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Elisabeth Bostwick

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Transformational Teaching Catalyzes the Classroom

The little blond girl, with her heart pounding, worked at a rapid pace to complete the double digit addition problems. She had been absent for the past two days, and didn’t grasp how to add double digits and suppressed the feeling to ask for help as she didn’t trust how her teacher would respond. Prior to being absent, her teacher had only taught how to add single digits. Upon her return to school, her teacher didn’t seize the opportunity to review or catch her up to pace.

As she furiously worked, the little girl felt her teacher move beside her. She hunched over her work, fearful that others would see that she didn’t grasp the concept. The teacher briskly picked up the little girl’s worksheet, and scrutinized the work with eyebrows raised. She circled the completed, yet incorrect problems in her bright red pen and then in an exasperated tone said, “you need to work harder to figure this out.” Work harder? Her stomach felt like it was in knots. She was just 6 years old and this was the beginning of many years to come of struggling with math due to not grasping the why behind the process.

That little girl was me. I share this story with you because I vividly remember how irrelevant school felt at times and how much anxiety it caused me, even in first grade, especially as I struggled to grasp math concepts. There’s a huge difference between allowing students to struggle to the point of frustration compared to engaging them in the process of a productive struggle. What I really needed was a transformational teacher who understood my needs.

Transformational teachers are strategic at providing students with opportunities to grapple with problems in a productive struggle. They ensure tools are accessible to students, and they intentionally scaffold skills to allow learners to construct meaning and develop deep conceptual understanding. Personally, it’s important for me today, just as it was when I was younger, to understand why we are doing what we were doing. Transformational teachers place an emphasis on fostering a culture that prioritizes the process of learning and developing critical thinking skills in students as opposed to merely memorizing facts. In reflecting on my memory from first grade I recognize that my learning situation would have been vastly different if my teacher had embraced the transformational teaching methods listed below.

Transformational Teaching Methods:

  • Provide students with access to manipulatives and other tools to support their learning.
  • Serve as a coach to students as you engage them in inquiry based teaching.
  • Strategically scaffold collaborative conversation strategies with students so that they can  dissect the process with their peers rather than solely partnering up to complete work.
  • Demonstrate empathy for students and listen with understanding when working with students.
  • Foster rich relationships with students to establish trust and serve as a catalyst for risk taking.
  • Craft hands-on learning experiences for students.

While I’ve been blessed to have numerous teachers positively impact who I am today, one stands out in particular. My seventh grade social studies teacher, Mr. Merritt, demonstrated the behaviors of a transformational teacher. He made the curriculum come to life when it came to the way he taught and how he facilitated our interactions with peers. Mr. Merritt embraced a constructivist approach. Constructivist pedagogy consists of teachers facilitating hands-on learning where students construct understanding and meaning from their experiences. Mr. Merrit immersed us in a culture that valued meaningful conversations around thought provoking topics and events. Rather than simply transmitting information to us to regurgitate later, he was an artist when it came to how he cognitively engaged us to analyze, synthesize, defend alternative perspectives and reference background knowledge. As students, we were provided choice to demonstrate our understanding of the content.

Being a transformational teacher means supporting students to take ownership over their learning and becoming invested in the process. As educators, how do we teach the skills that lead students to seek ways to further their learning without constantly holding a carrot out in front of them?

Transformational Teachers Support Students To Thrive By:

  • Fostering a collaborative classroom community through experiential community building protocols and debriefing the process, interactions between peers and emotions.
  • Developing a candescent culture of Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® where students learn to embrace one another’s strengths and support each other using strategies modeled by their teacher when their peers struggle.
  • Empowering student voice and providing choice in how students learn as well as demonstrate their understanding.
  • Collaborating with colleagues to create dynamic learning experiences using backwards design such as the Understanding by Design Framework.
  • Scaffolding learning of developing skill sets to engage in productive struggle.
  • Involving students in understanding the content standards and learning outcomes in addition to involving them in goal setting and reflection.
  • Infusing technology in a purposeful way to deepen the learning experience and amplify student voice along with enhancing the 4Cs of learning (creation, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking).
  • Embedding the Habits of Mind to support learners to listen with understanding and empathy and take responsible risks, to name a few.
  • Utilizing the feedback loop as it allows learners to grow uniquely based on their specific needs and continuously refine their learning and work.
  • Incorporating the Visible Learning Research by John Hattie daily to maximize student growth.

As an educator, I didn’t start out as a transformational teacher. Each year I layered new strategies by immersing myself in reading educational articles and books to grow. I’m also fortunate to work with a phenomenal team in my elementary school as we share best practices with one another and collaboratively plan. Connecting on Twitter and developing a professional learning network with educators around the world continues to challenge my thinking and provides me with new resources and ideas. I’m deeply passionate about teaching and learning, and learning alongside others fuels me! Transformational teachers exemplify the qualities of what we desire for our students; they continually learn in effort to grow and they embrace change.

It may surprise you that when I was in college I never imagined that I’d become a teacher. While I had some outstanding teachers, I left school thinking that teaching was not for me based on some of my negative experiences. I couldn’t see myself standing and delivering content. My passions included anything that I could integrate creativity, imagination, wonder and awe into. I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and how the brain works too. One day, as I attended a child psychology class, I had an epiphany. While I can’t recall exactly what triggered it, it was at that moment I realized that I could be the change. I could go into education and be the difference by bringing wonder and awe to the forefront. I wanted to shake things up by channeling Mr. Merrit’s transformational teaching methods, and invigorate a true love of learning within students. I yearned to go into education because teachers have the potential to change the world. Sure, that may sound idealistic, but I think we need people who believe it with all their heart. In the end, we can!

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Transformational teachers grasp that they have immense impact when they provide students with the tools to be successful and become invested in their own learning, with trust and relationships as the cornerstone of classroom culture. As a teacher myself, I want every kid to leave my class knowing they are loved and respected. My goal is to support them in feeling confident that they can apply their skill sets to new situations. That’s different than purely wanting students to have content under their belt to be prepared for the next grade level. Transformational teaching is all about teachers being masterful in their planning, delivery and facilitation of learning within a culture where students engage in metacognition and create, imagine and innovate. Furthermore, transformational teachers infuse opportunities for students to explore their passions whether it’s through integrating coding, robotics, makerspace or passion projects. I find that when we make learning relevant along with blending students’ interests into what we do in the classroom, they begin to make the connection that learning is beyond just the core subjects. Additionally, it triggers true comprehension of how individuals vary in their strengths, and promotes every student to feel increased confidence.

Being able to observe the whole child grow, drives me to continually reflect and retool my practice. There’s no finality to teaching. I believe that in being a transformational teacher it means that we continuously adjust to the needs of our students, while engaging them in learning that leaves them thirsting for more. Each of us has the potential to be a transformational teacher. Make the commitment to create small shifts in your practice for maximum impact on learners, that will last a lifetime.

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Foster a Culture of Rich Relationships

To invigorate a true love of learning, relationships are critical! They’re the cornerstone to any successful classroom. However, I’ve witnessed educators placing relationships in the back seat for different reasons. Relationships require commitment and genuine interactions, they can’t be forced. Some students are easier to cultivate relationships with than others.

Oddly enough, the romantic comedy How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, causes me to think about interactions with students who push back on us and how we go about fostering meaningful relationships with them. In the movie, Andie Anderson (played by Kate Hudson) works as a resident writer for the “How To” section for Composure magazine. She decides to write an article on How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Her idea is to start dating a guy and then doing everything in her power to drive him away. Ironically, Benjamin Berry, (played by Matthew McConaughey), was simultaneously dared to prove that he could make a girl fall in love with him. Andie and Benjamin cross paths and become the victims of each other’s plans. Audiences are humored as Andie does everything possible to push Benjamin away while he demonstrates unconditional admiration to her face. Behind the scenes he’s completely flabbergasted by her, but refuses to give up the challenge of making her fall in love with him. Ironically the scenario is similar to those we face with children who lack trust.

Each year I head into the new school year having already heard the rumors about “those” kids. No matter how much we attempt to avoid this, it happens somewhere along the way. It may be in a conversation in the hallway or out at the playground. I’m grateful for fellow teachers who want each year to be a fresh start. As a teacher, I’m bound and determined to cultivate an authentic relationship with each child and am driven to ensure that it’s successful.

Relationships and trust are pivotal components in any successful classroom.

If our goal is for students to excel, we need to put a spotlight on relationships in addition to engagement and instructional strategies. Relationships foster the connections that allow students to be ripe for learning. From experience, I understand that educators may feel as though they’re constantly being tried by certain students. I’ve been there myself! As educators we have students who run the gamut from requiring multiple strategies to grasp content, need support to self-regulate, or those who demonstrate a spectrum of challenging behaviors. We also bear the weight of understanding their home lives and the undeniable challenges they face outside of school.

While educators tirelessly strive to meet and exceed the needs of all students, we also devote time to connecting with parents to cultivate relationships, and work collaboratively to provide the support the child deserves. In the meantime we attend meetings to ensure that we’re doing everything possible to support students to be successful. The work we do is vast and intricate. The teaching profession is not easy. It requires us to demonstrate strength, compassion, empathy and maintain the energy to continuously give our best day-after-day. It’s no wonder that teachers fall back on the ease of doing what they’ve always done! It’s less taxing and requires little planning.

The demands and mandates may leave us feeling less patient or distracted from fostering authentic relationships with students and their families. The feeling may be more pronounced if we have students who really push back at us. As a teacher myself, I understand how much we need to be on our toes each day. Together we can overcome this because I promise you, it’s worth every ounce of effort! 

Unlike the situation in the movie, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Children do not arrive at our door with a predetermined agenda to sabotage the relationship that has yet to exist between themselves and their teachers. However, I know some of you feel this to be true. Together we’re going to examine how to shift this. The reality is that while we go above and beyond to connect with kids, some will continue to push us away. The harder we try, the more they push.

This is the point where teachers either:

  1. Throw their hands up and walk away with frustration (and some hasty comments under their breath).
  2. Get in a power struggle with the child (children will always win this, cut your losses!)
  3. Send the child to the principal’s office with a follow up email or phone call that they’ve already tried everything.
  4. Accept the challenge with open arms because they enjoy the process of breaking down the walls and understand that it takes time and unconditional love.

Our students deserve adults who will demonstrate compassion and unconditional love for even the most challenging behaviors.

Children who lack trust push harder on adults to test their love limits. As their teacher, are you going to surrender and prove that once again no one can love the child? Or, will you be the one to be there for them with unwavering support? This tests us as humans, but teachers who are committed to shifting classroom culture grasp the power of being available for students unconditionally. I wholeheartedly believe in you as a change agent!

As my own children transition to different teachers throughout the years, my biggest hope isn’t necessarily for the most innovative teacher, but one who is going to form an authentic relationship with them and appreciate them for who they are. If they are placed with a teacher who fosters relationships and is innovative, we’ve hit the jackpot!

Every child deserves adults who will relentlessly foster relationships with them.

In the fall of 2014, I encountered one of the most difficult situations regarding cultivating a relationship with a child in all my years of teaching. On the first day of school I greeted a girl (I’ll call Nora) just as I did all the others. With my knees bent to be at eye level with her, I looked in her eyes. I held out my hand to shake hers and greeted her by name. Here Nora was, just 9 years old. She looked me dead straight in my eyes. With slightly lowered eyelids and dark circles under her eyes, she appeared to be less than impressed with me. Nora let out a deep sigh, slumped her shoulders and refused to shake my hand. Her eyes drifted to the floor and she walked past me in an apathetic manner. Of course, I had already heard her story, but I was determined that this school year would be a blank canvas for her to paint her masterpiece.

Nora entered our classroom and gradually looked around at the other kids. She selected a spot on her own at one of our tables. My initial thought that was that due to past experiences she knew she’d be excluded by others. However, I quickly learned that since she lacked social skills, she had no desire to be with other kids and preferred to be alone. You may be thinking that deep down she wanted others to include her, but after forming a relationship with Nora I’m certain she could have cared less at this point given her situation. All school year Nora pushed my love limits to test when I would give up on her. She employed a variety of tactics from doing the opposite of what was requested, to behaviors that completely sabotaged collaborative team work. She made gradual progress in all areas, but would often regress following breaks as kids often do. Never once did I show her anything but fairness and understanding.

Unconditional Acceptance Transforms Relationships

On the last day of school, the same girl who wouldn’t shake my hand on the first day, hugged me so hard prior to stepping on her bus. After she let go, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes, and lunged back into me with an even tighter hug. I could feel her body deeply sobbing as she inhaled trying to control her breath. Prior to this moment, I already had tears streaming down my face as I let go of all my kids on the last day. However, seeing this reaction out of Nora caused me break down. This beautiful child, who had such a negative reputation, made an enormous breakthrough at this moment by letting out these emotions. My thoughts swirled, had I done enough for this child? What would her summer be like? How will she do next school year? Would her teacher love her and be there for her unconditionally? How would this year have ended differently if I had given up on her? It pained me to watch her go.

A month, week or even a day prior to this moment I wouldn’t have predicted it. While Nora made progress throughout the year, she maintained a tough front. We can never underestimate the impact we have on individuals. I share this story with you because we’ve all had a “Nora” or will have one at some point. Our impact is far reaching and it’s our choice on how we will effect each child.

Quite honestly, throughout the school year I often felt like Benjamin, from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. However, I knew it wasn’t really the case. Relationships don’t just happen. If we head into class each day and engage our students in learning without authentic relationships, we’re missing the boat. Educators need to be intentional about fostering connections and employ every strategy that exists. It’s simply that important.

Foster relationships by:

  • greeting kids each and every day
  • Knowing when their sports and activities are and attending or following up with them to see how they went
  • Sitting by their side through difficult times
  • Listening
  • Calling home to share with their families how amazing they are or share their accomplishments
  • Be silly, have FUN with them
  • Providing clear, supportive feedback
  • Working with them one-on-one on work they want or need support in
  • Having a flexible schedule to adjust to unpredictable needs (inviting them to have lunch with you, or allowing them choice time with you and a friend that they select)
  • Connecting with families on sites such as SeeSaw to share pictures of their child, their work, and positive comments
  • Being responsive to when they need to decompress
  • Engaging them in learning that best meets their needs and incorporates their passions

There are endless ways to foster authentic relationships with kids. As we head into this new school year, I challenge YOU to be the ONE who makes a difference. When you feel overwhelmed by mandates, take a deep breath, look into the eyes of your kids and remember that you may be the one person who they carry with them through life. The words you say, the compassion you show, the patience you have for them doesn’t go unnoticed. Make this school year phenomenal, and kick it off with transformational relationships!

Children do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.

-Teddy Roosevelt

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Cultivating Teacher Leadership: a 3 Part Series by #LeadUpTeach

As an ongoing conversation about Teacher Leadership, Elisabeth Bostwick, Laura Gilchrist, and Heidi Veal, were compelled to put pen to paper to attempt to share their respective reflections, perspectives, and insights about Teacher Leadership with the hope of inspiring a conversation that will spark a movement of empowered Teacher Leaders everywhere! They hope you are encouraged and challenged by this three part series with a new post published each week. Join the important conversation about Teacher Leadership by sharing your reflections, ideas, and wonderings in the comments section below and using #LeadUpTeach on Twitter.

Teacher Leadership is for ALL

By Heidi Veal

Teacher leadership is such an elegant thing when witnessed, but it must not be relegated to the few who innately take the initiative to lead! A teacher who has positive influence with their peers can accomplish a tremendous amount of good for the benefit of students, not only the ones they teach. Their reach can extend throughout their school and beyond. They earn influence because of their proven effectiveness, passion, and success with students. Peers enthusiastically look to them as mentors, trusted colleagues, and friends.

My perspectives on teacher leadership come from my years of having served as a teacher leader, an instructional coach, and now as a campus assistant principal. It is a topic near and dear to my heart. One of my greatest wishes for all teachers is for them to see themselves as and serve as empowered leaders in the classroom, on their campus, and beyond.

It is important to recognize that no two teachers lead in the same way. They lead uniquely and in multiple ways too. There is no cookie cutter “Teacher Leadership Definition” because teacher leadership is entirely too multifaceted. For additional perspectives on various ways teachers lead, you can read Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders written by Cindy Harrison and Joellen Killion in an article for ASCD (Sep. 2007).

The thing is, teacher leaders do not have to be an isolated few or a rare, unique occurrence. I would like to assert that teacher leaders should exist on all campuses and actually, in every classroom! Consider what leadership means. Simply put, Leadership is Influence! Teachers influence students by inspiring action, facilitating change, and empowering others to accomplish defined goals. A teacher does this with students and can/should do this with their peers too.

In my current role as an assistant principal, I desire for all teachers at my school see themselves as leaders. I do not expect, nor do I want, all teachers to be cookie cutter replicas from one mold. Heidi-Quote-2-600x300Each teacher comes with individual strengths, gifts, passions, and talents. I strive to empower them to lead with their strengths and grow their leadership identity based on the things that make them uniquely themselves in the classroom.  The diverse talents and passions of individual teachers are what make their leadership so powerful and should be shared.

One simple yet powerful way I seek to empower teachers is by carefully listening to them share their passions and ideas, observing them in action in the classroom, and taking note of their unique strengths. Inevitably, the opportunity presents itself to do what Bethany Hill calls “The Nudge”. Like her, I nudge teachers to share their practices, ideas, and passions with others, the staff or their team, whenever possible. Teachers have an important voice and deserve a platform by which to share their genius, thus growing their leadership. The keys here are listening, collaborating, and empowering teachers to own their growth.

I am reminded of a powerful piece of advice my mother gave to me at the start of my middle school years. She encouraged me to think about a content I am interested in and to work hard towards that content with my efforts and passion. Her intent was to see me sharpen that saw, as Covey would say, in order to create a specialty that was uniquely mine. I did this by pursuing choral arts and my interests in science. I would assert that this is great advice for educators too. No doubt, it is difficult to be a master at everything. We have all heard the phrase, ‘Jack of all trades and master of none.’ As teachers zero in on their unique talents, strengths, and passions in the classroom they inevitably experience growth and increased influence. 

As a campus administrator, my goal is to remove barriers, inspire all teachers to sharpen their talents, lead from their strengths, and be empowered to exercise leadership in every setting and way possible. In other words my heart is that teachers:

  • -Know their Strengths
  • -Play to their Strengths
  • -Leverage their Strengths 

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Teacher leadership is not for a few, but for all teachers!  Imagine the leadership capacity in a school if every teacher on a campus were in tune with their unique strengths and leveraging them in their classroom, with their teams, on their campus, and beyond.

Do you also believe every teacher should be and is a leader? What are your unique talents and passions? How do you leverage your strengths and the strengths of others to lead and influence on your campus and beyond?

Teacher Leadership Through a Coach’s Lens

By Laura Gilchrist

I smile every time I walk into a school. I can’t help myself. It’s not any normal smile–it’s a big goofy grin. There is magic in the hallways, classrooms, and outdoor spaces. It’s in the belief, love, and energy flowing between teachers and students, who see themselves as  learners, makers, and doers. Some schools have more of that magic than others, but all schools can create it via teacher leadership.

I see a teacher, several students, and a principal, smiling as they look over a student compost project that will help the entire school reduce waste to the landfill by over 80%. I see kids working excitedly in the hall on big project presentations all parents are invited to see on student exhibition night. I see a principal smiling and talking informally with teachers, sharing feedback and permission to innovate–a principal who believes teachers and students are the true leaders of the school.

Is this school culture the norm or the outlier? Is this the type of school culture you’d want your kids to be part of?  If the answer is yes, why aren’t we channeling all our efforts into making our schools like this–focusing on leadership and power distribution?

When looking at schools where learners are thriving, I like to look at the school or district’s “power profile”–the way administrators use the ‘power’ or authority that comes with that position. Simply put, do they keep it or share it?  Speaking from a school level, when principals keep and wield power at teachers, a compliance culture of avoiding negative consequences is created. Fixed mindset and status quo are the norm. Inside the box thinking. When principals share power with teachers and students, encouraging them to help craft and guide mission, vision, and innovation, schools will shine from the inside out. Growth mindset is widespread as is curiosity and teacher and student agency.

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I believe teacher learning and leadership are key to shifting school culture. I also believe teacher learning and leadership are just as important as student learning and leadership.  Over the past twenty years, the talk about teachers was often negative and tied to test scores. It’s time to change this and create a positive language that will elevate teachers, students, and entire schools. Fewer of our youth are going into teaching due to salary, respect, and image problems.  Over the past twenty years, teachers had to learn by ‘sit and git’ presentations done at them, not for and with them–a waste of time, talent, and  leadership. It’s time to let teachers lead their own learning and innovate!

We must focus specifically on teacher leadership until it is commonplace. Then we can drop it and talk ‘leadership.’ Lis Quote2

My perspectives on teacher leadership come from my twenty years as a teacher and teacher leader, four years as an Edcamp organizer and facilitator, and my current role as Instructional Coach at Turner High School in Kansas City, Kansas. I am beginning my second year with seventy-five amazing teachers and four growth mindset principals who regard teachers as leaders. I strive to be a champion for my teachers and my teachers are champions for their kids. I tell my teachers they are leaders who can and should dream big for kids. They don’t always identify with the word leader, but they will one day. I won’t stop saying it. They need to hear it.

I focused on relationships last year and building capacity through active teacher learning, including teacher PBL teams tackling self-identified school issues. I launched an EdCamp during work week and it shifted climate that day (An EdCamp is a teacher-led, conversation-based learning format based on choice and voice). I introduced Twitter at one of the optional sessions and now 60% our the teachers at my school are on Twitter. Read how I started an EdCamp at school here and here. Teachers in my building and district who are on Twitter organize and go to meet-ups in our city and have, in many cases, experienced not just incremental growth, but exponential growth in regards to instructional innovation. I know social media has been vital to them seeing the astounding world of resources, people, and ideas beyond that are easily found outside the walls of their school.

The Collaborative Leadership and Vision that is embraced by administrators holds the key to activating potential in all teachers and students. The leadership beliefs and practices at the top deeply impact the culture of learning at all levels. I believe all administrative teams should analyze their power profile and work to include all voices and all genius.

The Five Leadership Principles from Kansas Leadership Center can powerfully unite an entire school/district in action and language, if they are adopted and agreed to by the entire staff:

  • Leadership is an activity, not a position
  • Anyone can lead anytime, anywhere
  • It starts with you, and must include others
  • Your purpose must be clear
  • It’s risky

Read Laura’s complete LeadUpNow blog “Jumpstart Teacher Leadership and Create District-Wide Leadership Principals” to learn more about these 5 Leadership Principles from the Kansas Leadership Center.

Shift Leadership and Power Profiles in Schools so they shine!

  • Collaborative Leadership and Vision are true game changers.
  • Learning, passions, and leadership should be commonly talked about at school.
  • Learners are leaders. We’re all learners. So we’re all leaders.
  • How administrators manage ‘power’–keeping it or sharing it–will determine if teachers and students are compliance robots or empowered leaders.
  • Power is shared in the school or district ecosystem in a two-way energy flow between all learners and all voices are heard.
  • If a superintendent’s main job is modeling, coaching, and holding principals (all district administrators) to collaborative leadership principles, he or she will impact student growth and school culture significantly.
  • Collaborative and Connected Ecosystems support innovation and growth.

Empower your teachers and students as avid learners and leaders and watch them make the school shine from the inside out!

Laura Gilchrist is a Teaching/Learning coach at a high school in Kansas City, Kansas who spent 20 vibrant years as a middle school science & social studies teacher, doing PBL and storytelling from her room. She is also an #EdCamp organizer and #LeadUpTeach co-host and partner. Read more by Laura here.

Spark Your Inner Leader

By Elisabeth Bostwick

As a teacher, I witness the varying manners in which colleagues lead daily. Through my leadership experiences as both a teacher and instructional strategy coach I absolutely believe every teacher is a leader in one way or another. While teachers are modeling leadership in their classrooms, they’re often empowering students as leaders as well. Teachers demonstrate leadership in a multitude of ways. Some examples I’ve seen are when they share strategies and resources with colleagues, lead or participate within committees, facilitate professional learning, and even by contributing as a positive member of a school community to enhance culture. While all of this occurs in our schools, many teachers deny that they are a leader if they are not in a role that has a leadership title.

When we deny ourselves as a leader, we do not demonstrate the same level of initiative as when we accept that we have influence. This diminishes our level of accountability and undermines our integrity. In order to be change agents who continuously transform our schools to improved levels, we must view ourselves as a leader with influence, as well as develop and leverage the leadership capacity within others.

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As a teacher, I view leadership as an endeavor in which 
any one of us can embark on by choice. However, it’s not necessarily simple to navigate if the path is unclear. Too frequently teachers await to be empowered by their principal, and are uncertain how to go about reaching their desired goals. There are instances where teacher leaders recognize that they are supported by their colleagues, and unfortunately times in which they perceive to be isolated. This is a precarious situation for schools. Feeling isolated triggers uncertainty, and our best teacher leaders may begin to hold back. This is why it’s critical that we foster a culture of collaborative leadership where each individual champions the notion that they too, are a leader. Acknowledging that each individual has a unique gift to bring to the table begins to shift the status quo.

In my experience teacher leadership can be extremely powerful, particularly when the culture supports it. Teacher leadership is powerful and can lead to rapid improvement and innovation in education by influencing schools to do what’s best for learners.  This is due to the fact that teachers are in the classroom daily, and have a distinct awareness of their students’ needs. Additionally, they understand the hopes and dreams parents have for their children. By listening to the voices of students, teachers have the unique opportunity to communicate, as well as craft, authentic learning connected to students’ interests and passions.

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In my experience, some teachers are more intentional about honing in on their leadership skills in order to be a force of positive influence and drive change. Leadership is about being visionary and understanding the direction in which we need to go. Leaders who engage as an active listener and consider all perspectives from everyone involved, encourage a culture of collaboration. Leaders are also intentional about adding value to others in order to leverage individual strengths and build capacity. Teachers are typically closely connected with colleagues and therefore readily grasp their struggles. This provides an opportunity for teacher leaders to provide genuine support through a variety of strategies as they share experiences on a relatable level. Often times teachers do not feel threatened by sharing struggles with one another since their colleagues are not their evaluator. The beauty of this is that the relationship is often reciprocal. Teacher leaders have the potential to collaboratively support the growth of their colleagues which can significantly impact student learning.

Teacher leaders advocate for what’s best for students, and always bring the conversation back to students. Teacher leadership is not about being dominant or in charge, but rather it’s about remaining focused on the whole child, shared vision, and helping to guide conversations in a way that advances current practice and ultimately benefits student success. Teacher leaders inspire and serve colleagues, as well as spread optimism through difficult times while simultaneously providing support in order to move forward as a team. As leaders, teachers often ask question in order to guide reflective conversations that lead to understanding the perspectives of others, and the effects we have on students and our school culture. If balanced properly, teacher leaders influence others to lead, which creates a collaborative culture of learning committed to growth.

In a collaborative leadership model all voices are valued and included in decision making. If our goal is to move our schools forward in the best interest of students, we cannot follow a top down model and need to examine the hierarchical structures that exist in our schools. Current structures may send the message that teachers voices are not as important as those in administration. Developing a culture where all are included in the decision making process is critical if we truly strive to create authentic learning opportunities where students flourish. When our voices come together (including the voice of students) we can collaboratively craft top-notch learning opportunities for students based on the input from all. If you’re interested in reading more, check out: Building A Collaborative Culture for Change: Establishing the Leadership Environment by Neil Gupta and Tricia Ebner.

Teachers who are provided leadership opportunities have the potential to leave a lasting legacy as they deeply care about their school community. As a teacher, how will you demonstrate leadership and take initiative this school year? Consider how you will spark colleagues to lead and believe in themselves too. As an administrator, how will you restructure current leadership in order to share decision making or provide leadership pathways for your teachers? When we embrace our unique talents and abilities, as well as add value to others, we develop as a team where we challenge, encourage, and inspire one another to grow to new heights for the betterment of our students and school community.

Elisabeth Bostwick is a dedicated educator serving students and colleagues daily in Horseheads, NY. She is passionate about empowering students via the Maker Movement and mentoring fellow teachers. She is a model Teacher Leader! She co-founded #LeadUpTeach, is a speaker for Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E. and also supports educators as a Maker Ed Mentor on yearinthemaking.com.  She authors her own blog too.

 

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Limitless: #OneWord 2017

You. Are. LIMITLESS. You have more potential than you give yourself credit for. With hard work and perseverance anything can be made possible. I can say this because I’ve lived and experienced it.

Very few individuals know that the beginning of 2016 was one of the toughest times in my life. For several reasons my #oneword for 2016 was courage. I needed this word to be my central focus. Focusing on the word courage allowed me to take a challenging time and flip it for an all out incredible year filled with new opportunities and growth. I have so much to be grateful for that happened in 2016, but it wasn’t by chance. Rather, it was by choice. In life we choose how to react to situations or move forward toward goals. This takes strength, courage and the ability to be resilient. 

Throughout 2016 I called upon courage often in all aspects of life, and the way I started with the word courage isn’t the way I ended the year using it. The word courage evolved over the course of 2016. A few examples of how I focused on courage professionally was as #LeadUpTeach developed and went live on several social media platforms. I called upon it again as I began having more opportunities to speak and present beyond my district level professional development that I facilitate. Through these experiences I learned to adjust my thinking. Instead of feeling nervous, I convinced myself that it was actually excitement that I felt. As humans we have the profound ability to reframe our thoughts and emotions. I learned this wisdom from a Podcast by Christina Canters and also an interview with Simon Sinek. People often avoid doing what they love because fear, doubt or nervousness holds them back. I’m truly invested in all I do, and I’ve developed great joy from it all. Deep within we all have courage and it’s a choice if we want to ignite it or allow it to remain inside us.

This past fall I was honored to become an ambassador for Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® (developed by @LaVonna Roth) and also have my students be the first group of student ambassadors. This has been transformational for both myself, my students, and the culture of our classroom. Together we’re exploring who we are as individuals through each section of S.H.I.N.E.: Self, Heart, Inspire, Navigate, and Exceptional.

Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® not only amplified my courage, but it inspired me to feel fearless and view life as limitless. Courage goes hand-in-hand with being limitless. I began to focus more deeply on how I could navigate my passions to inspire others. One of the most impactful ways that I employed this was when I began sharing my ambitious dreams with others. It was a risk to take because I wondered, what if my dreams don’t materialize? What if this person doesn’t believe in me or ridicules me? Nevertheless, I believe that sharing my aspirations aloud has a different level of accountability. I compare it to throwing a mountaineering axe into the side of a mountain. To achieve our goals we benefit from envisioning our path and maintaining a firm mental grip to move toward them. Today, I no longer have the same worries that I once had. I know that I’ll face challenges, they’re a natural part of life. Fortunately, I also have the tenacity to learn from and overcome them.

While 2016 kicked off with such uncertainty, it was my choice to demonstrate courage. Through this I learned how life itself is limitless.

fearlessA year ago I was told by someone in the field of education that without an administrative degree or experience as a building principal, I couldn’t do some of the things I’m currently doing such as speaking and supporting teachers outside our district. I recall mulling this comment over and how it affected me in the moment. Today, I’m actually thankful that this event occurred because I have used it as fuel to demonstrate what I’m capable of. While there’s a lot of benefit to having an administrative degree, and it may be something I pursue at some point, I also find immense value in speaking on behalf of what’s occurring in the classroom and how to maneuver through all of the expectations. Many teachers strive to integrate PBL, passion projects, edcamps, technology and making. At the same time, they feel the pressure to maintain all of the mandated programs and initiatives that come along with education. While it’s an epic time to be in education, it can also be overwhelming. My goal is to support teachers in seeing that the possibilities are limitless and provide inspiration as they move forward toward their goals. Following the day that comment was made to me, my mindset was charged to proceed forward and my determination has only grown stronger since then.

In addition to supporting fellow educators, my objective is for every child to realize that they themselves are limitless. They are NOT a score, a reading level, or what someone else thinks they’ll become. They have capabilities and passions that have yet to be discovered. As educators it’s our obligation to support students in learning how to ignite their S.H.I.N.E. and to inspire them to identify their passions in order for them to be limitless in life. We can do this through helping others to learn how to navigate their strengths and refine other areas for growth. When students learn to ignite their S.H.I.N.E. and the S.H.I.N.E. within others, greater growth occurs within each individual. Living a limitless life isn’t happenstance, but rather an intentional way to approach life with fortitude.

As individuals we decide how limitless we want to live. We control this through our daily choices. However, we often put limits on ourselves or allow others to put limits upon us. What’s stopping you from being limitless? Together we benefit from connecting, challenging, inspiring and supporting one another to pursue our highest potential. I believe in living life to the fullest and leaving a footprint as a part of a legacy. Join me in embracing a limitless life, and helping others around you to ignite their S.H.I.N.E. to make a lasting impact on our world, one day at a time.

limitless-dream

Empower Learning featured

Cultivating a Maker Mindset

Hearing the excitement of students as they question, design, create and make is one of my absolute favorite aspects of teaching. Every child is engaged in an activity of their choice, and collaboration skyrockets. As a classroom teacher I’ve been able to see how learning in makerspace transfers to learning in the classroom. Teachers often ask me how to launch makerspace with their students, and it’s all about cultivating a maker mindset from the beginning.

Launching MakerSpace 

Prior to launching makerspace with my class I begin to develop the culture by reading books of exploration with my students. One of my favorites is What Do You Do With An Idea, by Kobi Yamada. Following the reading we brainstorm and prepare to share big ideas that we’ve had, or imagine new ideas. We discuss them, draw to envision and describe. Then when ready, we write about them. Students are invited to post their big idea in our classroom. There’s no idea that’s too big. In fact, I encourage them to dream big. Interestingly, even 9 and 10 year old children can be hesitant at first to share their big ideas. In some instances they’re concerned that someone will think their idea is ridiculous or impossible. When we read If I Built a Car, by Chris Van Dusen students grasp that no idea is too crazy. Through the brainstorming process where students engage in collaborative communication, their creativity begins to flow and students synergize!

Growth Mindset

The makerspace culture is all about failing forward and learning from mistakes. Students learn to see mistakes as proof that they are trying, and that mistakes lead to improvement. Growth mindset is a critical component students benefit from in all areas of life. In our class we read the book The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires. This book is all about failures, how we handle them, and that sometimes we need to reexamine our work to recognize the beauty it beholds.

Additionally, in class we also engage in team building activities such as Cross a Chocolate River where we learn to be effective communicators and then debrief in order to grow from the process and improve our collaboration. Students benefit from being placed in situations where they experience a non-threatening struggle (such as the community building activity mentioned above).  We cannot simply talk about growth mindset to our students. Using a combination of reading stories and discussing the characteristics of characters, as well as through experiential learning, growth mindset begins to develop authentically. In fact, it’s ideal to embed growth mindset into all areas when possible. Growth mindset doesn’t just to support makerspace, but it’s what nurtures the development of resiliency in children.

Opportunity to Play, Dream, Inquire, and Create to Innovate

While it’s critical for teachers to zero in on content and curriculum that aligns to the standards, we also need to be cognizant that we are fostering the 4c’s in our schools. Critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creation is what sparks innovative thinking. As students go through the school system the opportunity to play and dream often lessens. Our students benefit from having access to materials and resources that inspire them to make something. We can support the development of maker design thinking through the engineer design cycle where students are guided to ask, imagine, plan, create and improve.

  • Allow students time to dream and imagine
  • Promote collaborative conversation around what students wonder.
  • Empower students to inquire and research.
  • Inspire students to create, make, and redesign.

Connect with Real World Experts

When teachers foster the opportunity for students to inquire, wonder, and dream they often come up with more questions. Often times students design and then create what they envisioned making, only to learn that it doesn’t all come together the way that they had planned. This is the perfect opportunity to connect with community members or Skype with experts in the field to learn from their expertise. The process of making fluctuates with successes as well as opportunities for learning and growth. Connecting with experts supports student learning and reinforces the relevance of their work. They can collaborate with students to troubleshoot and retool their design.

It’s also beneficial to connect with experts outside of the school building prior to students making, if applicable to their project. For example, students may have questions about engineering that would support the development of what their idea. Connecting with outside experts promotes multiple skills such as communication, ability to ask questions to apply to problem solving, networking, and the understanding that collaboration is critical to all fields.

Reflection

Reflection is critical to learning and is best when done intentionally. Educators often wait until the end of each session to reflect. However, I have found it beneficial to pause mid-way and allow time for students to consider what is going well, and what needs to be improved upon. This fosters metacognition and the opportunity to immediately retool their design before the end of class. If reflection is always at the end of makerspace it can make it challenging for a child to resume their next session based on their reflections from the previous session.

In the reflection process we begin by engaging in collaborative reflective peer conversations. Through this process students take turns asking each other what’s working and what isn’t working for them. They have the opportunity to share and show what they’re working on and also to offer suggestions to one another. Following the reflective peer conversations they then take the time to further reflect on their glows and grows for me to review. In my classroom I typically have students write them on Post-It notes and then place them on chart paper. This provides an excellent opportunity for me to hear their thinking, see their personal thoughts, and then rotate to students to work alongside them and use inquire to learn more about their thought process.  

Retooling

Using the engineer design cycle students are guided to ask, imagine, plan, create and improve. Retooling following reflection deepens student learning as they engage in critical thinking and problem solving. I’ve seen students become incredibly inspired and excited through this process, it’s what learning is all about! When students enjoy what they’re doing they are driven to learn more and take more of an initiative in owning their learning.

Sharing with an Authentic Audience

In today’s world we can connect our students to classrooms of other makers around the world. By connecting with other students they’re able to get new ideas, further develop their own thoughts, and problem solve by sharing and receiving unique perspectives. Skype or Google Hangouts are excellent ways to connect students. Blogging to an authentic audience empowers student voice. It’s a way in which they can elaborate on their thinking and ideas while receiving feedback from others takes learning to a new level.

Makerspace is a place in which students can have autonomy over their learning and flourish as thinkers and innovators. How will you enhance learning for your students and provide authentic experiences where they can wonder, inquire, explore and create?

Ignite passion and empowervoice. (3)

Resources that have inspired and supported me through my maker journey:  

Worlds of Learning by Laura Fleming

Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School by Laura Fleming

Renovated Learning by Diana Rendina

The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros

 

Empower Learning Luminous Culture

Embracing our Unique Differences

“Give it another try!” Shouts my 11 year old to his friend Matthew. Matthew winds up the frisbee for the 10th time, and makes the shot! The boys cheered and erupted into laughter. The frisbee went through the basketball hoop. Honestly, it’s trickier than it sounds. Both my son Julian and his friend Matthew have been spending their summer days developing their YouTube channel featuring their trick shots. Not only am I impressed by their profound growth mindsets, but their tenacity that leads to their success is inspiring.

My son has also been creating other videos using iMovie and posting them to his Instagram page. He’s passionate about the work he’s doing and has been beaming at his creations as he’s embedding graphics and audio, as well as editing them to be unique and eye catching.

Last night Julian became quiet and disclosed to me that he deleted a few of his videos that he was really proud of. The videos he deleted featured him hitting baseballs and demonstrating what he sees as his strengths. Julian was transparent with the world, and while he received numerous likes on his videos, he also received a backlash. Julian explained that a friend shared with him that his videos were stupid. This person was relentless until Julian deleted the videos in front of him. Julian was hurt over the comments and began to question his strengths, as well as the videos he created due to these rumors. While I’m disappointed that anyone would say anything negative, I was equally disappointed that my child gave into peer pressure and the need to conform. This is not typical of him as he is a confident and bright child.

With an authentic teachable moment in front of me, this was the perfect opportunity to help Julian understand that we do not have to conform to the status quo. It is difficult, it can hurt, and there will be times in which standing out makes you feel isolated. When we stand up for what we believe in we are at risk for ridicule. However, I am passionate about standing up for what we believe in and it’s a risk I’m willing to take. As a parent and educator I want to protect our children from feeling discouraged, but at the same time facing adversity is what allows us to dig deep inside and learn to persevere. Our children need to be equipped with how to handle adversity and maneuver through our complex world with confidence and empathy for others.

In school and at home we need to be fostering a culture of acceptance and embrace the unique differences that each of us beholds. Too often I see children begin to conform to what they believe the world wants them to be and stray from who they truly are. How do we cultivate this in our schools and make an impact on our society? If our goal is to ignite innovation in schools, students need to be able to embrace divergent thinking and honor each other’s differences.

 

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10 Classroom Tips:

  1. Develop a culture of responsible risk taking through community building and intentional debriefing to foster empathy and understanding. This allows students to experience emotions and reflect on them. Through debriefing they develop relationships with classmates and a deeper understanding of how they can add to or subtract value from others.
  2. Model empathy each day. As teachers we have students that walk in daily from a variety of backgrounds. We need to always assume the best from our students and remember that their actions have an underlying cause. When we model empathy consistently, it transfers to students.
  3. Own up to mistakes. No one is perfect and we learn from mistakes. This is a critical component of any classroom. When students understand that mistakes are normal, they develop as risk takers and become more empathetic when their peers make mistakes.
  4. Survey students with questions such as: What would you like me to know about you? Or, what do you want to grow in this school year? Simple questions such as these can bring in a broad spectrum of responses from students that allow the teacher to gain a deeper understand of who their students are. This provides teachers with the ability to develop deeper connections and relationships with students.
  5. Utilize social media sites such as Edmodo or Slack where students can safely learn to interact with one another online with the support of their teacher. Prior to launching the site, facilitate learning on demonstrating positive Digital Citizenship with Common Sense Media.
  6. Empower students to find their inner passions and carve out time in class to allow students to work on passion projects. Students don’t always know what they’re passionate about, and by inspiring them to identify their passions we are supporting students to develop a foundation of who they are and what they stand for. This serves as a powerful force in a world where students pressure peers to conform. Angela Maiers states, “you are a genius and the world does need your contribution, you matter.” See Choose2Matter founded by Angela Maiers
  7. Ignite the S.H.I.N.E. within students. Lavonna Roth developed Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E (Self, Heart, Inspire, Navigate, Exceptional) to create a path for students to believe in their gifts, gain confidence and explore how they will contribute to the world. Students not only need to embrace their unique gifts, but learn how to navigate themselves to stay true to their heart and as they face adversity in life.
  8. Morning meetings are a great way to begin each day. Morning meetings allow students to start the day by connecting with their peers and teacher and sets the climate of the classroom.
  9. Provide opportunities for students to blog to an authentic audience. Students will grow confidence as they share their ideas through writing and received feedback from people who are looking to grow alongside them.
  10. Create a post-it wall in your classroom where students can post positive comments or shout-outs to celebrate their classmates. In our classroom this past year students loved recognizing one another and truly embraced each other’s unique gifts.

In our world we want to empower students to be dynamic innovators who have a growth mindset. The culture must be right in order to successfully develop this vision. I believe that we can instill in our students that they can change the world, and that it’s their unique gifts that will make the difference.

Empower Learning featured Inspiration Leadership Luminous Culture

10 Characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher

A LeadUp Teacher undoubtedly possesses many characteristics! Innovative, inspiring, and empowering just to name a few. What would you add to these 10 Defining Characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher?

Continually Curious
A LeadUp Teacher is adept at asking questions. What is…, how does it work, is there another way, what about this, why… and so on. This teacher asks these questions of both others and themselves on a regular basis. Never content with answers that take on a, “This is how it has always been done.” flavor. The LeadUp Teacher knows that questioning the status quo is their responsibility and others actually expect them to push the envelope with their questions. -Heidi
Adds Value to Others
LeadUp Teachers recognize how to relate to colleagues in all positions, and they devote quality time to listening with understanding to their needs and concerns. They are cognizant of what others value and are continually learning about those they work with in order to lead effectively. When we identify the strengths of those around us, we can uplift and encourage our team members to step forward. As we add value to individuals, areas of growth further develop and begin to strengthen due to trusting relationships, support, and encouragement. LeadUp Teachers are aware of the impact they have when they intentionally add value to colleagues. -Lis
Empowers & Celebrates Strengths
When teachers feel celebrated they recognize that their strengths contribute to the greater good and are motivated to make more of an impact. LeadUp Teachers understand that it’s not solely the principal’s role to celebrate the accomplishments of others, but grasp that as a collaborative team we share this responsibility.The LeadUp Teacher empowers colleagues by modeling risk-taking, sharing, and being transparent about both successes and failures. By being willing to take the fall and share about experiences, colleagues feel a sense of security which in turn promotes them to take risks as well. Leadup teachers verbalize their belief in their colleagues and act as a support system that provides genuine encouragement. -Lis
Reflective Practitioner
Deliberate reflection turns experiences into an opportunity for growth. Leadup teachers understand that they need to look back to move forward. They reflect by uncovering both their successes and failures in order to retool their practice. Reflection that is transparent promotes the growth of both individuals and teams as teachers share what they learned, and how they will proceed forward in the future. Leadup Teachers embrace a growth mindset and the idea that every opportunity around us, provides an opportunity to learn. -Lis
Habitual Learner
The LeadUp Teacher doesn’t depend on others to grow or challenge them. They view professional development as a lifestyle, not an event and are always on the lookout for opportunities to learn more, do more, and be more because they know their continual growth is a critical factor to their students’ growth over time. Being a lifelong learner is never cliche for the LeadUp Teacher, but rather is their unyielding mindset, the pervasive culture in their classroom, and encompases a passion not quenched by compliance based professional development. George Couros explained, “To truly integrate new learning, it is critical to carve out time for exploration, collaboration, and reflection to allow educators to apply what they are learning.” This is what a LeadUp Teacher does in all areas of their life. -Heidi
Ignites Innovative Practices & Embraces Shifts
The LeadUp Teacher often serves as a catalysts for innovation as they see a variety of possibilities on how to craft diverse and unique learning opportunities that richly benefit students, and their school community. As connected educators who embrace learning from fellow educators in a variety of positions, the LeadUp Teacher is able to gain a unique perspective on shifts taking place in schools globally. LeadUp Teachers are fearless in the pursuit of what’s best for students and their school community. With a tendency to be visionary, the LeadUp Teacher identifies how they are a key player in fostering systemic change through cultivating shifts that impact school culture, instructional strategy, and ultimately student learning. -Lis
Demonstrates Courage & Voice
Cultivating change and being a risk taker in education requires boldness. The LeadUp Teacher exhibits courage, finesse, and demonstrates a solid voice when it comes to advocating for improved practices and authentic learning opportunities for students. Before making decisions, a LeadUp Teacher always considers the impact on the whole child. When educators collaborate with an all hands on deck approach, they empower one another to demonstrate courage and share their voice. -Lis
Positive Outlook & Impact
The LeadUp Teacher approaches life and their work with a positive outlook. They throw kindness around like confetti and their impact is one of positivity. They believe and expect the best in others, approaching challenges with positive suppositions. They reframe obstacles as opportunities to innovate rather than seeing setbacks as overwhelming defeat. Or as LaVonna Roth explained it in her Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E. presentation at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference, They know “adversities are opportunities in disguise.” -Heidi
Passionate, Committed, & Purposefully Driven
“Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.” -Unknown
LeadUp Teachers are “fearless in the pursuit of what sets their soul on fire” -Jennifer Lee. They exude passion for their priorities which always center on PEOPLE first! They are committed to inspiring everyone in their sphere of influence, first and foremost their students, colleagues, and families. They see what they do as  both significant and life altering. Their passion to LeadUp is not accidental or random, but a calling that drives an unwavering, unending commitment to excellence! -Heidi
 
100% Student Focused
Doing what’s best for students is the only way a Lead Up Teacher knows how to work. Their purpose is to make the world a better place one student at a time, one day at a time. Students are at the center of their purpose, passion, decisions, and classroom. They put the needs of their students ahead of their own comfort zones, expectations, and even plans. Students are the focus of the classroom and student learning takes center stage, priority #1.
-Heidi
Each day we’re provided a new opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students and within our school community. Embracing the characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher has the potential to inspire passion to ignite within others, which empowers them to put forth their best. In this movement, how will you be an influencer who embraces the characteristics of a Leadup Teacher and sparks the spirit within others?
Elisabeth Bostwick is an innovative elementary educator in Horseheads,NY; Heidi Veal is a passionate Assistant Principal in McKinney, TX. Both ladies lead #Leadupteach, a movement dedicated to innovation and the empowerment of teacher leaders. 
Empower Learning Luminous Culture

How to Empower Student Voice: Enhance Communication, Creativity, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking

As educators, we envision a collaborative team of students who interact with one another to problem solve, create, communicate, and think critically. We thirst for students who advocate for their beliefs and vocalize their ideas with the encouragement of peers. The reality is that in today’s classroom, this is fundamental for students as they prepare for college and career readiness. Students ought to be promoted to be creators instead of consumers of information. We need to deliberately nurture the development of classroom culture that enhances the opportunity for collaboration and student facilitated inquiry that ignites student voice and sparks innovative thinking. Web 2.0 applications provide further opportunities to enhance the assimilation of content, diversify the channels of creativity to lead to innovation, and empower student voice.

Cultivate a Growth Mindset Culture to Lay the Foundation
As teachers we need to cultivate and continually nurture a growth mindset culture where students are challenged and supported to take responsible risks. Experiential community building activities should be structured and facilitated to encourage the development of a growth mindset. When students have the sense that their ideas are valued, they’re increasingly likely to contribute to their team.

In our learning space, students are encouraged to share their mistakes so that others can learn from them and as a class we celebrate when team members share. This is empowering to students, and within a culture that has a foundation of respect, it promotes diverse thinking. Developing a growth mindset culture is not an end to a means, but rather a process that enriches future endeavors. In regard to growth mindset, we need to be cognizant to zoom in on soft skills including the habits of mind.

Using Edmettle, teachers are able to provide feedback to students on their soft skills that promote their ability to develop a growth mindset. Edmettle is a social network and feedback management tool that encourages and highlights students’ grit, resilience, persistence and additional traits that are desirable for career readiness. Read more about this topic: Empowering Student Voice Through Classroom Culture at Edutopia.

Questioning Strategies Promote Metacognition and Confidence to Amplify Student Voice
To empower student voice we need to promote inquiry-based learning and the use of questioning strategies embedded within all content to strengthen learning. Valuing student voice increases student investment in discussions. Creating an anchor chart for student reference to strategy and question stems fosters student-to-student interaction, too. I typically focus on two sections at a time with learners, model the usage, and allow students to practice with intentionality. Over time, students develop the capacity to harmonize a variety within learning sessions. This process fostersmetacognition and empowers students to communicate with clarity. Using Padlet as a form of social media, we also develop questions with our peers and practice responding to one another. As students engage in discussion and questioning stems, they create stronger neural pathways that become the catalyst of student-facilitated inquiry that fuels learning. This process fosters the empowerment of student voice as students gain confidence.

Empower Students Through Self-Directed Learning; Teacher as Coach
Children are curious, yet come to us often awaiting direction from the teacher. Traditional education has left children expecting that information comes from the adult in the room. Authentic learning derives from student questions, predictions, and claims and evidence from hands-on experiences. Empowering student voice means that the teacher relinquishes control and transitions to the role of a coach to allow students to hone in on their understandings, and thoughts. Supporting students to pursue passion projects empowers students to dig deeply into what they want to know more about and puts them in the driver’s seat. As students become experts in their focus of learning, their confidence is strengthened. Opportunities such as makerspace, genius hour and problem-based learning provide students with the framework and space to collaborate, create, communicate and think critically about relevant learning topics where they can steer the direction in which their learning takes them.

Integrate EdTech to Enhance the Four C’s and Empower Student Voice
EdTech that enhances learning by having students focus on the process of creation and standards of focus, rather than exclusively the final product (which may lack substance), is what we, as educators, need to evaluate. When educators and learners are cognizant of the desired outcome, it allows us to maintain focus. Collaborative conversations and creation of self-directed learning needs to stretch beyond the four walls of a classroom. My students have flourished with Edmodo when used to continue and elaborate on classroom conversations around topics and content. Encouraging the continuous flow of conversation outside of the classroom elevates student learning. In our class we use Kidblog to reflect, share opinions, and write from a variety of perspectives to share our voice with other kids globally. Students enjoy creating with Prezi, Thinglink, and Tellagami to inform others about their learning. Within both Prezi and Thinglink students are able to embed images, videos from YouTube or that they’ve created in iMovie, as well as links to articles to elaborate and drive home their objective. Both allow students to express themselves, which further empowers their voice. Learners are able to post their creations on Edmodo or to their Kidblog page to further enhance their creation.

Most importantly each of these opportunities have the potential to amplify student voice. Learners can engage a global audience to share their voice and receive feedback. This process brings learning full circle and develops the opportunity to engage an authentic audience, and receive feedback. As educators we need to provide the opportunity for students to have access to a variety of avenues that support the advancement of learning through questioning, personal interactions and thus strengthen and ignite student voice. We need to empower each and every one to unleash student potential for maximum impact.

Empower Learning Leadership

Entering a New Frontier

Envision learners jubilantly returning from winter break who are eager to connect with peers, staff, and to be empowered as learners. Excitedly they re-enter the learning space while having conversations and greeting others. It’s possible that many learners were still connected with one another, and their teacher through platforms such as Edmodo over break. Remaining connected maintains that sense of family, and keeps conversations flowing so that when reunited as a team they can readily begin to synergize.

How are you setting the stage for the new year with your students? What are your students anticipating returning to? As we enter the new year, consider one shift that you’ll make to ignite students’ passion to learn. Learning is a natural desire, yet when forced or if not engaging, students can shut down and lose their drive to learn. We need to be creating a sense of wonder within our students to foster deeper questioning which promotes innovative thinking. Who are we to teach today’s students, yesterday’s information? What’s comfortable for both teachers and students isn’t necessarily what’s best. In fact, I find that when I am in a place of struggle or discomfort that it’s a blessing because it signals that I’m in a place of growth. When we enter a new frontier it isn’t meant to feel convenient or safe. However, that’s where we need to be for continual improvement. As I consider the shifts I’ve made, I recognize that they’re some of the main reasons my students eagerly anticipate returning to school.
Project Based Learning
I’m wholeheartedly committed to flipping education to move beyond mandated programs. My goal is to immerse students into authentic, relevant, real-world problem solving, and empower students to own the direction of their learning. I’m incredibly fortunate to have been trained and to be provided with ongoing training in PBL by the Buck Institute for Education. Through my journey I’ve noticed that when students develop their own driving questions it propels their research, and they begin to crave learning including the next steps of their project. What I observed this fall exceeded my expectations. In all transparency, our class also hit rough patches. There were times when my students looked to me in search of direction or answers. Similarly, as educators we experienced moments where we had to go back to our training notes as we collaborated to reconsider our process. As a team we hit several moments of discomfort because it was so different than our classic ELA block. While we always utilize best instructional strategies and structures for learning, PBL definitely took us in a whole new direction. For me, it was refreshing. As for the students, it’s evident that they’re more cognitively engaged within PBL. During this winter break they’ve continued researching and posting links for their peers to respond to around their PBL focus on our Edmodo page. The depth of knowledge, success skills, and vocabulary that they have developed is incredible.
Makerspace
When we started, students required reassurance that what they chose to design was their choice. They had to solve problems that arose along the way, but they knew that I was there to support them. Using inquiry as a driving force students worked through many issues. They’re constantly learning how to appropriately interact and converse with peers during challenging times. As our makerspace grows I am devoted to carving out time for students to wonder, explore, and create. Makerspaces provide opportunities for students to create, build prototypes, explore questions, fail and retry, develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, bounce ideas off one another and collaborate on building together. Innovative thinking blossoms in makerspaces.
Innovation Time
Last school year students had opportunities to explore their passions, and share their projects with peers through a variety of presentation methods. This school year I’ll be integrating innovation time more purposefully within the second half of the school year. Sure, students have a lot of choices in class. Within PBL students have ownership over their driving questions, method of presentation, and community contacts. However, I want to extend learning to be increasingly student centered. During the second half of this school year learners will have opportunities to identify and explore their passions with purpose. As I reflect on the first half of the year I feel that beginning with PBL and makerspace has set the stage for students to continue forward into innovation time. They all share a similar philosophy and compliment one another well.
Culture of a Growth Mindset Embedded in Relationships
Fostering and continuously nurturing a culture of a growth mindset embedded in relationships has been one of the biggest factors in allowing PBL, makerspace, and learning in general to be extremely successful. Growth mindset along with relationships is one of the pivotal components that serves as the foundation for all that I work towards. In our learning space you can visibly see and hear that we have a culture of a growth mindset. It’s developed through experiential learning, debriefing, and modeling as well as practicing how to emote through a variety of structures. We also consciously utilize the Habits of Mind and The Leader in Me. During math class students openly share when they’ve made a mistake in order to help their peers learn from what they’ve done. Their peers celebrate them by clapping and making genuine comments. This practice has encouraged students to share out often. Students also use a variety of talk moves to demonstrate that they were either thinking something similar, have something to add on, or new to contribute. All of these simple strategies not only maintain engagement, but also allow students to receive immediate feedback that others are truly listening to them and making connections. Student conversations have developed to be so purposeful that students clarify by asking their team members, “What do you mean by____?” or rephrase by saying, “In other words what you’re saying is_____.” The freedom to make mistakes, question one another, and clear up any misconceptions in a safe environment promotes deeper student learning as they become unguarded and open to risk taking to explore all areas of learning.
Tech as a Tool
Using tech as a tool to foster the four C’s is new for the students who enter my classroom each year, therefore it takes some time to integrate it. This school year students have been exposed to many different types of tech to enhance learning. The tech we’ve utilized has been scaffolded intentionally. We began using tech as formative assessment. Kahoot, Plickers, and Nearpod have been excellent to engage students while also providing quick and accurate feedback for reflection. At the beginning of the year it was messy. Students were unfamiliar with knowing how to login to websites and how to use basic functions on a keyboard. The experience provided me with a wealth of information, and I realized that I needed to back up the instruction more than I had expected. Taking the time to demonstrate, and allowing students opportunities to explore and ask questions made a difference. After working with formative assessment tools, we then picked up Edmodo as a communication and collaboration platform that also allows me to blend learning. Students are now creating and demonstrating their learning using Explain Everything, Prezi, and ThingLink. Once learners grasp how to use tech as a tool, they quickly find ways to integrate it independently and are prepared to choose the appropriate tool when necessary.Coding
While all students participated in the Hour of Code, we as educators cannot just expose students to an hour of code. We need to examine what the needs are of today’s learners. Today’s learners are required to be literate in different ways than yesterday’s learners were expected to be.  Dr. Ryan B. Jackson proposes that coding is the new literacy. I, too, believe that all schools ought to address coding as a significant need in today’s schools.  It’s inspiring to listen to students problem solve as they code, communicate effectively with peers when they hit an obstacle, and the excitement they experience when they overcome barriers.  If you’re tempted to say that this is just one more thing being added in, we need to step back and look at the current job market and contemplate the fact that we don’t know which direction our future will head. Our students are going into a future where many jobs will be newly developed. As educators we need to reevaluate what the greatest needs in our students are, and how we can reshape schools with flexible scheduling and interdisciplinary learning to promote innovative practices.

Enter a New Frontier
As we move forward into the new year we need to support one another as educators, and be fearless in the pursuit of what’s best for students. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to take on new initiatives, but it’s exhilarating too. By crafting a clear vision with a focus that is student centered, you will surely find your footing. Consider how you will enter this new frontier as an advocate for learners. We are the change, together we make the difference.

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New Era: Teacher As Coach

When colleagues have entered my room, at first glance they thought I wasn’t there. I recall the bewildered look of one administrator who I worked for as he scanned the room thinking I had left it unattended. Typically one of the student leaders in my room will notice and point them in my direction. You see, as a coach I’m beside my learners as I question, reflect and provide feedback.

Conflicting Titles

While I view myself as a learning coach, my current title reads as “teacher.” I’m hard pressed to identify a “teacher” who fits the description below from the Merriam-Webster online Dictionary.

teacher noun: a person whose job is to teach students about certain subjects.

First Known Use: 14th century

Definition of TEACHER for Kids:  a person who passes on information or skill

I interpret this definition of teacher as someone who can stand, speak, demonstrate, and ta-dah! Learners will absorb the knowledge. We all know this isn’t the case. It seems crazy that we are using a term from the 14th century simply because it’s the way it has always been. No longer are we a person who passes on information or a skill and we do not behold all knowledge. In the 21st century our focus has shifted to facilitating student learning while coaching students in diverse ways and to support them to reach their full potential by empowering students to take ownership in their education. Learners need to be equipped with the ability to collaborate, think critically, create and communicate.

Shifting

The art of teaching has transformed over the years and while we recognize it, we tend to hold onto familiar and traditional terms that are no longer fitting.  In our schools, it’s critical that we facilitate learning as coaches who utilize formative assessment while providing a loop of feedback, assist learners in setting personal and team learning targets, contribute and are accessible to assist in reflection, and encourage learners to move beyond their comfort level of learning to support them to be future ready.

As we examine the graphic of the Teacher Continuum we can see the progression. Consider the term “coach.” When I hear the term coach I envision someone beside me who is encouraging and supporting my effort, analyzing and reflecting along with me on where I can improve, as well as noting what I’m doing well. This reminds me of Notre Dame’s head football coach, Brian Kelly’s, coaching philosophy. As players make mistakes, he pulls them to the side to provide direct feedback without emotion so that the players remain confident in their abilities with a growth mindset to step back on the field to accomplish their goals. This is contrary to how many football coaches approach their players’ mistakes.

We need to be cognizant as educators of our own demeanor so that students can maintain confidence and develop a growth mindset. The feedback loop is critical as it allows learners to grow uniquely based on their specific needs and continuously refine. I’ve found value in making sure that my facilitation of learning is diverse to meet the needs of all learners through thoughtfully planned mini-lessons and small groups, since there’s no approach that is one size fits all. We need to maintain the role of coach at all times while remaining mindful of student learning needs and focus on visible student engagement in their learning.

Student Leadership

In my classroom we take a proactive approach to learning in order for me to successfully facilitate as a coach. From day one, learners are identified as leaders in our learning space. I explain that while they may not feel like a leader yet, they soon will. As coaches we need to set the stage for learners to grow into leadership roles. This provides more of an opportunity for “teachers” to transition to being a coach and lessen the amount of teacher driven instruction.

As the first month progresses learners begin to grasp that my role is coach and therefore we have a lot of shared responsibility. I’m able to be a coach simply because students are empowered as leaders in our learning space. When their partner is off task, they check in with them and redirect. If students have questions, they ask one another and are allowed to move around the room to seek others’ ideas. This is modeled, practiced and feedback is provided in order for fluid interactions and transitions. As the year progresses, students begin to take further ownership to maneuver the physical learning space to meet their needs and they take initiative to ensure that their time is used productively.

Community and Structures

Shifting to coach places leadership responsibility on learners. By providing structures within a supportive community, students become trusting to take risks and confident to lead their peers. Our community is fostered during the first week and then enhanced all year through community building structures. We also use Habits of Mind and The 7 Habits of Happy Kids structures from The Leader in Me to cultivate a community where learning can be synergistic. When learners are empowered and grasp how to function as a community it allows ample time for me to connect as a coach to be beside the learner.Learners benefit from both teacher as coach and student leadership. They go hand-in-hand to cultivate an authentic community environment where learners take ownership over their choices, learning, and develop the ability to lead their peers with empathy. I’m confident that in our learning space students are not only cognitively engaged in exploring, researching, and learning, but also developing skills to be independent, critical thinkers. I could not coach as effectively if our learning environment was developed based on teacher ownership.

Coaching Opportunities

Inquiry based instruction, guided reading, math talk, PBL, and open exploration within makerspace provides ultimate opportunities for coaching learners. As we coach learners individually or in teams,  they engage in collaborative conversations around content with one another by explaining their reasoning. They practice listening to the perspectives of others and develop a deeper understanding around the content while simultaneously sharpening communication skills. We need to model and then coach collaborative conversation intention

ally in order for learners to engage in authentic and purposeful conversation. Meanwhile as students engage in being coached, they begin to transfer the coaching skills and utilize it with one another.  For me, this is when I feel enlightened. After all, we want to support students to be proactive in their learning and develop self-efficiency.

Pioneering

Each of us has the ability to shift and make improvements in the way we currently “teach” or coach. As pioneers in education we need to anticipate change because nothing stays the same. As the future continues to evolve we must think on our feet, be flexible, and prepared to adjust. By stepping into the role as coach our understanding of the learner grows to new heights. We can then further retool instructional strategy and refine student learning targets to meet the needs of each individual. Automatically my mind shifts to seeking, “then what?” There will always be a next step as we pioneer forward. I’ve shifted from teacher, to facilitator, to coach. As societal needs change and new careers evolve within our economy, it’s exciting to ponder the thoughts of my next role in the classroom to support students in their journey of college and career readiness.

I dedicate this post to my closest thought partner, Michael Bostwick (@m_bostwick), who takes the time to provide insight.