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?

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!

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.