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.

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?

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.

Creating a Perfect PLC…

to-get-to-that-next-level-you-gotta-learn-to-get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-quote-1PLCs have been a part of my professional learning and growth for years. I have experienced it as a teacher, a team leader, an instructional coach and now as a campus administrator. I have seen it from the implementation phase to fully involved.

A question that was recently posed with a learning team I am a part of was, are the systems and structures we have or do not have in place limit the progress and authenticity that PLCs are meant to produce with learning and collaborative efficacy?

The learning team reflected and asked how much of PLCs should be directed and clearly defined by administration and how much should be guided and directed by the teacher team?

Much like we have learned that our students need differentiation with instruction and the way they share their learning, teachers need it in the structures and systems they have within their PLCs.

Teachers, curriculum writers and administrators agree that the conversations and data discussed is different in Kindergarten through second grade teams compared to third through fifth grade teams. There is a concrete area that differentiation is needed. The other is based on the needs of team.

It takes time both for the administrator and the teams to determine where they are as a team in the process of becoming high performing (Stages of Team Formation). Then each team’s PLC structures and systems would be designed in such a way that there is a gradual release of responsibility in communication, planning, lesson sharing, data analysis, and collective professional learning.

It is a delicate balance for administrators to know when we need to say something and when they can attain the learning on their own. A fellow colleague recently commented on this stating “If we say something teachers can get on their their own… why are we saying it?” It is, with the work together as educators (teachers and administrators), we find a place for each team between accountability and autonomy.

We have amazing teacher leaders in every place you look in education. Every educator should see themselves as a leader both for the students they have in their classrooms, but also within their own teams and beyond.

When our learning team met it was a mix of both classroom educators, campus administrators, curriculum directors and district administrators. The most powerful thoughts and reflections came from our classroom educators… what resonated was how excited they were to be with the learning team, to meet other educators that were so deeply passionate about teaching, learning and their students.  As one teacher stated, “We desire to be with others that think at the same level as we are.”

Reflecting on Theories of ActionThat left me pondering… how do we differentiate learning both in PLCs and individually for our teachers? How can we provide systems and structures that allow purposeful PLCs to occur instead of limit progression due to too many constraints or not enough guidelines?

The questions (taken from the book The Transformative Power of Collective Inquiry: Realizing Change in Schools and Classrooms by Donohoo and Velasco p. 104) to the right are designed to evaluate Theories of Action, but also can be used to evaluate the present state of team’s PLCs and help move forward with next steps.

As we move toward the end of the 2017-18 school year, reflect on our progress and the areas we hope to see more growth in the 2018-19 year, what are the systems and structures that best move your campus, teams, teachers and students forward… what systems and structures (or lack of) could be limiting your progress?

Citations:
Donohoo, Jenni, and Moses Velasco. The Transformative Power of Collective Inquiry: Realizing Change in Schools and Classrooms. Corwin, 2016
mind tools, team. “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing: Understanding the Stages of Team Formation.” From MindTools.com, Mind Tools, http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm.
“To Get to That next Level, You Gotta Learn to Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.” PictureQuotes.com, http://www.picturequotes.com/to-get-to-that-next-level-you-gotta-learn-to-get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-quote-258304.

My “One Word” for 2018

I thought long and hard about this word. I knew this word would be my word, but, honestly I didn’t want to admit it. It was a word that I kept denying was my word… until after my family determined our “One Word,” EMBRACE, and that word told me I couldn’t escape the word. (You can read more about my the Wilson Family’s “One Word” on my family blog “The Wilson Family Stories from Razorback Ranch.”)

brave memeMy word is “BRAVE.”

Defined by vocabulary.com, brave means “Courageous, dauntless, perhaps a little bit daring, a person who is brave faces dangerous or difficult situations with courage.”

While most situations I face are not, in relation to truly serious matters, dangerous and most of the time not that difficult, it does require courage to live a life that positively impacts the world around me.

I know that part of that is being brave with my words that I write. I love to share  through blogging, but I often rationalize why I shouldn’t write. Yet the words that are never shared still burn in my mind and on my heart. Ideas, experiences, reflections, questions and wonderings, So I move forward, giving my words voice, and bravely share. share your storyThat is one way I will be brave.

So what will it mean to EMBRACE being BRAVE beyond writing?

-Invest deeply in others.

-Trust my instincts.

-Trust others.

-Take risks and don’t fear failure.

-Share my story.

-Embrace the unknown.

-Be rooted and unwavering in my faith.

-Be present.

-Do what’s right with every opportunity put in front of me.

This word, BRAVE, as I had previously stated, I didn’t want as my “One Word.” It pursued me, haunted me and I relented only when our family “One Word” EMBRACE pointed me right back to it. To be honest I was embarrassed to admit that I am not brave, and most often I stop myself from doing what I know God is urging my heart to act on or pursue because I am afraid of what others may think. Hence the delay to post this until mid-February, long after the “One Word” time frame to share has passed.

This word, what it represents and what it will push me towards is frightening. However, if I am going to live a life that inspires others, I will EMBRACE the many ways life will challenge me to be BRAVE.

 

 

 

 

 

What Does Failing Forward Mean?

Recently at a social event a person quizzically stated to me, “I bet you are glad to see the school  year almost over.”

I hesitated and then responded, “I feel like there is so much I still want to do that I thought I would have already accomplished. So I guess I am a little sad. I can’t believe the end of my first year as an assistant principal is already here. Now I have a lot of goals for next year!”

Aside from the fact that I love being at school and with students and teachers and never long for the end of a year or saying goodbye to students. I also see the deadline coming for meeting goals I have set for myself, for my campus, for my teachers and for my students. If I was within reach of the goals I set… the end of the school year would be a punctuation of celebration. However, for me it is not quite that.

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Couros, George. “What Success (and Learning) Really Looks Like.” The Principal of Change. N.p., 16 Jan. 2016. Web. 02 May 2017.

This year hasn’t been so much about a gentle forward move on a line of progression toward growth, but an awkward series of stops and starts due to the learning curve that comes with being in a new position. I will say every experience I have learned something. I have grown, maybe not in the direction of the goals I have set, but still I have grown… by leaps and bounds, on my own and with the support of others.

A conversation that happened around the first of March with a mentor has stuck with me. I was in the midst of a large task that required decisions where there wasn’t a clear right or wrong/ yes or no. I had to determine what I thought was best. I asked for my mentor’s input.

My mentor replied,”You are going to have to make this decision for yourself.”

I pleaded, “I want your opinion.”

“You are going to make this decision. And if you fail, fail forward.”

At the time I was frustrated by this response. I wanted to have assurance that the decision I was making was right. I did not want failure to be a remote possibility.

There have been many decisions before that, and many since that conversation. Not every situation presented the opportunity to fail forward, but each one has helped me grow, strengthened me, and sharpened my focus as a leader.

As I reflect back at the year, I note where I have fallen short in reaching the goals I have set for myself. I choose to see the failure in reaching the goals I had set for myself as an opportunity to fail forward. Failing forward is what drives the goals for the upcoming year. It is in the failing forward I grab for what is most important and utilize that to sharpen my focus, be purposeful in my plan and lead with even more intention.fail forward quote

I do not long for the year to come to an end.  At the same time, I am eagerly looking forward to the next year, knowing I will fail again, but failing forward with grace, strength and the support of those around me.

I am no longer under the illusion that growth happens on a gentle forward moving line of progression. Rather, growth is a beautiful yet awful mix of stops, starts, crawls, runs, trips and stumbles that all move us forward. I look forward to failing forward.

How do you define failing forward? How does failing forward define your growth and goals?

Learning to “TEAM”

teamwork-and-collaborationMany times when we see the word “TEAM” we think of its association with sports. Quickly we make the connection to winning. With a sports team every individual has a role and is trained and ready to fulfill that role so that the “TEAM” will hopefully win.

However, in education, we come with all kinds of different skill sets. Each team member will, over time, gain the knowledge and training we need, but if the idea of “winning” is finishing first, some team members may not have the opportunity to gain the skills necessary to be the best team possible.

This became very clear to me in another part of my life. I participate in a group exercise program called “Camp Gladiator.” On a very early morning in Mid-August the trainer split us into two teams. One team had to unload a numerous amount of weighted sand-bells from the back of the truck into designated spots across the parking lot until the truck was completely empty and then return the sand-bells to the truck. The other team was assigned to do multiple mat exercises and tally each time they completed a cycle until the team with sand-bells had finished the unload/load task, then they would switch. At the end of the given time, whichever team had the most tallies, won. The key was getting the sand-bells moved quicker than the other team to minimize the opportunity to rack up tallies.

There was very little in the way of guidelines. What took place was a few very physically fit carried many sand-bells at a time while the rest working toward physical fitness were left standing with little to contribute. Was it efficient? Yes. Was it effective in regards to the “team” winning? Yes. But what was sacrificed? Not everyone was given the opportunity to be challenged, to be a valued team member, to grow in their personal fitness.

As an administrator it became very clear to me through this experience, how important it is to communicate effectively expectations and outcomes to teachers both for the team and each member in regards to the work done in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Additionally, emphasizing the value of the process of learning and growth of both the team and the individuals of the team must be made paramount; not who finishes first. If the focus is on finishing first as the idea of “winning” it could lead to team members not having the opportunity to be challenged, to feel valued as a team member or grow in their own professional learning.

Coming back to that morning at Camp Gladiator, the trainer quickly realized that the lack of guidelines and the drive to “win” was creating a “loss” of fitness for some. He corrected with new guidelines that required each sand-bell to be carried individually, emphasized teamwork in the way of cheering one another rather than carrying all of the sand-bells, and created value for all contributors.

In the same way, as leaders we can course correct to ensure high functioning teams and effective PLCs. Then as educators and team members we are all truly #winning.