Teacher Leader…or Lack Thereof?

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“BE A LEADER!” We utter these words almost daily to our scholars. What exactly do we mean when we say this? Don’t we have specific expectations of what it means to be a scholar leader? These last couple of weeks have had me thinking. How can teachers exclaim these words and struggle being a leader themselves? Aren’t we supposed to “lead by example”? That’s what we tell our scholars, isn’t it? Is there gratification in not being a teacher leader? Are the standards of expectations we have set for ourselves the reason they are so low for our scholars? I have been engrossed with these wonderings all week.  

Let’s think about this. What exactly qualifies a teacher as a leader? I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that standing at the front of the classroom is not a certifiable characteristic of leadership. There is much more to being a teacher leader than simply that. In my reflection, I began to think simplistically about the characteristics I’d expect to see in my scholar leaders in order to decipher how this might transfer to educators.

When I’m identifying leaders in my classroom community, yes, I look for the general character traits such as respect and responsibility. These are at the very foundation of what a leader should display. But, sometimes it seems that even these are too much to ask of some colleagues. I’m not certain why this blaring lack of professional responsibility is agitating me so much these days. Typically, we get into a slump and we climb our way out. This year has been disparagingly different….challenging, to say the least. I’ve had to stop and think about why I’m here to begin with. At the beginning of my teaching career, I was told that I would never amount to anything as an educator, but thankfully, my scholars communicated otherwise. It is because of not only my scholars, but the many experiences I’ve had along the way that assure me that leadership is much MORE than simply respect and responsibility.

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The obligations of teacher leaders have the potential to bear heavy weight. As schools continue to work towards improvement, teacher leaders stand at the helm, advocating for quality, equitable education for all young scholars. However, with systemic issues such as poverty, homelessness, drugs and violence at the forefront of many scholars minds, it becomes more and more difficult for teachers to encourage and motivate them to be effective learners and in turn, becomes equally challenging to be effective, efficacious educators. Teachers are becoming more and more overwhelmed working to support scholars as they struggle to deal with the realities of their own lives. The days seem to be getting longer and harder the closer we get to the end of the school year. Morale is low, complaints are high, students´ instruction is done just complacently enough to say simply that it was done. It is clear as I walk the halls that many of us are tired and some even burned out. Our scholars are feeling it too, expressing their frustration with outbursts and disrespectful behavior because they lack the skills to express it in any other way. Relationships between teachers and their scholars are suddenly falling apart. How we deal with this sudden decline in school climate can be the difference between how successfully we lead our scholars or not. I leave the building perplexed, wondering how the year has come to this.

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I would venture to say that being a teacher leader is indeed challenging. In my eyes, however, it is a welcomed challenge. We are in a position to be change agents in this field, but this requires commitment. Commitment to change and commitment to the charge. Teacher leaders are charged with the task of identifying the issues hindering the academic growth of scholars and whether the instruction they are receiving is effective or not. More than that, teacher leaders encourage and motivate not only scholars, but their colleagues to be the best instructional leaders they can be. Growing leaders, however, requires that teachers be open to learning new things, habits, concepts, and strategies. However, in that new learning, one must be willing to modify the old. I have been feeling as if this is wherein lies the thin line between one who simply teaches and one who teaches to lead. Quite honestly, itś the difference between whether you are teaching because itś your job and teaching because itś your passion.

Listen, ¨BE A LEADER!¨ This time, the exclamatory charge is for you…the educator. And while you reflect on that, I would like to pose the following question as well. ¨Why are you here?¨ This might be a loaded question, however, in developing teacher leaders, I believe it is a very important question when the lives of children are at stake. In reflecting on this question, think about not simply why you are teaching, but why you are teaching here…in the urban school. If you are teaching for the comfortable hours, weekends off, and the extended breaks, then teaching is probably your job. If you have reached your wits end and find yourself in a constant battle with your scholars or have given up trying, then teaching is probably not the place for you and you should think about moving on. If you are teaching in the urban school because you believe that success is achievable regardless of background, color, disability, behavior, or other barriers…that, my fellow colleagues, is your passion. If you will go above, beyond, and to the ends of the earth to build and grow relationships with your scholars…that too, is passion! Seriously, reflect on this question long and hard. Be honest with yourself. Why are you really here? The answer may be difficult to receive, but it requires your immediate response because how you answer will reveal whether you are a teacher leader, or lack thereof.

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Someone Notices

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Recently, I had a guest visit my room while I was out for a department meeting. There were actually two guests that day in my room for the morning; the guest teacher covering for me and the guest teacher for our Physical Education teacher. My plans included the regular morning routine; the morning message, attendance, lunch count, the Pledge and my Scholar Statement, and finally, our morning meeting. Because I was going to be out for an hour, this morning’s meeting would entail a scholar reflection. You see, the week before while I was out for a different meeting, another guest teacher was intrigued by the Scholar’s Statement and curious to hear what this meant to my scholars. So, she asked them. She shared her insight with me the next morning, stating, “ They didn’t have a clue!” I was stunned since we had spent about a week discussing the statement before reciting it. Little did I know, a week later, the Statement would get someone else’s attention.

Now back to this particular day. As I entered the gym to pick up my scholars from class, I am again stopped by this guest teacher. “Your Scholar Statement is right on!”, he shares. He goes on to say that he’s been to many schools over the last year and a half, but the growth and progress of this school is paramount! He compliments me, the rest of our staff, and our administrator, explaining that my Scholar Statement is evidence of the growth and shift in mindset he has witnessed since his last visit to the school.

What’s interesting about the Scholar Statement is that I wrote it one summer, about 3 years ago, while reflecting on the start of the new school year. I was concerned about my students mindset. Having heard so many times over the years how they feel they aren’t capable and will never be fit to make it to college, I had to figure out a way to influence a change in mindset. That day, while on the elliptical, the Scholar Statement was born.

It was then that I committed to always address them as scholars rather than “students” in an effort to ingrain in them the belief that they have the potential to succeed as much as any other 5th grader, regardless of their background or circumstances. The statements “I can’t!” and “I give up!” do not dwell in my classroom. Because, you see, these statements present themselves as cop outs; excuses for giving up. The Statement is our daily reminder that failure is not an option and acknowledges that although we all learn differently, we are all still very capable of learning and being successful.

I must be honest… I was completely flattered that someone had noticed my heart and passion for teaching my scholars,  all in the span of about 30 minutes. I didn’t write the Statement for accolades, after all; but rather as a means of instilling self worth and confidence in my scholars. That’s all.

Sure, it’s nice to receive compliments; to be recognized for the hard work that is put into each day. But, the reality is many times, when you expect to be noticed, you won’t be. Sometimes, what we do can be a thankless job! You get to the point where you simply expect nothing. So, when this visiting educator publicly acknowledged me and my work on his personal social media page, I was doubly flattered. It was incredibly humbling and touched me at my core!

There is a take away here. While the compliment that day brought me a moment of exhilaration, I knew I had to get my mind prepared to fall back into the usual frame of mind. Look,  let’s be honest. Compliments won’t always be verbalized. So, be confident in the educator you have trained to be. Believe in your ability to touch lives. Encourage yourself to do more and be more every single day, rather than waiting for that pat on the back for the amazing things you do. Know that although you may not always be acknowledged for the things you do…someone notices. When you’re the last one at school in the evening…someone notices. When you’re weekends include attending a scholar’s game, competition, or family event…someone notices. When you go the extra mile for that one struggling scholar…someone does notice. We do so much more than teach content and give assessments. More than we can probably keep up with ourselves. Just continue nurturing and molding your scholars into the strong, confident thinkers and problem solvers they are meant to be and remember… When you think no one notices, someone really does.

When Nobody Else Compliments You, Then Compliment Yourself

 

A Special Thanks from Transitions

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A year ago TODAY, I launched this educational blog. Twenty-eight posts later (24 of which were written exclusively by me), I continue to transparently share my educational experiences and life lessons. It remains my incessant hope that through my sharing, I will incite other educators to reflect upon their own instructional practices and, in turn, result in a change or modification of those current practices as well.

I have grown a great deal through writing this blog. Opening myself has not been easy, however, it has helped me to learn more about myself as an educator and as a person. It has helped me to look at my instructional practices differently. It’s helped me become a stronger educator without a doubt.

So, today, on this one year anniversary, I want to say thank you on behalf of Transitions Educational Consulting. Thank you for engaging with me through my blog. Thank you for following and offering comments of support and encouragement. Thank you for sharing my experiences with others. Thank you for helping me grow and opening yourselves to new opportunities for growth as well.

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Your support is very much appreciated! Keep reading, keep following, keep sharing. Thank you again.
#Transitions #ExpectGreatness

 

Transitions

The 27th Line

Ben Taylor

Tomorrow my students will take their first round of STAAR testing in Writing, a subject I teach twice a day. The test is scored by their responses to 40 multiple-choice revising and editing questions along with 2 essays—one narrative and one expository.

Although the Writing test is one of three they must pass in the 7th grade (along with Reading and Math), it was important to me to communicate to my students that it doesn’t mean that much to me.

Allow me to explain. I have known my students for 8 months. I spend more time each day with them than with anyone else. I teach some of them for 3 hours a day (the lucky ducks who have me for Reading, AVID, and Language Arts).

They are more aware of my quirks than anyone else (including myself—apparently I have an “about-to-go-off” face). They have taught me more…

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Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

morning. What a surprise.

November 4, 2013…the day I published my introductory blog. It’s been 7 months since I decided this blog would be the way I would impact social change in education. Eight months after I successfully defended my doctoral study and 6 months after I was conferred my degree in Teacher Leadership, I wrote that very first blog. Contrary to what some may believe, a principal or superintendent is not the dream I pursue. Instead, I would rather find a position working in curriculum/professional development in which I could work with teachers in and out of the classroom or in a higher education setting teaching pre-service teachers. However, that is currently a dream deferred and I am okay with that because I have since been led in another direction. I have prayed for direction. I have prayed for God to order my steps.

Allow me to take you back to the months preceding the inception of this blog. At the beginning of the school year, I was very much out of sorts. After finishing my degree, I was confident that I would receive the position I desired whether it be in my current district or an outside district. I had applied and interviewed for many positions. Rejection is ALWAYS difficult to deal with, but the one that was most upsetting for me was the one I received from the very district that helped me complete my doctoral degree. When I received the news that someone else had received the position, I was crushed! Not because of who was chosen, but because of who wasn’t! What in the world?! I knew there must be something else for me to accomplish in the classroom, but I certainly didn’t like this fate set before me. As a result, I started the year filled with anger and resentment. I wanted no parts of anyone or anything! Everyone felt the disdain expelling from the air around me. My grade level team especially. Very unfair, I know, but I didn’t know how else to deal at the time. Somehow, I had to find a way to release and regroup. So, in an effort to keep myself immersed in leadership roles, I chose to fill my plate with leadership opportunities. I thought it was a good idea at the time. Yeah…it didn’t quite play out the way I envisioned. Not at all.

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It probably took me until early October to end my itty-bitty pity party. I was helping my sister in law develop a blog for her early education class when it hit me like a ton of bricks! That’s it!! It was at that moment that I decided I could do what made me happy whether I was in a desirable position or not. It was at that very moment that my blog was created. Shortly after that, in December, I made the decision to work towards starting my own business and in January, 2014 with the support and encouragement of my husband, my family, and some great friends, the foundation was laid to establish Transitions Educational Consulting, LLC, dedicated to providing professional development for all educators by focusing on current issues in education and school improvement. Maybe this was what I was intended to do. The problem would lie in the fact that developing the business would be especially difficult while working in a classroom. None the less, there had to be a reason that I was still in the classroom and developing a business at the same time. God has a plan, right? So, I continued with my plans and took on several leadership roles in an effort to continue obtaining as much leadership experience as I could. In return, I would share my many experiences (highs and lows), my lessons, and my reflections with other educators across the nation! At the risk of exposing my imperfections, flaws, successes, and/or celebrations, I became transparent in that moment, in every conceivable way, in order to help other educators, like myself, grow. I have to say, this blog has been the major high point of my school year. I enjoy sharing with you all, learning from and engaging with so many of you about our profession. It is what has kept me going.

In an effort to further grow my leadership skills (probably more so to sooth my aching ego), I volunteered to sit on the Building Leadership Team, the District Leadership Team, to lead the Climate Committee and to be a Resident Educator Mentor for two first year teachers! Yeah, I pretty much took the plunge! In hindsight, I’m not sure what I was trying to prove or better yet, whom I was trying to prove it to, but this is the road I chose to travel. With my plate filled to capacity, it ultimately became more than I could handle. As with any full plate, some things receive more time and attention than others do and some things simply get left behind. But, I chose to do all of this, so I had to continue to try to manage it all. The one thing that I claim as my passion, educating and developing effective teachers, became my greatest let down of the year! Of course I am my biggest critic, but it is what it is. I found that, while working with teachers is exactly what I intend to do with my future, it turned out that it was not my current focus. It’s difficult to explain or even understand how that could be. I just knew that I had to release something, and soon! Next school year, something has to change in order for me to continue to reach other educators.

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The year has been filled with vicissitudes, as is every year. I’ve made great strides and I’ve endured some intense disappointments. I’ve been told I was unsupportive on the low end and awe inspiring on the high end. I’ve heard that I take things personally and am sensitive, but also have been acknowledged for my strength, courage, and reflective insight. I have even been told that the completion of my doctoral degree would elicit appreciation from some while others would do their best to depreciate it! I have let a few down, but have lifted and motivated SO MANY more! This year, there have been a whirlwind of emotions and changes! All of which, I might add, have made me MUCH stronger and wiser.

As with everything, I have learned a few things along the way. I cannot even begin to share the number of applications I have submitted, the number of interviews, and the number of rejections I’ve received. I know there have been many, MANY jobs. JOBS! Let me pin this here for clarification purposes. A job is a noun, a thing. In particular, a job is defined by the qualifications someone else determines and is subject to change based on someone else’s needs at that time. Let me be clear in saying that this is my perception, my personal reflection, my personal experience with…jobs. A job may or may not align with one’s long-term goals or passion, especially on paper, but because other people determine what “the job” is, there seems no certainty that one will ever truly be a good fit for “the job”. What a profound realization that is.

I have learned that even though I have made mistakes, I am not lacking in knowledge, value, or worth. It amazes me that once you receive a doctoral degree, some expect you to be omniscient in knowledge. When, in actuality, it is my opinion that this degree has made me more willing and open to learning even more than ever before. A doctoral degree is not the cake topper of education. On the contrary, it uncovers an unyielding need to explore the depths of all there is still to learn. Knowing this, I will not allow anyone or anything devalue my worth or my degree another day! No way!

Lastly, I acknowledge that change is ALWAYS occurring and I know that change is difficult. It seems that this year has been filled to the brim with change! I have learned so much about myself as a person and as a professional. I know that I will no longer allow “jobs” to define my future. I have committed to continuing to create my own opportunities through Transitions! It may take longer than I anticipated, but I am pressing on. I AM the creator of my future! I will make adjustments where necessary and changes when needed as I continue on the path that God has set for me. I have come to realize with each new understanding, each opportunity, and every new day…nothing changes, if nothing changes.

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Be Attentive, Be Supportive

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In the now 14 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve never been told I was unsupportive and unavailable…that is…until this week. OUCH!!! It hurt me to the core! But, being the reflective person that I am, I had to take what I was given and respond to it. I had already been thinking that I’d dropped the ball; that I didn’t do everything I could have or SHOULD have, but I still found comfort in the fact that I had NEVER heard those words spoken to describe ME…until this week.

I am a leader in my school and in my district, I serve on several committees (all voluntarily), I am the identified grade level chair for my team, and I am a resident educator mentor. Quite a bit to handle in a year, but I thought I could handle it all. In fact, I needed every single one of those things to continue to build my leadership skills and in doing so; I probably neglected the most important responsibility of the year, the development of another educator. The exact place that holds my inner most passion at this particular moment in my life, I have fallen short. I came to the sudden realization that I may have taken on too much. I bit off more than I could chew. My plate is full. My cup runneth over! Well, you get the point. Nonetheless, I’ve been given this bit of information and now I need to do something with it!

I am not sure really, where this suddenly came from, but it didn’t matter at this point. All I knew was that I had to respond to it. It’s apparent that none of us is perfect. We wouldn’t be human if we were, right? But, I honestly believe that a sign of a great educator is to acknowledge his or her shortcomings when presented with them and then doing whatever is necessary to change them. When someone else points out a flaw in your leadership and/or your practice, if education is your true passion, it behooves you to correct that flaw. Assess yourself. What have you done well? What needs personal and/or professional attention? Did you contribute enough? Did you contribute too much? Did you ask enough questions? Did you ask questions at all? What will you do differently next time? In answering these many questions, maybe you will find that it means looking at your list of responsibilities and re-prioritizing them. Maybe it means clearing your plate. Maybe it means searching out professional development opportunities. Or, maybe it simply means being attentive and supportive…for someone else other than yourself.

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Chalkboard Reflection vs. Smart Board Reflection

Happy New Year . . . to you!

Happy New Year! Out with the old, in with the new! Right? I imagine many of you have made some sort of resolution(s) or set some goal(s) for the year 2014 whether it is to increase your physical, mental, or spiritual health, or some other personal/professional goal. I, too, have identified a couple of areas of focus for the New Year.  I am hesitant to refer to these as resolutions due to the typical inability to sustain them.  I’ve found, in my mature age, that my goals haven’t changed much, so I just need some simple modifications, a new approach, or a change in my instructional processes/strategies perhaps. Whatever the case, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on 2013 and all that I have accomplished, all that has disappointed me, and all that is still yet to be done in order to determine my next step(s).

It has been an interesting year to say the least. As I scrolled through the many resolutions of friends, family, and associates on one social media site, I came across a post that really spoke to my spirit.  A wise friend of mine wrote encouragingly and metaphorically, of a focus on spiritual growth moving into the New Year.  My interpretation of his writing suggested, learning from decisions and choices made over the last year, then releasing them while making conscious decisions not to repeat anything that had a negative impact on ones spirit or prevented one from moving forward in any aspect of their life. I found this statement to be profound, to say the least, and it has resonated with me since the conversation occurred.  My response was that I agreed with his prolific statement and committed to reflect, release, and renew going into the New Year.

At that moment, another friend of ours, whom I have grown to respect a great deal over the last few years, chimed in with a question that read in part reflect? For what?”  My initial thought was, depending on the focus of your reflection, it could potentially yield beneficial rewards.  As we continued in our gentle opposition with one another, he wrote something that really stuck with me.  While I described myself as a self professed “analytical reflecter”, he described himself as a “chalkboard”, erasing  things of insignificance and moving forward with that which brought him not only growth and development, but also peace and joy. Wow! A chalkboard, huh? This really struck a chord. I began to think about “reflection” differently (You do realize I am reflecting about this thought provoking conversation concerning reflection, right? I really can’t help it.).

You are probably wondering how this is relevant to us as educators.  The relevance will reveal itself shortly.  Continuing on, I’d like to focus in on this word, “reflection”.  A “reflection” is defined in part as “a fixing of the thoughts on something or [taking] careful consideration”. Now, let’s add this idea of a chalkboard. A chalkboard is a black or green board that is written on with chalk.  All you need to convey information is a piece of chalk and an eraser.  If you write something on the chalkboard that is incorrect, you erase it, change it, and move forward. You may or may not recall what was once written, but there is clear evidence that something was there, as dust is left behind. Sometimes it gets dusty and messy from erasing so much, but a little residual dust does not impede the ability to move forward with conveying further information.  It’s quite basic and simple.  I’m going to call this a chalkboard reflection.  Converse to its partial definition, a chalkboard reflection may require only minimal consideration of some thoughts and/or ideas, as represented by the residual chalk dust (evidence that considerations did exist and were taken), but the fixation on thoughts is not there .  What has been said and done is just that, said and done. Erase it and move forward. There is no time for fixation, or preoccupation with matters that are out of our control. My wise friend’s analogy suddenly begins to make sense.

Now, let me take this further and add the idea of the more sophisticated Smart Board to our reflection.  The Smart Board is an interactive whiteboard, which has capabilities to operate as not only a whiteboard to write on, but also a computer and a projector, which means that files may be saved for later use.  Each component of the Smart Board is connected to the other through wireless connections or via USB/serial cables. There are so many additional components and capabilities that I cannot begin to name them all, nor is elaboration about them necessary amid this interpretation. I can say with confidence, however, that Smart Boards are indeed much more detailed and complicated than chalkboards. Now, we have what I’ll call a Smart Board reflection.  A Smart Board reflection may be described as a fixation on thoughts and a reiteration of considerations (since several files are saved and can be referred to over and over again). While information may be erased in order to create, recreate, upload, and/or retrieve new information, those erasures can be undone, much like a word document, allowing us to go back over our decisions as many times as we feel they should be revisited and reconsidered.  Well now…it appears that Smart Board reflections have the greater potential of becoming frustration, worry, and stress.  Funny, I didn’t feel that way when speaking about his chalkboard reflections earlier.

Here’s the relevance to educators. Research shows us that reflection may have altering effects on our instructional practice.  The degree to which we reflect and the center of our reflection is a choice we make.  Why fixate on something that has happened for which the outcome cannot be changed? Why preoccupy ourselves with circumstances that are out of our control? Yes, we all would like to save the world. We all would like to protect and nurture our students. We all would like each of our students to come from the ideal home, with the ideal parental involvement, with the ideal learning environment. We all would like that however, this is unrealistic.  This fixation and preoccupation, this Smart Board reflection, is what ultimately impedes our ability to instruct our students effectively because of our displaced focus.

Why not get back to the basics.  No, I don’t mean to get rid of the 21st century technology we have longed for all these many years. But what I do mean is, let’s refrain from over thinking our every move. Some things that happen, just happen. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It is what it is. Let’s not read into a colleagues question about why you chose a specific strategy for instruction. It doesn’t mean they discredit you. In fact, maybe it means they are inspired by you. Let’s not over analyze every suggestion our administrators make to mean we’re not cut out for teaching. Consider this instead, if you don’t over think it, what is suggested may just make sense. Yes, reflect on your practice for growth and development. But choose the degree to which you will reflect.  Will you choose to be a Smart Board reflecter, fixated on every single thought you have chosen to save in your mental database?  Think about it. You, yourself, have complicated certain considerations to the point of frustration, worry, and stress, by thinking about it, thinking about it, and thinking about it some more.  I know I have. Or, on the other hand, will you choose to be a chalkboard reflecter, erasing what is irrelevant but allowing yourself to learn from the residual dust left behind?  You see, you can’t fixate on something that is not there. The dust, however, is evidence that there was some sort of lesson to be learned.  Take the dust that is now on your hands and move forward into your next moment…your next lesson…your next venture.   The degree of reflection and the focus of your reflection is a choice…and the choice is all yours.

I wish you all the best, my fellow educators, for the New Year! Reflect, release, renew, recharge.

2014 happy New Year reflection