes that is one of the two mentioned (administrators, paraprofessionals, friends of parents/teachers transitioning to remote learning, etc.).

Last Sunday, March 15th, things were just beginning to unfold with COVID 19 in the state where I support the only online public option for 7-12 as Director of Curriculum and Instruction. We had already had our first school contact us about the options they had to move their students to online instruction with our Content Only courses (they utilize our online curriculum content in our Learning Management System (LMS) while their own teachers facilitate/deliver the content to their students). We were going to enter into training them about the courses, the technology systems, and the implementation of the delivery of instruction. I was charged with encouraging the teachers/administrators, provide some insight about partnering with the students, and most of all reminding them to give themselves grace and understanding as they transition into this new learning environment with their students.

That day, as I have done every Sunday since the beginning of January, I took a walk and listened to the podcast “Innovator’s Mindset” with George Couros. In this podcast, George revisited the “5 Questions You Should Ask Your Staff or Students.” At first, I thought, “George, why now, school is almost over?” Then I had a moment of clarity. We are all in a moment of “First Day Jitters.” COVID 19 has thrust us into a new situation for how we care for and teach our students. Many of us have no idea how we are going to do this remote learning. I will tell you, there is a lot of information out there on all the social platforms, maybe so much you are overwhelmed. (If you are, and you need someone to listen or help you just take the next step, put your email in the comments, and I will reach out to you, listen to you, and if you want it, help you.)

Back to my point. George shared the following in the podcast:

If you want to listen to the podcast or read the related blog post, click here.

It got me thinking. How can these questions apply to the teachers/administrators I was about to train/support in the transition to online learning?

I came up with this modification of George’s original 5 questions. I realized this may be something that may be helpful to other teachers as well.5 Questions to Ask Sutdents

If anything, I hope it shares the message that before you jump into teaching content, let your students know their voice matters, their dreams and passions are important, and success is still something that is achievable and completely possible in this new online learning environment and you are partnering with them to make that happen. Before anything, relationships, relationships, relationships.

Kudos to those of you that have already met via some online video format with your students to check in with them. To do this is to help demystify the online live Zooming (Video) for both yourselves and the students before you even start to deliver content… and most of all it focuses on our most important job in learning, relationships.

Screen Shot 2020-03-21 at 10.08.20 PMI do not want to put too much more in this post. However, a very good infographic regarding things to keep in mind as both you and your students are learning from an environment that is not the classroom you all are accustomed to was shared with our own organization’s teachers and shortly after shared out on social media.

Most of all seek support from your colleagues, your greater education community, partner with your parents, and most certainly lean into your students. We are #bettertogether and my hope is that in all this we will find a level of solidarity and support educators have never experienced before, which in turn will bless our students and our parents in ways we had no idea would happen.

Please share your thoughts, your need for support/encouragement, questions in the comments below.

It is the “Little Things”

I look forward to my walk on Sunday afternoons and listening to the podcast of the week from “Innovator’s Mindset” with George Couros. Last Sunday he shared “10 Easy Ways to Create an Amazing Classroom Culture” in his podcast. He challenged his listeners to apply just one of the 10 suggestions. I wanted to meet this challenge in some way.

That was going to be difficult, however, I am no longer in a brick and mortar setting. The classrooms I support as Director of Curriculum and Instruction of our state Virtual School is over 250 high schools across Arkansas. I am not making excuses. I am sharing the beautiful constraint I was presented in meeting George’s challenge.

I mulled over this challenge for the remainder of my Sunday. Like most things, I didn’t have a strategy until I was in the shower Monday morning.

I sent an email to all my teachers including the blog post that linked to the podcast.

Here is the email I sent to my teachers:
“This weekend I listened to the most recent “Innovator’s Mindset” podcast by George Couros. At the end of the podcast he sometimes shares a challenge to his listeners. This one was to take the 10 things mentioned in the podcast and also listed in his blog post forwarded to you for reference and do at least one of them.

This week if you would help me in this, determine one student who has really worked hard for you, maybe struggles, but works hard. Maybe they are starting to lose their resolve and/or motivation and could use a word of encouragement. Send me their name, email, school affiliation, course they are taking with you, and something positive you notice or like about them. My intent is to personally reach out to that student you share with me and let them know that we are rooting for them. I want to share the love.

If you do not have the time, I completely understand, however, if you have a moment and can share, I would truly appreciate it. I want to love on your kids and do it with intention.”

The teachers that took me up on this were so excited to share the opportunity to encourage and love on their students. I took the time to craft a personal and unique email to each student was shared with me by their teacher. I cannot tell you to what extent it impacted the students I wrote, although, some wrote back and thanked me for reaching out and encouraging them. However, I can tell you, it changed me.

So if you are looking for a way to re-invigorate your work as an educator, I encourage you to read/listen to George’s blog/podcast and come to your own way to make one of his 10 suggestions happen. I found a way and I am so glad I did.

Please share in the comments if you tried any of George’s suggestions and how it impacted you and/or your students.

Transformation is in the Small Moments

Last week I was listening to George Couros’ Podcast “Innovator’s Mindset” Season 1, Episode 8 . In this episode, George spoke about change and whose role is it to lead change. He challenged the idea that to lead it must be positional, but rather, anyone can impact and lead change.

At the end of the podcast, he challenged his listeners to share a time when one had a “trajectory” changing moment. How have we used that fuel to inspire others…

He urged us to tell our story, just as he told his.

My story goes back to my first year back in the classroom after I had taken some time off to focus on my young and growing family. I had obtained a position in one of the most competitive districts in the state at that time. At orientation, we were told that for every position in this high achieving, fast-growing district, there were over 500 applicants and we should feel honored we were one of the selected. I was not celebrating this fact; I was overcome with fear. I didn’t feel I was deserving.

When I became the lead learner of that classroom; I was intense. I wanted to do my very best. I was always thinking and contemplating. How can I prove myself to be worthy of these students, this team I was on, this campus of learners, and this district of high caliber educators? Combine this with the day to day work of teaching, taking care of students, and the rare moments to reflect on the practice of being a teacher new to 3rd grade. I was split between being present in my role and being in my head about EVERYTHING.

Add to this, when I am in deep thought, I do not have the friendliest of faces. It’s my face. I was born with it. My resting “thinking” face is, well, not the nicest. In this time, I was doing LOTS of thinking.

Midway through the year one of my colleagues had a “transformational” conversation with me at lunch one day. She started off by saying, “You are one of the most passionate, thoughtful, caring teachers I know. I thought it really strange when a second-grade parent approached me and asked me what kind of teacher you were and asked, ‘Does she really like kids?'”

At this point, I am mid-chew and almost choke, as my heart is in my throat. What? Do I really like kids? I wouldn’t be in this profession if I didn’t like kids!

She continued, seeing my shocked reaction, “I followed up what the parent said by saying, Mrs. Wilson absolutely likes kids, in fact, she loves them! I have never seen someone as passionate about kids and their learning! Why would you ask that?”

At this point, I am shaking my head and thinking, thanks friend for having my back.

The retelling of the dialogue continued, “The parent then said, ‘Well, I have heard she is good, but I never see her smile, and I wondered if she really likes being here at school and if she really likes kids.”

I was still in shock.  I had no idea I had conveyed this doubt through my face which was in direct contrast to my heart for kids. After she finished conveying this information, I was able to tell her, “Thank you for telling me. It means a lot for you to share this with me.”

That moment changed so much for me. After recovering from my disbelief, I put a small wall mirror by the door of my classroom and every time I walked in the hall I saw my reflection which reminded me to smile. I also asked my neighbor teachers to hold me accountable with the “Check Your Face” system. I asked my colleagues to “CYF” me if I was not smiling or was donning my permanent “thinking” face.

The “CYF” practice has carried over into every part of my life. I try now to greet others with a smile wherever I am.

In my current position, I am the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, almost every interaction I have with my staff and school partners is through Zoom. I am always aware of my face and make sure it is saying I am happy to be here, I am thankful to be here with you, and I love working with and for kids.

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When George made this challenge I hesitated to share as it was such a simple, small thing that was transformational for me. Then I realized, every big change starts with simple, small things. Every conversation matters. Every person matters.

Just as I shared the story of one of my “trajectory” changing moments as an educator, I hope that my story inspires you. What “trajectory” changing moment has inspired you and others?

My #OneWord2020: Wholehearted

This last year I really honed in on my #oneword2019 FOCUS. When I first began this intense emphasis on being focused on a few things, I believed that my output and work would be less, but the quality of what I did would be better. What I didn’t realize was that by having focus, I actually accomplished more. In addition to that, I noticed more detail in the things I pursued and with more depth and intention.

When there is a focus in your life, you see more clearly, and when you see more clearly, you come to a crossroads of empathy and compassion. At the same time, I had begun exploring the Enneagram for purposes of team building. I learned that my sometimes need to put up walls, go get it approach to life, and need to be in control, naturally creates a challenge for me that other Enneagram numbers may not face to be vulnerable. In fact, as an eight, it is in my very nature to become aggressive and even walk over others when pushed or mistreated.

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This is not a good place to be as a leader, nor as a parent, friend, sister, or wife. Now I know that there are a lot of positives about being an eight. You need a mama bear, protector, loyal friend to the death? I am your person. You want me to share my innermost feelings, well, first I have to figure them out for myself. Us eights struggle even being vulnerable and honest with ourselves.

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So, that is where I was as I contemplated by #oneword2020. Focus had got me to a good place. It had helped me to dig deep not only in my work but also in my own personal growth. After reading Dare to LeadDaring Greatly, Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown, The Wolfpack by Abby Womback, and It’s Not Supposed to be This Way by Lysa Terkeurst, the idea of being WHOLEHEARTED not only rested on me with intensity, it made me see my need to take the next step to not just focus, but lean in and learn how to be fully WHOLEHEARTED in my leadership and more importantly in my life.

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With much intention, I chose WHOLEHEARTED as my #oneword2020. I will tell you it has already been a challenge. There have been many times since I took this word as my #oneword2020 I have wanted to put my walls up. I have been put in positions where others have wanted to control the situation, a situation of loss has presented itself and brought out raw feelings in me, and times I have wanted to lash out in aggressive anger because I have felt wronged. I haven’t responded in each situation in the best way, but I am taking deeper breaths, and I am giving myself a moment to consider with positive intent the actions of others.

Last year “Focus” was my word, I had to do it two years in a row, because it proved to be more difficult for me than I thought it would be. I am hoping that I will do a better job of accomplishing being WHOLEHEARTED, but if I am not successful, I can always do it again in 2021. I think this one is a word I will not let loose of until I have it. I owe it to myself, my team of teachers and colleagues, my family, and my friends.

How are you doing with your #oneword2020?

Teachers need to be “Seen” too…

I am a year in at my current position as Director Curriculum and Instruction with our public state virtual school. I have moved from a role where I was primarily expected to take care of administrative matters in regards to building safety, student discipline, and jobs delegated because no one else wanted to do them or somebody else’s plate was too full. It meant long hours and many evenings and weekends tying up loose ends so I could still be what I wanted to be, an instructional leader (lead learner).

Now I am in a position that lets me focus on the part I desire most, being an instructional leader (lead learner). I have grown so much in the past year in this area as I have been handed the baton to continue to guide my amazing educators through the process of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Let me first say that I was extremely blessed that the framework/foundation for PLCs had already been developed before I arrived. Having procedures, routines, and rituals in place make for the process of continuous improvement much smoother. This allowed for the room needed to experiment, take risks, and ultimately move organically and authenticism.

This process of experimentation, risk-taking, and authentic learning began early in the year. I had a teacher who came to me that was “trying something new” in her online AP course. She had decided to pre-record her typical “what’s coming up for the week in the course” that had typically been delivered in the synchronous zoom time. In theory, she was hoping to build a more active synchronous time in her Zoom and at the same time allow time for deeper conversations with and among her students. She wanted to know from me if this was “ok” to do. I was so excited! Without even knowing it, she was attempting flipped learning! I told her to go for it. I also told her that I planned to check in with her from time to time, and if she was feeling things were going well, I wanted her to present to the rest of my teachers her “risk.” In the interim, I shared short articles of strategies and research that supported her decision. In November she shared her “experiment” the initial successes, and strategies she was using with the entire organization.

IMG-4105What did this take? I am not 100% but something I said or did early on in the back to school professional learning, the openness that I presented, and my eagerness to see teachers trust their instincts and what they knew was good teaching and run with it somehow sent a message “Give it a go! You never know unless you try!”

Since that November, others have presented. What is shared is always more meaningful than if I had shared it myself. No matter what it is, every situation comes back to being able to do what is best for students and provide excellent learning opportunities for students.

What has been key to making this happen?

  1. Valuing the PLC process not for the benefit of the organization, but for the benefit of the student, with the teacher at the center of the process.
  2. Listening and noticing the nuggets of greatness and teaching others to “mine for the gold” that teachers have but sometimes think isn’t all that special- (I have been known to share “Obvious to You, Amazing to Others” by Derek Sivers)
  3. Being vulnerable, I mean really vulnerable. If you haven’t read Dare to Lead by Brene’ Brown. Start there and lean into leading with whole-heartedness and tough conversations. The result will be amazing and brave work.
  4. Finally, let teachers know they are seen. Really seen. This means making an effort to be observant to the tiniest of things. Listen to the cadence of an email that changes. The post on their social media that shares a celebration or hints at heartache. Meet them where they are and WALK with them. Do for them what you would hope as an administrator your teachers would do for their students.

It isn’t enough for us to ask our teachers to personalize learning for our students, build unique relationships with each of them, and identify and meet each situation by name and need if we as lead learners aren’t willing to do the same.

This is how we are making progress as a Professional Learning Community. This is how I hope we continue as Community of Educators who profoundly care for one another and the students we have the opportunity to impact.

How are you working toward whole-heartedness, teachers being “seen,” and at the same time developing a healthy PLC culture? Please share in the comments!

Giving the PLC a little TLC: How Quality Checks are Improving the PLC Process

I came to Virtual Arkansas in July 2018. We are a blended online virtual program that is the state of Arkansas’ Public Education option for offering courses that Public Education schools may not be able to offer themselves due to regional, economic or school size challenges. We eliminate the issue of availability and provide equitable access for students to take courses that otherwise they may not have had.

When I began my position as Director of Curriculum and Instruction, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the PLC process. Coming from what my Virtual Arkansas colleagues call a “Brick and Mortar” situation, I had lots of questions on how PLCs could be effective in a virtual platform. What I soon learned was, not only was it possible through Zoom, but Virtual Arkansas had already done so much work to lay the groundwork for PLCs. They had the structures in place and it was an embedded belief that to do the work of Virtual Arkansas, PLCs were a living part of the culture of continuous improvement.

It is without a doubt I took on a solid PLC process. As most Lead Learners would agree, when coming into an organization that has solid practices, it is best to observe and learn before making changes. So I watched, and I learned FROM my teachers and learned WITH them.

During this same time, I had the privilege of attending Solution Tree’s “PLC Works” with one of my campus directors and a teacher leader from our concurrent team, CTE (Career and Technology Education) team and Core (core subject content) team. These training sessions are ongoing and began in September and will finish in March. During the training in November, we had to identify our current reality between our culture and our collaboration. One area that had come apparent to me in the meetings was that the PLCs were working well on the surface, but true transparency and trust were areas that needed attention. Before I could ask my teachers to openly talk about their own effectiveness of their instruction, share student performance data, determine alignment between curriculum and assessment, and find ways to raise the Depth of Knowledge within student discussions and activities, I had to determine where my teachers were as a team with trust and transparency.Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 2.11.03 PM.png

I realized that I needed to design an opportunity for this dialogue to occur. I established a plan for that dialogue that I ended up calling “Quality Check PLC Meetings.”

Before each team came to the meeting they were asked to assess where they felt their team fell on the “Tuckman’s Curve” through an anonymous Google Form. On this same form, I asked for each individual to reflect on the norms their team had determined by consensus in early September and reflect on questions regarding the health of their PLC.

The questions to determine PLC health are listed in the following image.

Questions to assess PLC Health

During the Quality Check, I first had them read the text “Do We Have Team Norms or ‘Nice to Knows’?” using the Making Meaning Protocol (Adapted for Use with a Text).

Teams evaluated their current norms, what they have done when norms have been breached and how do they plan to address norm “derailment” in the future to ensure they continue to work toward being performing teams. At the end of the text rendering, I posed the question, “Implication for our Work: How might this particular text influence your work as a PLC?” 

I then shared a plotted image of the Tuckman’s curve where I had gathered information from the form that each individual filled out before the “Quality Check PLC” and shared how the team “rated” in regards to forming-storming-norming-performing. At that point, there was a discussion that I stepped back and allowed for free flow. Finally, I asked for each member to reflect by responding to two final questions after taking a period of time to think and then email myself and their campus director. Those two questions can be found on the shared sample google slide show I used to structure the Zoom “Quality Check PLC.”

From that point I responded to over 70 emails where teachers had reflected and responded to the questions:

  • What can we do as a PLC moving forward?
  • What can YOU do to keep your PLC  performing where you continue to move toward a high impact and highly effective team?

What I have learned from this “Quality Check” process.

  1. None of the teams had a plan in place if there was a norm “breech.” Furthermore, there are not a lot of resources to “coach” teams that are struggling with norm “derailment” or how to establish a protocol to address when a breach occurs.
  2. Some teams define performing as “everyone” gets along. That has tasked me with the work of identifying complacency and helping our teams gain an understanding that PLCs are about challenging the current status quo and pushing our thinking to improve student learning and instruction. As Eric Thomas states, “To get to that next level, you gotta learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”IMG-1660
  3. Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. If the PLC teams in my organization are going to be successful they have to have profound respect and appreciation for one another. At one time in my educational journey, I went to a training on PLCs the presenter said emphatically that PLCs can work without one having to like/get along with the others on the team. I held on to that statement for too long, often blaming myself when a team didn’t work well together, believing that as long as we focused on the work the “feelings” on the team should not matter. However, we never performed as well as teams that truly cared for and respected one another. If I could go back, I would have focused on building the relationships on my team first, because if I had done that, in the long run, the work would have been more focused and more productive. Because of a lesson I learned a little too late for teams from my past, I have coached all my teams to make space in their agenda and in their everyday practices (email, text, messaging, etc.) to connect and build/maintain community within their teams. Never take for granted the importance of team culture!

At first, I wasn’t sure this process was a good idea. I did have push back and sometimes the email responses were filled with issues and unhappiness. I poured into these situations with a positive solution-oriented response and with more questions from me asking for suggestions from the teachers I responded to on how we can move forward: as individuals, for their team, and as an entire organization. I also leaned on my administration team during this time expressing the mental fatigue that unexpectedly impacted me and vulnerably shared my struggles. This in turn built up our administration team, too.

In the weeks that followed with some of my Lead Learners (designated the “team lead”), there was purposeful time invested in them to encourage them, especially when teams started asking the hard questions and truly storming. It was uncomfortable, messy, and for my Lead Learners hurtful. They saw this storming as a failure on their part. We worked through that and helped them to see that storming, as long as it is honest, open and moves forward authentically, is a catalyst for growth.

This also caused me to reflect and add some changes to the Leadership PLC that I have with my Lead Learners. I chose to be more vulnerable AND added a section that focuses solely on PLC growth which allows for us to discuss ways we can continue to grow the community and overall health of our PLC teams. In just a few short weeks this change has made an incredible impact.

I will say now, that this was a process worth doing, and I will do it again. Not only do we need to progress monitor our students and their growth, but we need to progress monitor the health, and growth of our PLCs. The work of the PLC, when done well, is the greatest work we can do for students. It is where we build collective efficacy (1.57 effect size) and teacher clarity (.75 effect size), two highly impactful influences on effect size in regards to student achievement, according to John Hattie.

Sources:

Baron, Daniel. “The Making Meaning Protocol: Adapted for Use with a Text.” www.schoolreforminitiative.org, School Reform Initiative, 16 Nov. 2016, schoolreforminitiative.org/doc/making_meaning.pdf.

“‘Tuckman’s Team Development Model.’” Tuckman’s Team Development Model, University of Glasgow, http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_358180_en.pdf.

Waack, S, and J Hattie. “Hattie Effect Size List – 256 Influences Related To Achievement .” VISIBLE LEARNING, Visible Learning, 28 Mar. 2018, visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/.

Williams, Kenneth C. “All Things PLC: Do We Have Team Norms or ‘Nice to Knows?”.” About PLCs | All Things PLC | Powered by Solution Tree, Solution Tree, 25 Oct. 2010, http://www.allthingsplc.info/blog/view/90/do-we-have-team-norms-or-nice-to-knows.

My 2019 #oneword- FOCUS: Yes, It is a Revisit!

Last year was a whirlwind of a year. Every ounce of me relied on my #oneword of 2018 Brave. I had to be brave in our process of moving states, finding a new job, relocating my kiddos to a new school… and that was just the big stuff. Who knew finding a hair stylist and nail technician would also require bravery… but a bad haircut and horrible pedicure taught me to bravely face my reflection both on the surface and deep within.

word of the yearSo, here we are and I have never known so clearly what my #oneword should be… FOCUS. Funny thing, it’s been my word before. At first, I thought about changing it. I mean, who has a #oneword twice, unless they really sucked at it the first time, right? And then I really started reflecting. There has been A LOT of change for me and my job isn’t anything like it was for the past two years. I am in charge of guiding, designing and directing the path of our organizations learning and curriculum. I am also a BIG IDEA person. If you are familiar with the Compass Points Protocol, I am an EAST all the way through. This is great for dreaming, for vision casting, for pushing the limits, for designing with the end in mind, but not for details in implementation and making sure there is mastery before introducing something else. It wasn’t that I hadn’t mastered FOCUS, it was that I needed to revisit it. I needed to reel myself in. I need to constantly remind myself to FOCUS.

Screen Shot 2018-12-20 at 8.42.20 PMLet me back up a little and let you know how I came to this clarity of thought. First, our Admin team began reading “Leading With Focus” by Mike Schmoker in mid-November. It has been a true challenge to my “speedboat” approach to learning and thus my leading. I also reinforced what I  remind myself of often, “If you are leading where you are so far ahead of everyone else, you aren’t leading you are alone.”

Second, I am one that has a hard time “narrowing down” ideas into details, however, I had been tasked with facilitating professional development for a group of educators that serve a group of students that are some of our hardest to reach. My plan? Fostering Effective Student Goal Setting. How am I going to do this? Have the teachers select their #oneword, create a vision board and then identify achievable step by step goals for themselves, then take the hands-on learning and they had and devise an approach to do the same with their students.

Will this be effective? Well, we will see after January 7th.

Am I optimistic? Yes. Why? Well, you never try something you aren’t willing to do yourself. I have written down ideas, plans, goals around my #oneword before, but never fully done a vision board. I did one this time, and I discovered when you do this you work from your innermost passions.

Where do students derive their motivation? From their passions. Not only that, but the vision boards share visually what words can’t capture and at a deep relational level that a simple written word or goal does not capture. And that is why I am optimistic. I am hoping that this exercise in identifying their #oneword, then creating their vision board and then finally creating simple, actionable, attainable goals that will be shared with their teachers will create the path for a trajectory of positive change.

IMG_1620For me, I know that taking my #oneword FOCUS and creating this vision board is giving me the guide for leading learning with my organization, for my family and for myself. Additionally, it is helping me with another aspect that I have recently discovered through Brene’ Brown’s book “Dare to Lead.” I want to lead in such a way that whatever our focus we do brave work, have the tough conversations to move forward and I show up with my whole heart. That requires vulnerability and in the spirit of that, I am sharing a picture of my vision board for my readers.

I hope that you find inspiration and encouragement with your #oneword as I have and will with mine. I want to also share that in addition to my personal #oneword my family also has a #oneword they select each year. This year it is BALANCE. To me, it is the perfect intersection of words. If you want to read more about my family’s #oneword you can find it on my family blog: “2019 and Our Family’s #oneword.”