Who Will You Empower Today?

I was discussing “education things” today with someone and found myself telling the WHY behind what fuels the passion behind my mission.  The WHY behind WHAT drives me.  You can’t tell that I just finished reading Start With Why by Simon Sinek, can you!? 🙂

Before the word empower even left my mouth, I felt the need to explain what I meant.  I felt like it was so cliche.  I felt like it is a word that is being thrown around so much lately, and with that people can take it many different ways to mean different things.  Yet, this is genuinely how I feel so I wanted to be really clear.  I want to empower others – at all levels.

So I began thinking what does the word empower really mean and did what anyone else would do.  I Googled it!

EMPOWER:
1. to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means
2. to enable or permit

I look at this and think it sounds more like a “boss” giving someone permission.  This is not how I view empowering others.  My thoughts align with George Couros’s thoughts in Chapter 6 of The Innovator’s Mindset.  I created an acrostic, using the fabulous resource Buncee, to show what empower means to me.

There are so many empowering leaders out there! Teachers empowering students, students empowering other students, and teachers empowering other teachers!  When we do this, amazing things happen in education.

I want to give a big shout out to 3 people who have empowered me educationally in some way this year.  If you don’t already follow them and learn from them on Twitter, you need to now! 🙂

George Couros

David Kinney

Matt Arend

Whether they see potential in me and give me confidence to see it in myself, give encouragement and inspire me, challenge me to continue learning and growing, or ask me the hard questions to keep the why in focus – I THANK THEM for making me better.   I thank them for pushing me to the edge of my comfort zone so that I can be a better educator.

Everyone needs someone to empower them to be better!

Who will you empower today?

Choosing Vulnerability Over Isolation…It’s Worth It

Lately I have been tweeting about how the best thing for personal and student growth, improvement, data collecting, etc. is peer observations.  This is something that I stand behind so strongly because of personal experience.  Now don’t get me wrong, the right attitudes need to be in place for this to be successful.  

1. You must WANT to do this and see the purpose.  
2. You must know it is not one more thing you have to do, but something you GET to do.
3. You must be able to LISTEN with an open mind.
4. You must TAKE ACTION in some way based on this feedback.   
I have written before about how lucky I am to GET to do these observations with my GCISD VALOR group.  Let me tell you, there is not one observation we walk away from not learning something to take away and use!  
This past month our Literacy Specialist Leader, Amy Montemayor, set this same situation up for all of us.  When she told us about it I was so excited!  For some reason, many people hear the word specialist in a title and automatically think we have all the answers.  We don’t! We are learning and growing just like everyone else and we need to have those opportunities to do so. Something I often hear from other Literacy Specialists and others who may not understand our role is that we are on an island.  I always have to stop right there and refer back to a George Couros quote:
We are not alone on an island, unless we choose to be. 
I was thrilled we were given the time to observe other Literacy Specialists using the same Dyslexia intervention we are, as well as other ones because it allowed us to see how we can change simple things to make our instruction better.  It allowed us to see small things we can change that we never would have thought of without an extra set of eyes!
For me, it was having extra sets of eyes on a group I work with that has me on my toes daily! I was dying for feedback on anything else I could do to make this current situation work better for us?!  Even though we have talked about it in meetings, it wasn’t until I had people come observe that they were able to see and offer suggestions.  I had an open mind listening to their feedback. I wasn’t defensive about what I was doing, I was vulnerable and wanting advice.  I tried a few of their ideas the next day, and you know what….it helped!!  
We can choose to be on an island and continue to hope things will change for us.(But really, we all know that doing the same thing over and over gets the same results!) Or we can choose to ask our team to come watch us and offer suggestions.  That team can be anyone…principals, teachers from other schools, instructional coaches, liaisons, specialists, teammates..you name it.  We are better together. Everyone wants to support others and help, we just have to ask!
I want to thank our leader, Amy, for creating the opportunities for these observations in a role that has never done this.  A role that not many people look at and think we need to do this. Your innovative thinking forced us to be vulnerable.  It forced us to make that scary jump.  It has inspired many in our group and allowed us to see the importance of growing by learning from others. It is so refreshing!

Go Observe – Leave Your Island For the Beach

We all know that teachers are amazing!  Teachers have amazing ideas.  Teachers work miracles with such little resources. Wait, you don’t know that?  Why not?  I am going to guess it is probably because you are teaching your children inside your classroom walls with little time to even be able to care what anyone else is doing in their classroom. I get it. Time is always at the heart of frustration in education.

Let me just say one thing, YOU ARE MISSING OUT!

We are truly missing out on the best opportunities for teacher AND student growth if we are not observing other teachers.  Unless teachers are provided opportunities to observe other teachers, we miss out on the most valuable resources we have out there – each other.

Here is a great article from Education World that explains the importance of this.
http://goo.gl/kUvZko

As I read articles and tweets about the value of observing teachers, I am reminded of how great we have it in Grapevine-Colleyville ISD!  Here are two things that place teacher observation/feedback high up there.

VALOR

This is the summary taken straight from our GCISD website
“The Vanguard Association of Learning, Observation, and Reflection is a group of innovative, growth-minded teachers striving to reach new heights as educators as they work collaboratively to advance the achievement of their students through observation, reflection and scholarship.”

I am so fortunate to be part of this group. The innovative thinking and collaboration that happens here is phenomenal. I will have to say the best part is the reflection process that happens. Prior to us coming to observe the teacher has created a list of things he/she wants us to give feedback on. After the lesson, not only do WE reflect, but our observations are given to the teacher and HE/SHE reflects on the lesson and our feedback with an instructional coach. This is where change happens! It’s very self-reflective. It’s fun to see high school teachers and elementary teachers finding common grounds and learning strategies that both can use!

What makes this work: Building relationships! Before the year starts, our group invests time building relationships so that trust is established and we can truly reflect on our teaching without being defensive or getting our feelings hurt. I am very thankful for leaders who realize this trust must be established first.

Campus TIGER WALKS
My principal has combined this concept with learning walks to our campus level. They are called Tiger Walks because our campus mascot is a tiger. 🙂 The entire faculty creates a Personalized Learning Plan. We focus on district goals, campus goals, and individual goals. We choose one of our individual goals we are working on and create a Look Fors document that is put into a QR code. These QR codes are outside of our classroom doors. When a staff member comes in they scan the code to see what that teacher would like for them to be observing. A Google Doc pops up and the observer checks off what they see. Not what they infer may have happened right before they got there, but what they see right then.

Intimidating?! Think again. As a staff, we all know there is no way that one person will have all things in a lesson every time. These are brief and the data is over time. We look at this data on our own to reflect and have conversations to make sure we are meeting our personal goals.

Once again, the power of building relationships of trust and growing together remains at the heart of these to make them successful.

It is not like Twitter where you share thoughts, stories, and ideas with other people and “favorite” these to try later. Observations that are intentional create a more vulnerable experience. The feedback given is so specific that it makes all the “butterflies” worth it! Once you try it, you will not want to stop!  There is some major power in teachers watching other teachers not to critique, evaluate, or judge. The power is revealed in the changes that come from this other set of eyes providing SMART feedback on a specific desired behavior.

One of my favorite quotes to remember!
Are you uncomfortable?  If not, take the first step and ask someone to watch you in an area where you want advice or help. Ask them to come observe a lesson you are working on. Ask to go observe someone else in an area you feel you need to grow.  I promise others will love to do this, and it will change your teaching!  
Teachers are true heroes and have amazing ideas.  We are crazy if we think that each teacher calls kids to the carpet for circle up the same way.  Imagine what you can learn in a 10-minute learning walk or observation that might change your whole world!  You might just find the answer to something you have been struggling to make work in your classroom!!  

Let’s view our profession as more of a public beach, not an isolated island.


Leadership – It Takes A Village

When you hear the word LEADERSHIP, what comes to mind?

          Superintendent? Principal? Curriculum Directors?

Lately, I have been participating in many Twitter chats where leadership has been the topic. My normal ones are #txeduchat, #IAedchat, #PISDbkclub, and #edslowchat.  I’m not a principal, but the topic of leadership is of high interest to me and here is why. For awhile now I have felt that leadership does not just come from the principal alone.  It can come from coaches, teachers, paras, custodians, parents, and most importantly, from the students!  You’ve heard it said, it takes a village to do this thing called life.  The same goes for education.

Many thoughts have been swirling around my head on this topic because even though we already know this, when we are truly honest about it, how many of us shy away from stepping up? There are so many reasons to fear shared leadership, especially if you are an introvert. Believe it or not, I lean more to that side. 🙂

  • It’s scary to be pushed out of your comfort zone.  
  • It’s scary to not know the “why” behind the changes happening.
  • It’s scary to admit you might not know an answer. (And to be okay with that.)
  • It’s scary to put yourself out there and think you are being judged or evaluated.
  • It’s scary speaking in front of peers. Need I say more?!
It’s scary, but we know that when we all contribute…. real transformation happens!!

This year my role changed from years as a classroom teacher to a literacy intervention specialist.  After the first week without a classroom of kids I could hug and laugh with, I thought, “What on earth did I just do?!” (Whew! I said it. The first step is admitting it, right!?)

Fortunately for me, that quickly changed!   I consider myself the luckiest Literacy Intervention Specialist because my principal understands and encourages my passion for learning and sharing new ideas, teaching and being around kids, and taking risks to try innovative things.  I have the luxury of not only providing intervention services for students, but I get to go into the classrooms to support teachers in great literacy instruction by co-teaching/modeling lessons!  This is truly the BEST of both worlds!

How did I get so lucky you ask?

My principal recognizes the value of shared leadership.  He seeks out strengths in all teachers and gives the gentle push to have them lead some area of our campus in some way. We have amazing teachers.  Too many times classroom teachers never have a chance to get “out” to see the awesomeness of each other.

But wait, this also happens with students! Classroom teachers know the strengths of their students more than anyone else!  It is our duty to guide our students to recognize their own strengths and the strengths in each other.  It is our duty to teach them how to use these to benefit everyone. Along those same lines, teaching our students to know their weaknesses and when to ask for help is just as important. There is nothing I love more than seeing kids step up as leaders!

My reflections on shared leadership:

  • Trust, Trust, and Trust each other.  Know that we are all teaching every child in our building. 
  • When everyone in the building steps up and leads, everyone in the building grows.
  • When teachers feel they are part of the HOW and WHY decisions of their classroom they are willing to do anything!
  • When students feel they have a voice and are part of the decisions in their education trust and ownership happen.
  • When parents feel they have a voice in their child’s education, trust in the school increases.  They are happy because their kids are happy. This empowers them to speak about the good things happening in schools.
Do you see the spiral of transformation that can happen if we practice shared leadership? 
This quote sums up WHY we need to involve EVERYONE in the process.  Imagine the great things that can happen!

Lessons of Growth and Connecting Resulting from the Sadness of Change

Okay, so I know that lately I have been blogging about many things close to my heart….well, this one will not be any different!  Writing helps sort through my thinking, learning, emotions…and I have had such strong emotions about this lately.  This morning something knocked me over the head and said, “Stop focusing on the sad part…Imagine the great things you can do!”  You know what, that something was right!

A few days ago, I went up to my new classroom for the first time since May.  You know that feeling of….”Oh my, where do I even begin?”  You stand there and stare for a bit.  Then, once you start looking around, “Oh yeah, I forgot I had THIS!”  Then, your friend from across the hall comes over and you start talking and…..2 hours later y’all have nothing done!  Or is that just me? 😉

This year was a bit different for me.  My heart was a little heavy as I walked into my room because I didn’t have my teaching right arm, my other half that has been across the hall from me for years. And my dear friend. After staring at this room for a minute, I sat down and checked Facebook.  🙂  Isn’t that what every teacher who is still on summer break, but decides to go get a glance at what lies ahead then gets overwhelmed does?!

  

I saw that my sweet friend posted she was in her classroom too, and missing me!  I knew right then, we need to find a way to be strong through this and make an even bigger difference in the lives of children.  After messaging my friend that I missed her too, I began to get to work.

In case you are wondering, I did get some things done!  Does anyone think it might have to do with the fact that my friend wasn’t across the hall?  LOL!  After seeing her at a district meeting yesterday, we both laughed at the fact that we were not sure how we could do it without each other, but noticed we got a lot accomplished on this working day because we didn’t have each other there.  Oh, the irony.

So, this brings me to my big A-HA moment of today. As I sat and thought about this, my friend emailed asking about a digital creation we did with our kids on the first day that we ALL loved and that helped us really get to know our kids. As I emailed her back, my mind quickly slipped into it’s comfort of our “thing”……(insert my smiling heart), which is feeding off each other’s ideas, which in turn sparks new ones, which sparks discussion of changing things, and at the end of our conversation the lesson we had in mind is now better than it ever began because we had each other to talk it through

Instantly I knew, we do not need to be across the hall to talk it through.  We just need to reach out to each other however we can.  Isn’t that what all educators need to do? Reach out and connect. Sometimes as educators we are so married to the idea of our “team”, our “grade level”, and our own campus that we rarely look outside the walls of our own little box to get new, refreshing ideas or hear something that just might challenge our thinking. Is it the fear of change?  The fear of standing out alone?  The fear of the unknown?  For me, it was the fear of feeling emotions of sadness that I didn’t want to feel because my known was changing to unknown.

I want to share this picture I posted on Twitter.  This is my sweet friend, Laura Follett.  I can surprisingly say that where we are great together, it will be this moment where we will be even better because of many things.  For one, we are both in new positions with new people and without each other.  We can learn so many things and SHARE what we learn from seeing a different perspective.  Another reason is that we are growing educators!  We reach out, connect, and want to learn as much as we can from the smartest people out there so that we can SHARE with everyone we know! But that doesn’t mean I won’t miss her to pieces.  🙂  Who will give me MY hug when I get emotional about a child and cry?  Who will remind me to slow down because they are the chillest person I know and I am all over the place?! Maybe those things won’t happen on a daily basis with her, but I DO KNOW we are only a phone call, text, or email away from supporting, challenging, pushing, motivating, and being there for each other!  That’s what matters most.  Connecting whatever way we can.

My HOPE is that every educator has that person to reach out to and talk it through.  Two minds are always better than one!  Hey, go for three or four minds and imagine the possibilities!!  

Collaborating within the school is very important, but so is collaborating across the district, and even more so with the world!  We teach our kids to blog and connect globally to learn from each other.  We want them to experience the ideas of others and be well rounded.  We teach them the importance of making new connections and building relationships in order to be awesome in this world today. Are WE doing this?  I’d like to think that as a whole, yes we are…thanks to Twitter!  (If you haven’t made friends with Twitter as an educational tool, you are completely missing out on the BEST PROFESSIONAL development and relationship builder out there!!)  

We are all in this together for the reason of changing the lives of children!  It’s all about the children.  Always. No great teacher ever changed lives by saying, “I would like to stay in my room by myself and just do the boring lessons I have always done and leave after the bell.”

Reach out to those teachers on your team, across the hall, on your campus, on another campus, on another campus in another grade (getting crazy now, huh?!), on Twitter at another school in your state, or even another country!!  There are amazing people out there and there is no better time than NOW to connect to make a difference! I’m so excited for my year at my new school with all the great people there!!!  I hope your year is full of happiness and excitement in the lives of your students and YOU!

Virtual Voyage – Book Study

I just finished The Energy Bus by John Gordon this week and it was exactly what I needed!

First, let me talk about the book study/club piece of it.  We read this for our VALOR meeting and each day we had TIME given to us to read a little and discuss with different people.  Our leaders modeled for us the many ways of discussing with groups that we could take back into our classrooms, which made it more fun!

Here are the PROS about book studies:
– Having the time to discuss a book in depth with others deepens our learning.

– Discussing the book and making connections with other people allows you a chance to really listen to others and develop new friendships.  

– Discussing a book with others allows you to see things from a new perspective.

– Seeing things from a new perspective gives you new ideas and fresh thinking about things.  Some of these things may be things you have never thought about.

– Discussing a book with others gives you a sense of community and a meaningful, purpose for reading the book in the first place.

Isn’t this what we want the readers in our classroom to feel?  Purpose, Community, Deep Learning, Meaningful…..all things I want!  

Second, I want to go on record saying that every single person should read this book!  I always read it to my classroom to establish the community and positivity at the beginning of the year, but it is the children’s version.  They do have one.  After reading this book, I felt so empowered about not letting anyone or anything suck the positive energy out of me!  How easy it can happen in our profession, but oh how so important it is that we not allow it.  We have that choice.  We are the DRIVER of our BUS!  🙂

If you haven’t read this book, I HIGHLY recommend it.  It is a quick, easy read and one you will want to reread every year.

My New Journey

I am beginning a new journey in my career.  I am now the Literacy Intervention Teacher at O.C. Taylor Elementary.  After 7 years at Dove, this is a change for me.  I am super excited about this opportunity and what it has done for me.  I have met some of the sweetest people already, and it’s only June 19th.

At our VALOR Summer Visioning Institute I was able to bond with even more people in our district.  The chance to have that time to build relationships is HUGE in the field of teaching.  We need to value each other, trust each other, and work together in order to change the world and what better way that developing relationships!  Building trust and having “your person” (Grey’s Anatomy) to go to and find better ways to engage your students, or a new way to get a concept secured in a child’s brain, or just support when you need to cry is invaluable!

I will soon create a new blog page that focuses on literacy, but until then I only switched my title so I can keep my summer virtual voyage through this blog.  I still have my precious firsties and their work on here because I am taking baby steps.  🙂

I look forward to sharing some of my learning this summer, and I hope you comment about what you are learning.  I am asking you…please feel free to comment on something you read that you have a better, more efficient way of doing or an easier way to go about it.  I welcome feedback!!

Happy Summer Y’all!