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Leadership Luminous Culture

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.

 

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 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.

Empower Learning Inspiration Leadership

Ignite a Movement, Be a Trailblazer

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to attend a ropes course, it’s likely that you felt intrigued while observing the varying levels of ability.  From novice to expert every individual moves at his or her own pace.  Others prefer to stand to the side and watch the action take place.

Following a recent experience at a ropes course with my sons, I was struck with how schools are comparable.  While some teachers avidly advance forward as innovators who motivate and challenge colleagues to try new ideas, others want to know every minute detail and speculate all of the possibilities in order to grasp the big picture and purpose before committing to taking action.  We need to be in tune with the needs of the individuals in our organization, decipher what drives them, and how we can support them to move forward.  In our field, we need to aspire to empower every educator to be a significant agent of change regardless of their starting point.

Educators have the capacity to be the fire starters to ignite a movement when the culture and climate are robust enough to support it.  By movement, I mean a complete transformation in the way we envision and do school.  Individually we are making varying differences daily, but collectively we can produce a significant impact and provoke immense change.  In today’s world we desperately need committed educators who spark awe and wonder within students, while encouraging the spark to spread contagiously as students continue to inquire, seek answers, and develop new questions around relevant topics.  Leaders alike need to do the same amongst their staff and colleagues shifting to foster a culture where educators feel supported to take responsible risks.  The culture of schools, with trust as the cornerstone, should be one that stirs up a crusade where teachers eagerly identify their passions and feel supported to take risks, grow, and challenge one another.

 

Foundation First

On the ropes course I had to feel assured that my sons and I were completely safe in our harnesses in order to proceed through the challenges.  Guides were in the vicinity checking in and also demonstrating safety, which promoted confidence in those of us on the course.

In any organization, relationships and trust are the pillars to a strong culture.  Educators and administrators alike need to feel supported.  If our goal is to increase innovative practices and opportunities for our students and teachers, we need to take a step back and analyze how we’re nurturing the culture.  Fear can cripple a person and lead to avoiding risk-taking behavior and therefore stifle innovation.

In our organizations we need to know our people, understand and be empathetic to their needs, as well as listen to and value their ideas.   Our schools need to cultivate a culture of innovation so strong that it carries itself beyond any change in staff or leadership in order to continue to do what’s best for students as our world changes minute-to-minute.

Connect With Thought Leaders
Coming together through connections with like-minded educators enhances the power to be trailblazers in education as we are able to support one another and share ideas.  Joining together through shared beliefs and dreams drives passion within individuals enabling synergy to develop.  Connect through Twitter or use an app such as Voxer that will provide you with flexibility to communicate.  This enables interdependence between educators to support and collaboratively move one another forward.  The more often we connect with a team of like-minded thought leaders we develop confidence.  Confidence is critical in order to make pedagogical shifts and face challenges head on.  We need to know who is by our side to support us without judging our alternative ideas and who will provide authentic feedback for reflection and growth.

Encourage Educators to be “Non-Compliant.”
Compliance doesn’t lead to change.  Compliance leads to complacency, which jeopardizes growth and success.  At the ropes course, I was tempted to call out to my sons to hold the rope, or to slow down.  I had to refrain because if I didn’t want to suppress their growth.  My sons are both risk takers, and I had to trust the fact that they were using all of their senses to appropriately travel through the challenges in a supportive environment.

In thinking about the diversity that fills our schools, we need to examine what makes each individual most confident in order for them to join the movement.  Cultivating and sustaining a culture of innovation requires delicate balance.

When we recognize risk-taking educators who are ready to soar, we need to clear the runway and provide encouragement along with the space to take off; but the key is that we also need to have them on our teams collaborating to provoke deep thinking, which can elicit others to join the movement.  Initiate conversations around how their ideas support the shared vision, what action steps they’re taking, and see how others could gain from what they have to offer.  When we bring a diverse team of thought leaders together to collaborate we can promote growth from all angles and develop thorough plans.  Within every organization there are educators who are comfortable diving-in and just going for it, while others take time to adjust.  Honoring and celebrating individual qualities creates a no-judgment zone where educators know they’re supported when they feel it’s their time to fly.

Likewise, when we sense educators are uncomfortable about change, we need to be cognizant of the environment they’re in, who are they connected with, and nurture the culture to support their individual growth.  Educators who require all of the nuts and bolts of a plan, or to see the big picture before moving forward, benefit from clarity of the vision.  When we engage in active listening practices and are genuinely empathetic, others are able to trust that they’re supported.  As educators we can all highlight the strengths that shine within each individual.  Our role as educators is to empower, whether it’s empowering students, colleagues, families, or ourselves.

In terms of non-compliance, educators need to have the autonomy to do what they know is best for students.  We need to motivate educators to make every decision with students at the forefront.  Educators benefit from developing a shared vision with coherence by examining the world students are living in and stretching our means to support them to be successful and future ready.

As an educator,  I know I need to utilize the standards as the foundation of student learning, but traditional education as we know it is hindering our students’ growth.  Is learning in silos effective and is it how we apply information to life outside of the classroom?  Educators in all positions need to challenge themselves by reflecting on why they’re doing, what they’re doing.  Being a continuous learner enables us to develop confidence in our endeavor.  As trailblazers who are shifting paradigms of education, I urge all to join in and be an influencer who walks the talk.

Inspire Others
Through relationships we need to tap into each individual’s passions and fuel their desire by celebrating unique strengths, contributions and involving them in a movement for the greater good.  Demonstrating our commitment towards the vision, leading by example and clearly articulating why and how we’re shifting our pedagogy can influence others by inspiring them to take action.  I believe every teacher desires a successful team of students who are eager to arrive at school and demonstrate grit through rigorous and relevant learning.  Educators need to see the vast amounts of possibilities despite perceived barriers.  When a barrier presents itself we inspire others by relentlessly pursuing all options without defeat.
Educators in all positions of the field have the ability to ignite a movement.  Some of us go big while others prefer to start small.  Despite your preference I challenge you to consider what you believe needs to revolutionized and connect with like minded professionals, develop your vision, and craft your plan so that others gain clarity and feel supported to take action alongside you.  Our children deserve our very best.  They benefit from flexible learning environments that arouse creativity, innovation, honor divergent thinkers and provide appropriate challenges around relevant and engaging topics from educators who authentically value the child’s personality, and foster genuine relationships.  As committed educators we’re in it together to ignite this movement, we just need step forward.
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Empower Learning Inspiration Luminous Culture

Unlocking the True Potential Within Every Child: Be Their Champion

You have the power to make a phenomenal impact in the lives of children.

I believe educators are astoundingly fortunate to have the honor of engaging in the approach of unlocking the true potential within every child.  Regardless of their background or circumstances, by pursuing all avenues to reach and inspire each individual child, we can all make a difference in our students’ lives.  It’s phenomenal that educators have the opportunity to be a champion to not just one child, but hundreds of children over the course of their career.  I believe that when we work collaboratively for a cause that’s greater than ourselves, the impact will cause ripples that travel further than our minds can fathom.

Our profession is all about kids.  They’re our future, and it’s an enormous responsibility because our interactions will either inspire or discourage. A lot of conversations have been had around risk taking and failing forward in education.  While these words are tossed around and contemplated, each person has a different image of what this actually looks like.  

Developed progressively, every year my vision has shifted and evolved with each diverse and unique team of students I’ve had the privilege to work alongside.  I’ve gained a deeper understanding of why culture is critical and how to harmoniously refine the development within each new team.  In a community where culture is authentic and strong, students flourish and truly begin to seek risk taking, than simply being “open” to it. 

A considerable amount of time needs to be devoted to cultivating relationships with individual students in order to assist in developing their ability to take risks.  And this means daily, as it’s an ongoing pursuit.  Sit beside the child, allow them to guide the conversation, seek information about who they are and what their passions and dreams consist of.  When we demonstrate that we genuinely care, students connect with us.  When we connect by sharing our commonalities and continue to ask about their individual interests, students know we’re invested and truly care about their best interest.  

Our students need to feel a safety net around them from us as well as their peers.  Peer acceptance is a piece of their sense of belonging.  Tailoring experiences where students develop empathy for their peers is essential.  If we truly want students to develop the ability to take risks, they need to feel their basic needs are met and that others have their back.  Making the assumption that students come to school and feel safe, or that they belong, is risky.  We need to be intentional about how we craft our classroom culture by providing opportunities to build trust between students and teachers, as well as students and students.  Teachers gauge the level of trust within the room by observing, taking the temperature of the climate, and continuing to learn the idiosyncrasies of each individual student.  In looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, we see that if we want students to become risk takers, it’s pertinent that all of their basic needs are met. 

Recently at the 2015 Model Schools conference one speaker focused on fairness in the eyes of a child.  Fairness is a child’s perception, and perception is real to the beholder.  Will students develop the mindset to be a risk taker if the playing field doesn’t feel level?  We need to communicate clearly, consistently, and remain cognizant of cultivating authentic relationships with each and every student.  Furthermore, students benefit from a level of comfort/safety where they’re empowered to provide us honest feedback as their coach (teacher), and that is only possible in a classroom where students feel completely supported to take risks without repercussions. After all, in order to understand our students’ perceptions we need to listen and validate their feedback.  When students provide us with feedback, we can then stretch ourselves to learn and grow from their input. Students thrive when they’re embraced unconditionally.  Every child deserves a champion who will rally around them and validate their feelings while continually improve for their sake.

This past year I continually repeated “mistakes are proof that you are trying” as students collaborated on relevant and complex problem solving.  I hung this poster on the wall to be visible to all students.  By midyear all I had to say, “mistakes…” and the students would complete my sentence.  Rather than scolding them for giggling when I made a mistake, students grasped the fact that I too will make mistakes and they’d say, “It’s okay Mrs. Bostwick, it’s proof you’re trying!”  It was liberating for them to identify that their coach is not the beholder of all knowledge, but rather the individual that was there to facilitate, guide, and encourage.

Life is filled with adversity.  How we choose to handle it is embedded in our mindset.  Fortunately mindset is malleable, and I believe every teacher has the ability to empower students to learn to fail forward, seek risks, and pursue their passions.  Setbacks are part of growth, and we need to provide experiences within a supportive environment to stimulate this understanding in order for students to develop flexibility in thinking.  Cultivating and nurturing the culture of a classroom provides the fertile environment for students to thrive and seek risk taking which leads to innovative problem solving and creations.

Repeated failures can lead to success when students are inspired to aspire toward their goal.  The key is to foster their ability to identify their passions in an environment that richly supports risk taking through supportive and trusting relationships.

This summer my 10 year old son, Julian, who has always been a tinkerer and maker, was further inspired by the idea of makerspace as it’s been a hot topic in our house.  Energized, he worked tenaciously to develop an obstacle course that would allow a ping-pong ball to travel from one point to another using random materials found around our home.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, he used an iPad to document his trials which demonstrate failure after failure that led to his success.  In watching his iMovie you’ll recognize his efforts of making slight alterations in order to reach the intended goal as well as the sound of success at the end.

See Julian’s iMovie: Trial and Error by Julian

Imagine the impact that would transpire if all students were empowered to continue to persevere in the face of challenge, and yearned for the sheer joy of the process of overcoming obstacles.  We can make this happen, and kids deserve the culture and environment that supports this.

Intrinsic motivation catapults students’ determination and outcome of success.  As educators we have the collective capacity to share in the movement to empower students to be innovative problem solvers, who develop the prowess to examine situations from all angles.  Every child deserves a champion who will tailor and foster a learning environment for them to bloom.  Be the change you wish to see in education because #kidsdeserveit.