On Monday, June 8th the 3rd podcast from “The Bulldog Educator Podcast” and Episode 1, Season 1 was broadcast. We are still learning the ins and outs of producing a podcast. I hope you will hear the heart of the podcast through these core values, forgive the novice mistakes of a new podcaster, and stick with us as we continue to bring relevant content for educators each week to your podcast doorstep!
Here are the 10 Core Values of The Bulldog Educator counting down from 10.
The above images share the main points of the 10 Core Values of The Bulldog Educator. To learn in more detail give a listen to “The Bulldog Educator Podcast with host and creator Kirsten Wilson” linked below:
In Episode 3, Season 1 of “The Bulldog Educator Podcast” I dove into my personal journey with self-care. I start off by sharing my misconceptions about self-care, which was mistakenly related to mani-pedis and girl’s weekends.
I also share how when I was in my first year of teaching, health issues rooted in stress and illness forced me into habits of self-care. Even with that “wake-up call” for me personally with self-care, it continues to be a challenge.
I share in the podcast the 5 strategic approaches I am personally using to employ self-care. I will share topically here, for more detail you can listen to my podcast.
I also shared the struggle I still have with self-care. Self-care is not about living perfectly, but live “flawsomely,” as Tina Boogren states, and is responsible for coining the term “flawsome.”
It doesn’t escape me that as we enter a new school year, things are more up in the air than ever. We will need to have the energy reserves to care for our students and colleagues. As I share in the podcast that an approach to self-care is as unique and individual as you are, what works for one person may not be what works for you. What is important is that each one of us as educators, take inventory of our self-care practices, and take practical steps for developing a routine that invests in your self. that way you are ready with full energy reserves to invest in your students and colleagues.
How are you implementing a practice of self-care? What struggles do you have with self-care?
In Episode 2, Season 1 of “The Bulldog Educator Podcast” I shared what some of the major influencers were in my life as an educator. The list turned out to be a lot longer than I originally thought.
Why did I share?
I want people to know what has shaped me over the years and that if you are growing, learning, and innovating… there must be deep connection… impactful influence.
I really had the one why I just mentioned, but what resulted was immense gratitude for the people over the years, the authors, the social media educational influencers, and the podcasters who gave of their time either directly or indirectly to me, so I could keep becoming a person who impacts others… students, teachers, parents, community members, administrators. I am immensely grateful for those who have been a light to me.
And that resulted in this why… because I want to aspire to be as much of an influencer for others as the influencers I mentioned in my podcast were for me.
Since there were so many I listed in my podcast, I will list 10 from the podcast of authors, social media influencers, and podcasters (I am not linking to my mother or other close friends I mentioned unless they ask me to!)
10 of the Influencers Mentioned in “The Bulldog Educator Podcast, Episode 2, Season 1”:
Joy Kerr, Amazing Edu-Twitter person, Genius Hour Guru, and Author- We’ve never met but I would call her friend for sure. She was instrumental in helping me become a Genius Hour facilitator.
John Hattie’swork and research on the impact of various approaches with student learning. He took the idea of teacher impact on learning to the highest level of research and science, and focused me as an educator regarding what is most important.
The book “Collective Efficacy” by Jenni Donahoo, who was also impacted by Hattie’s work. Her book drove home the importance of connection and collaboration, and how the work of many is so much more powerful and effective than work done in isolation by one.
This next is a group. They are the EduSistas of the Arkansas Education Twitter chat #EduAR. I found them shortly after moving to Arkansas to work for the state virtual school and needed connection. They were immediate in their acceptance of me and continue to encourage me in my work. They each can be found on twitter: Lindsey Bohler, Karen Norton, and Bethany Hill (also known for #JoyfulLeaders).
Where would I be right now if Tina Boogen‘s Book “180 Days of Self-Care” had not found itself in my hands last fall. Her profound and simple approach to self-care has helped me find myself, be able to better care for others, and ultimately value the need to care for myself. (I will mention that she was also the last human I hugged outside of my nuclear family before we went into quarantine… and I am so thankful it was her, I am a hugger and she made that last hug a good one.)
This educational influencer I first met through my seeking to learn more about Genius Hour, then saw him speak (for the first time) at a TCEA conference in Austin, TX in February of 2014. Who is it? George Couros. I have since seen him speak at least a dozen times, collected as many selfies as he will let me when I see him in person, and have read his first book at least five times and am now taking my organization through “Innovator’s Mindset” as a synchronous/asynchronous books study that started in May and will continue into the 2020-2021 school year. He inspired me to write a blog, taught me how to meet people at their point A and be patient about their getting to their point B, and recently he was the impetus for me to stop talking about doing a podcast and just do it. There are a lot of other things I could say about George Couros’ influence, but I will leave it at this, he knows how to take the unidentifiable passion that I can’t name when it comes to what I do as an educator, and name it for me. When a person can name it, they can own it.
The next influencer probably three-fourths of the world also can say she has had an influence on, is Brene’ Brown. At a time when shame was ruining me a few years back, I read “Dare to Lead.” I had intended to read it for professional purposes, but what it led me to was two of her other books, “Daring Greatly” and “Rising Strong.” It helped me to identify why I was transparent with others, but not vulnerable both professionally and personally, and how I had “friends” but not abiding, deep, and meaningful “friendships.” It has changed me both professionally and personally for the better. In addition to that her new podcast, “Unlocking Us” has continued to help me lean into both myself and the world with curiosity.
I also want to mention the discovery of the Enneagram. It has been a game-changer for me being able to meet others with more compassion, and understand the underlying reasons for my own behaviors, too. I have begun to use it to help develop more cohesiveness and a sense of belonging among my teacher collaborative teams, and at the same time helped me do some hard self-study. I am currently reading “The Road Back to You” by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. I began to learn more when last summer I listened to “The Enneagram Summer Series” on the That Sounds Fun Podcast hosted by Annie F. Downs (rumor is there is another series on the Enneagram starting in July), and begun listening to a new podcast called Your Enneagram Coach Podcast by Beth and Jeff McCord. At some point, you will most likely learn my Enneagram number, but we will save that for another time.10. Positive Psychology was missing from my world for a while and then entered “The Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon. Since first reading that, I have either read or listened via audiobook to all of his books. They are easy to digest with a “story with a moral” format that is not too on the nose and helps you to reframe negative thoughts and actions. Some of his books can be read in one sitting and others take a few days or weeks, but all are worth it for moving to a positive frame of mind.
Now this list does not include many I mentioned in my podcast, including my mother who was my first teacher and the greatest influence on my life. Nor did I mention my husband, Eric of almost 26 years, or my two amazing children. And of course the many friends, educators, and students who have impacted and influenced me in ways beyond my ability to describe. In all of this, I am grateful and it has reminded me that I have a debt of gratitude to repay toward others.
If you listen to my podcast and wanted the info on something mentioned in there that I didn’t list here, respond in the comments and I will get it to you.
Also, share with me who are some influencers who have left their mark on you? (Please share in the comments)
If you were a follower of the “Tag You’re It” blog, you may have noticed it has changed in name and format.
I started this blog in 2013. It was a way to share ideas, thoughts, and reflections. I was still a classroom teacher. Since then I have moved from an Instructional Technology Coach to a Campus Curriculum Coach, to an Elementary Assistant Principal, to the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for a public provider for online learning. That is a lot of change and developed a perspective that no longer fits with the idea of “Tag You’re It.” It also seemed time to develop a brand that was reflective of me personally and professionally.
Picking the brand took some time, iterations, and feedback from friends. I wanted it to reflect so many things, but mostly the tenacity of my commitment to education and learning for ALL learners, and my love to encourage others to innovate. Nothing brings me more happiness than to see a learner (educator, student, friend, random connection on social media) inspired by our connection to try something new, to innovate in their space, and then share with enthusiasm with others.
I also didn’t want things to be completely serious. Education is nothing without humor. It transforms, endears, and breaks down barriers. If you have watched any short clips on french bulldogs or owned one, you can agree they are one of the funniest and most loyal breed of dog, ever.
Indulge me for a moment, while I share a little bit about my journey with dogs. When I was six years old, my parents brought home a dog. He was mine to care for. I even chose his name, Toby. He was with me wherever I went. About a year after having him, my family went on vacation and he went to stay with friends of our family. After our return from our vacation, we went and got him. On our way home, Toby jumped out the window at a very busy intersection. Toby was gone. I felt responsible as I believed I should have held on to him better. After that time, I never bonded with another pet growing up, and even into adulthood. I didn’t want to be hurt by a loss like that again. Then two years ago for Father’s Day, as a gift to my husband, I brought home a French Bulldog, Cosmo. My intention was to provide my husband with a new canine companion after the loss of his dog the year before. What I didn’t realize is that this funny little french bulldog, through his humor and loyalty, would transform me, break down my walls, and open me up to be vulnerable again.
That is why I chose to brand this re-launch of my own version of the sharing of ideas, innovation, learning, and transformation “The Bulldog Educator.” In the time of the changes in titles and careers a curious transformation has happened to me. I have found connection, community, and vulnerability as I have grown as an educator. It no longer seems fitting to “tag out” but to “tag in” and do it with tenacity, innovation, humor, and most of all vulnerability, like a French Bulldog.
Over the next ten days, I will share out the core values of “The Bulldog Educator” on Twitter,Facebook, and Instagram. Following soon after will be the launch of “The Bulldog Educator Podcast.” Something I have been wanting to do for almost four years.
Am I scared? You betcha.
Will it be messy? Most likely, when is innovation not just a little bit messy?
Will I make mistakes? Of course, how else will I learn?
Could I use some help? Absolutely. In any form. Encouragement. Ideas. Guest host. BRING. IT. ON.
I am excited about this journey and that you are taking it with me.
I will also tell you Cosmo, my french bulldog, is too. He may from time to time find his way into cameos, spotlights, and presentations. His ability to add comic relief to any situation and be loyal at the same time is something I think we all need and value.
The better part of two weeks ago the United States entered into what much of the rest of the world was experiencing with COViD19 and traditional face to face education was turned on its ear. Face-to-face educators went into emergency remote teaching, parents became partners in educating students in a way we have never seen before, and administrators found themselves in a place they have never imagined. I can say that I have never been prouder as an educator.
Teachers reinventing instruction have found ways to connect through Zoom or other methods and are reaching out to one another and supporting each other. Administrators extend grace, maximum flexibility, and hope to their teachers encouraging them that “we can do this.”
I have worked for a public state on online program for the better part of two years. We partner with face-to-face schools where students take courses at their school through us. With what has happened even our students and teachers have been impacted in tremendous ways. Even with our systems in place, we have experienced struggles right along with face to face teachers moving to emergency remote instruction. What I also know is that what takes place for online learning to be successful is time and a constant vetting of work to become a quality online learning experience. That time is not a luxury we have for emergency remote teaching to catch up.
What I have also learned is that teachers both online and face-to-face are connecting with each other to support one another in this transition, because, ultimately we ALL want ALL our students to succeed. Administrators both face-to-face and online administrators have banded together to support educators and students across this nation. Administrators have been busy, just like teachers, making sure we have every option available to our students and to ensure that there is quality learning going on at every level. We have been innovative, inventive, and gracious. Have we made mistakes? Absolutely. We have never been in a situation like this before.
So to those of you who have been sticking out your neck every day putting in those long hours to reinvent yourself and supporting other educators reinventing themselves so we can be everything we can possibly be and more for our students, thank you.
Many of you have sought support in places you’ve never sought before. You may have reached out on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. to see what other educators are doing. You may have even posted an idea that you were thinking about or a way to do something to get feedback. You have resourced everything to find out and figure out what’s the best for your students by reaching out across social platforms to get feedback. Keep reaching out.
At the same time, many well-known educational authors and speakers find themselves at home not doing their usual circuit of lectures, professional development series,and/or book promotion. Many of them have provided support, webinars, bonus podcasts, free coaching, and other things and I thank them for that.
However, I have also seen posts where administrators have been shamed for decisions supposedly made that were reported by their teachers. For example, one well-respected educator tweeted about an administrator that supposedly told teachers they need to keep to their 30-minute lunch… stating it was poor leadership. The well-respected educator may have done the research to check the facts. However, what if, perhaps, that administrator had reminded teachers who were working long hours to make sure they take at least a 30-minute lunch, attempting to encourage their teachers to do some self-care? Another well-respected educational author and speaker reposted a teacher’s expectations regarding Zoom sessions and attendance that were considered by his/her standards harsh/excessive. While what was posted did have some needed areas to address, the respected educational speaker and author blasted the teacher for the standards and expectations and encouraged negative and derogatory responses about the educator who created this in the post. That is not #bettertogeter and isolates those who most likely need us the most.
What I want to offer is that teacher, perhaps for the very first time, used Twitter as a way to get feedback. She may have been given a directive to be clear and precise regarding expectations for learning and attendance by her administration and was asked to provide evidence. She may have been grasping and doing her very best and went to Social Media for support. Instead, she had her image picked up, posted, and then blasted by other educators. I want to urge all of us educators, those that are still in the classroom, those that are retired, administrators supporting teachers and students, and those that inspire us through the books, podcasts, webinars, and professional development to come together. Please support one another because we all know that #bettertogether is what we need right now.
I want to plead with every single professional educator out there right now… administrator, teacher, retired educator, educational author, professional development trainer, and well respected educational Social Media influencer, to,instead of identifying the faults or the things that may not align with our own thinking, to, instead, offer positivity. Work from the mindset of positive presupposition. Instead of assuming ill intent, presume positive intent. Nobody has been in this place before, We are all in this place of an FFT (listen to Brene’ Brown’s “Unlocking Us” Inaugural podcast on FFTs). Instead of narrowing our scope and shooting our arrows at each other, let’s circle the wagons and support one another. If you see an incident of what you feel is bad form, reach out privately through direct messaging/private messaging. Initiate a conversation with positive presupposition, a neutral question about their post, and the intent to build our tribe.
None of us are thinking clearly right now. Normally, we would be functioning from our frontal lobe where you and I make decisions that are in the best interest of our students. However, right now we have our own fears, our own families to consider, and our own concerns about our students who may not be in the best situations. We are thinking for our brain stem, which allows us to survive,but may not necessarily provide us with the best possible solutions to our problems. We all need to be gracious, be kind, and, most of all, be there for one another.
When this is all said and done I would like for our community to say that we came out of this #bettertogether and our students and ourselves are #betterforit.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
The “little things” that you do in your classrooms to make a significant impact. Those little things added up over time can change everything.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 Lead, Daring 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.
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.
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.
What 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?
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.
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)
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.
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!