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.