Collaboration is a powerful action; it breathes new life into percolating plans and nurtures seeds of inspiration. It is the gatekeeper that weaves together concepts and manifests hopes and dreams. It’s a magnetic force that pulls people together, creates unexpected synergy, and ignites dialogue, growth, and change. How can we capitalize on the strength of collaboration to be the driving force that permeates the evolution of our professional and personal development?
Who Has Shown You The Way?
There have been many leaders who have shown us the way. They have modeled what it means to be a communicator, collaborator, connector, and creator. They have shown the value in bringing others into conversations that have the potential to create meaningful change. They have organically used the words “we” not “I”; it’s in the fabric of their being. They have taken others under their wing and elevated the room’s contributions. They embrace the ideas of others and give the right people the recognition when they show up to the table. They are more “collaborative and less competitive” (Stephanie Rothstein). They understand the idea that we are better together. Collaborators give us wings to fly and feel deep pride to watch us soar. They feel a great sense of gratitude to watch others cultivate collective success. They are not jealous, they are proud. Have you ever taken a moment to think about people in your life that have encouraged you to collaborate and have unleashed the creator in you? I have and that’s why I’d like to share some strategies for collaboration that have made me better.
6 Ideas For Collaboration
Connect with Colleagues: Think about reaching out to someone you have known or someone new. You never know where your next ideas can flourish. I have admired many people from afar who have suddenly become regular thinking partners and collaborators in my daily life. Don’t forget to capitalize on the room you’re in. Every person who is in that room knows something you don’t know! Also, do not be afraid to share YOUR knowledge and ideas. In the book Because Of A Teacher, Meghan Lawson shared a profound Peter Block quote, “How do you change the world? One room at a time. Which room? The one you’re in.”
Lean into Resources: Read an article, book, and/or listen to a podcast and have a conversation about it. You never know what ideas can emerge from that discussion. It is the most informal, yet meaningful way to experience professional learning in the most organic way. In the recent Edutopia article Taking Control of Your Professional Growth, Stephanie Rothstein and I share a number of ways to bring professional learning to you! These ideas may generate some relevant opportunities for collaboration AND creation.
Co-author a Writing Piece or Present with a Colleague: What better way to share your learning than to collaborate on a writing piece that highlights your thinking, philosophies, and instructional practices. Recently, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Lainie Rowell on the Edutopia article Revisiting and Rethinking Our Priorities. Through this collaboration, Lainie taught me how to merge our ideas in very succinct and purposeful ways. She also served as an accountability partner through the process. She pushed my thinking and made me a better writer. I love presenting my learning at conferences with dynamic colleagues. This is an opportunity to share and spread our learning and growth to other educational communities. I have had the pleasure of collaborating on multiple presentations with Natasha Nurse and Christine LaMarca, two outstanding educators.
Frame the Conversation: Use your personal and professional goals to frame a collaborative conversation. This strategy will be supportive in streamlining your thinking and creation process. You will know your why, what you want to accomplish, and develop an actionable plan about how to get there. Select passionate and productive thinking partners that will foster your exponential growth. Lorie Beard, educator and middle school principal has been an unwavering thinking partner in my life. We have always framed our professional conversations with purpose and discuss actionable steps for implementation. Our ongoing dialogue has inspired me to take risks and be a better version of myself.
Disrupt your Thinking: There are times when you will want to bring other people and new perspectives into your collaboration. Those disruptions will push you to see a project in a better and different way. Although this change may alter your course of action, you and your collaborators will be better for it!
Vary Your Communication: I think we have learned that there are multiple ways to communicate. Use technology to your advantage! Through phone conversations, texting, video conferencing, and working on shared Google documents, the possibilities for collaboration are endless! Sean Gallaird and Lainie Rowell recently facilitated the summer Voxer chat series #CampFireConvosEdu where participants were given open-ended topics to discuss and respond to asynchronously. This self-paced style of collaboration was a low stakes way of sharing knowledge and practices that could be implemented in classrooms tomorrow in fulfilling and worthwhile ways!
Collaboration is a Conduit to Creation
Collaboration is a conduit to creation. It’s an opportunity to go through an imperfect process that unlocks the hidden potential in others. It’s a time to discover passions and interests that you never knew existed. It’s a place to be a part of critical moments that become new beautiful stories in your journey. In a recent #PrincipalLinerNotes podcast, Sean Gallaird eloquently says “Don’t let fear become a barrier to a collaboration that may yield something good and meaningful…we are better when we pool our strengths and gifts together in service of our students and families.” You never know where your next ideas can flourish. Reach out to someone and share your thoughts, it may lead you down paths of unexpected opportunities!
Professional learning is in a constant state of transformation due to an ever-changing educational landscape. Great educators are finding innovative ways to learn and connect with others in order to expand a repertoire of their possible selves. They are bridging the distance and shattering the walls of isolation by way of various technological platforms; no matter what time zone or part of the world they live in, they can instantly be in the same virtual learning space; all they have to do is have the desire and intrinsic motivation to want to learn from others, be open to new and better ideas, be interested in finding out what they don’t know, and seek out the perspectives and voices of others.
A Global Learning Experience
Recently, global educator Naomi Toland, founder of #Empathetic_Educators seamlessly brought great educators together from around the world by creating 12 hours of LIVE professional learning during the 1st #EEConQuest event. Sessions were facilitated by educators who shared their expertise about a wide range of topics and engaged in meaningful dialogue. The trend in all of the conversations over the course of the day was clear: Educators are looking to expand their impact and influence over the most precious stakeholders in education – their learners.
I had the privilege and opportunity to co-host a Q & A with Naomi, featuring special guest John Hattie, Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia. The magic of technology brought educators from 4 parts of the world including New York, Japan, Thailand, and Australia together in one space. As a result, this event stretched my thinking and invited new understandings into my approaches to teaching and learning.
Quotes that Ignite Discussion
I am grateful to be able to share a short clip and a collection of John Hattie quotes that emerged from our global conversation. Consider using them to pique curiosity, ignite discussion within your professional learning communities and beyond, and reflect on what it means to be a teacher AND learner:
Video quote to think about: “How do we stop looking for failure and trying to fix it and how do we instead look for success?”
#EEConQuest John Hattie Quotes to Ignite Discussion – CLICK HERE to print discussion card
Some Questions I’m Thinking About as a Result of this Conversation
How can we create learning spaces that encourage productive struggle and empower learners to be their own teachers? What resources can we continue to utilize to meet learners where they are, accurately assess their progress, make them aware of the standards, learning targets, and their personal learning goals? When can we create time and space to give learners ongoing, cyclical, relevant feedback to move their learning forward? How can we ensure that learners are processing the feedback educators provide, understand it thoroughly, and implement it in their everyday learning? How can school leaders create protected time for educators to come together to regularly reflect on the innovative practices they have learned over the past year and discuss how they plan on utilizing those practices in their physical spaces? What effects do poor grades on transcripts have on learners? How can we focus more on what learners can do and not what they can’t do? Are we making sure that there is active learning transpiring in our classrooms that leads to deeper learning and transfer? Are we utilizing the gradual release of responsibility at the right times?
Unlocking the Joy of Discovery
We cannot overlook the opportunities that have been afforded to us through technological advances. As we navigate a global society that is saturated with people who bring their personal experiences, knowledge, and curiosity to learning spaces, we recognize the value of powerful conversations. These are the conversations that unlock the joy of discovery and create learning zones that continually shape our identities, belief systems, and reveal new possibilities.
School districts who place an emphasis on valuing the teacher induction process understand that there is a huge return on investment for committing time, passion, and dedication to our newest teachers. In turn, this will develop social and professional capital, build teacher efficacy, and open learning portals of potential; these portals pave the way to growing solid educational foundations that influence the eternal impact on the most precious gifts in a school system, our students. The careful pairing of mentors and mentees is a critical component to ensuring that great teachers are retained and are destined to embark on long meaningful careers.
Bridging Knowing Gaps
Great school districts also recognize that new teachers come with their own unique gifts. It is an obligation to collectively work together to recognize and cultivate those areas of expertise so that those practices can be shared within their own educational communities and beyond! In the Mentor Program I facilitate in my school district, I always discuss that the partnership between the mentor and mentee is symbiotic in nature. Although veteran teachers have so much knowledge to impart on their mentees, the relationship is mutually beneficial as the mentor and mentee can both dedicate time to share their strengths, bridge generational lenses, and fill respective knowing gaps with fresh perspectives.
*Before exploring the Reverse Mentorship experience, it will be important to meet with your mentor/mentee pairs to explain what Reverse Mentorship is and why it can be valuable for the growth and development of educators within the organization. Having continuous follow-up meetings to reflect on the experience will be an important part of the process as you work to refine it over time so everyone involved can reach their maximum potential!Realistically, this pivot from the traditional mentorship approach may only take place in dedicated slots of time within the mentoring experience.
Thoughtful Pairings: The Mentor Coordinator can work with administrative team members who have a pulse on the organization to thoughtfully pair new teacher mentors with a veteran teacher who would be open to embarking on this unique experience of mentorship. In order to make sure the match is right there must be chemistry and genuine enthusiasm for leadership development. For Reverse Mentorship, you may consider pairing the new veteran teacher with someone who has different perspectives than their own.
Develop Norms: Consider finding a place to meet in a comfortable location and agree that your conversations will be confidential. If you are the mentee (in this case the more veteran educator), you may want to discuss what you plan to learn from the experience. For example, the senior teacher may inquire about how to better use technology to elevate their instructional practices or how to use digital portfolios to track student learning over time.
Share Stories: There are many facets to who we are as people. Being an educator is only one part of our life. Share who you are, what you have in common, your goals, hopes for the future and pivot toward talking about things that make you different from one another. Your stories will bind you as people, illuminate who you are at your core, and shed light on pieces of you that may be important for the other person to know.
Maintain Roles: In order to give Reverse Mentoring a real chance, try to remember that the newer staff member should be the one doing the mentoring in those specific conversations. Realistically, it may be an approach to take during dedicated slots of time. If this happens, remind one another that the senior staff member is there to receive the advice that is targeted towards the goals that were established when norms were developed. These are the moments where the newer teachers’ insights and contributions are highlighted in the conversation.
Revisit and Reflect: We know that education and learning is an infinite process. It is essential to make time for reflection. What are the key takeaways from each session? Use the time at the end, use follow-up emails, and/or send video reflection videos to one another with the progress that has transpired to meet the learning goals. Revise your course if needed!
Give Credit: In a traditional mentoring relationship, giving recognition to the mentor and mentee is valuable to the growth of both parties. In reverse mentorship, it is also important to give the senior teacher credit for taking risks, opening their minds to new ideas from the newer teacher, and disrupting the status quo. Furthermore, the newer staff member deserves credit for having the confidence to lead and share their expertise with the senior staff member. This is a win-win as both the mentor and mentee will feel valued!
The Benefits of Reverse Mentorship
Some of the benefits of exploring Reverse Mentoring are that organizations have an opportunity to build a strong culture of learning, develop leadership skills within new team members, close generational gaps, understand different perspectives, embrace inclusivity, enhance communication skills, and elevate the confidence of all stakeholders. Gordon closes her Ted Talk by sharing, “Forward thinking organizations use reverse mentoring as one of the tools to help them build a more inclusive environment and studies have shown that when organizations embrace reverse mentoring members of those underrepresented groups feel more confident sharing their perspectives.” We have an opportunity to leave a legacy within the organizations we live in by disrupting the status quo, touching people’s hearts, and empowering them to believe in themselves despite how long they have served in their roles.
When you think back to your fondest memories of school, what experiences do you remember most? I am talking about memorable moments that have wrapped around your heart and hugged your soul. These memories are so vivid that when your thoughts wander back in time, you are the starring role in vibrant mind movies that leave you feeling incredible pride, joy, and gratitude for those opportunities. These memory moments have become part of the fabric of the person you’ve become and will continue to be on your course of life.
Snapshots in Time
For me, these snapshots in time are what made learning fun, creative, and applicable to real world interactions and experiences I’ve encountered. I can assure you that when my own children, students, and colleagues ask me about my favorite parts of my schooling timeline, it is not about the standards, assessments, skills, strategies, and/or particular lessons that were taught. It was the times I performed in the school musicals and dramas, participated in Battle of the Classes, and worked on passion projects I actually cared about. It was the educators who unlocked those moments that sparked my interests and ignited my passions. Those educators created personalized experiences that kept learners at the core of the work and viewed them as human beings first. The social interactions I had with peers illuminated the most relevant parts of learning. Together we laughed and navigated our way through successes and failures, sought solutions to conflicts, explored new ideas, and pushed our limits of learning, discovery, and growth.
Great Educators CAN Make a Difference
In order to make a difference in the lives of our learners, great educators must create experiences that tap into learners’ hearts so their minds are open to critically consuming information to create new and better things that are relevant to them and the real world. Meaningful learning sticks when great educators focus on the right things first! In Innovate Inside the Box, George Couros says, “We have to acknowledge that our students come to us with a unique mix of experiences, strengths, weaknesses, and passions…Our calling or task is to expose students to numerous pathways and provide them with the skills to be self-directed and goal-oriented so they can choose or create a path that allows their brilliance to shine” (p.32). I’ll admit, at the beginning of my career, I was so focused on delivering the curriculum that I rarely leveraged the moments where I could have listened more and developed deeper connections with my students to make learning matter. I always cared about them, but I thought that the primary way of showing it was by “covering the content” instead of making investments in their emotional deposit boxes and continuously giving them the choice and voice they deserved. In the book Personal and Authentic, Thomas Murray says, “Expecting children to walk through our doors and desire a “standard” model of education completely ignores the vast differences in interests, passions, and strengths of our learners. Providing opportunities, both small and large for these learners to explore areas that are meaningful to them recognizes who they are and reaffirms to them that they matter” (p. 107).
4 Fun Ways to Fire Up Learners
How can great educators create conditions that bring out the best attributes of every learner who enters the school buildings and classrooms they live in? I’ll tell you what has worked for me… fire them up and make them a part of the learning process! Empower them to listen, think, discuss, and choose the way they want to learn. Create opportunities where learners freely share their ideas, listen to others’ perspectives, and talk about what’s on their hearts and minds. Use those moments to influence their learning and plan instruction that’s tailored to their needs; give them the starring role in vibrant future mind movies that they can recall and later share with pride, joy, and gratitude! With that being said, I want to share what my students think are 4 fun ways to empower them and fire up the learning that transpires in classrooms! These are learning experiences that they request we revisit regularly:
Picture of the Day
I discovered Picture of the Day from Hello Literacy consultant Jen Jones many years ago. I have found that using pictures is a low stakes, meaningful, purposeful way to observe, think, promote critical discussion, and honor other perspectives about anything you choose! In author Ralph Fletcher’s recent keynote at the Spring Virtual Long Island Language Arts Council Conference on March 25, 2020, he discusses how the world of our learners is increasingly visual. Photos are a universal language that reveal emotions and tell stories about people’s lives. Photos can magically stop time and become a tool for inquiry. They also serve as mentor texts that can inspire learners to take their own photographs and document their own journey. When I introduce the picture of the day, I begin by selecting pictures that are of high interest, relevant to the unit of study I am teaching, and/or mirror the interests of the learners in my class. For example, if I am teaching story elements, I may showcase pictures with a variety of settings, people, conflicts, and resolutions; if I have learners who have a passion for sports, traveling, cooking, etc… I will share those photographs. The students are invited to make observations (list things that can see in the picture) and then make reasonable inferences (using the details from the picture and what they already know) to develop ideas and perspectives about the photo. My students are also encouraged to select their own photographs in the choice boards I will discuss below! Learners can think and respond about photographs in a multitude of ways (i.e. in a writer’s notebook, Google Doc/Slides, Jamboard). I have found that Picture of the Day has supported my learners in previewing and comprehending more complex informational text.
Choice boards are not only a great way to empower learners by giving them choice and voice in what and how they are going to learn, but it also provides meaningful balance between online and offline learning. I have found that providing learners with choice boards encourages intrinsic motivation and a more meaningful desire to learn, personalized instruction, and allows students to respond by using various print and digital competencies. This type of freedom guides learners towards independence. The choice boards I designed below were inspired by Catlin Tucker’s blog and self-paced course on blended learning. Each choice board includes skills/strategies that I have introduced in my own classroom. I revise the learning activities as I introduce new skills/strategies. Revising the options keeps learning fun and engaging! In the book Innovate Inside the Box, Couros states, “When students are empowered to choose how they can best demonstrate their knowledge and skills, they are able to see the relevance in learning the basics and how reading, writing, and math apply to their lives and are less likely to check out mentally” (pp. 62-63).
This is an authentic way to get students to informally write about any topic with a partner or group while supporting the development of relationships and building stronger connections with teachers and peers. Teachers can utilize literature, informational text, video, podcasts, and/or free writing prompts to get learners to participate in this process. Learners will start with a question, comment, or thought about the topic by including content knowledge and content-specific vocabulary. Learners respond to one another and should keep the dialogue going. I call this fast and furious writing! Learners should not worry about grammar or spelling. They should be able to get all of their ideas out freely. Dialogue journals are a low pressure way to tap into students’ interests and passions, to learn more about each other, develop writing fluency, stamina, and build confidence. Teachers can participate by sharing their own experiences through writing, by giving feedback to the learners and/or participate in the writing process.
There have been several opportunities for my learners to create inspiration boards that exemplify and illustrate who they are as people. Allowing them to utilize a digital space such as Google Slides, enabled them to express their creativity and illuminate their passions and interests by using quotes, words, phrases, colors, and images. These activities have helped me to initiate meaningful conversations with my students and have supported the development of future lessons that are relevant to their lives and the world. In Innovate Inside the Box, Couros says, “If we don’t understand the learners we serve, even the best ideas for teaching and learning will not be as effective if we don’t learn about our students and connect with them first” (pp.77-78). In the example below, shows how learners responded to the book Love by Matt De La Pena by creating a board about what Love means to them! See the slides for more information about P.S. I Love You Day (the impetus for this learning experience).
Educators have been afforded a magical opportunity to impact and influence the lives of every learner they encounter throughout their careers. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a tremendous responsibility that rests on the shoulders of every interaction and experience we shape on the journey. You see, education is not just a career, it’s a calling; it’s a chance to create memorable moments that touch hearts, inspire learners to dream, and provide them with purposeful supports as they manifest their hopes for the future. Educators have the power to create spaces of psychological safety and tap into the emotional drive that will propel learners towards success. They have the ability to leverage intentional dialogue in their environments, provide learners with equitable access to their education in meaningful ways, and establish a sincere set of values and beliefs they can continuously put into action. This is a belief system that will model high levels of integrity and commitment to those they serve. In the book Unlocking Unlimited Potential by Dr. Brandon Beck, he beautifully states, “It’s the ultimate goal of all educators to unlock the unlimited potential in all whom you serve… your purpose as an educator has to involve your belief that you can guide all students to understand their potential is unlimited” (pp. 6-7).
Moving Beyond Our Locus of Control
Amidst a global pandemic, educators have been faced with challenges that are beyond their locus of control. According to the article, Locus of Control and Your Life by Kendra Cherry, “Locus of control refers to the extent to which people feel that they have control over the events that influence their lives.” People who have an external locus of control don’t believe they can change despite their efforts. This has placed unsurmountable pressure on educators who prefer to be in control of all of their professional outcomes and may believe that they must cover all of the standards and content in order for learners to be successful. However, the article continues to say that people who have a strong internal locus of control have more confidence when they are faced with challenges and have a strong sense of self-efficacy to be flexible and embrace change while reimagining learning in the new educational landscape we are living in. This has made educators question how they are going to unleash the talents in every learner that enters their learning spaces. If we are asking learners to engage in various learning activities in physical and virtual spaces, take risks, and put forth effort while embracing the infinite mindset, shouldn’t educators be modeling the same actions?
Where Do We Invest Our Time?
That being said, there have been various barriers including a lack of continuity of instruction that have gotten in the way of the engagement and empowerment learners need to thrive. In the book Learner Centered Innovation: Spark Curiosity, Ignite Passion, and Unleash Genius by Katie Martin, she asks the following questions: “Why do some students willingly engage in academic tasks? What makes learners persist in challenging tasks? What compels learners to want to learn more and improve?” (p. 76). Martin goes on to talk about Camille Fallington’s deep research about creating cultures that develop mindsets for deeper learning to occur. “The following mindsets have been identified as critical to student motivation and willingness to persist in academically challenging work.
I belong in this community
I can succeed at this
My ability and competence grow with effort
My work has value to me
…As learners, teachers, and leaders, we must cultivate and model these mindsets too” (pp. 76-77). Throughout my teaching experiences, I have come to realize that before learners are able to feel empowered to engage in deep learning, educators must make an investment in the emotional deposit box by developing strong connections. In Unlocking Unlimited Potential, Dr. Beck brilliantly states, “It starts with educating students from the inside out in order to find the Sweet Spot” (p.48). So I ask, how can educators level up learning to create relevant, meaningful learning experiences that will leave an everlasting impact on the hearts and minds of the students they serve?
Here are 3 Ideas to Level Up Learning:
Stories are windows into our experiences. They are small moments etched into our memories. They are the ammunition that pushes us down the path of discovery. In an #InnovatorsMindset podcast, George Couros says “Stories are the fuel for innovation, they inspire us, they give us pertinent ideas, they get the work we are doing out to people in a really compelling way that goes beyond what a score could tell people about our students.” Beneath the façade of every human being lies personal, unique collections of stories that reveal reflections of who they are and who they want to be. How can we intentionally create spaces for learners to share how they view the world through stories?
WHO YOU ARE: Tell YOUR story and share the reason your journey led you to where you are in right now! We all come from various experiences that shape who we are. By sharing those experiences, you are showing learners that they have the power to write their own narratives and change their course as they evolve as human beings!
YOUR WHY/PURPOSE: There is nothing more powerful than telling your learners why you were placed in a position to teach them how to maximize their social, emotional and academic potential. Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it…there are leaders and those that lead. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. Those who start with their ‘Why’ have the ability to inspire those around them.” What we value and how we share “why” we value those things, changes the culture of the classroom/building.
PERSONAL AND STUDENT STORIES THAT CONNECT LEARNING: In Richard Gerver’s book Change, he notes that people can, “Use stories as tools to build momentum in others.” Sharing educator and student stories will inspire the learning community to have empathy and understanding for one another. Stories are real world examples that can breath meaning and life into learning. That authentic connection can give the content more meaning and motivate learners to see it’s value and build deeper understanding of the classroom community and curriculum.
According to the Miriam Webster Dictionary, one of the definitions of a bridge is, “a time, place, or means of connection or transition.” One of our critical roles as educators is to help learners build bridges that connect the heart to the mind. Throughout this journey, we are learning and thinking partners who provide the right scaffolds that help learners walk across the bridge with intention and purpose and grasp the new learning that exists on the other side. However, it’s the actual process of walking on the bridge, the productive struggle; those moments where as educators, we get to say, “I’m here for you, I care about you, and let’s have fun while doing it!” that will nurture the heart and make it easier for learners to open their minds.
ASKING QUESTIONS: When beginning a class in virtual and/or physical spaces, I have found that asking questions to launch a lesson and/or embedding them over the course of the day will set a positive tone for learning. I have asked questions as simple as “If you can eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? Who is someone that has been an inspiration to you and why? What are the 3 most important things in your life, why?” I also love “Would You Rather” questions such as “Would you rather be invisible or fly, why? Would you rather be Batman or Spider-Man, why? Would you rather fly around the world for free for the rest of your life or eat at any restaurant you want for free?” Learners can respond orally, in the live chat, or in a digital tool such as Google Jamboard or Mentimeter. These questions are fun way to connect and the classroom community gets to learn more about one another.
SHARING FEELINGS: A critcal part of being an educator is checking in on your learners emotional state. It is an opportunity to “read the room” and see where learners hearts and minds are during their time with you. In Unlocking Unlimited Potential, Dr. Beck states, “,,,it should be the unspoken truth in all schools that understanding your students’ emotions first and foremost is at the forefront of everything you do” (p. 49). He goes on to say, “Students are not robots programmed with all of the same software, they have many different dimensions and unique identities. Not providing SEL opportunities consistently is equivalent to trying to fly a plane without an engine. You aren’t going anywhere fast” (p. 51). It is a good idea to provide learners with emotional language to support them in expressing their feelings.
MUSIC/DANCING: One of the best parts of the day is when I incorporate music and dancing into learning. Sometimes it is music that I choose and other times I let my learners be the DJ. Moving and listening to music creates a fun, light-hearted space. This opens learners up to tackling the skills and strategies that will be taught that day. In a CNN article by Kelly Wallace, titled Move over, ‘sit still’! Why kids need to move in school, Dr. John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says “When you move, you stimulate all the nerve cells that we use to think with, and when you stimulate those nerve cells, it gets them ready to do stuff.”
CULTIVATE CONNECTIONS: The heart of teaching and learning is rooted in the connections and relationships we develop with the learners we are lucky enough to serve. Cultivating strong relationships, understanding the learners’ strengths and areas for growth, tapping into their passions and interests, and providing equitable access to the curriculum for ALL learners are cornerstones to any worthwhile educational journey. In a recent Equity in Education Panel at #NCTIES2021, Sean Gaillard shared his working definition of equity, “Limitless opportunities for all-ALL the time…it’s relentless, it’s sustainable.” Without truly caring about the social-emotional well-being of every student, learning will not be as productive or meaningful. If we want to see the positive, lasting impact we are hoping for, we have to make it our obligation to get to know all learners as human beings first and give them what they need to thrive.
LEARNING SURVEYS: I created a Google Form Learning Survey for both learners and their families inspired by Catlin Tucker. I used similar questions for both because it was important for me to get to know the learners in my classes from both perspectives. This was also a way for me to introduce Google Forms as I have used this digital tool in a multitude of ways. I embedded a welcome video for the families right into the form so they can learn why filling out this form was important to me. This was also a way for me to connect with them, show who I am and what I value as an educator. My learners complete this survey 3x a year so that I can see how their thinking has evolved.
5-MINUTE MEETINGS: I schedule five-minute meetings with all of my learners. This idea was inspired by Dr. Mary Hemphill’s book The One Minute Meeting: Creating Student Stakeholders in Schools. The idea of these meetings is to check-in with my students, learn more about them as human beings, and then utilize the information to elevate their emotional literacy. There are three simple questions to ask:How are you today? What is your greatest celebration? What challenges have you had recently? After asking those simple, open-ended questions and having those personal conversations with each learner, I feel even more connected to each one of them. I now have a deeper understanding of what is happening in their world. Some had really cheerful, positive stories to share, while others were expressing that they are going through challenging times. The responses were collected in Google Forms. This qualitative data is used to drive planning and instruction.
1:1 CONFERENCES: 1:1 conferencing is a key ingredient to having learners practice, improve, and elevate learning. This sacred time spent with students can be messy as the learner guides the direction the conference will take. In turn, the teacher should be able to notice and name a learner’s strengths and areas for growth and adjust the direction and goals of the conference accordingly. In a conference, the teacher and student are both learners, except, the student is doing most of the work while the teacher coaches in and offers thinking prompts to lift the level of the work. In virtual spaces, these vital interactions take place in Zoom or Meet breakout rooms. This is a more personalized space to connect, interact, and personalize learning. Katie Martin confirms this in her blog titled, To Engage Students, Focus on Connection Over Content, “Scheduling time with each student to connect, learn more about their circumstances, their goals, and ideas, created a different dynamic that built empathy and allowed for more personalization and meaningful connection.
Think back to your first years of teaching. Were you ever handed a roadmap to success? I remember thinking that I’d enter the school building on my very first day and be given a handbook that would include secret magical ingredients to the perfect recipe for becoming a successful educator. Well, that never happened because it just doesn’t exist! Even after experiencing years of schooling, internships, student teaching adventures, and a lot of reading, I know now that nothing really prepares a new educator more than being thrown right into the trenches. I am pretty sure that every educator who has ever had their own classroom of learners understands that it’s a tremendous responsibility that is both gratifying and overwhelming at the same time. Also, anyone who gets placed in a position to influence the lives of children must recognize that they have been given the unique opportunity to make an everlasting impact. Moments of influence and impact have the potential to live within learners for the rest of their lives. Those gifts live within great educators and are waiting to be unwrapped at the right place, at the right time, with the right people! Those moments cannot be prescribed in any handbook or roadmap to success because there is no winning in education and learning. According to Simon Sinek, author of The Infinite Game, education is not finite. There is no beginning, middle, and end because the players, curricula, policies and procedures, are continuously changing. Rather, education is an infinite game because there is no finish line or end. “Infinite games have infinite time horizons. And because there is no finish line, no practical end to the game, there is no such thing as “winning” an infinite game. In an infinite game, the primary objective is to keep playing to perpetuate the game” (p.4). So who is responsible for creating the invisible roadmap to success?
Mentors Are Everywhere
Although New York State provided me with a formal mentor when I was a new teacher, I was fortunate to have many educators around me who I viewed as mentors. They too shared words of wisdom, resources, and new ideas that would impact the way I chose to approach teaching and learning for the rest of my career. As a matter of fact, I perceive every single educator I have ever come into contact with since the beginning of my career as a mentor. Why is that? Some have gifted me with pieces of advice that I will indefinitely hold close, while others have modeled practices that I would never even consider employing. That being said, I have taken all of the wisdom that’s been shared with me over the years and created an open roadmap that includes 8 pieces of advice for new teachers!
Discover the How
I call this an “open road map” of advice because these are only suggestions, a framework, a guide. These are signposts that will point any new educator toward the right direction, but it will be ultimately up to them to choose their path and decide what kind of educator they want to be. That’s the beautiful part about being an educator. Educators come with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Educators see the world from a unique lens and approach their practice with stories that push on their hearts. The open roadmap will provide the “what” and the “why” for those who plan to approach education with an infinite mindset. It is up to the educator and the mentors who are placed in their paths along the way to discover the “how”. My hope is that this open roadmap of advice can be placed into the hands of the mentors who are helping build strong foundations for educators and any new teachers who are committed to lifelong learning and view the process as a journey. Let this be advice to inspire you to imagine what the future could hold for yourself and the people you will continue to influence throughout your career.
1. Keep Connections at the Core: Getting to know your learners, their families, stories, passions, and interests will show them that you are human first and that you care. Be that person who wears an empathy lens. Be that person who will take the time to walk in the shoes of every student and colleague who crosses your path. By creating those connections and cultivating meaningful relationships, you are opening the pathways to deeper learning and exponential growth!
2. Embrace the Community: Make an effort to get to know the vision and mission at the community, district, and building levels. The people who make up the culture and climate of your organization are trying to row in the same direction to best serve the students! Every role in an organization is important and should be valued. You are now part of a team and it certainly takes a village to provide students with the right opportunities to thrive. You do not have to work in isolation. Observe and talk with the people around you; you will be surprised about how much you will learn from them. Those conversations will stretch your thinking and have an immediate impact on your role. You will also have a better understanding about who you can turn to for direction and advice when you need it! Also, for additional support, consider joining an online community like Chuck Poole’s Facebook Group Teacher’s Success Lounge or Rachelle Dene Poth’s Thrive in EDU Facebook Group. There may be people in those spaces that embrace and invite other thinking partners.
3. Build a Network: Although having an outstanding formal mentor is crucial to the growth process, it is vital to connect and collaborate with other educators and staff members in your educational communities. Everyone has knowledge and gifts to share. We are truly better together. Try not to compare yourself to others. According to Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” We are not here to compete! We are here for kids! Just like we have different friends for various reasons (those who make us laugh, seek advice from, listen to understand, talk so we don’t have to), the same holds true for the educators we meet. Find those people in your organization who can make you better and help you see and learn other practices and perspectives. Also, consider expanding your network by using one or more social media platforms. Twitter has been a gamechanger for me. I have met some of the most impactful people to push my thinking in ways I never knew they could. Some have also become great friends! The #EduTwitter space can be overwhelming, but when you find the right network, it can be magical! Just remember, great minds don’t always think alike, they think differently too!
4. Discover and Document: One of the best things I was afforded the opportunity of doing was watching other great educators teach! Inter-visitations, lab sites, and debriefing time will allow you to discover and embed new practices into your repertoire of teaching and learning tools! If this doesn’t happen in your school district, ask! Perhaps your administrators can arrange for it (even virtually). If you are lucky enough to have Instructional Coaches, ask them if they could organize this authentic learning experience, but also invite them to come in and offer you constructive feedback. I always loved when my coaches and peers gave me new ideas. They encouraged me to try new approaches and made me better! Also, you may want to consider creating a digital portfolio. A digital portfolio will allow you to document and think about your learning in the most intentional and meaningful ways. I am grateful to George Couros for encouraging me to recently start mine after 14 years in education! Luckily I took his incredible Digital Portfolio Master Course where he walked me through the process of why I should create one and how I can use it! The experience has been reflective and allows me to create a digital footprint of my students’ and my own learning. It’s never too late to start! Don’t think too hard about it. Just jump right in and make it happen… you won’t be sorry!
5. Pursue Professional Development: I am fortunate to work in a school district that provides a tremendous amount of professional development for all teachers. My Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Paul Romanelli sees the value in offering a wide range of courses that fit with the district vision and meet the needs of the staff and student population. He believes in empowering and elevating the teachers within the district coupled with bringing in great educators and thought leaders from outside of the organization to facilitate targeted professional learning experiences. Together, we also make sure that the Mentor Program provides appropriate, relevant, and innovative PD for our new teachers. I am also a big believer in not waiting for your school district to provide professional development for you. I REPEAT. Do not wait! If there is something out there that will help meet the needs of your learners and you, then pursue it and find it! Then, ask if you can attend it! Twitter has been a space to professionally grow and it’s FREE! Consider joining a Twitter chat that is rooted in a topic you are interested in! I personally enjoy #CultureEd, #FutureReady, #G2Great, #Empathetic_Educators, and #Read2Lead (just to name a few). Read professional books, articles, blog posts, and listen to podcasts. In my previous blog post, What Are Educators Doing? I mention some of my favorite professional learning resources! If you are having difficulty finding a professional learning opportunity that meets your needs, then consider CREATING IT!! You should always be in the driver’s seat of your learning!
6. Be a Mirror: Think about all of the educators who have influenced your practice. You may have not even met some of them yet! I know that some of the great educators who have made the most impact on me have only come into my life recently. The thought of meeting more people I don’t know yet is exciting! Think about why those people have been an important part of your journey. What did they say or do to influence the choices you make on a daily basis? Take the best qualities of all of those educators, mirror those attributes, and make them your own! If possible, reach out to those people and tell them exactly why and how they have inspired you. They will be happy to hear it! Sometimes, we don’t recognize the impact we are having when we are in the moment. Be the mirror and best versions of all of those people!
7. Celebrate Successes and Failures: It is crucial to give yourself recognition for all successes big and small! This is hard work and you should be able to share those amazing moments of growth and awe with those who support and cheer you on! There is nothing more gratifying than knowing you have made a difference in the lives of your students and colleagues alike. At the same time, you must consider that when you enter the field of education, be prepared to fail at things many times throughout your career. THIS IS A GOOD THING. I repeat. THIS IS A GOOD THING. When you aren’t failing, it means that you are not trying new things. It means that you are comfortable with the status quo. It means that you are not pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. So celebrate success AND failure. You earned it!
8. Pause and Reflect: Educators are working hard and exhausting all of the minutes in their precious days. Great educators also have servant hearts and are usually thinking about everyone else’s needs but their own. Take the time to pause and reflect. That means, take a break! Pursue your personal passions and interests, practice self-care in the best way it suits you. This will look different for everyone. Some will indulge in their favorite exercise routines or go on a shopping spree. Others will take a painting class, read for pleasure, and/or write a blog like I am right now! The point is, whatever makes you happy on the inside, whatever pleasures your heart, do it! Taking that break to focus on YOU will actually make you a better educator than you were before!
This blog series is being written from my perspective as I am a Mentor Coordinator K-12 in a school district in Long Island, N.Y. I will share my experiences as my mission and vision are to continuously develop a Mentor Program that will build a strong foundation to support educators during their first years of teaching and for the rest of their educational journeys. Refer to the Mentor Program tabs,#LBLeads 2019-2020 and#LBLeads 2020-21 in my digital portfolio as a window into my experiences. My previous blog Mentorship Matters: 8 Tips for Developing a Strong Mentor Program-Series 1 will provide insight into how to develop a strong Mentor Program.
Educators have limitless possibilities for shaping and developing the mindsets, actions, and choices for many future generations over the course of their career timelines. They have unique opportunities to create experiences that empower learners to choose a lens that paves the way to purposeful pathways of happiness and success. Since education is in a constant state of transformation, it is critical that educators are provided with the essential tools and supports to navigate the changes, challenges, and systems they live in. These supports will help them develop agency, self-efficacy, instill the confidence to share their own strengths, and unleash the talents of every human being they will ever encounter on their journey. Educators also understand that time is valuable and at times, difficult to balance. Every minute, every interaction, every moment in their days are precious. However, out of all the ways they can spend their time, mentoring has one of the highest returns on investment because they are shaping the next generation of leaders.
Who is On the Bus
There is no magic wand for mentoring. The success of strong mentor/mentee relationships rests on the shoulders of WHO. WHO puts in the effort, WHO has sensibility, WHO has the dedication, WHO commits to the process. All of these things matter, but there is a little bit of strategy that goes along with this too. I mention strategy because it is vital to consider WHO will be the right people to guide and create strong foundations for new teachers that lead to long, meaningful, impactful careers. In Brené Brown’sDare to Lead podcast, titled Brené with Jim Collins on Curiosity, Generosity, and the Hedgehog, Jim Collins discusses the importance of inviting people into your life who will open the doors to greatness. “Pick great people in your life. Those people are your mirror and will tell you if you’re doing ok.” The idea of viewing the people in your life as a mirror of yourself only magnifies the significance of WHO is selected to be placed in a position to mentor, inspire, and influence teachers during the induction process. In his book Good to Great, Collins reinforces this idea by discussing how getting people committed and aligned with a vision and direction will lead to avenues of great realizations, progress, and prosperity. Getting the “right people” on the bus because of “who” is on it rather than being concerned about “where” it is going, makes it easier to change your course. “For no matter what we achieve, if we don’t spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we cannot possibly have a great life. But if we spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect-people we really enjoy being on the bus with and who will never disappoint us-then we will almost certainly have a great life, no matter where the bus goes” (p. 62).
A Mentor/Mentee is Someone WHO:
What is a Mentor? According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary a Mentor is defined as “a trusted counselor or guide.”
What is a Mentee? According to the Miriam-Webster dictionary a Mentee is defined as “someone who is being mentored.”
HERE is the link to the infographic “A Mentor/Mentee is someone WHO”
The 6 Cs to Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationships
The mentor/mentee relationship is symbiotic in nature. The qualities and attributes in both mentees and mentors are synonymous. When mentorship is approached from a holistic lens, it has the power to build social capital and unlock human potential. Great educators have the ability to leave everlasting legacies in the hearts and minds of everyone they serve. This makes the induction years a critical component of the learning journey. That being said, I created a blueprint to sustaining successful mentor/mentee relationships by embracing the 6cs: Connect. Communicate. Collaborate. Circulate. Cultivate. Celebrate.
HERE is the link to the infographic “The 6 Cs to Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationships”
Connect: Get to know each other on a personal level.Share your stories. This will transform the path of a mentoring relationship because you are showing the other person that you truly care about them as humans first. This is a window into a person’s journey which enables you to make more intentional and targeted inquiries over the course of time. In the podcast mentioned above, Jim Collins says “Real conversations happen at the feeling level…The quality of the day is not what you think about it, it’s what you feel about it.”
Communicate: Although informal interactions will naturally be embedded into the mentoring experience, schedule protected time to communicate on personal and professional levels on a regular basis. This protected time values the process and provides a spacetoask questions, share knowledge, and learn from various experiences. Come up with mutually agreeable ways to communicate as there are many avenues to reach out to one another. Talking through and reflecting on experiences are important parts of the growth process.
Collaborate: Work together to strengthen and share best teaching and learning practices, how to navigate relationships, and the day-to-day operations. Collaboration can transpire synchronously by interacting in real time with face-to-face, in online meetings, texting, and/or instant messaging through various learning management systems. It can also take place asynchronously by working independently and then uploading documents or annotations to shared workspaces (e.g. Google Docs). The benefits of Mentor/Mentee collaboration are exploring new and better ideas, teamwork, discovering new solutions, and embedding new perspectives into practices.
Circulate: Mentors can be well-connected as they have been in the education field for some time. They should invite their mentees into various professional learning communities (PLCs) and encourage them to think and look beyond their school organizations for ideas by expanding their professional learning network (PLN). As a mentor, you can also broaden your own network by connecting with other mentors and great educators, while also leveraging the opportunity to network with their mentee’s connections.
Cultivate: Mentees come with their own expertise and gifts to share. Help them unwrap those gifts, passions, and interests. Capitalize on, cultivate, and learn from their strengths. Ask questions and allow them to reflect on their areas for growth and development. Use this as an opportunity to let them come up with actionable steps for improvement while providing direction and insights. These interactions are cyclical in nature and should be continuously revisited.
Celebrate: Mentors serve as the greatest and most impactful support system. They should encourage and cheer on their mentee for taking risks and believing in themselves. Celebrate successes big and small and use failure and change as opportunities for growth. Human beings thrive on recognition. When they feel validated and valued, they continue to approach their work with passion and purpose!
This blog series is being written from my perspective as I am a Mentor Coordinator K-12 in a school district in Long Island, N.Y. I will share my experiences as my mission and vision is to continuously develop a Mentor Program that will build a strong foundation to support educators during their first years of teaching and for the rest of their educational journeys. Refer to the Mentor Program tabs, #LBLeads 2019-2020 and #LBLeads 2020-21 in my digital portfolio as a window into my experiences.
Making the Commitment
Every year, school districts around the world entrust thousands of new educators to serve their communities as they hire and provide them with a special opportunity to begin long, meaningful educational careers. Most likely, these educators have endured rigorous processes that have determined that they are capable of making an unmistakable and everlasting impact on the lives of the world’s most precious gifts….children. Make no mistake about it, when one makes a commitment to becoming an educator, they are assuming a tremendous responsibility to create pathways of promise that have the power to influence learners for the rest of their lives.
A Calling Teaching is not just something you do, it’s a calling; it’s a beautiful gift; it’s an opportunity to unleash the talents within every human being you encounter; it’s a time to cultivate powerful relationships that have the chance to stand the test of time; teaching creates a space to collaborate with colleagues and builds bridges to connect previous learning to new and innovative ideas. Educators are responsible for shaping significant moments in time that can leave profound imprints in the hearts and minds of every learner they touch. Teaching is also hard work. It can be extremely emotional. It can be draining. But, it’s so incredibly rewarding. That being said, how can school districts build on the strengths of new teachers while providing them with the appropriate support for continuous growth and development? There is one phrase that comes to mind: Mentorship Matters!
Why Mentorship Matters
Developing a strong mentor program has one of the highest returns on investment. Leveraging the creation of powerful professional learning communities will foster the next generation of teacher leaders and help educators see the value of being in a constant state of learning and transformation. According to the New York State Mentoring Standards, “Teacher induction is critical to the overall preparation and professional development of beginning teachers and builds on their continuum of experiences from pre-service programs to ongoing career development spanning time as described within the Teacher Career Development Continuum. Coupled with mentoring standards, induction accelerates the process of creating highly effective teachers whose goal is to enhance student learning and achievement.” Establishing and implementing a strong mentor program enables novice teachers to be guided by mentors to help learners reach their maximum social-emotional, cognitive, and academic growth throughout their school years and beyond. This distinguished responsibility empowers more experienced educators to take everything they have learned and “pay it forward,” to help new teachers acclimate to the culture and climate of an organization, shatter the walls of isolation during the inception of their careers, and shape the next generation of teacher leaders.
Align with State Mentoring Standards– It is paramount to refer to the Mentoring Standards provided by the state/country you reside in. These standards offer a set of guidelines that are critical to teacher induction and to the design and implementation of relevant and meaningful learning experiences. This enables the Mentor Coordinator to establish systemic efforts that will shape and sustain the first experiences in the careers of new teachers.
Voice and Choice– It is vital to include educators in the decision making process to share what kinds of professional learning they want to experience. It is also critical to recognize that educators enter the teaching profession with many strengths and areas for growth. It is also the responsibility of the Mentor Coordinator to ensure that the professional learning choices are grounded in the vision and mission of your school district. As an example, providing educators with a Google Form with a list of choices as well as a space to add any additional thoughts/ideas for professional growth will empower them to take ownership over their learning.
Professional Learning Communities- By establishing a learner-centered culture of trust, connection, communication, and collaboration, educators have an opportunity to see the value in intentionally creating spaces to collectively set reasonable, learner-driven, evidence informed goals and share ideas of instructional practice that will benefit ALL learners in their organizations they live in. Not only will this improve the skills, expertise, and knowledge through professional dialogue, it will foster a desire to improve educational aspirations, achievement, and cultivate the next generation of teacher leaders. These teacher leaders will become an integral part of a cycle that improves and encourages innovative teaching and learning practices.
Select a Professional Book as a Framework- One of the most valuable components of a strong Mentor Program is to find timeless professional books by outstanding authors who can share their authentic experiences as educators at different levels of an organization. These are books that encompass innovative and relevant messages that will stand the test of time regardless of what transpires in education. These leaders in education bring a special and unique value to the learning experiences you commit to embark on. Take a deep dive into these books and be sure to connect the messages of the authors with your district’s mission and vision. These are the books that will serve as frameworks to drive the learning process. The books I intentionally chose are The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and Personal and Authentic by Thomas C. Murray. Both of these authors have shared incredible resources and have been continuously accessible and supportive to the new teachers, their mentors, and me in our efforts to keep learners at the heart of decision-making and implement lifelong practices that will prepare learners for any path they choose to create.
Invite Other Voices- It is crucial to highlight the educators within your organization to facilitate professional learning experiences. This provides new teachers with opportunities to connect with other educators across the school district, but also elevates the teacher leaders and administrators that can share their knowledge and best teaching and learning practices with your educational community. Additionally, you will want to invite educators/speakers outside of your school district who can offer a fresh perspective on various topics in education. Those voices are also valued as they have seen the work of other school districts around the world and can share a lens that can push your thinking outside of your comfort zones!
Create a Digital Footprint: I have always stressed the importance of making your learning visible by sharing best teaching and learning practices with colleagues in your organization and beyond. By creating a Mentor Program hashtag and Twitter handle, this allows participants in the program to showcase the incredible work within their learning spaces to a larger community. This will in turn help other educators create and form ideas that will ultimately benefit all learners! Feel free to check out the #LBLeads and @LBMentorProgram hashtag I created for the Mentor Program I facilitate.
Connected and Networked: In The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros says, “Being in spaces where people actively share ideas makes us smarter.” Social media provides a space to connect with other educators who can share our mindsets, but also push our thinking to create new and better ideas. It is in these spaces where we can get inspiration from other educators and organizations outside of education to try something we haven’t thought of before. Creating a culture of learning and innovation happens when meaningful connections are made beyond the walls of the organizations we live in. It is within these spaces that new possibilities are discovered to benefit learners who have the potential to make change today and in the future!
Give Recognition: Everyone within an educational organization works tirelessly to meet the needs of their learners. New teachers are acclimating to the culture and climate of a district, are learning to understand their community, are building new relationships, learning new standards, and a new curriculum, while meeting the needs of all families and students. They deserve all the recognition in the world! Celebrate your teacher leaders. It is human nature to want to feel valued and recognized. At Mentor Meetings, highlight the work they have been doing by looking through the hashtag you created and put those tweets on a few slides! Have them explain their “why” behind their practices. For the educators who are not on social media, have them send pictures of their work and get their permission to share! The return on this investment of time will be monumental!
I think it is safe to say that I have stared at the calendar this week more than any other app on my phone. When I open the calendar app to get the full view, I immediately begin swiping backward. First I count how many months it’s been since March 13, 2020. Do you want to know how many? It’s been almost 6 months! Then, I’m not sure why I did this, but I even counted the days. Do you want to know how many? An unbelievable 170 days! I have actually interrupted myself in mid-stare, blinking my eyes several times to make sure that I am still seeing the correct month and date on the calendar. It couldn’t possibly be the end of August, could it? I’ll admit that I have also been relentlessly checking my commitments as I always have this fear that I could potentially miss another Zoom meeting (which I did this week by the way), one of my son’s baseball practices, and much needed personal appointments with family and/or friends. All of the months and days are blending together like mixing paints on a palette. The colors that once stood out as vibrant have transformed into a variety of shades; a blurred version of its original appearance. As I have watched the month of August slip away just like the colors on a paint palette swiftly metamorphose into unique, unfamiliar colors, I finally figured out why I am suddenly consumed with the calendar numbers.
Here’s What I’m Thinking
Here are my thoughts about my obsession with time: There are moments when my internal clock is still telling me that it is March 2020, even though I clearly know that it is not. There are moments where I can feel the pressure of expeditious transformation. This includes rapidly learning digital platforms and tools, reading blogs, books, and articles about the obstacles educators and learners are facing as the entire landscape of education shifted so abruptly. This includes diving deep into professional learning experiences headfirst and learning news things to support colleagues and learners in virtual environments. Do you know where else my mind wandered to? I have been thinking about all I have accomplished along with other educators around the world in such a short period of time. I have been thinking about the connections I have made with people I didn’t even know 6 months ago. I am thinking about the new tools I have in my repertoire to build capacity in educators and learners. I am thinking about moving forward and never wishing to turn back time because I can’t. And then, as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across this tweet by Thomas C. Murray:
For this school year, our WHAT and our HOW have changed….significantly.
This is just what I needed to see. “For this school year, our WHAT and our HOW have changed…significantly. But our WHY hasn’t!! We can’t lose sight of that.” WOW! And just as I began reflecting on this quote and recognizing that my WHY has not and WILL NOT ever change. Of course with more knowledge and experience, it has certainly evolved, but the core of my WHY is exactly the same. I always ask myself, how can I create learning experiences that will empower students to reach their full social, emotional, and academic potential? Moments later, I noticed that this Tweet resurfaced and was showing up in my feed numerous times in the same day.
Educators: The first day of school is an amazing opportunity. What can you do on Day 1 that has your kids running back to you on Day 2? We can’t forget: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Make the first day count! #FutureReadypic.twitter.com/6d7PkiSXpj
If you are an educator…PLAY THE VIDEO ABOVE! It’s inspiring, it’s empowering, it’s beautiful. Although this post was from one year ago, it is still and will always be relevant to the work we do as educators no matter what learning environment we are in. What will YOU do on day 1 that will have learners running back to YOUR classroom on day 2 and all the days after (whether it is in the physical or virtual space)? How will you create a culture and community of learners that want to learn alongside you because they know you care about making learning fun?
Worth the Investment
Recently, I was also inspired by Katie Martin’s blog titled, 10 Ways Professional Learning Can Model the Practices that Engage and Empower Learners in Distance Learning. When you get a chance, read it! She discusses how vital human connection and effective teaching and learning practices are for efficient implementation and execution of distance learning. Katie beautifully states, “Although there are great tech tools and many programs that at first glance can seem to minimize complexity when everything continues to shift, we have to remember as we plan for the fall and beyond that there is no substitute for a teacher. Now more than ever we need teachers who can connect with students, guide them on their path and codesign authentic, participatory, and relevant learning experiences based on their needs, strengths, and questions.” Katie is right, technology will NEVER replace an amazing educator who spends the time getting to know their learners and is responsive to their needs in intentional ways. She inspired me to think deeply about what I will continue to invest in as we approach unfamiliar territory this school year.
Building and Maintaining Strong Relationships and Genuine Connections
Getting to Know Learners’ Passions and Interests
Embracing Failure as an Opportunity to Grow
Setting New Norms and Expectations
Quality Over Quantity
Listening to Understand and Learn
Creating Spaces for Voice, Choice, and Collaboration
The BIG Question: Are You Ready?
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been getting the same question over and over again. It goes something like this, “Are you ready for the school year Lauren? It happens everywhere…on the beach, on the street, through text messages, phone calls, and recent small group gatherings. My answer is yes… I am ready to cultivate strong relationships. I am ready to stay true to my core beliefs. I am ready to embrace every learner. I am ready to utilize the tools and resources I have curated over time. I am ready to collaborate and share my learning with other educators. I am ready to invite families in as learning partners. I am ready to troubleshoot and fail. I am ready to use failure as an opportunity to refine my practice. I am ready to have patience and show grace to all. I am ready to lean on my PLC and PLN for confirmation, feedback, and support. I am ready to continue to commit to the path I was destined for. I am ready to move through the days in the calendar with intention and purpose. I am ready to use many minutes in the days to reflect on my practice, who I am as an educator, and the legacy I will continue to write.
I have been in education for 15 years and throughout my career, I have served in many roles at the Elementary level. This includes Teaching Assistant, Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, and most recently, Instructional Coach. Throughout the trajectory of my career, I have always worked to challenge myself in every position I have ever served in. Each position has taught me how to fine-tune what I know and do; each position has allowed me to see and focus on my strengths and the strengths of others in order to provide the best opportunities for students to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential; each position has allowed to me stay true to my core beliefs while learning new ways to approach teaching and learning. And because I have been fortunate to travel this path, I recognize the value every role brings to an organization. Over the course of time, I have asked myself, “How can I continue to honor my core belief system as I navigate the different roles I serve in?” At the heart of this journey, it became clear to me that developing relationships, connecting, being human, and leading with empathy and grace, opens doors to creating a community of learners who work together to ambitiously develop solutions to instructional challenges.
Not the Same Educator
Five years ago my school district decided to invest in job-embedded professional learning at the Elementary level. They reached to educators within the organization who had a strong background in literacy to elevate literacy practices and bring shared experiences to four buildings. When I took on the role of Literacy Coach, my school district had already committed to embracing the balanced literacy approach; this is an approach to reading and writing instruction I feel very strongly about to the core as learners can authentically engage in rich literacy experiences including the reading and writing workshop, interactive read alouds, shared reading, small group instruction, one-on-one conferencing, and have choice and voice as they get to self-select from diverse texts across a plethora of genres. This was an opportunity to work side-by-side with teachers as I got to collaboratively write curriculum and develop meaningful assessments with teachers, students, administrators, and literacy consultants. Over the course of a few years, we developed 73 Units of Study that were grounded in the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project philosophy. I got to work intimately with the other Literacy Coach, a brilliant colleague, and friend as we rallied teachers together to analyze, reflect, and revise a live curriculum to meet the needs of a diverse population. Additionally, we purposefully and intentionally took an audit of all elementary classroom libraries and ordered books and mentor texts to support learners and enhance the curriculum. Furthermore, we vertically aligned the curriculum, so there was a smooth progression of literacy development from K-5 that was aligned to the learning standards. In the last few years, I worked with my other Instructional Coach colleagues to ensure continuity of instruction in the Reading and Writing Workshop model, provided meaningful professional learning experiences during faculty and grade-level meetings, and participated in formal and informal conversations about student learning. All of this heart work has always been grounded in best practice. Best practices and systems are what guided this incredible experience. During this time, my coaching belief system was shaped by Jim Knight’sSeven Partnership Principles (introduced to me by Jessica Gruttola during an Instructional Coaching workshop). These principles influenced conversations, theory, and practice. These are the principles that supported my team as we embarked on the mission of creating positive change. If we modeled the change we wanted to see by consistently using the Partnership Principles as a guide while keeping learners at the heart of the decision-making process, we were off to great things!
It was this work that led me to deeply understand what teaching and learning practices would best support learners in order to move them to higher levels, guide them towards independence, and create lifelong learners.
Coaching work I facilitated in faculty, grade level, and one-on-one meetings.
Taking A Leap of Faith
This year I am taking a leap of faith as I enthusiastically join the Middle School team where I will serve as a Literacy Specialist. Although I will always keep my years of elementary experience close to my heart, I am incredibly excited to continue to collaborate, connect, network, reflect, and share all I have learned in every role I have ever had the privilege of serving in with colleagues and learners. I am also inviting the learning curve that will come with acclimating to a new culture and climate. I will learn for, about, and with new leadership, colleagues, and learners. In making the transition from Elementary to Middle School, I believe that there is great strength in knowing and understanding the building blocks of learning, where the students are coming from, and what skills they should have mastered. If we work together towards building a bridge that will reinforce what they know while making new connections to learning, there will be a strong vertical progression of literacy development. As I make this transformation to the middle level, there is one thing I know for sure… I will continue to honor my own core belief system and the teaching and learning practices I am so insanely passionate about. As I continue on my educational journey, I will never forget the experiences I have been a part of and the people who have impacted my growth along the way. They are all a part of who I am, and that will never change!
Keeping Partnership Principles at the Core
I created the infographic below to demonstrate how Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching Partnership Principles translate to working with learners using a balanced literacy approach. I believe that belief systems in education can be applied to any learning environment, if they are in fact, best practices!
Call me stubborn, but I refuse to quit! T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. is the foundation to success in learning and life! Exploring the dynamics of a successful classroom and how grit is a vital characteristic for student achievement