Thursday, August 25, 2016

Being a Professional Educator

And so a new year begins.  Like last year and the one before that, we welcome the next generation of teachers and staff into our buildings.  Who are these individuals?  What skills, talents, and attitudes do they possess that will benefit the students they interact with?  Time will tell, but the one thing we do know that we want them to be is... professional.  This is a lot harder than it sounds. Whether just starting out or have been in the field for fifty years, being a professional educator can be challenging. Here are ten ways you can demonstrate  professionalism everyday.

  • Stay on top of the current trends in education by reading, listening, and collaborating with others
  • Be supportive of your colleagues when you see them taking risks
  • Respond to stressful situations calmly
  • Don't make quick decisions that you may have to back away from later.  Be deliberate and thorough in your thought process  
  • Look the part and dress appropriately for your setting
  • Choose your words carefully
  • Respect and support the decisions made by your superiors
  • Portray confidence even when you pay be at your lowest point
  • Don't succumb and promote teacher cliche's that portray you anything less than professional
  • Ask for help and support when you need it.  This is not a sign of weakness but rather shows that you care

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Do Yourself a Favor and Look Back

You know what time of year it is so I certainly don't have to paint a picture of what the last days of the school look like.  Before you pack up your room and leave the building, take a moment to look over your shoulder and say goodbye to...

  • The child who struggled with anxiety on the playground during the first weeks of school who is now playing soccer with his friends
  • The student who was well below grade level in math that has not only closed the gap but is excelling
  • The student who avoided reading who is now asking the librarian if he can take books home over the summer vacation
  • The new teacher that you met in September who will now join you for a summer book club
  • The child who came from another district that is now making play dates and planning sleep overs
  • The student that wouldn't even look at you last fall that is now hugging you goodbye
  • The student who came to this country and could not speak English who will go back home and share everything he has learned with his family and friends 
  • The parent that you had to call multiple times because their son was so disrespectful who is now handing you a gift thanking you for the difference you have made in their child's life
  • The student who wouldn't practice their instrument in front of anyone who is now performing with the school band
  • The child that was so mad that they didn't get the teacher they "wanted" that just handed you a card saying that you are the best teacher ever

Thank you to all the educators and support staff that make all this and so much more possible!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Internal Struggles of a Change Agent

The mere mention of the word change can illicit an array of passionate responses and this certainly isn’t unique to the field of education.  Whether the change is related to a major district initiative like curriculum and instruction, or something far more mundane like the lunch line procedure, you are likely to hear many of the following phrases uttered in hallways and teacher’s rooms.

"If it ain't broke don't fix it."
"I'm just going to keep doing it my way."
"This isn't going to work."
"If we wait long enough it will change back."
"We used to do it that way and it didn't work."

With all that said you may be wondering, “Who on earth would ever want to be a change agent?”  The answer to that question is actually pretty easy, a passionate and dedicated educational leader that cares about students, teachers, and their entire professional learning community.  The real question, and a much more difficult one is, “How can I be the change agent that my community needs?”

1.  Intellect vs Emotion
Most people can agree that change shouldn’t be initiated simply for the sake of change.  When policies are being developed and initiatives are being rolled out, change agents need to stand tall and gather consensus and support in order to put their plans into action.  The question then becomes, what is the best course of action to take in order to achieve this?  When attempting to inspire stakeholders, change agents must balance between appealing to their intellect and appealing to their emotion.  On the one hand you have data, which doesn’t lie and helps leaders make important decisions.  On the other hand, in our field we know that numbers don’t always tell the whole story and there is room for compassion and humanity.   

2.  Hurry Up vs Take Your Time
If you are a leader you know how important it is to adhere to deadlines and protocols.  A change agent also has to set milestones and benchmarks along the way when implementing a plan.  How do you respond when faced with time constraints beyond your control?  Maybe you need more time to collect data.  Perhaps you had to cancel a meeting or two because of weather or a school assembly. There are many unforeseen circumstances that can delay the implementation of any plan.  A change agent must weigh all factors when deciding to either rush a project to completion or to slow it down and take more time.
3.  Push Back vs Let It Go
The reality is that change can, and often times will be met with dissent.  Unfortunately, there will even be occasions when those dissenters will attempt to disrupt or even sabotage your efforts.  As a change agent you will have a decision to make.  Do you call those individuals out and confront them, or do you simply ignore the noise and move forward?  There are many factors to be considered when deciding a course of action in this situation.  For instance, do the detractors have a history of this sort of behavior?  Are your leadership credentials being challenged?  Do you have proponents that will stand by you?  What is at stake when it comes to the change that is being proposed?  This is a difficult decision to make and can possibly result in repercussions that will be felt for a long time.  

4.  Hands On vs Pass It On
If you consider yourself an agent of change you most likely possess leadership attributes as well.  In order to be an effective leader, colleagues need to know that you are willing to get your hands dirty.  You of course want to be an active participant in the movement, but how much involvement is too much?  The risk you take is that by being too heavy handed in your involvement, you may alienate your colleagues and stakeholders.  It is imperative that you allow space for others to become meaningfully involved and invested. Maintaining a balance between the two approaches is challenging to say the least, which is why each situation must be analyzed critically to determine where on the scale of participation you land.

5. Reconstruction vs Redesign
Despite all of your hard work and best intentions, there will be times when you are faced with the harsh reality that the changes you helped to implement aren’t yielding the results you expected.  In some cases it is even possible that your efforts have led to regression.  Leaders shouldn’t walk away from this problem, they need to decide what to do when this occurs.  Some initiatives can be so disastrous that they will call for a complete reconstruction.  In these cases any remnants of the original plan will conjure negative feelings.  However, sometimes you will be able to salvage parts and redesign the plan maintaining its original intent.  In either case, careful consideration needs to be taken in order to build consensus with regards to how to proceed.

It’s been said time and time again that change is hard.  I contend that being an effective change agent is even harder, but not impossible.  It takes courage and resiliency, but it also takes a willingness to look at each case individually before exercising your professional judgement.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Do you have what it takes to be a mentor?

Everyone can use a mentor, but can just anybody be one?  What are the qualifications?  I have learned a great deal over the years about coaching and mentoring by reading, taking classes, and being trained in the practice.  However, none of that compares to what I have learned about mentoring from being on the receiving end of such a professional relationship.  Over the past 25 years I have had many wonderful mentors in the field of education.  I often wonder if they knew the impact they would have on my professional journey at the time.  Settling into a new role this past year has led me to think a lot about those individuals.  Some have retired and a few have passed on.  I have lost touch with many of them, but there are some that I still reach out to regularly.  I created this list not only to pay homage to them, but to remind myself what I can do to be a better mentor myself.

10 Things to Look for in a Mentor

Often times the conversations we have with our mentors can be sensitive in nature.  It is important that we trust our mentor will honor confidentiality.

A good mentor needs to be a good listener.  By letting you talk, your mentor is giving you the space to work out problems and solutions on your own.

When we turn to a mentor it can sometimes be when we are at our lowest.  It is important to trust that you are in a judgement free zone.

A mentor can act as a mirror.  This is why honesty is an imperative trait to look for in a mentor.

Trying new and different things sometimes takes a little nudging and a safety net.  An effective mentor is one that encourages responsible risk taking.

A good mentor will always ask a lot of questions.  They do this to help you look within for the answers.  

When they do speak the advice and words they share will stay with you for days or longer.

They are role models. You would be proud to be viewed by others the way you view them.

When you are with your mentor they are truly with you in the moment.

Great mentors are selfless. They understand it is not important to gain any accolades or credit for their efforts because it is never about them. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Edcamp? What's that?

As educators we are constantly bombarded with terms and acronyms. About 3 years ago a new word entered my vernacular, it was Edcamp. It has taken me about 3 years to truly understand and appreciate what an Edcamp is; an organic, participant driven, professional development for educators. As our state prepares for its fourth annual EdcampRI, I would like to give you 10 things to expect when you join us at Rhode Island College on Saturday morning. What? You haven't registered yet? Here's the link
  • You will decide what you want to discuss
  • You will meet the best educators in the state 
  • Everyone there will have something that they can teach and something that they can learn
  • You will be fed
  • You will laugh and have fun
  • There is a chance you will be a little out of your comfort zone, and that is a really good thing
  • If you ever felt like you wanted to create or attend that perfect session, here is your chance
  • You will gain a better understanding of the state of education in Rhode Island
  • You can win some amazing prizes
  • It's completely free

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Data Shouldn’t be a Dirty Word

As educators, we use the D-word a lot, I mean a LOT!  Then, when we get the data, we do a lot with it.  Fill in the blank, I am going to _______ the data.  Did any of the following come to mind?  Look at, analyze, use, dig into, scan, evaluate, organize, share, cite…you get the picture.

Lately data has been a large part of my life.  Personally, with some recent home improvements I've been looking at our budget to determine what we can and cannot afford.  And of course professionally data continues to be a driving force behind many of the decisions we have to make.  Just like I am not going to make a huge purchase because I have a feeling I can afford it, I can't make any instructional decisions based on hunches either.

This brings me to my list.  When I sit down and go through data, it helps me to approach the task with certain prerequisites. I find that if I keep the following in mind, the task of analyzing data becomes less intimidating and far more productive.

It is always important to check and recheck the numbers

When you decide to sit down with the data, be sure to give yourself enough time

It’s always a good idea to talk it out with a colleague

If your findings aren’t favorable, don't take it personally

Look at the results as a first step towards action

Don't ignore what the data is telling you

They are more than just numbers, the data represents learners whose needs we must meet

The positives need to be looked at as much as the negatives

It is okay to come away with more answers than questions (you probably will

Get to it and keep it timely because data doesn't age well

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

10 Parent Conference Dos and Don'ts

Parent conferences is a time to report the progress of your students to the adults that know them best.  The time allotted for these conversations is often short, which makes it very important to be prepared and stay focused.  This list will help you to avoid many of the traps you may fall in to that can derail your parent conferences
  • Do everything you can to make parents feel comfortable, they are probably more nervous than you are 
  • Don't compare the student to other children or siblings you may have had in the past
  • Do tell the parents how you plan to help the student meet and exceed their goals and document your plans
  • Don't become defensive or take it personally if there are disagreements
  • Do share as much relevant information you can in the amount of time you have including data, work samples, anecdotal evidence, and test results
  • Don't make any speculations or diagnosis that you are not qualified to make
  • Do adjust your style and delivery to meet the needs of the parents you are speaking with
  • Don't downplay any concerns you or the parents have, this is the opportunity to create a plan to address them
  • Do respect the confidentiality of these very private conversations
  • Don't comment on or speak for other colleagues that work with the child or may have taught them in the past