Monday, November 19, 2018

COMPELLED: Week 11 - Empathy



Having empathy is an extremely important people skill. Empathy drives design thinking and helps build positive relationships and connections. Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is not always easy, but it’s valuable as an educator because of the diverse backgrounds in which our students are being raised. Kids don't care how much we know until they know we care. Empathy is the driver of building relationships where we show we care. 

In an article by MindTools, they suggest several ways to use empathy effectively, and most importantly, how to do it through listening. When students want to talk, or when we ask a question of a student, it’s important that we stop what we’re doing and really listen. 
  • Listen with your ears – what is being said, and what tone is being used?
  • Listen with your eyes – what is the person doing with his or her body while speaking?
  • Listen with your instincts – do you sense that the person is not communicating something important?
  • Listen with your heart – what do you think the other person feels?

If you can't play the video above on your device, click HERE.

Four qualities of empathy as shared by Brene Brown, about Theresa Wiseman’s work:

   1. To see the world as others see it
   2. Stay out of judgment
   3. Understand another person’s feelings
   4. Communicate others’ feelings and validate them

Helping kids to feel heard and truly connected takes empathy. Empathy is skill that improves with practice, so let’s share a listening, caring ear and get to practicing!



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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Change is one of our greatest teachers


As I've grown older, I've come to own my insecurities as well as my strengths. I also take ownership of my own happiness. My personal growth is something that I work on every single day, and through that I have learned the powerful effects of 2 things: controlling the messages that play in my head and practicing gratitude

Each day I practice quiet time and reflection, and I think of at least 3 things I'm grateful for. As the year is winding down, my thoughts have taken a wider scope as I reflect on goals, dreams, and actions for the year and those to come in the new one. I ask myself, "Because of my 3 words for 2018, what has come into - or gone out of - my life, for which I am grateful?"
Image result for www.thecompellededucator.com gratitude
I've journaled, blogged, reflected in quiet thought, and talked with trusted friends about my fears, dreams, goals, and pitfalls throughout this year. As I step back even further for that "balcony view" of my life, there's a couple of pivot moves that have happened in my life that have brought me to where I am now and for which I'm deeply grateful. 

While in high school, my family moved to Birmingham, Alabama. I was able to experience junior high while I lived in Chattanooga, since we moved the summer before my junior year of high school. The schools in Birmingham were 9-12 high schools, so I was able to have two different high school experiences as a student. At the time of the move, I thought it was the most horrible thing in the world. Looking back, it was one of the most beneficial changes in my life. 

As an educator, I am grateful to have worked in four different schools throughout my long career. The first four years I served as a teacher and coach before I got out of education for two years. I then worked in a school for nine years, six of which were as a classroom teacher and three as an assistant principal. My next stop was a two-year stint as a high school principal, and then I went to my fourth school where I currently serve as assistant principal in my tenth year at the school.



These changes in schools have been on my mind and heart lately, as I have been talking with a new assistant principal in a neighboring school. The growth that happens when encountering new routines, people, and ideas is tremendous. As I mentor her, I am able to draw from the lessons learned at each of those experiences to help lift her up in her new role. Had I stayed in one place for my entire career, I don't know that I would have had as much growth as I have had over all these years. Each of the right turns that I made throughout my career (and life) have helped me to grow personally and professionally. For that I am grateful.


Monday, November 12, 2018

COMPELLED: Week 10 - Excellence


Growing up and playing sports, pursuing excellence was something that was always emphasized throughout a season as well as off-season. Chasing excellence was something that we (athletes, and for me, later as a coach) were never ashamed of. Perfecting our craft and demanding from each other that we all get better than average was a norm. It's something that my husband grew up with as well, and something that we've stressed with our daughters. 

For many of you reading this, you can relate to the athletic piece and you are most likely nodding your head in agreement. For some of you, maybe you weren't an athlete, but the expectations to be above average came from other areas - the arts, academic endeavors, home life, or other areas. 

I've noticed in many education circles, though, chasing excellence can be a taboo subject. Maybe it's because we strive to be humble, servant leaders and educators. Perhaps it's because we aim to be collaborative and not competitive. 

I love when I get to hear my friend Jimmy Casas - a truly compelled educator - speak because he reminds us that, "No one got into education to be average." 

"Strive to be a leader who.... 
Doesn’t wait for others to change: You change. Take responsibility for your own behavior. You cannot paralyze yourself because others are not doing the things that need to be done.   Take initiative and be the change, not the same."




Whatever the reason we choose to make our desire to be excellent a private matter, we need to remember that the best educators don't compete with others. They compete with themselves. Let's continue to strive to give our very best each and every minute of every day. Let's chase excellence, not average. 


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Saturday, November 10, 2018

When teachers lead their own learning


Professional learning is something I'm very passionate about. As a curious person, I engage in learning for my own personal reasons, but I also try to spark curiosity in others as it relates to professional learning. 

Even though "PD" rolls easily off of the tongue, I really hate the connotations that the term "professional development" (PD) conjures up. 



When I lead professional learning for our teachers, I always try to make it interactive, engaging, and worthwhile. I never want it to feel like a "sit and get," and I model instructional strategies that teachers can use in their classrooms. Even with the intentional actions on my part, it wasn't until recently that I felt like I was able to be a facilitator of teacher learning rather than a content delivery person. 

For our teachers' Professional Learning Plans, they are asked to choose at least one school-wide goal for their plan. We have three school goals this year: Diversity, Assessment, and Technology. A different assistant principal is leading the learning for each goal, and I'm leading the learning for technology goal. This is what the goal states:
"I will explore, identify, and integrate technology enhanced activities into my classroom that will allow me and my students to think creatively and communicate effectively while extending learning opportunities beyond the classroom."

Teachers who chose the technology goal have met three times over this semester over the first semester as part of the action plan, and I want to share how the meetings were structured so that you may find inspiration or ideas that you could use in your school. 
For our first meeting, I shared what the goal is NOT. It was not about checking a box or just using technology tools for the sake of using them. (In our 1:1 school, there are still a lot of people in the Substitution phase, and this goal was going to be the impetus to have teachers move beyond it.)



Our school's awesome technology coach, Keith Fulmer, has been helping me and the teachers with the learning all semester. Keith and I also emphasized to teachers that even though we are asking them to step outside of their comfort zone and take risks, we will support them all along their journey. 

Along with asking teachers to trust us and themselves as they venture into possibly unknown territory, we asked them to reflect on their "why." 
  • Why do I want to learn about this?
  • Why choose this goal that requires risk-taking? 
  • Why do I want my students to have this experience?
Additionally, we asked teachers to look through the "consumers vs creators" lens as they were designing the experiences for their students. So often we ask students to simply consume (and there is a place and time for that). We emphasized that we wanted to move the needle towards creation. Information is everywhere, and we want students to be able to do something with the information, such as think critically, evaluate, and problem solve. 

Near the end of our first meeting, teachers were given a hard copy of ideas (tweeting with an expert, Skyping with another class, using virtual reality to take students on virtual field trips, blogging, etc.) where they were asked to literally put "pen to paper" and jot down their own ideas for connecting their students outside their classrooms walls. While the suggestions on the list were not inclusive nor required, they served as a jumping off point for our teachers. Teachers shared ideas with others at their tables and gave ideas to those in and outside their content areas. They were also asked to brainstorm as many ideas as possible until our next meeting, which would be about a month later. 

At our next meeting, the slide above was on the screen as teachers entered the room, and they were asked to again get clear about their "why." 

After everyone completed the top of the planning template, we used a protocol to share ideas at the table. 




How the protocol worked:
  1. One teacher had 3 minutes to share his/her ideas with the group. No one should interrupt or ask questions during the three minutes. 
  2. When time was up, the "table" had 2 minutes to ask clarifying questions and share additional ideas (What if you...?) with the teacher.
  3. It then rotated to the next teacher until everyone had shared. 
  4. One teacher served as the timekeeper of the table. 
After each person shared with the table, we then asked if anyone had any questions or thoughts to share with the room. 

I then asked teachers to narrow down their ideas to 1-3 activities that they would implement in their classrooms. These items would be entered into the planning template, along with instructional outcomes, and the timeline for the activity. Teachers were asked to be specific in their timelines, including in them any learning they would be doing prior to the activities.

Some of the activities that the teachers have planned are 
  • Skype with a geology professor
  • to have their students to blog (The teacher had never blogged before, so she started one in order to be able to model it for her students and help them once they begin.)
  • Connect a Spanish 3 class with a Spanish 3 class in Arkansas via GridPals and learn together
  • Use VR to take students on virtual college tours
  • Create a digital newsletter with articles and videos written and created by ELL students
  • Use Skype or Instagram Live to talk with a nutritionist about healthy eating
  • Create book trailers as podcasts
and more!

On the planning template, teachers were also asked to answer the question, "What do I need to learn to accomplish my goals?" Each teacher shared a copy of their template with me, which I dropped into a Google folder for Keith and I to access. We can read through the plans to make sure that we provide support as needed. 



At our final and third meeting of the semester, I asked the teachers to bring a hard copy of their plans to the meeting. The plans were taped to the walls and teachers did a Gallery Walk around the room. They wrote feedback, ideas, and suggestions on sticky notes. After all of the plans had been read, teachers were then able to ask clarifying questions to the group. 


In past "PD sessions," the learning took place in the room with limited collaboration time. With the way in which I structured the sessions for this goal, the learning takes place outside of the room and our time together is to collaborate and help each other. 


"The smartest person in the room is the room."


The 40 teachers who are participating in this goal are from different content areas and levels, and Keith and I are simply facilitators and encouragers of their learning. We ensure that they have the resources they need to make their plans come to life, and I'm excited to hear about their experiences next semester. 



For the full presentation, click HERE.









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