Marigolds: Important to have and to be

Recently in the #4OCFPLN, Kristin Nan asked for us to pen what our small group meant to each of us. In short, this group of educators provides me with daily discourse from a variety of educational perspectives on a limitless number of topics in a digital (audio, video, and text) platform that I carry in my pocket. How many educators have truly found “their tribe”? And, what do you do if you are facing a school year as a new teacher or as an educator new to a position/building/district?

The answer is: Find your marigolds.

Jennifer Gonzalez, in her widely shared post “Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers” on her Cult of Pedagogy website, discusses marigolds:

Marigolds exist in our schools as well – encouraging, supporting and nurturing growing teachers on their way to maturity. If you can find at least one marigold in your school and stay close to them, you will grow. Find more than one and you will positively thrive. ~Jennifer Gonzalez

What incredible and positive advice for a person who is navigating a new garden!

But, what if you are entering a garden that is already familiar to you. You are a veteran teacher with a logbook about the plants in your garden. In fact, you already have labels on the marigolds (and the pesky walnut trees). What can you do? Can you genetically change a walnut tree into a marigold? Maybe. Maybe not.

You can, however, BE a marigold. In your building, there will be educators who are new to your garden or new to their spot in the garden. How can you ease their transition? BE a marigold. This is so simple, free – all you need is a genuine smile – and the results are magical! In practice, marigolds are helpful, encouraging, supportive, and positive. For example, marigolds help when the copy machine is grumpy, answer questions without judgment, brainstorm new ideas and model true collaboration, celebrate successes – particularly when accompanied by a risk-taking adventure, and drop encouraging notes in mailboxes (bonus if chocolates are attached).

Marigolds do not need titles to be marigolds. There is no stipend for this role. But, the benefits are priceless: meaningful relationships that are rich in communication, collaboration, and creativity. Better news: There are no limits to the number of marigolds that can co-exist in a building. In fact, I challenge you to fill your building with them!

Marigolds need other marigolds to thrive. If you are limited in marigolds in your building, remember that we live in a digital world where being connected transcends time and space. Utilize social networks like Twitter and Instagram to meet educators that share your passion! It doesn’t matter where you get your fertilizer, as long as you are positively growing so that you can give your very best to the students you serve.

Please share how you will BE a marigold this year!

Teaching: Compared to Other Professions

Comparison: On Sharing

Recently, our district-level, content/age specific team was charged with revising our pacing guide and unit plans. We turned to districts in our state for inspiration, however quickly found that most were unavailable as they were protected by district permissions. I even reached out to two districts to establish collaborative partnerships, and I was swiftly told, “No, thank you.”. I raised this issue in my #4OCFPLN voxer group – Why are these resources not openly shared?

At the same time, I thought about how other professions work compared to education. In medicine, I see parallels to the field of education – yet, simultaneously, I see many areas where educational leaders could learn a lot from the organization, strategies, and frameworks that exist in the other sectors. In our #4OCFPLN voxer conversation, I mentioned the field of medicine. A surgeon, for example, hones his technique by training under the very best surgeons for many years. He practices. He sees a variety of conditions. He places himself in challenging environments with brilliant practitioners to learn, grow, and better serve his patients. When he finds success, he shares – publishing in journals, presenting at conferences, and encouraging others in his network to adopt new, more effective practices to ultimately reach more patients.

Is it ego? Elizabeth Merce suggested, perhaps, that surgeons have big egos so that publishing their work feeds that character trait. Are educators, as a whole, more humble community? Do we not publish our work for fear that we are being boastful? Does my state – who issues a report card grade to individual schools based heavily on student achievement and growth on standardized tests – encourage competition between districts and, simultaneously, discourage the collaboration that authentically happens when we share resources?

Laura Steinbrink explores some reasons why educators are reluctant to share in her newest post “Sharing What I do: Am I An Educational Narcissist?” She includes great questions for self-reflection.

I’ve heard many educators say that they feel that what they write would not speak to others. Yet, we all have thoughts, strategies, and innovative implementation of techniques that are novel. There is always someone who will grow from our words.

Comparison: Urgency

In medicine, there is a sense of urgency. Physicians see a new practice and push to implement that practice as soon as possible as they have the lives of their patients in their hands – sometimes, literally.

Shouldn’t we have the same sense of urgency in education?

What if improvements in the fields of medicine and business moved as slowly as changes in education? In many cases, we have one year (or, one semester, gasp!) in the life of a student. Shouldn’t we feel the same sense of urgency to create a learning environment that will positively impact the student the most? That, alone, is enough to encourage me to network, learn, grow, and change. My students need this right now.

Comparison: Specialization

In medicine, physicians highly specialize their practice. Although there are general practitioners that serve a variety of conditions, if you present a unique scenario, it is likely that you are referred to an expert in that field. Recently, I supported a friend through surgery. Given the specialization of the surgery, her already specialized physician referred her to a specific surgeon in this field who is not only a nationally renowned surgeon, but he uses the most advanced techniques and equipment available in the country. In her consultation with him, she later shared that he was brilliant but did not have all of the answers. She laughed because he was able to tell her in acute detail about her surgery, but he could not answer where her family should park to visit her in the hospital. WOW! Here is a nationally known surgeon at Duke University Hospital who has no idea where to tell his patients to park! Yet, he beautifully owned his lack of skill set in this area. In fact, he did not even skip a beat. He said, “I am confident that I can remove your tumor. However, Jeff will have to walk you through the logistics about getting here and finding your way to the surgical center.” In our classrooms, we are often expected to wear hundreds of hats in a day – each requiring a different skill set, some of which are more finely honed than others. Professionally, I believe that we are as confident as this surgeon in our strongest skill sets. However, are we equally willing to reach out for help in areas where we are weak? A recent business article that I read suggested that we should not spend an enormous amount of time worrying about our weaknesses. Instead, delegate those. Focus your attention on strengthening your strengths, sharing our knowledge, and creating a “signature style” {Hone Strengths, Delegate Weaknesses by Wendy Tomlinson of MorningBusinessChat.com}  With this approach in mind, PLCs could have an entirely new purpose.

Perhaps we can grow by looking outside of the field of education. What would happen if our sense of urgency fueled us to share our strengths in intense collaboration with an intentionally selected group of educators who balance our weaknesses? Teamwork.

Sarah Fromheld explores more similarities between surgeons and educators in her recent blog “It’s a great day to save lives.

Summer of Books…All the Books

Happy July! Typically, summer in my coastal world means lots of salt, sand, sun, surf, and tackling the ever-growing “home projects” list. While this summer is no different, I’m finding myself enjoying the beach alone – as my teenage girls have filled their days with athletic practices, summer jobs, and fun with friends. Who better to keep me busy than a massive pile of books – educational, leadership, beachy fiction, and YA? I’ve jumped in with both feet, and I am currently juggling several book studies on Voxer, Instagram, Facebook, and Participate. As expected, the conversation is rich with inspiring and creative ideas that I cannot wait to weave into my learning spaces next year.

Always eager to try something new, I am giving George Couros’s #InnovatorsMindset Instagram Book Study a go! Each time I read this text, different passages emerge as particularly important based on the learners that I serve at that point in time.

Why this book study? I love The Innovator’s Mindset, as this text served as a catalyst in changing my educational trajectory. Not only was it the professional read for #NCDLCN ’17, George Couros served as the keynote for that year’s NCTies Conference – where I was lucky enough to meet him! This text connected me with other educators, opening the door to many other texts… which sparked conversations, collaborative efforts, and exciting projects.

Week 1 did not disappoint. Here’s a recap of my posts:


Innovator’s Mindset Day 01:
Checking in from OBX, NC – a secondary science teacher and lead digital designer. Through this book study, I hope to learn from passionate, innovative educators and expand my PLN. PD on vacay? IG + @gcouros for the WIN! #InnovatorsMindset #InnovatorsMindsetIntro

 

Innovator’s Mindset Day 02:  Innovation does not require technology, supplies, or a novel strategy. Instead, it requires a complete shift in mindset. Swap a paper for a blog post. Create Ted-Talks instead of presentations. Solve a campus problem. Create opportunities for relevant work to present to an authentic audience that utilizes students’ voices. That’s innovation. #InnovatorsMindset #InnovatorsMindsetCh1

Innovator’s Mindset Day 03:  Number 1 Question: What is best for this learner? followed by Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom? Have an honest self-reflection: What is working (or isn’t)? Survey your students. What can be tweaked? What needs to be tossed? Where can you turn for help in brainstorming ways to improve the learning experience for everyone in your learning space – including you? #InnovatorsMindset #InnovatorsMindsetCh2

Innovator’s Mindset Day 04:  Real life is messy, and real-life problem solving often requires many attempts. Teaching students to self-start through continuous evaluate begins with us. The end result is a generation of learners capable of solving ANY problem.   #InnovatorsMindset #InnovatorsMindsetCh3

Innovator’s Mindset Day 05:  Asking educators to embrace innovation requires a growth mindset, taking risks, and failing forward. For many, this is a huge challenge. Building deep relationships ensures a safe place to try new practices with minimal fear, judgment, or negative consequences. How do I start? I show my own vulnerability first. If I am the first to ask for help or fail, hopefully, others will follow. Remember, we are all learning together!   #InnovatorsMindset #InnovatorsMindsetCh4

Innovator’s Mindset Day 06:  The initiative that I would most like to see is Professional Development FOR teachers BY teachers – tech tools, innovative strategies, book studies, everything. I model this through book studies like this that I participate in and share with colleagues + I am leading a district initiative that launches our first 10 courses later this year.  #InnovatorsMindset #InnovatorsMindsetCh5  

Innovator’s Mindset Day 07:  I build leadership capacity in my students by providing them with a nearly unlimited amount of choice in my classroom – seating, pacing, order, grouping, environment, artifact of mastery. I also weave in Teacher Progress Reports that provide feedback for me based on what students think is most important – and, together, we problem solve ways to improve what they decide is not “up to par”. With feedback and reflection a two-way street, we all have ownership of the learning environment. #InnovatorsMindset #InnovatorsMindsetCh6

As I enter Chapter 7, I recognize how so much of this text applies far more than the students I serve. I am adding notes to my margins on how I can amplify voice in the volunteer organization where I serve, in encouraging more teachers to use their voices to share their innovative ideas, and in building the next generation of teacher leaders to continue to prepare our problem-solvers of tomorrow today.

Share your thoughts! I’d love to chat!

~~Holly

 

 

 

 

Reflections: The Growth is in the Journey

Two short years ago, I sat in my high school Media Coordinator’s interactive space to learn all about the power of Twitter, one of her many “Technology Tuesday” opportunities that she hosted as floating events to weave technology into our staff’s everyday teaching methods. Not only did she share a variety of instructional strategies with me, she shared how the NCDLCN experience had transformed her as an educator and encouraged me to participate the subsequent year.

A short blog post will never provide justice to impact that NCDLCN has had on me. During my year as a participant, I worked with an incredible mentor whose wisdom and experience was invaluable as I stepped out of my classroom into a lead teacher position. My assistant principal, who oversaw my department and served as my liaison for my NCDLCN project, aligned me with opportunities at both the building and district level to lead PLCs, lead professional development in technology, and develop blended professional development in a variety of areas.

In each NCDLCN event, I gained content knowledge, curated resources, and expanded my network of educational professionals who served as critical collaborators, ready to offer their expertise and input on any idea. Through this, my vision for what building level professional development could look like came to life. Armed with a #sketchnote and an example, I pitched my idea to our leadership team. From there, magic happened. In a true collaborative effort, our building leadership revealed a year-long professional development program that targeted academic rigor immersing teachers in a continuous improvement cycle.

MMS Continuous Improvement Cycle, 2018

Prior to NCDLCN, professional development in my building was delivered in a stagnant, sit-and-get method. NCDLCN encourage us to creatively turn PD upside down. Our goal was simple: Innovative Building Transformation through Shared Leadership. Our three-phase approach highlighted innovative, academically rigorous, heavily differentiated practices by incredible teachers in our building. In each phase (divided by level of academic rigor), our leadership team modeled the use of technology in their instructional methods, allowing teachers to experience the technology through the lens of a student and learn an instructional technique for blended learning.

Professional Development Module, 2018

In addition, teachers participated in Learning Walks, opening the door for the sharing of ideas across grade levels and subject areas. As we advanced our capacities in technology, our Learning Walks evolved so that they, too, were delivered in a digital format.To celebrate the risks that our teachers embraced, they were awarded Badges that were proudly showcased on posters beside their doors, email taglines, and social media. In a true learner-centered model, we asked for teachers to jump in where they felt the most comfortable – aiming for 25% participation in our first year. We understood that each teacher is different – with different time available to learn more about digital technologies, different comfort level with technology, different interest levels, and different needs for support. By allowing teachers to move at their own pace, we established a system that allowed for tailored, individual support for each teacher.

What makes our year-long professional development plan innovated? Our plan is:

  • Aligned with our school improvement plan and revisited often through teacher professional development growth progress monitoring charts
  • Intentionally embedded in consistent professional learning that targets rigorous instruction, best practices, and student engagement.
  • Modeled by our leadership team (pedagogy and use of digital tools)
  • Accessible and attainable.
  • Tiered, with expected participation at the Novice Level and encouraged participation at the Apprentice and Practitioner levels.
  • Celebrated in print, email, and social media.

To date, 272 badges have been awarded that span from engaging in professional chatter on Twitter to creating infographics with their students. 95% of the teachers in our building have earned 7 of the 8 available badges – a statistical success that we did not expect in August. The most impressive result has been how the teachers have embraced technology tools to creatively and innovatively transform an area (or multiple areas) of their practice.

This entire building initiative started at an NCDLCN January brainstorming session with my building leader. Over time, this project evolved into where it is today – with many voices contributing to its path. While I am proud of our current product, I am more proud of the growth that took place along the journey. NCDLCN’s Professional Development days provided me with rich educational content, instructional delivery methodology, and opportunities to collaborate with passionate educators. Each moment provided insight – an idea, a tweak, or a spark – that improved this initiative in some way. While our effort was to instill a continuous improvement cycle with our classroom teachers, this focus on reflection started with NCDLCN.

NCDLCN has empowered me to take risks, use my voice, and dream big. My vision started as a penciled sketchnote and evolved in 272 issued badges in a small school. While the original sketch is long gone, the vision is not. More important than a vision is the journey to bring that vision to fruition. I am excited about the new relationships, opportunities for collaboration, deep reflection, and continued growth that the next leg of my journey affords. Above all, NCDLCN taught me that the growth is in the journey.

Resource: NCDLCN: PD in your PJs

 

What Teachers Need

43 days. There are a short 43 days left in my instructional year. As I ponder how I will continue to engage my students during those 43 days, my mind wanders to what will engage me – as a professional – during the last stretch towards the finish line.

I teach in a building with 45 other educational professionals. While we are independently responsible for our own rosters of students, we are a team focused on the same goal – preparing students for the next leg of their life journey – academically and socially. This time of year, we are challenged to maintain high expectations and continue learning, even when the students might prefer to be outside in the beautiful spring sunshine. Teachers are using every educational strategy to engage students as we review for exams.

What about the teachers? Teachers are feeling the stress of exams and the end of the year frenzy just as much as the students. What keeps a teacher going when kids would rather relish in the spring sunshine, the “to do” list gets longer while the number of days gets shorter, and everyone seems to be in a rush to check boxes as “complete”?

Image result for quote a who feels appreciated

This quote speaks to me – particularly this time of year. I use this philosophy with my students to spark a stronger work ethic. I appreciate their work – so they give me a little more. I appreciate their attention to manners, to guidelines, to meeting expectations and to maintaining the same principles that we have had all year. By appreciating their efforts, both in large groups and individually, my students continue to surpass my expectations, even with 43 days left.

Teachers are students, too. With budgets dry and limited hours, what can be done to appreciate teachers so that they, too, will continue to exceed expectations during that last month of school? While I cannot speak for all, this is what motivates me:

Get to Know Me

Relationships are the number one ingredient in my educational environment. In my class, we start building those relationships on Day #1 – and, I work diligently to overcome barriers that surface throughout the year. As a teacher in the building, I thrive on that same camaraderie with my administrative team and colleagues. When an administrator knows me – what is important to me, can identify my strengths, help me strengthen my weaknesses and celebrate my growth – I am willing to be innovative, am resilient to failures and am confident in my efforts. There will be times when our conversations are challenging. However, if we have a relationship that is built on mutual trust with a focus on the same goal, we minimize the level of awkwardness, allowing us both to move forward in the best interest of all stakeholders.

Model Innovative Practices

Be just as innovative in leadership as you expect me to be in my classroom. Just like I am expected to be organized, current, thorough and collaborative with my student/parent communication, I expect the same from my administrative team.Talk to me about ways that I can professionally grow and collaborate with me on how to reach those goals. Allow me to share areas that need improvement in our building – as, if we are going to embrace a student-centered, growth mindset, then no area of our learning environment is immune to that reflective practice, including building leadership. Evaluate every meeting agenda, audience and expectation – how can these be more efficient? In evaluating efforts, be open to recommendations about every practice. What dated practices can be revisited and revamped? For example: can we rethink the “End of Year CheckOut List” where teachers spend hours trying to find someone to sign a document – only to learn that person is off-campus for lunch or not back until Tuesday. Isn’t there a better way to do it? Innovative methods are not just for classrooms.

Involve Me

Students appreciate being kept “in the loop”. Teachers are no different. When thinking about school improvement, consider teacher voices. ALL teacher voices. While some teachers exercise their voices louder than others, I promise that ALL teachers have thoughts on student discipline, professional development, instructional evaluations, school schedules and teaching assignments. By building bridges between leadership and faculty, opportunities surface for all teachers to have input on improvement. Exercising a voice in the decision-making process may result in a team of teachers more open to building changes and innovative initiatives.

In stepping away from this post, I recognize a  common thread:
The importance of relationships.

Talk to me. Collaborate with me. Involve me.

In turn, I will move mountains for you.

Together, we really are better.

Understanding Giftedness

For fifteen years, I taught advanced science courses in an independent, college-preparatory school. With a degree in Biology and Chemistry, I felt confident with my content and could easily deliver advanced concepts to students who were academically driven, trained in traditional educational methods and had the support of parents who valued education. While the content and pace of the courses were challenging, the actual teaching was not.

Fast-forward three years: After a move to a new area, I find myself in a local public school teaching a ninth-grade honors-level science course. After one semester, it was clear that my fifteen years of traditional methods were not working for anyone. I longed for ways to stretch my gifted students while engaging all students. I was unsure how to write true, differentiated lessons plans using data from my classes while still being a wife and mother. After all, I only have 24 hours in each day!

About that time, I received information about positions available in a new Gifted Education Certification Program. If accepted, I would enter into a cohort of teachers who would, together, complete the graduate courses required to add “K-12 Gifted Education Certification” to our teaching licenses. Four short weeks later, I entered my first course towards certification. My, how my classroom has changed since then.

In my first Gifted Education Class, our instructor taught our content through methods that work well with a gifted population. As I learned the characteristics of gifted students, I realized that she was describing the very same students in my previous school who was I able to connect so effortlessly. Surprisingly, she was also describing me.

Throughout middle and high school, I found “school” easy – and, I’m sad to say, boring. A few teachers – Ms. Kincaid and Mr. Grogan – lit intellectual fires for. However, by and large, school was mundane. It was not until I entered upper level science/math classes or challenging math competition teams that my brain fired on all cylinders. I was the kid who completed advanced logic puzzles for fun. I read the unabridged books and the anthology of Edgar Allen Poe. For fun. I was different. Uncomfortable. Always outside of the circle.

My 15 years as a teacher in a college-preparatory, independent school placed me in a classroom with dozens of students just like me. I easily taught them, because I identified with them. I am those students – 20 years later. Only, I did not realize this until I started to study gifted education. Interestingly, the gifted coursework was easy because I live it every day. I am sensitive to the social and emotional needs of these learners and can help them grow in weaker areas – as I share these needs and areas of growth. I understand how to gently challenge these students for I can envision how I would need to be gently challenged. I empathize with their uncertainties, need for perfectionism, desire for acceptance and overwhelming stress that accompanies a brain that seems to never rest – for my brain, too, works like that.

The courses in Gifted Education tied everything together for me. And, in doing so, turned my classroom upside down. Gone is the “one size fits all” instruction. My classroom is now filled with powerful student voices, self-pacing and lots (and lots) of educational chatter. In our learning space, we work in small groups, move, write on desks and use technology every day. Expect the unexpected.

I read this tweet today:

If your students aren’t influencing what you are doing, you are doing it wrong.

This is why I challenged myself to earn an advanced certification in Gifted Education. Students – through their silence – were speaking volumes.
I listened.

Our students need us to participate in additional professional development.
Our students need us to learn new strategies and methodologies.
Our students need us to continue to grow so we can meet their ever-changing needs.

Years ago, teachers listened to me silently express my needs.

Are you listening?

More Like a Sea Turtle

Anyone who knows me is fully aware of my deep love for sea turtles. While my family does live on the coast, my attraction for this beautiful creature started long before we moved here. In moving to the Outer Banks, my family began volunteering with the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (NEST). Through this organization, we work year-round to protect our sea turtle population. In early summer, we comb our beaches for new turtle nests to mark and, 60 days later, we sit these nests to protect the hatchlings as they make their journey to open water. In the winter, we rehab cold-stunned turtles in our rehabilitation facility. Throughout the entire year, we educate our locals and guests on turtle nests, life cycles, rehab and all of the awesome things about being involved with the organization.

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Me with a very awake juvenile green turtle! Quite a personality!
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Marking a new nest a sunrise
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Two hatchlings, on the way to adventure.

Only recently did it dawn on me: What is my connection to sea turtles? Did I seek out a volunteer opportunity? I think that my connection is much deeper than this. I’ve studied, observed and worked with sea turtles for four years. This is what sea turtles have taught me:

1. Sea turtles believe that home is where the heart is. 

Female sea turtles return to the beach on which they hatched to lay their own nests – 20+ years later. While I may have left my home for high school and college, settling down many miles away to raise my family, I always felt the tug to return home. Now, 20 years later, I have returned to that home. To my home, I bring the experiences, wisdom, and knowledge of my travels to blend with all of the comforts of feeling like I belong.

2. Turtles cry, but not because they are sad. 

Yes, turtles cry! However, it is because they have glands that rid excess salt from their eyes. Sometimes, I cry, too – when I’m proud, happy, emotional, stressed and – of course – when I’m sad. It’s ok to cry. Turtles do it!

3. Life is better with a team

Did you know that turtles hatch underground several days before they emerge? In fact, they often wait until all of the hatchlings emerge before they make their way to the surface. By rising and emerging together, they increase the likelihood that a few of them will successfully make it to the ocean. Survival of the fittest. Turtles figured out the power of teamwork millions of years ago… Let’s follow suit!

4. Follow the light

Immediately after breaking the surface of the sand, hatchlings sprint towards the brightest light available – hopefully, the white caps of the ocean or the reflection of the moon. (Note: Light restrictions on beachfront property prevent turtles from traveling in the wrong direction!) Following the natural light guides the turtles into the first leg of their journey. As an educator, I must also follow the light – new people and experiences that positively impact my growth as an educator, so that I am invigorated to implement innovative techniques in my classroom with passion and energy.

5. Just keep trying

Have you ever seen a hatchling encounter a wave for the first time? These little bitty turtles, about the size of an Oreo cookie, get pushed onshore by incoming waves, sometimes flipped upside down, yet they remain undeterred. No matter how powerful the wave or how long the trek, they flip back over with their eyes sternly on their goal, and simply TRY AGAIN. And again. And again. With each attempt, they get stronger, more determined and learn something. There is a lesson here.

For over ten years, sea turtles have been calling my name. Yet, it wasn’t until just this week that I fully realize all of the lessons that they have to teach me. This summer, I plan to spend many hours by turtle nests – enjoying beach guests, meteor showers, Space Station flyovers, breathtaking sunsets, fellowship with other NESTers…
and, if I’m blessed, a baby hatchling or two or 100!

Turtle on!