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!

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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.”

We Can’t Afford to Not Vote…

Image result for Quote george orwell intelligent menIn the day of school choice, vouchers, for-profit education systems, and charters, educators can no longer just show up to their jobs. We must be advocates. Not because we fear the loss of our jobs, but because the very students we serve in public education are in jeopardy of losing the opportunity to a free and appropriate education.

Many would argue with me and tell me I am wrong. I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t researched, thought long and hard about this, and weighed the outcomes that would occur from me writing this. It may be your opinion that I am wrong, but I have seen with clarity, that as educators if we choose not to vote, advocate for our students who do not yet have the right to vote, and take the opportunity to have open dialogue to inform those around us, our very democracy is in jeopardy.

I will agree that public education in the 70s and 80s was slow in responding to meeting the needs of all students. Public school was free for the taking, how appropriate it was for the student was questionable. However, one can argue that the public schools of today are serving students and providing an educational opportunity that is beyond what many in public education could have imagined. The sad thing is that those outside our walls have no idea how amazing it is what students can be offered.

In Arkansas, we are breaking barriers with virtual blended courses so that rural and economically disadvantaged schools/students have access to highly qualified educators who capitalize on building relationships while delivering rigorous and relevant content. Students are also able to set themselves on a path to access more AP courses and Concurrent courses (College/HS credit) than ever before both in the traditional brick and mortar setting and through virtual blended courses. Additionally, students seeking a career and technology path (welding, agriculture, culinary arts, media arts, etc.) are able to begin that journey while still in high school.

At the same time that schools are offering these amazing opportunities at the high school level, elementary schools are implementing the most proactive evidenced-based practices to develop our youngest learners into highly literate learners.

I say all this to rally the educators in Arkansas, and beyond. Take note, do your Education isn't just another issue.research… really do your research. Who is sitting on legislative education task forces? Who is writing the legislation impacting public education? Are the interests of the students at the forefront? Is choice about equity and access for ALL students (remember the rural students who need access to opportunity, too)?

Most of all, get out there, talk to your representatives at the local, state and national level. Are the board members of your school board invested in what is best for all students? Does your legislator serve the needs of a few elite or is there a purpose to create opportunity for equitable access for all students? Do they see choice as something to be embedded within public schools or to funnel funding to for-profit programs or charter/private programs without accountability?

It’s time we get in the mix of things and be a voice for those that do not yet have the opportunity to vote. Consider what your community, state, nation, and the world would be like if education is only reserved for a few and denied to those who do not have the means to access. Use caution as politicians use choice and competition to legitimize privatization. If we remove equitable opportunity and access, students will not be empowered to change not only their future path but squelch the change-agents and policy-makers of our country’s future.

How Do You Choose to be Brave?

Shortly after I posted “My ‘One Word’ for 2018” the tragedy of Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida occurred. I thought of the bravery of the students, staff and first responders on that day. I thought of the bravery of parents who patiently waited for news of their child. I thought of the bravery of the counselors who consoled the students and faculty in the aftermath.

What I didn’t see as brave is the multitude of social media posts that point fingers and apply blame. We have had an epidemic on our hands for over a century. Our children for over a century have been less important than the blame and rhetoric that seems to fill our media. If our children were truly the priority it wouldn’t be about gun control, or poor parenting, or the moral decline of our society. It would be about resources being allocated to best serve our children. Prioritizing services to provide resource officers trained to deal with the variety of threats that may come into our children’s schools. Please remember, this last one was another student, but many times it is not. Often times the violence isn’t with a gun… look at the recent tragedy in China.

It is time we stop blaming poor parenting, guns, schools, and most of all children. The following was posted on a fellow friend’s Facebook feed:
shooting

I responded with the following: “There has been documented school violence for over 100 years. What is not told is that more violent acts are prevented that happen now than before gun laws were in place. Unfortunately, violence happens without guns too, but the media only focuses on guns. Our focus should be on keeping our children safe and how we can address mental illness. Until the rhetoric changes and the argument is focused on something else other than our children nothing will change.

Children with mental illness are suffering while we debate over guns. Educators are doing everything within their means and beyond to meet the needs of children and families with limited or no resources and little training to address concerns of mental illness and safety. As stated in my response above until our focus and priority both in funding and rhetoric changes, nothing will truly change.

Blog bost from Travis Jordan about every childI will not tell a parent that it is their parenting that failed us. I will not tell students that it is the moral decline of their generation that has failed us. I will not tell a student who has experienced great difficulties mentally, physically or emotionally that more gun control can alleviate their challenges. I will not tell a teacher that it is up to them entirely to ensure that they solely can prevent another atrocity like this or that the answer is that they carry a weapon on school grounds. I will not place blame on our counselors or expect myself or my fellow administrators to think less like an educator that presumes positive intent, and instead, assumes worst case scenario.

What I can do is what was so eloquently stated by a fellow Professional Learning Network colleague, Travis Jordan (@Supt_Jordan) in a tweet he shared the Sunday after the horrific event in Florida.

This is how I believe being brave can make a difference. This is how I can help the students be brave, the staff be brave, the first responders be brave and the parents be brave. I refuse to blame. I choose to be brave.

 

The Dance of Change and Progress

dont rushIn the process of change and progress there are moments of celebration and times of distress. Too much change within the systems, its supports and the expectations can take a toll. Learning how to effectively lead and support through the dance of change and progress is a dance that requires expertise, understanding and awareness.

Often the struggle is in seeing the potential in the change and progress that can happen, and pushing for that change and progress when those joining in the journey don’t yet have the same view.

How can a team move forward in a positive way to do the dance of change and progress TOGETHER?

I have been reflecting on my own practices to improve my approach in supporting my team as we earnestly work through the challenges that come with change and progress. There are three areas I have determined must be present in my own mindset if I am going to best serve my team:

  1. We ARE moving forward… be PATIENT
    • Keep focused on the work at hand- the harvest will come
    • Don’t worry about the pace of the progress and change- when you reach it, however long it takes, it will be worth it
    • There are seasons of life, and things out of our control; trust your team and be optimistic
  2. Be POSITIVE
    • Don’t complain or look for what isn’t done; focus on what is done well
    • Be intentional in your work/relationships; keep silent and let the work and others speak to the progress being made
    • Keep a perpetually optimistic outlook- perspective is everything
  3. Be TRUE
    • Trust the process and your team
    • Live with integrity- build, foster and maintain trust with your team

I realize that the points mentioned are not new, nor something that is unique. However, it is something I needed to reflect upon and humbly share with others. My hope is that I improve the dance I am doing with my team and through patience, positivity and truth effectively support them in their process of change and progress.

How is your team doing the dance of change and progress with you?

Restoration of my Blog…

blog about starting again prof blogSince moving from a Instructional Technology Specialist to a campus based instructional coach and now an Elementary Assistant Principal, I have struggled with writing blog posts. It isn’t so much about the content, but where the ideas come for the content.

In my current position, and the last position as a campus based instructional coach, building trust with the educators on my campus as well as parents and students is critical. It is in those very relationships and experiences that ideas and stories result that would inspire by blog posts. Hence my conflict. I am concerned that in my efforts to share the stories and experiences through blog posts I could compromise the trust that these relationships are built upon. So, the last few years I have often opted not to write.

However, writing is how I process and reflect. It’s where the greatest ideas happen and the fine tuning of my own practices benefit. Knowing this need and conflict, I become paralyzed. I am actively working to figure out how to move forward, write, reflect and restore my blog process.

For those of you that have followed me and been patient with me in the interim, I thank you. For those just now joining my blog journey, I am trying an approach that will keep me consistent. It will be simple, short and perhaps a little unrefined.

Our campus has been working as a group of educators to be transparent in our work as we move toward authentic collective efficacy, and I would not be living by the expectations of our campus if I did not demonstrate that same transparency in my own work.

Share your thoughts, reflections and ideas on how you transparently share stories and reflections in your experiences, while protecting the relationships/trust built in your community of educators.