Last week I began my fourth year out of the classroom as an instructional coach. At the end of last year, I heavily considered going back into the classroom. The hardest part about being out of the classroom is...well...being outside of the classroom.
Last weekend, I was chatting with a friend about leadership. I realized that I had not written about leadership in awhile, my focus has been more on changes in education and teaching. As I was discussing with him, I told him that I didn't feel like I had anything to say on the subject of leadership. I knew what the response would be (which I told him), because it would be the response that I would give anyone else. He said "You are a leader, we are all leaders. In fact, our students are probably better leaders than those with an actual leadership title." (paraphrased from memory :)
I knew I needed to listen to this guy, because he, himself is an incredible edu-leader. If you don't know Brad Gustafson, you need to get to know him! In our brief discussion, we actually covered a lot of ground. I shared with him what I admired about all the amazing leaders that I know (him included). They all have many of the same traits. I shared with him, that I try to emulate those same traits on a daily basis.
We also discussed the importance of reflection. So here I am, today, reflecting on that conversation and my ideas about what makes an effective and successful leader. This list is based on my conversations, observations and experiences with many leaders over the last few years.
1) Be humble: One thing that all the leaders that I admire have in common...they are humble. They are down to earth, salt of the earth people. They are REAL and it shows. There is no ego at play, they show who they are and they prove it again and again.
2) Be transparent: In my opinion, these leaders are successful because they show their cards. There is no hidden agenda, they state their vision and plan for that vision. They also do not ever claim to know everything or be perfect. They share their struggles and their fails as well as their triumphs and successes. In fact, in Brad's book: Renegade Leadership, he has a section in each chapter called "Epic Fails". It is so important to share fails and the learning that occurs.
3) Be empathetic: These gentleman all have empathetic hearts. This means that they are sensitive to the people in which they serve. They ask and take in the point of view of others and ask for feedback. They then actually take what they have learned as they plan forward.
4) Be a servant: These leaders all believe that they are in a servant business...that we have the most important clients of all...children. Their ideas and decisions always have the students at the heart. They don't just say it, they show it.
5) Be righteous: These leaders all have integrity. They do what they say and they say what they do. They walk the talk. Their actions and their words match up. They get in the mix and model the way. I believe that leaders must KNOW those in which they serve and the only way to do this is to BE with them. These leaders make that a point.
6) Be a learner: All of these leaders are very accomplished in their fields and all speak across the country about leadership. Many are successfully published authors as well. But that is not what I admire most, I admire the fact, that regardless of all of these accomplishments, they are still learners. They learn from each other, they learn from their teams, their teachers and their students. We need our leaders to be continuously learning along side us.
7) Be a giver: These leaders share...they share their knowledge, their skills and their learning. They share it widely. They understand that we are all better together and they support others on their journey of growth through sharing.
8) Be a support: A great leader finds the strengths in others and supports and encourages them to use them. They don't look at title before ideas...before skills. They will give credit to those who deserve it, no matter their "rank". An effective leader builds that capacity in their people, because they understand that as each individual grows, so does the team or organization.
Please remember, this is just my opinion and I could list many more here, but to me, these are the most important. Notice there is nothing in that list that has to do with intelligence, title or experience. To me, those things do not make a leader. There are leaders, in title, who do not prove to be leaders at all. To that end, there is the opposite. There are many who are leaders by action, but do not have the title. These are the ones who I am talking to. Leadership is more about action, than title! Everyone can be a leader, and most of you probably already are...others see it, now you need to see it yourself. When these actions come from a leader WITH the title, THAT is an incredibly positive combination. There ARE so many who fit in this category, and that is amazing!
If we were able to leverage more people in our field, with those skills, imagine the shifts we could make! Take some time to reflect on yourself, on your actions. Please see yourself as others see you... YOU ARE A LEADER...own it!
I welcome the healthy discussion. Then, I tell the story of the time I walked into my daughter's room as she was holding her pen in one hand and her phone in the other. I watched as she literally typed in the exact question from the worksheet and it spit out the answer, which she copied. When she saw me, she thought she was in trouble...I assured her she wasn't as I snapped a picture to put up on twitter.
What usually is concluded after they have all discussed, is this: Students have access to facts at their fingertips. Those things that we had to memorize, that was a bulk of our schooling, are easily found in seconds. I then interject that I played the game of school really well. I could memorize things for the tests and then it left my brain right after. Here is the sad reality, BOTH of my kids said the exact same thing to me this year. It's still happening! I received fantastic grades, but very little learning. Our students deserve better...MY kids deserve better. WE need to find a way to get things to stick to students. How do we create stickiness? Dave Burgess (Teach Like a Pirate) talks about creating experiences for our students. We need to be creating experiences for our students to DO SOMETHING with that googled information.
Here are some of my ideas (well they obviously aren't MY ideas, but these are what I use as I plan):
I show my session participants these three things. These are what I have in mind, whenever I am lesson designing. Notice I did not say "lesson planning". There is a difference. To me, a lesson plan seems very finite and rigid. Lesson design seems more fluid, adaptable and long term.
4 Cs: I am surprised at how many educators are unfamiliar with the 4 Cs. Maybe I was just lucky to have had a principal who worked hard with our staff to understand and implement the 4 Cs. If you don't know they are: Critical Thinking, Communicating, Collaborating and Creating. I have those as a running checklist in my head any time I am lesson designing AND working with either students or adults. *I like to run my professional development as a model to what a student centered classroom should look like. This is not to say that the 4 Cs are happening ALL the time, but it is important to be cognizant of what they are and how to foster that in the classroom.
Why are these skills important? These are the skills that transcend beyond the four walls of the classroom. These are the skills that students will need to survive "out there". Regardless of the subject, people need to be able to think things through critically, communicate their ideas, collaborate with others and create something with the information. It's that simple. We can do these things with our youngest learners.
DOK: Most educators are familiar with Webb's Depth of Knowledge, but it is sometimes misunderstood. I love a quote, that I have heard 3rd hand that originated from Shelley Burgess (Lead Like A Pirate) "We should live in DOK 2 & 3 and visit DOK 1 & 4. I read another version on Twitter: "DOK 2 & 3 are like your nuclear family, DOK 1 & 4 are like your in laws, you visit every once in awhile." I like these quotes because it does not say, "don't do", or "you have to do". They are talking about priority.
By having students spend a majority of their time in DOK 2 & 3, we are asking them to do something with knowledge. We are asking them to understand the skills and concepts and extend that thinking.
DOK 1, "recall and reproduction" is what I did in school. Memorize it and spit it out. These are your multiple choice, fill in the blank...worksheets. There is still a place for DOK 1 (a participant was quick to tell me that the CA Social Studies Standards 5.9 is "Students know the location of the current 50 states and the names of their capitals."). So until our standards catch up with our students' needs, we need to still teach these. BUT we do not need to spend a bulk of our time on these.
DOK 4, "strategic thinking" is tough. We WANT students to be working on this, but not ALL the time. Just like we wouldn't want to eat chocolate cake for every meal for a week. We don't want to burn these kids out.
There is plenty of research and opinions on DOK levels, but I think as long as we have an understanding as we plan students' experiences, they will be better for it.
Bloom's Taxonomy: Bloom's has been around for a long time. When I show participants the graphic for Bloom's I ask them: "What is the base of Bloom's? The biggest part?": Recognize. "Ok, and what is the smallest part?": Create. I then give them a "Call to action" to look at Bloom's upside down. I like to use Erik Francis's "Upside Down Blooms" graphic because it has sentence starters. We discuss what what students need to do if we start by asking them to create? In order to create something (meaningful and valuable), students will work through all of the other levels. And when I am talking about creating, I am not talking about an art project to hang up at open house. I am talking about creating an authentic artifact of learning. This could be a graphic, a video, an essay, a poster, a conversation...there are endless possibilities! I first heard of this idea of "Flipped Bloom's" from my pal, Jon Corippo and have been using it ever since!
I then like to end my soap box with Alice Keeler's quote: "We need to teach as if Google and Youtube exist!". Because they do! What are we going to do with it? NOW WHAT?
AND then...we get into the ideas, strategies and protocols to make this happen.
I have found that in this past year, no matter what I was presenting on, I started my sessions in a similar way. I have thought about cutting this part out, to give participants more time to work, but I believe it is a 10 minutes well spent. I believe it helps to set the mindset for shifts.
I usually start with a video, I have two go-to vids. I use these to not only create some levity, but I use them as a jumping off point to discuss the "why" for change in education. *I got both videos from watching George Courus speak on two different occasions- Thanks, George!
After watching these videos, I pose a question, using the same picture...
This is always my favorite part because the discussions are amazing. There is talk about classroom design, the 4 Cs, technology, fear, failure, excitement, unknown. We get to talk about the need to be adaptable and agile because things are changing so quickly. We discuss the idea that we are no longer the "keepers of all the knowledge". The idea that students may know more about something than we do. This causes many to be uncomfortable. I tell them that this is exciting to me...that I LOVE learning from students (children and adults)! It empowers them as learners and solidifies the learning for them. I talk about the fact that I learn something new every time I am in a classroom or leading professional development. (I always call out that new learning as it happens in real time...you should see the smiles). We talk about having to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, risk taking and failing forward. There is some squirming and worried looks during this part. But then through discussion, I see that relax...a bit.
There is always some blame on "technology" for students attention spans and need for instant gratification. To me, that is a moot point. Our job is to serve the people in front of us...right now. Placing blame doesn't do anyone any good. Our time is better spent figuring out how to meet the needs of our students. We need to stop thinking that teaching is about us, because it isn't...it's about them, our students.
So WHY do we need to change how we do education? We need to because our students deserve better, our students need better. There is an urgency here to change. If we aren't in a constant state of change, we will be left behind and so will our students. That is not an option. So once there is no longer the question of WHY...we roll into the HOW...
In every PD session I have led in the last year, I always talk about the idea that we need to be prepared for students to know more about somethings than we do. I talk about the fact that it may be a scary thought for some, but for me...it's exciting. I talk about the excitement and empowerment when students can own their own learning and share it with us. I also talk about the idea that I learn from others every time I am working in a classroom or presenting PD. Last week was no different...but let me back up.
I have been presenting in professional development sessions for about four years now (something I NEVER saw myself doing). My first three years look quite different than this last year. When I first began, my wheelhouse was "engagement strategies". I focused on how to get students involved and excited in their learning. We would practice different hooks, games, tricks. I don't even remember if I ever discussed the reason behind these things, maybe a sentence or two?
This last year, I had somehow fallen into presenting mostly on technology integration and lesson design. This is kind of funny, because tech is definitely not my background. In fact, back when I was in the classroom, we had 3 desk tops and my one ipad. I utilized them to the best of my ability, but boy...hindsight. I am quick to tell participants that I am not a "techie", but I am not afraid to take risks, push buttons and try things. I encourage them to do the same. I also now start every session with this picture...and pose the question: "Why do we need to change the way we do education?". I pose the question to them and then we discuss...I make sure to infuse my BIG FIVE into the discussion (more on that later).
Anyone that presents on "tech" goes into their session with the hopes that what comes across is: pedagogy over tech. But what seems to happen is just the opposite. People gravitate towards tools, apps, sites...why not, they are cool. But what will you do with these resources? How will you use them to help students move forward in their learning? What I learned was, all I have to do is ask.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at my first CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp (#rOxnard): At the end of day two, participants chose a "hero group" led by one of the presenters. The purpose of these groups was to allow time and space for participants to reflect on their journey over the last two days (based around Joseph Cambell's: Hero's Journey). I created a simple slide template with three slides for them to reflect on: People, Resources and Pedagogy. How have/will each of these things help them to transform as an educator. They then presented these slides and discussed in small groups. I just sat in and listened. It was cool to see my name in all of their slides under "people", but what gave me goosebumps was what I saw and heard during the Pedagogy slides!
I often don't know what I'm saying, when I am in front of a group. It's like I go into a trance. I try not to spend much time talking, but put the focus on the participants doing something. I have realized that I apparently DO get on my soap box during these sessions (but only for a bit). The overarching theme in EVERYONE's slide wrapped around: student centered classroom, student empowerment, differentiation, risk taking and "stickiness". These are the BIG FIVE that I am passionate about! These ARE the things that I try to demonstrate in my sessions. These are the things that will create change, it's not about the tech. *Now I am NOT claiming that I was the only voice that led them to these realizations, they met a plethora of amazing presenters over these two days.*
When I listened to them talk, I could be seen clapping, high 5ing, cheering and who knows what else...because I was so excited. I heard "I need to drop my ego and try things.", "I need to let students drive the lessons", "I need to design my lessons for "stickiness", "I need to meet students where they are.", "I won't break my students or the internet, I just need to try.", "We won't have classroom management problems if we have students engaged and empowered in their learning." "I need to give students choice because they are all different" -Music to my ears AND heart!!!
So the messages did shine through! It wasn't about the tech...the transformation wasn't about the tech. It was about a mind shift. But I would have never known (and most likely, neither would they) had there not been that time to reflect, discuss and share. I talk a lot about reflection, but just realized I never give people time in my sessions to do that! I have had them do things like create a comic to show their learning, but I never focused them on a shift pedagogy...just "What have you learned? What would you like to learn more about? What are your steps moving forward?" AHA! I learned that just a small shift in a wording can make all the difference! I guess we don't know, if we don't ask. We need to be intentional with our reflections if we want to grow. I always say "We need to KNOW the people in which we serve." But I missed the boat. But now I know better, and I will DO better.
I thank all of my participants for sharing their journeys with me and helping me realize an important missing piece of mine! I thank my friend, Jon Corippo, for adding this important element to the CUE Rockstar Teacher Camps.
Last night ended a very long two days of dance recital and sweltering heat...my daughter and I were finishing up our dinner at 11:30 when our waitress came to make chit chat. She asked my daughter about how she juggles school and dance and somehow it turned into her expressing her views about Common Core and teaching. I did not reveal to her that I was a teacher, and didn't have the energy to have a discussion, so I just listened. What was interesting was she talked about the idea that we, in the US, are not teaching to one specific kind of kid. That we must figure out ways to reach the many different learners we encounter. She also talked about how she understands the basis of Common Core is to get students to think critically. When she left, my daughter said "You like Common Core, right mom?". My response was "I like that there is not one way to solve a problem and there isn't always one correct answer." She replied "I don't know, I just know it makes so much sense to me." My kid has an incredible abstract mind and can maneuver numbers in her head like crazy. She needs different.
This is not a post on Common Core, but a post on teaching and learning. I taught at a Title 1 school for 14 years and encountered every kind of student you could imagine. Both of my former principals believed in meeting kids where they are and moving them forward...in whatever means necessary. This often meant, ditching the textbook (prior to Matt Miller's fantastic book) and figuring out what works for kids. This is something I am incredibly passionate about.
One of my favorite TED Talks is The Myth Of Average...it is worth the 18 minutes, I promise. My team uses this often in training, and I cry every time.
The premise of the talk is that there is NO AVERAGE learner, so we can not teach to the average, the middle. If we do, we are missing all of those students on the "edges" (where a majority of them lie).
I cry because most of my students and my daughter live in the edges. They don't fit into a box and a box isn't going to teach them. They think differently, they act differently, they come with different backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, passions, personalities. These ALL come into play because it is the anatomy of the learner. We CAN NOT ignore the differences in our students. We need to celebrate them AND play TO them.
I cry because I think of all of those amazing students who would have missed out on learning had I just "shot down the middle". I think about the students who struggled in academics, but excelled in performing arts...I used that to their advantage. I think about the students who told me at the beginning of the year that they couldn't do math and were scared of it...only to shine and reflect at the end of the year that they LOVE math. I think about the little girl who struggled to speak in class, but we figured out if she wrote her thoughts out first, she could contribute greatly. Or the little boy who in second grade, could barely read pre-primers but had an amazing critical mind, his door was opened when he could use that gift to discuss read alouds. The list goes on and on.
I also cry for those students that are left to hang out in the edges, never getting tethered in. Those are the kids I worry about...those are the kids I fight for. Why change? I don't even think that is a question...we need to change because our kids deserve it.
For some, the thought of personalizing learning is overwhelming and an impossible task...they immediately think of 30+ IEPs. That is not the case. So how do we meet those "edge" students? Here are my thoughts...
1) Start with relationships: We really need to know those in which we serve. What works, what doesn't work, what are their passions, their strengths...what makes them tick? This takes time, but believe me, this important time on the front end will offer great rewards on the back end, for students.
2) Teach protocols: This is something I learned from my friend Jon Corippo. If we create a framework that students become familiar with, the content can be differentiated to meet their needs. One of his favorite examples is using the Frayer model. You first teach these protocols with a very low cognitive load, something fun and familiar. Students become familiar and at ease with how this works, and their affective filter is lowered. After a few rounds, the content can be ramped up at the student's pace.
3) Provide multiple entry points and exit points: This is the idea from Jo Boaler's "Low floor, High ceiling". activities. This means your questions and your activities are open ended. Students will enter where it works for them, and take it as far as they can, and with a little scaffolding...they will take it further. They will feel success and valued in their thinking.
4) Give students choice: Allow students choice in how content is taken in, how they process it and their output. This may seem like a lot of work on the teacher, but it really isn't if your tasks are student centered. The students are doing all of the work, you just set up the options. You could use a "choice board" to help facilitate. The choices can stay the same (or add new one in every so often), and the content changes.
5) Honor differences: Acknowledge, honor and celebrate students' differing ideas, answers, solutions and paths. One thing I loved about teaching math was the different ways in which students would come to a solution. When they shared out a new way, we would name it: "Shane's Way" and make a poster that would hang in the math area. This not only empowered the originator, but gave other students new ideas as jumping off points or something to grip on to. The ultimate was when a student would come up with a new idea that clicked with me...I had many "aha" moments from my students.
Those are just a few ideas that come to mind, but there are many. My call to action is to start thinking about the edges...how can you design to them? When you zoom out and think of your students, and their "profiles" you will find many hanging out in those edges...We need to design to the edges, our students need US to meet THEM.
When I looked back over my year of blogging, there are definite themes that I stick to in my writing. In the past few days, a few different people have used those words as encouragement to me: step out of your comfort zone, take risks, fail forward. I appreciate when people use my words on me, because I am big on integrity and I believe that the cornerstone of integrity is to "walk the talk". The thing is...I do those things every day. There is not a day that goes by when I am not stepping (or leaping) out of my comfort zone, taking risks and failing forward. The thing is...no one knows where my comfy zone is; but me. It's personal. I have embraced getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. What may seem like my norm, is actually me doing these things, continuously. This is important. Think for a second. YOU are probably doing the same...trying new things, thinking differently, making changes...but maybe you don't even recognize it. That is why reflection is so important.
I have also talked about the idea that everyone is on their own journey. It is important to recognize and celebrate moving from your own point A to your own point B. (Pretty sure that I borrowed that from George Couros in Innovators' Mindset). One can only do that, when they KNOW their point A. It is also important to note that change or movement do not need to be some grand event. It's personal.
I just finished reading UnMapped Potential and am currently reading ShiftThis. Both books discuss the idea of small, incremental shits. This idea is interesting to me. In the past, I have written that "small gestures create big gains." In that, I was typically talking about words, like telling someone you appreciate them, or thanking someone...I didn't think about it in terms of change. The funny thing is, a good friend has been telling me to focus on small changes rather than grand ones...but I didn't actually HEAR him until very recently.
We actually had a really good discussion about is yesterday. Before change can happen, there has to be a need for it. We agreed on this point, but the urgency looks different for every person and the change looks different for each individual. For many, the idea of change is overwhelming and fear inducing. It looks like a really large mountain to scale. But what if we look at change differently? What if we first focus on the small changes, risks, moving outside our comfort zone, that we do on a daily basis? Look for them, they are probably there. Gain confidence and strength in knowing that you CAN do hard things. Then...ramp it up. It's personal.
Here is a personal example: I am an introvert...beyond that, I am a shy introvert. People are pretty surprised when I share this with them. Why are they surprised? Well, when many people first meet me, I am in front of them, presenting something. What they don't know is that I am pushing myself out of that comfy zone...every time. It's still me, but it's me pushing. When I get too comfy at something, I look for opportunities to stretch. I add a new layer, try something new, present in a different forum. As with any risk, there are opportunities to fail, and I do. And with every fail, there are opportunities to grow, and I do. Whenever a new opportunity or challenge comes my way, I just go for it, because I can't ask others to do these things, if I am not willing to do them myself. So I make changes...daily...some small, some big, but over time they look like one huge leap.
So when I say things like: take risks, fail forward, step out of your comfort zone...only you know what that looks like for you. There is no comparing, there is no judging. You know you...celebrate you and your forward movement. Those small changes add up...take a look back every once and awhile and check out your journey, you may be surprised at how far you've come. It's personal.
I know you and you know me. We couldn't be more opposite. I believe that I may scare you (or maybe annoy you) as much as you intimidate me. I believe in the realm of education, we both have students at the heart of all we do, we just have different methods to get there. I am writing to you because I care about you and I care about our students. I want to plead my case to you. I have observed you as you get anxious when lessons don't go as planned. I have been the receiver of your comments when you are uncomfortable with learning something new. I have witnessed you put up roadblocks against change and risk. I have seen students react as you off put your need for perfect; on to them.
I know you are a good person, with a good heart...why else would you be in education? Please don't get me wrong, I do not believe that I am any better or wiser than you, I'm just different. I have never tried to seek perfection because I know I can never find it. This does not mean that I don't put full effort into everything I do...it does not mean that I don't care about process or outcomes...it just means that I know that "perfect" is an unattainable goal. I know that every success I have had, was not built on a foundation of perfect, but a foundation of iteration. The process is messy, crooked, bumpy and unknown. If I went into these processes with the goal of perfect, I would have failed and given up right out of the gate. And that's not me, and that's not good for anyone.
What does this look like for our students? If we are planning and executing our lessons with "perfect" in mind, where do the students fit into the equation? There is no perfect, when working with humans, especially young ones. We are unpredictable creatures. Zoom out and see who is the focus of the "perfect" lesson. Is it us or those we teach? We very well could execute the perfect lesson, in our mind...but what about the students? Is it the perfect lesson for them? That is impossible because every student is different. Nothing is received or interpreted the same. We must plan to meet our students, not the other way around. So many times I have heard teachers say "Well I taught it...it's their fault they don't know it.". My heart crumbled every time I heard that. Back then, I didn't have the strength in myself to speak up for those students...now I do.
If perfect is the goal...think about all of the other goals that fall by the waist side. We need to prepare our students for a future that is unknown. To me, that is the opposite of "perfect". If we plan for perfect, we will be disappointed, every time. We need to be models for our students on how to think...critically. How to turn on a dime when there is a hiccup, a mistake, a fail. OR to run with something that works, that was not a part of the plan. Students need to learn how to look at all perspectives, to plan...risk...try...fail (yes fail)...rethink, redo...and repeat. We need them to not crumble or freeze when they are thrown a plot twist. That does not fit into perfect.
I always remember the story of my friend who broke out the watercolors and brushes for the first time at her new school. The students just stared at her...frozen. She had no clue what was going on. They asked her what she wanted them to paint, how she wanted them to paint it. She was stunned. She said "Just paint...whatever you want." Frozen. They were panicked...they asked "What if I make a mistake?" Their paint brushes did not move! (This was fourth grade!). She was baffled and saddened, but she worked really hard with that class to de-program the perfection out of them.
We want students that can think for themselves, be creative, solve problems, create solutions...multiple solutions. There is no "one way". When I hear a student say, "But I have to do it the way my teacher does it." That kills me. That closes the door on so many. There is more than one way to solve a problem, there is more than one path to get to a destination. THAT is what makes learning beautiful.
So please, I am asking you. Try..try...try to put your perfection aside. Look up and look around at what is happening while you are planning perfection...if you are waiting until you perfect something before you share it with your students, that something will be long gone by the time you think you are ready. Life and especially education is changing so quickly. As soon as we think we have something "mastered"; it changes and I want you to be able to change with it. I'm looking out for you, for your health...but I am also looking out for your students and their future...our future.
I like to think that I have instilled great values within my kids. They both are very kind souls with huge helping hearts. But in all other aspects, my daughter Leslie and I could not be more opposite! When we go away for her dance competitions, I'm lucky if I packed a toothbrush...where she has an itemized checklist of everything she needs to bring. When we get to the hotel, first thing I want to do is relax on the bed, while she hangs up all of her clothes and costumes and lays out all of her makeup.
On a whim, I decided we needed some time away and planned a last minute trip to Sea World (I had tickets for us...a perk of being a California teacher). I secured a nice hotel for a decent price and we were ready to roll! When I pulled up the Sea World tickets, I realized that they needed to be "activated" two weeks prior...change in plans. So I simply Googled "Fun things to do in San Diego" and began making a list of alternative adventures. To me, this was exciting...no plan! To Leslie, this was nerve racking. She didn't want to go. I said "We are going...we have no plan...we are just going to see what happens and have fun." She wasn't buying it. But this was good for her. She needs to be OK with plans changing, the unknowns and being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Anyone that knows me, knows that one of my biggest flaws is I am severely directionally challenged. I get lost, even with my GPS. This trip was no different. The most heard phrase on our adventure was "Route Recalculation". We heard it so frequently, that it just became comical (at one point, she was tallying how many times we heard it). This was good for Leslie. She was learning that things don't always go as planned, but there is always another way. She was witnessing us course correct, in real time. AND she realized that we were OK.
We decided to go to a recommended restaurant and after a few "Route Recalculations" we made it. But when we got there, the line was out the door and around the building. We needed to make a decision. We decided to forgo that restaurant and find another. The hole in the wall restaurant we stumbled in to turned out to be fantastic. This showed Leslie that when something doesn't quite go as planned, there is always another option, and often that option turns out better than the planned.
Our next stop was the mall (not my favorite). This was really comical. We were looking for the Vans store. We found it on the directory and I followed Leslie's lead as she is the one with the direction skills. Well what we found was, we just kept going in circles. My first inclination was to just go ask someone, or leave. Leslie's response was "No, we can figure this out on our own, let's go back to the map." It was interesting to see her tenacity and grit. Where I was ready to give up and give in, she wanted to continue and figure it out for herself. I learned from her on this one. But, as we were on this mall adventure she turned and said to me "See, mom, there is more than one path to get where we are going." THAT was worth her dragging me to the mall.
There were many more such mistakes, route recalculations and a lot of laughing. But in that trip, I believe we both learned and grew.
Here are the lessons learned:
1) Things don't usually go as planned. We need to be agile and learn to pivot and continue.
2) Persevere, don't give up...stay the course, even if the course is corrected.
3) There is more than one path, find yours.
4) Laugh at yourself...you just have to.
5) Always look for the learning.
These are great lessons that we need to be teaching and modeling for our students. It is important for them to be able to make quick decisions, redirect, go back to the drawing board, try, fail, learn and grow. They are growing up in an ever changing world and they need to be able to adapt to it. They must be prepared for the unprepared...the plot twist...the plan B.
In my own life...I have goals, and a path to get there. It has not been a straight path. There have been many "route recalculations". Just when something seems like it is going south, another opportunity opens up. And vice versa, just as things seem to be lining up, plans change. We just need to be open to see all of those different routes. We need to be flexible and willing to take risks, because the gains far out weigh the losses. In the long run, it doesn't matter which path we take on our journey...whatever path we take is the one that is meant for us.
"We are all leaders in our own right"- There they are...my words. I've said them, I've written them, but do I believe them? Often times, I write to convince myself of such things. This is one such time. Are we all leaders? Am I a leader? Can one be a leader, without an official leadership title?
As I ponder this, I reflect on what I believe the anatomy of a leader is. I think about all of my friends that I consider great leaders. I think of the many traits and actions, that I admire in them. It is who I strive to be, every day. I believe a leader is someone who rallies the troops, someone who includes others on the journey, someone who encourages and celebrates and walks along side of their people.
I'm a visual learner...so I needed to make a graphic to help me hone in on this.
What is the anatomy of a leader?
Innovator's Brain: This is someone who is always thinking: "How can we make this better?" not just "different" for "different's" sake...but create change for the better. This is an outside of the box thinker, someone whose mind can stretch and see possibilities. Someone who is not afraid to risk themselves and encourage risk in others.
Learner's Mind: I love when people call themselves "Lead Learner" rather than "Administrator". That shows that they know the importance of continued learning and growing oneself. Things change so quickly, if we are not in constant learning mode, we will be left behind. A learner's mind also includes sharing that learning with others.
Hearing Ears: Another thing I say often is "We need to not only listen to others, but we need to HEAR them." I believe there is a difference. We need to make sure we hear, we understand and we do. We need to make sure to do something with what we have heard. This is how we build trust within others.
Observer's Eyes: Our eyes are always taking in information. There are things that we see overtly, but we also need to observe what is happening covertly. We can only do this if we are WITH, really with, those on our team, or those that we support. We need to be watching and learning. We need to know context in which our team is working. We need to also see the strengths and areas of growth in others and use that information to help all move forward.
Empowering Mouth: Words matter...a lot! We need to be conscious of not only the words we speak, but the way in which we speak them. As a leader, I believe we should be building others up, growing them, empowering them. This doesn't mean there shouldn't be constructive feedback, this means just the opposite. In order to empower others, they need to have feedback, authentic feedback, actionable feedback. They then need the supports, plan and/or tools to help them grow.
Empathetic Heart: In order to lead others, one needs to be able to see things from other people's perspectives. These can't be "guesses", but based on knowledge gained from knowing our people. Before acting, it is important to think through how it will effect all parts of the team. If we don't know, it is important to ask, to have conversations...discussions.
Working Hands: The best leaders I know roll up their sleeves and jump in the trenches with their team. They are on the floor with the students, they are in the rooms teaching, they are taking risks along side of their staff. They literally do the heavy lift, if needed. They look at their school staff as a team, no one job is more important than the others. They pitch in when needed, without a second thought...they lead from the middle.
Walking Feet: I believe in order to be an effective leader, one needs to BE with those they lead. This means they are in the classrooms...really in them. Not doing a drive by, check in. They spend time with the students and the teachers. They know the students and the students know them. They are a normal fixture in the classrooms, on the playground, in the halls and the parking lot.
My friend Tony Sinanis moved up to the Central Office this past year as an Assistant Superintendent. He made it a point to schedule meetings later in the day, so he could spend his mornings in classrooms. It was fun to watch him on his daily journeys via Twitter. What was more amazing to see was at the end of the year, how many students' lives he had impacted. They know him, they love him and they are going to miss him as he moves on to a new district as Superintendent. He works hard to redefine his role...that is the kind of leader I wish to be.
So...can someone be a leader without the "title"? Absolutely! I DO believe we are all leaders in our own right. I know I try to emulate all of the above, every day. What does YOUR anatomy of a leader look like?
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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