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!
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!
A Special Note: Many months ago, I was encouraged by George Couros to create a digital portfolio in order to highlight and archive my learning. These conversations started before the COVID-19 global pandemic emerged as one of the most challenging and life-changing events in history. During the quarantine, I connected with Kristen Nan and Jacie Maslyk, co-authors of All In: Taking a Gamble on Education in a book study Voxer group. This is when Kristen invited me to co-blog on her website. This was a great opportunity to test drive blogging. The experience was incredible and gave me the confidence to take George’s advice and create my own platform. One of the first blogs I wrote during this time was Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. The purpose of this blog was to keep the workshop model alive during emergency remote learning. I wanted to share my experiences with other educators and show them that what may seem impossible is in fact, possible.
With that being said, as I learn more about implementing the workshop model in physical and virtual learning spaces simultaneously, I want to share my process with other educators. So, I welcome you to the beginning of a series of blogs titled: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. I will break up my learning process and the workshop model framework into various components so that they are easier to digest. Please understand that my learning is constantly evolving and all of these ideas may be revised over the course of time!
There is a certain kind of magic that lives within an educational universe. If you orbit around an organization and open the doors, you will find sparks of light. These sparks of light shine brightly because they are ignited by communities of educators who pour their souls into maximizing and elevating learning experiences for kids. It’s that spark that ignites into flames when curiosity and wonder spread like wildfire. It’s that spark that rallies a community of learners together to support one another through the learning process. It’s that spark that embraces the idea of agency, voice, choice, and productive struggle. It’s that spark that empowers and guides learners towards independence. And just as the flames happily dance and spread around our magical learning hubs, the intensity of the flames can just as easily be disrupted, startled, dimmed, faded. What happened to the magic? I’ll tell you in one word: CHANGE. When change invites itself through our doors, it can be paralyzing. It can be suffocating. It can be stressful. It can be shocking. It can also be eye-opening.
Change is the Epicenter of the Journey
I have been in education for 15 years and I can assure you that change has been the epicenter of my journey. Most of the time, change has been a gradual occurrence that happens over a steady course of time. It’s so slow, that at times, it cannot be recognized until it’s looking you straight in the eyes. However, recently change has looked quite different in the world of education. Across the globe, educators have been pushed to rethink education. Educators have been challenged to question their core values. Educators have been pushed to revisit their philosophical beliefs. Educators have been remixing existing teaching and learning practices that have lived in the nucleus of their daily lives and in the book Innovate Inside the Box, George Couros brilliantly states, “I’ve long believed that change isn’t to be feared; it is an opportunity to do something amazing…Change will come our way. We can “go” through it or “grow” through it. We grow when we seek out solutions rather than letting those obstacles hinder us.” This quote resonates even more deeply since the Covid-19 global pandemic has jolted the more traditional educational landscape we have always lived and known. I’ll admit when shifting to emergency remote learning and now teaching in physical and virtual spaces simultaneously, I have paused multiple times and questioned the what and the how. I have questioned whether or not the philosophy of the workshop model can live on in virtual environments. I have questioned if I can make the workshop model come alive for learners the same way I did in physical learning environments. Katie Martin, author of Learner-Centered Innovation confirms how vital developing solutions are to the barriers of change with this astute notion, “If the world is changing, the evidence and research become irrelevant if you don’t consider a new context.” And if we want to reach learners effectively, we MUST consider the new educational contexts that have been thrust upon us. We cannot look back, we must keep moving forward! And then, I came across a tweet from Thomas C. Murray, author of Personal & Authentic that spoke to my core, solidified these ideas, and reminded me of my why. And when I revisited my WHY, I knew it is to continuously cultivate lifelong learners who feel empowered to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential. And then, I realized that through the workshop model, I can continue to rally together a community of learners and build community by prioritizing the social-emotional needs of students and keeping “who” we teach at the heart of the learning journey.
Choosing What is Right
I have encountered many people who have embraced different educational philosophies. I have listened to theories and have read multiple books and articles by countless leaders and experts in the field of education. I have indulged in and have digested several perspectives about various topics with the intention of catapulting learners to academic success through multiple kinds of curricula and teaching and learning practices. And every time I have read an article, a book, or listened to a podcast, I used to think, wow, this must be the magic prescription for success. In my earlier years of teaching, when I was handed a curriculum, I followed it to a T. I thought that the curriculum itself was the key driver of developing a learner’s social, emotional, and academic potential. I thought that the people who were responsible for making decisions about the curriculum knew best and I looked to them as the experts. Now I know better. Now I know that the learners are the curriculum. They tell you what they need. I learned that there is not one single curriculum that works best for all learners. I know that every curriculum must be viewed as flexible and should be modified to meet learners’ needs. Knowing this made me realize that I can adapt the Workshop Model in both physical and virtual spaces. Knowing this helped me understand that I can revise the implementation and the process at any time. Knowing this made me feel more comfortable with taking risks, sometimes meet those risks with failure, share and reflect on those experiences with colleagues, and recognize that it’s an opportunity for growth.
The Workshop Model Will Live On
Suddenly, a spark was ignited within me…I knew that by inviting this change, I was still going to continue to honor my belief system and keep the magic of the workshop model alive. I felt committed to implementing what I have known to be best practices in the new context we are living in. It is because I believe that this is the framework that empowers learners to become confident readers and writers. This is the framework that guides them towards independence. On October 17, 2020, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project held their first virtual Saturday Reunion. When I logged in to watch and listen from the comfort of my own home, Lucy Calkins was delivering her opening remarks. She said “We need to be as connected as we can be…Teaching is about holding onto the faith that the work we do matters. This is hard to hold onto right now. Even if it feels that nothing is going well, we need to show up.” These are powerful words that made me ask myself again…How can I rally learners together and build community when we are teaching in both physical and virtual learning spaces simultaneously? What can I do to cultivate meaningful connections and develop relationships with face-to-face and virtual learners? What new and existing tools can I utilize to support the execution of the gradual release of responsibility? I know that while navigating this learning journey, I must continue to be patient, I must continue to give myself grace, I must continue to be open to feedback from my colleagues, my PLN, and my students who are living this with me, and I must show up. And as Calkins suggests, I will show up for my students, their families, my community, and my country. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. The fact of the matter is that change has already invited itself through our doors. As George Couros says, “You can fight change, adapt to change, embrace change, create change, or lead change. No matter your choice, change is not going away.” And do you know what else I will not let go away? The Magic of the Workshop Model.
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series:Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 2: Rallying Learners and Building Community
My first full week of the 2020-2021 school year is in the books! And although I have had 15 first weeks in education… let me tell you something, this particular first week was WILD!!!!!! If you would have told me this time last year, “Lauren, this time next year, you will be teaching reading to middle school learners.” I would have laughed and said, but I have been in the elementary school world for 14 years!” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year you will be teaching three different cohorts of students, face-to-face and virtually simultaneously while social distancing, I would have laughed and asked, “What in the world does social distancing mean and what does virtual teaching look and sound like?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year, you will wear a mask for protection and safety while doing it and you can take a mask break if everyone is working independently and not talking.” I would have laughed and asked, “For my protection and safety from what? AND Don’t we want students talking to one another…sharing and connecting is the jewel of learning, isn’t it?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year, there will be no flexible seating or any desks and tables arranged in groups so students can work comfortably and collaboratively.” I would have laughed and said, “How are learners going to collaborate, have meaningful social interaction, and learn in purposeful ways?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year all professional learning experiences, conferences, and meetings will only be held virtually.” I would have laughed and asked, “How can I build significant connections and continue to network in virtual learning environments? Oh my goodness… after this week, I KNOW that THIS year is not going to be like the rest. And for this reason, I am happy to share some of my learning from this week!
Starting the Year Off Right I am grateful that my school district started the school year off right with having one of my favorite educators and speakers on the planet, George Couros keynote. I discovered George’s book The Innovator’s Mindset a little over a year ago and used his book as a framework to drive the learning in the new teacher mentor program I facilitate. And although I was looking forward to hearing him in person, he brought down the house virtually! He did! Last year, he was able to influence and inspire the teachers in the mentor program and me by sharing his positive messages, experiences, the importance of developing strong relationships, keeping learners front and center of the decision making process, and finding new and better ways to teach and learn. His philosophy and mindset have permanently latched to my core. And while I was listening to him speak on the morning of September 8, 2020, I could feel my heart smile for 60 minutes straight. To me, EVERYONE in the school organization needed to hear his words and messages of positivity. We owe it to the kids and the community we serve to approach THIS year with hope, promise, grace, determination, and the willingness to invite a #NewandBetterNormal into our lives.
Making Connections to the Heart
As you can see in the tweet above, Couros says, “If you want to inspire meaningful change, you have to make a connection to the heart before you make a connection to the mind.” With that being said, I made a deep commitment to get to know the learners I serve in the physical and virtual environments I am teaching in. I dedicated this entire week to get to know my students as human beings first. I do understand that this is a process that will authentically be embedded into my practice and WILL remain ongoing over the course of the school year and beyond! Relationship building is truly an investment of time that will have a monumental impact and influence over the way students approach and access the learning that transpires in the learning spaces we choose to create. Here are the learning experiences I created for middle school learners. All activities can be adapted for K-12 students. Keep in mind that all of these activities were explicitly modeled as I would never ask learners to do something I wouldn’t do myself:
Learning Survey for Families and Students: 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 plan on using 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.
Jamboard to Share Answers From Survey: I wanted to show the students that I took the time to read their surveys and how I value their feedback. I utilized questions from the Learning Survey and had them answer those questions using the sticky note feature on Jamboard. Learners thought this digital tool was very intuitive, fun and easy to use as a collaborative digital tool.
Digital Notebook on Google Slides-Passions and Interests Collage: Students utilized a digital notebook on Google Slides to create a collage about themselves, their passions and interests. They inserted pictures, captions, and colors that represented who they are. This was also a way for them to practice using Google Slides…a digital tool we will be using for various learning activities.
George Couros’ 5 Questions: I used George Couros’ 5 Questions to connect with learners. Students got the opportunity to respond in a Google Form with video embedded directions and/or a Flipgrid video. I am finding that video is a powerful way to connect with learners and simulate more authentic learning experiences, especially the ones who are learning 100% virtually. They get an opportunity to see me and hear me as they learn. I was pleasantly surprised about how many students chose to use Flipgrid. Their responses were incredible!
Setting Classroom Community Agreements in Physical and Virtual Environments: I do not believe in setting the rules and expectations for my classes. Why? It’s because they aren’t MY classes. These are OUR learning spaces. When learners have an opportunity to contribute to community agreements, they take ownership over the norms and promises they create. We utilized Mentimeter’s cloud feature to brainstorm “What makes a GREAT classroom community?” After sharing their ideas, we wrote a summary of the agreements together. After, I dropped the link to the slides into the Google chat, learners committed to the agreements WE created by signing our contract in real time and in a collaborative way. Learners were invited to practice how to experience collaborating on a slide with their peers. We will be using this method for collaboration and response this year. See the process below! Make sure you click on the right arrow to see the video of learners collaborating on the Google Slide!
Tips for Face-To-Face and Remote Teaching
This week, I have lived the experience of teaching learners who are in the physical environment with me while also teaching students who are learning virtually. I am going to share some tips…but I’d like to be clear; these are strategies that are working for ME. I want to give all of the educators around the country and world all of the recognition and credit for approaching this new educational landscape in ways that work for them and their learners. Also note, that I am constantly in a state of reflection and any of these strategies may be revised over the course of the year to meet the needs of my students in intentional ways.
If You Would Have Told Me
So… if you would have told me that THIS year may actually go down in history as the year that has stretched my cognitive capacity in ways I never thought were possible, I wouldn’t have understood how if I wasn’t living it. THIS year is going to be the year where no matter how many times I check my email, new information will be flying into my inbox faster than Mariano Rivera can throw a fastball right over home plate. THIS year will be the year of troubleshooting, failing, and using that failure to learn and grow. THIS year will be the year of showing vulnerability and sharing successes and failures with colleagues so we can learn from each other and do what’s best for students. I know what you’re thinking…well, no two years have EVER been the same Lauren, and I know…they shouldn’t be. That’s because every year we have new students, new staff, new initiatives, new policies, and new procedures in education. And because this year is different from all of the other years, I am going to commit to continuing to write about my experiences and share my learning with other educators because I’m living it. I’m living this wild ride and I want to pay it forward. The truth is, I want to give recognition to all of the educators in my PLC and PLN for sharing their learning over the years. It has made me better and I truly believe that sharing our process can help others serve their learners in this new educational landscape we are living in!
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!
Summers… they are usually a time to exhale, a time to rejuvenate, a time to focus on self-care, a time to engage in meaningful professional learning, a time to reunite, and spend quality time with people you hold dear. In my family, summers are for birthday celebrations, attending sporting events, gathering with friends on the beach, and taking annual trips to Hershey Park or another fun crowd filled destination. And then there is the summer of 2020. A very different summer than any other. Actually, at times, it has been difficult for me to see when summer actually began. Since March 13th, the days have blended together and my learning and hunger for professional growth during these unprecedented times in history has only intensified. I have been relentlessly seeking meaningful opportunities to stretch my capacity for learning in ways I could have never imagined. And believe me, I did not think this was even possible, as historically I already live and breathe literacy and education. Since the organization and flow of a typical year have been interrupted by a global pandemic, I recognize that I may not be fully aware of what day or time it is, but I do know that I will continue to view these challenges as opportunities instead of obstacles. I will also continue to passionately pay attention to anything and everything that will benefit learners as we take a leap of faith into the upcoming school year. As George Couros says in his new #InnovatorsMindset self-paced course Developing the Innovator’s Mindset Through Remote, Face-to-Face, and Blended Learning with regards to being an observant learner (1/8 characteristics of The Innovator’s Mindset) “When you look for things you start to find them… We must learn to make connections with the things we’re doing.” He goes on to ask this question, “How do we look for opportunities and how do we develop that in ourselves?” This is the mindset I am observing in great educators across the world. We are proactively seeking professional growth in pursuit of getting better. There is just no other choice, even if it is summer.
What Exactly are Educators Doing this Summer?
Despite my blurred sense of time,I can communicate with conviction and certainty what exactly it is that educators have been doing. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They are consumed with thinking about the unknowns and the what-ifs and are doing their best to plan accordingly with that in mind. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They are committed to thinking about ways to continue to connect with other educators and forge powerful relationships with students in unconventional learning environments. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They have been lifting the level of their technology literacy, taking classes, and self-paced courses to prepare for the unknown school year. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They are familiarizing themselves with various learning management systems so that they can seamlessly deliver effective instruction and meet the needs of all learners. This summer, do you know whateducators are doing? They are participating in book clubs and are discussing innovative ways to honor traditional practices that have worked while bringing fresh ideas into physical and virtual learning spaces. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They have been spending hours upon hours, meticulously curating relevant resources in digital spaces that are saturated with them. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They have been leaning on colleagues, their PLN, and other go-to educators for ideas and inspiration for how to implement effective face-to-face, distance learning, and/or hybrid learning plans. There’s more: This summer educators are honing their craft and sharing their learning with others. This summer educators arerelentlessly listening to go-to podcasts, reading articles, Elementary, Middle Level, and Young Adult books so that they can recommend new titles to colleagues and students. Do you know what educators are doing? This summer educators are trying to prioritize time for self-care so they can approach the school year with renewed energy. This summer educators are deeply reflecting on what they should start, what they should stop, and what they should continue, all while keeping the students at the heart of the process.
What Exactly are School Leaders Doing this Summer?
Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer school leaders have been tirelessly working with committees involving various stakeholders in their educational communities to create plans for an unprecedented school year while keeping the students’ health, safety, and learning at the forefront of all decision making. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer they have been glued to computer screens, are in Zoom meetings, and in-person socially distant meetings while wearing masks. Do you know what are school leaders doing? This summer they are figuring out ways to get devices into the hands of every single student… they are making sure that ALL students have proper connectivity so they can have equitable access to learning. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer they are measuring classrooms…yes, they are! They are making sure that there is enough space for students to learn in socially distant compliant, safe spaces. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer they are fielding phone calls and questions from community members and families who are concerned about school reopening plans, safety, and the learning that will take place for their children. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer, they are making sure that teachers and staff feel safe to return to work and are busy providing resources and meaningful learning experiences that will support learning in physical and virtual environments. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer, they have been trying to fit in self-care and squeeze in time to spend with loved ones.
Future Ready Schools has shared powerful podcasts titled Leading Through Unprecedented Times that highlight various school leaders from across the country. Each podcast is facilitated by Thomas C. Murray (Director of Innovation) and features school leaders who share their insight, knowledge, and experiences with leading during this challenging time in history.
Some Other Thoughts About What Educators are Doing
This summer educators are agonizing over the hurtful and mean spirited comments chastising educators all over social media. This summer educators are concerned about the misinformation and the virtual pounding they have received from people who are not in education and cannot comprehend that education is a calling (an extension of who you are vs. a job you do). This summer educators are thinking that they want families to know that they will do the very best they can because they deeply care about all learners. This summer, educators are thinking about how important it will be to continue to cultivate strong relationships and continuous communication between school districts and families because there is nothing more important than working together, especially during challenging times! This summer, educators are hopeful. They are hopeful because they know that when the dust settles, we will be better for it. We will have learned new teaching and learning practices, more effective ways to communicate, connect, and collaborate within the educational communities we serve.
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