Sunday, January 29, 2017

Positive Cultures & A Growth Mindset

What are ways instructional leaders can promote a positive culture inside and outside of the classroom? There are many different things that come to mind right away when thinking about this question. Some of it seems like common sense. Positivity in a leader is crucial to high-performing work teams. In the book, The Truth About Leadership, one statistic shared in Chapter 10 was that high performers received a ratio of 5.61 positive statements to 1 negative while, medium performing received a ratio of 1.14 to 1. Looking at this stat is interesting. Also mentioned in the chapter was that “50% of professionals say that having a ‘bad boss’ would be the most important factor in a decision to leave their jobs” (140). So, what are ways leaders can promote a positive culture in school?

Here is my list -
  1. Supportive
    1. A leader who supports their followers shows they care on a daily basis. Supportive leaders are there for people they work with in both professional and personal settings. They can listen with empathy, and really hear the fears that their constituents might have, and validate their feelings in a caring and supportive manner, before looking to find solutions together.
  2. Appreciative
    1. Leaders who create positive cultures do so in a way that celebrates all members on a staff. It should not feel forced, but should really allow for appreciation of work be shown. Like the book stated, it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or prize, even little pieces of authentic appreciation can help moral.
  3. Approving
    1. Having the approval of a leader is always a nice feeling to have. Positive leaders give approval to those who earn it. Not only seeing the highly innovative performers, but noticing those who are trying and improving and recognizing that builds a culture of safety and positivity.
  4. Involved
    1. Being involved outside of school functions and creating a sense of community among staff really helps create a positive culture in school. Leading by example was one of the ten truths of leadership. Finding out the interests of constituents and values they hold will help leaders connect with them on a day to day basis at work. 

A lot of the ideals of good leadership fits well into the classroom. Teaching students should bring out much of the same leaderships qualities you want to see. Having a growth mindset in class is something I want to see from all of my students. Understanding that they can improve and learn and grow as individuals into anyone they want to become is something that is important to me. This growth mindset can be modeled through my actions as their teacher. Going through professional development, sharing with my students that I too, have classes where I learn. As it is said in the book a few times, “great leaders are great learners.” This is important for students to know. Supporting a growth mindset means allowing for mistakes to be made, acknowledging them, but then allowing for time to fix and learn from them. Creating an inviting and safe atmosphere also builds the foundation for growth mindsets in students. Kids are not likely to put themselves out there if they think others will judge or ridicule their actions. Seeing everyone as equal and unique and celebrating that can, I believe, lead to growth mindsets.

Building both a positive culture and growth mindset will no doubt lead to innovation. All people, whether it's teacher or students, will do their best work when they truly believe their leaders are genuinely there for them and care their own unique successes.

Kouzes, James M., and Barry Z. Posner. "Truth Ten: Leadership is An Affair of the Heart." The Truth about Leadership: The No-fads, Heart-of-the-matter Facts You Need to Know. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 91-164. Print. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Can Change Happen Without Trust?

This is an interesting question to think about when reading and learning about good leadership. Can change happen without trust? In the book, The Truth About Leadership (Kouzes & Posner), Truth Six discusses trust. The first statistic in the chapter states that high trust organizations have been shown to outperform low-trust organizations by 286 percent in total return to shareholders. This is a staggering amount. In a sense, I think trust is an obvious trait we all want in our leaders, but I do think it can be difficult to always demonstrate trust once you are in a leadership position. 

Here are four actions the book describes as key behaviors that contribute to whether others see you as a trustworthy leader:
  • Behave predictably and consistently.
    • When others are relying on your words and actions, its important they can depend on you. Being predictable or consistent in leadership helps build trust.
  • Communicate clearly. 
    •  When you are a leader, everything you say counts. So before saying things out loud to people, make sure you and others, understand your intention.
  • Treat promises seriously.
    • There might be problems when people have different views of the importance of your promises. Take them seriously and stick to them.
  • Be forthright and candid.
    • Discovering that someone has been dishonest casts doubt over everything he says and does. The more you share, the greater working relationships you have.
So, does change happen without trust? No, I don't think change can truly happen without trust. Any leader in a work setting can require or mandate different things to happen. People may view these as hoops to jump through. A true leader, who has given and earned the trust of their followers will be able to create a true change in a system. I think with trust, people are more willing to experiment without the fear of failing and test out more innovative processes. 

Below is a Ted Talk video featuring Simon Sinek, who shares the importance of trust and why good leaders make you feel safe. The world can sometimes be filled with danger, we need people to watch out for us, and we need to watch out for each other. The leader sets the tone.

Kouzes, James M., and Barry Z. Posner. "Truth Six: Trust Rules." The Truth about Leadership: The No-fads, Heart-of-the-matter Facts You Need to Know. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 75-90. Print. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Truths 2-4 My Why & School Roadblocks

What is my why? What brought me into education?

These are questions that I feel I should repeat to myself daily. I don’t spend enough time reflecting on my values about education. When I first thought about becoming a teacher, it was my sophomore year in college. My mom is a teacher, and while she is a huge role model in my life, I struggled at first with going into the same profession as her. I wanted to be different. But the truth is, deep down, I really liked the idea of being a teacher. It was something I knew about - the amount of time I had spent in school, the differences that teachers had or hadn’t made on my life, and first-hand observations of the amount of prep time that went into teaching from my mom’s perspective.

In school, I had been always been good student, good grades, followed the rules, respected my teachers. I wasn’t the loudest, and sometimes I felt looked-over by my teachers. When becoming a teacher myself, this became one of my core values - don’t look over any student. I want every student to enjoy school and know that if they need someone, they can always count on me. I want to know everyone’s name, who they are, and show that I know and respect them in my class. School is about so much more than academics. I don’t remember too much content from my high school English class, but I do remember the way the teacher connected with all of us.

As a teacher now, I never dread going to work. Do I hate waking up early in the morning - sometimes, but by the time I get to school I am ready to go. That’s how I know I am in the right profession. I’m sure everyone has had jobs throughout their lives where they really didn't enjoy going to work. I am fortunate enough that I get to work with kids and see the passion in their eyes when a project excites them, see them learn different lessons in life, and watch them grow to the adults they will become in the future.

School roadblocks.

Roadblocks are just challenges to overcome. When I think about some major challenges in education, the first thing that pops into my head is the ratio between class size and teacher. This is probably not the largest challenge by far, but I know it’s connected to a lot of different roadblocks and directly affects one of my goals as a teacher. I teach a 6-week long class of STEM to each grade level in my school (6-8). Having 32 students in my room is difficult. This affects my ability to get to know each student. I also teach a 9-week long elective class to each grade level. The average size of these classes is around 15. In smaller classes, I am able to sit with each student, spend a good amount of uninterrupted time with them, and really get to know who they are. It’s just not possible in a larger class.

Standards-based grading is a topic that continues to come up in education. We will be implementing it in our building within the next two years. I have no doubt that it is a great way to assess what a student learns. I also think in order to do it right, it takes time from the teacher, both to set up and to integrate into the classroom. Having smaller class sizes would mean having more time to spend looking at each individual student's’ assessments and actually having the time to create plans for improvement and enrichment. I realize class size is something that is not in my control, so I will have to find ways to think “inside of the box.” Any helpful solutions are welcome!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

You Make A Difference: Leaders From My Life

Three years ago I graduated college. I was fresh out of student teaching and had no idea where I would be now. I did not have a job lined up right out of graduation, it was December, so finding a full time teaching job wasn't going to work. I knew that I would have to substitute teach, or find a long-term subbing position until the end of the school year. Could I have moved home and found subbing jobs from there? Yes. I had friends who had done that. But, I really wanted to stay where I was. I had roommates and a life created in Minnesota, so traveling back to Wisconsin wasn't ideal. So, I took a risk and stayed, knowing that I would have to stay on top of my responsibilities and work while searching for teaching positions. The following April, I had an interview in Byron for a STEM teaching position. I knew what STEM stood for, but that was about it. My background is in Biology: Life Science Teaching, so I was confident I had the "S" down. Before the interview I spent some time researching what STEM teachers even taught. I had never taken a STEM class growing up, but I thought it sounded kind of cool and new. After accepting the position, I knew it was going to be a new learning challenge I had to take on if I wanted to be successful. But I was ready for the challenge!

There are many leaders that have shaped the person I have become. My parents first. My mom is a teacher and she has shown me the amount of work and passion it takes to be a teacher. Also, the dedication to family. My dad coached my basketball teams growing up and modeled the importance of building relationships with others, and demonstrating how to inspire others. As a teacher, I think about my own schooling, and specific coaches and teachers I looked up to. Mrs. Siegert, who was my high school track coach and engaged me in a new sport that I learned to love. I think I remember her more that other coaches, because of her commitment to her players. She saw who we were as individuals and would do little things to show us she cared. I expect that from family, but it was so genuine and real from her that it really stuck with me. Still today, as I start my first coaching job, I hope to emulate some of her greatness with my students.

As I think back on my journey throughout college, my supervisor at Winona State, Ann Durley, was a huge influence on my life. She is a hall director at one of the residence halls on campus, as well as the director of camps. I started working for her my freshman year as a student assist in the camps office. I never thought about becoming an RA (resident assistant) until she convinced me I might I have a niche for it and that it would be a great experience before teaching. I owe some of my most cherished college experiences and friends to her, for inspiring me to take the risk and apply for that position. As a supervisor, she always demonstrated her trust in her staff, and her ability to be there for us whenever we needed anything was something I will never forget. 

Student teaching was a huge life moment for me. I was assigned a larger high school in Rochester, to teach Biology to 9th graders. My cooperating teacher was a football coach-type character. He taught me many valuable things about leadership. His relationships with students was always number one. We would spend the entire first week of school just on building connections with the kids in his class. He also taught me that it was okay to fail, and more importantly, acknowledge that in front of students. Seeing this empowered students, it made him more human and respected to his class.

When I was reading the book, The Truth About Leadership, the first chapter explained an example of a young girl and her journey to becoming a leader, even at age 9. It reminded me of the Kid President videos. I think it really speaks the truth about leaders. You don't have to be promoted to a leadership position, as the book puts it, "you open yourself to making a difference in the world."

Kouzes, James M., and Barry Z. Posner. "Truth One: You Make A Difference." The Truth about Leadership: The No-fads, Heart-of-the-matter Facts You Need to Know. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 1-15. Print. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Final RWL Reflection

Creating this RWL project was an overall success in my book. Having students take ownership and pride in their work, creating new collaborative opportunities, and seeing creativity in my class were all a result of RWL.

My real-world learning (RWL) project was a collaboration between my 8th grade Advanced Robotics class, and Kory Graham’s (@korytellers) 2nd grade Innovations class. For this project, the 8th graders were tasked with designing working mechanical toys for their clients, the 2nd graders. As I described in a previous post, the students in both classes used Padlet as a communication portal to begin the project. My 8th grade students asked questions to the 2nd graders. This question phase is something I would try to improve next time. I think the questions asked by the 8th graders may have been too broad, so some did not get the specifics they wanted/needed to make the best toys possible. After the interview questions, my class started designing custom toys that incorporated simple mechanisms.

At first, it seemed a little challenging with how Kory and I were going to have the students share their finished toys with each other. Padlet, again, was huge help. I also had my students create short videos explaining the toys and mechanisms to the 2nd graders. Kory then recorded her class’s reactions to the toys. But we felt it was important for the 2nd and 8th graders to meet face to face at least at the end of this project. So, although our two class times were different, we were fortunate enough to have the 2nd graders’ other teacher, Mrs. Erdmann OK having the 8th graders and I visit their classroom one morning.

This was what I think the project needed and fit in really well with our timeline. The 2nd graders had already had a chance to evaluate the toys, so when the 8th graders met them, it was a sharing time.

If I were giving advice to someone thinking about doing a project similar to this, I would say go for it! I think the key that really made this a RWL opportunity was that my students got to see how it might be working with others outside of their classroom. And that they have deadlines, that you sometimes don’t get a chance to go back and re-do or extend. Working with real “clients” was a very valuable lesson. In the end, I believe students in both classes will remember the learning experience as a positive one.

Finally I wanted to share the feedback that I received from my students.





Sunday, October 23, 2016

RWL Project Progress Update

Real world learning is taking a standard or topic in school and having students apply it to an authentic experience. It’s when students can take the content being learned and create something that can be seen in real life. This past month, I have been working on a RWL project with my 8th grade Advanced Robotics class. This is an elective class, so it seemed like the perfect class to spend some time experimenting with something new.

The RWL project my students are working on right now involves mechanisms and the design process. My 8th graders have been paired with 2nd grade clients. Their design challenge is to build a working mechanical toy for their clients, based on their interests. This project involves a lot of collaboration with another teacher in our cohort, Kory Graham (@korytellers). Kory is having her 2nd graders, in their Innovations class at our primary school, learn all about gears and motion on their end.

One of the tools we have been using a lot for this project is Padlet. This has been a pivotal communication portal for the students. We have been able to have the 8th graders ask their interview questions, similar to design thinking empathy interviews. Have the 2nd graders answer these questions, and give updates throughout the project.

This platform is easy to use, my students were simply able to add their own block to the padlet “wall” without signing up. The video attachment is also very easy to use. Pictures of the collaboration are shown below.

The project has been going very well so far. Both sides are very excited to be working together. As far as sharing the final products, our classes do not meet at the same time during the day. So we will have to drop off the toys one day, let the 2nd graders play with the toys for a day, record their feedback, and then pick up the toys to bring them back to the middle school. Feedback will be given to the 8th graders by both myself and the 2nd graders.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Real World Learning Empathy Reflection

Empathy is an important part of design thinking. Learning about your client before you start designing solutions for them is very valuable. For my Real World Learning project, I interviewed four different students. Two male students, and two female students. One each from 8th grade and 6th grade. I decided to ask for volunteer students in my classes, I received many offers, but tried to go with a variety of student types. Some who were very active in class, and others who were quieter or not as engaged in class.

There are many things educators can learn from empathy interviews with students. I learned a lot about the personal interests of my students. All of them had strong family times, even if they were all from different upbringings. I believe the family/home life of a student strongly affects their learning tendencies in school. Another strong take-away I had was that all four students knew what they wanted to do when they grow up. They all have dream jobs, and great reasons why they want to do those jobs in the future. These passions also lead to how they think school is for them. One student enjoys science more because they want to become a marine biologist when they are older, while another really enjoys Industrial Tech, because they dream of becoming a farmer, like their dad.

Taking time of our busy schedules as teachers to interview students is difficult to think of doing, but afterwards, I feel that I can shape my lessons, projects, and activities in class so much more effectively for my students. Even though they are in middle school, the students are able to explain the ways they learn best. It was very informational to hear that they enjoy hands-on projects. Any time they get to get up and move/build/create in class is one of their favorite times. I can relate to this, even as an adult learner, I am definitely much more engaged when I am being active in my learning.

My process through design thinking is just beginning to happen, and already I feel it will lead to some awesome success in student creation. Now that I know how my students think and feel towards school, I can use this information to drive my Real World Learning project forward onto the next phase - Defining the Solution!