I recently read the book "Building a Better Teacher" by Elizabeth Green. The book opens with her description of a teacher in the midst of an elementary math lesson. As I read the account, I began feeling anxious, and I must admit a bit overwhelmed. She describes a student at the front of the room working out a math problem, but then getting stuck in their understanding. This is where the critical decision making comes in for the teacher. The teacher must decide what to do next. Do they call on someone else to assist the student who is struggling? What happens to that student if she does? Will that student achieve understanding of the concept, or be hurt that the teacher called on someone else? Will the rest of the class feel less likely to take a risk and share their thinking in front of class knowing that the teacher will call on someone else to point out how they are wrong? If you don't call on someone else, how do you move forward and resolve the problem? How long do you let the student stand up there before intervening? If you ask the student to clarify their thinking, then what? When they share their understanding and it's wrong, what question you ask to the class will impact the rest of the activity. The decisions go on and on, and I am sure I am not doing justice to the decisions and consequences that educators make every minute of everyday.
This book, and this story in particular help remind me how difficult it is to be an educator. In my current role I work with teachers and support them in their efforts. I have been out of the classroom, well a better description is I have not had my own classes for the past four years. In this role I work with teachers and students to integrate technology. I love what I do, and am passionate for changing education. However, this book, and my recent experience subbing in a 4th grade class were humbling reminders of the monumental tasks that teachers have each day.
Reflecting on the difficulties of teaching helps remind me that the pace of growth is often slower than I would like. Meetings with teachers often result in positive conversation, but don't always translate into transformation in educational practice. Teachers I work with want to do better. They seek out opportunities for improvement. They are passionate about being innovative and most importantly doing what is best for students. They sometimes run into obstacles, one of the most significant is time. There is a limited amount of time to do all the things they want. I know this from my own experience. The struggle to adapt and change practice is often the result of a lack of time.
What I have come to realize as an educator is that progress happens, just not always at the rate we expect. As a classroom teacher, I wanted to improve myself each and everyday. Learn new things, be the best I could be. Looking back, I realize I didn't embody this, especially early in my career. I fell into the the trap of doing things the way that I had experienced in my own education. As I learned and grew, I saw how others had helped push me in the right direction. They didn't pull me, but rather nudge me, and a few times kick me down the path of improvement.
As a teacher I found that the best results came when I got out of my student's way. When I gave them a task and let them solve it their own way. Sometimes I had to push, nudge and a few times shove them (gently) towards improvement. I had to allow them freedom of choice, but more importantly explain the why. When they understood why we were doing something they excelled. When I gave them opportunity to perform in real world situations, they soared. It quickly became evident that all students have the potential to amaze if we as educators can provide them the platform to shine.
Over the course of this past year, I have had a few instances that have really shown me the power of leading from behind. Working with a number of teachers, I have seen them grow. And with their improvement, has come exciting opportunities for their students. During this year, I have had a number of conversations with one teacher and seen the growth that she has taken. We have worked together for four years, and in that time I have seen her take more risks, try new things, and celebrate the cool opportunities she has been able to provide for students. This year she approached me about setting up some technology sessions for a PD session at her school. She wanted to provide teachers opportunity to learn some new things and share with each other the great things happening in the building. In the past, my group of Tech Integrators would have lead these offerings. Her vision was to have teachers showcase the things they are doing. We planned the day, inviting teachers to present and share their expertise. In the end we had several teachers volunteer to present. The rest of the staff was excited about the opportunity to have a day like this. The one overwhelming suggestion was to have more time to explore the tools. Planning a PD day, and pushing for more opportunities to present to staff on technology is something this teacher wouldn't likely have done when I first met her.
In reflecting on her drive and passion to create this and other opportunities, I have come to realize that some of that is a result of the conversations we have had. I do not want to give myself too much credit here, because it isn't about me. She is the one who planned the event, pushed to meet with the admin, contacted the teachers, and put the plan into motion. My learning from this is that it was years of conversations, supporting her, celebrating when she took a risk and sharing the times when I saw growth that helped contribute to her moving forward.
Leadership isn't about credit, it is about the process to move others forward. If we want a high functioning organization, we must support all staff and help them move forward. This movement can be slow going. While the activities I described are the result of four years of collaboration, that doesn't mean it took four years to see growth. Beginning in year one there were strides being taken. In year two there was evidence of significant growth, and in years three and four, it was obvious that this individual was embarking on their own path of leadership as they worked on influencing others.
Leading from Behind allows others to shine, and in the end it provides opportunities for all. Most importantly through the efforts to build others up and see them succeed, the entire organization succeeds. Education is one of the most difficult careers there is. When we work together, support each other, we can make a difference in the lives of each and every student. As a leader we must never forget our purpose is to do what is best for students, and as a school leader, supporting teachers to be there best will most certainly move us forward in achieving success for all!
I just finished reading the book “Drive” by Daniel Pink. And by read I mean opening the overdrive app on my phone, connecting the bluetooth receiver in my car stereo and clicking play to listen to the audio book. In “Drive,” Pink outlines a number of concepts that relate to personal and professional happiness. He explores the difference between Type I and Type X people. Those who are intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. In his exploration of these two types of people, Pink spends a significant amount of time debating the benefits and costs of rewards, or more accurately providing the proper types of rewards and recognition. He has found that providing the wrong type of recognition or reward can actually decrease productivity and professional or personal satisfaction with a task. What he found in general is that people who are are doing tasks or work that they feel is valuable or meaningful will often spend more time and effort to accomplish the goal. While finding what motivates each individual to do their best work may be difficult, in general, those who are able to spend some time in their day working on things that they feel make a positive contribution are happier and more productive employees, and people.
One thing that also contributes to that sense of satisfaction is the ability to work autonomously. The opportunity to have freedom in how you perform your job responsibilities, and having the ability to decide how you spend your time during the day. Some companies have experimented with autonomy to an extreme where their employees are allowed to work from home, set their own hours with little oversight by supervisors. The system works for them because they are results driven. Each person sets up performance goals with their supervisor and are expected to meet those goals. The employees understand what is expected and make adjustments to their schedules to meet those needs. Working in a school where we serve students, and staff, we don’t have the opportunity to work from home, or the type of flexibility in our hours. However, when you work is just one example of autonomy that provides job satisfaction. I know my role has both regular expectations on my time and flexibility. I am wondering in what ways people in our department have autonomy in their work.
Another recurring concept in “Drive” is Flow. And I can’t help but think of this visual when I hear Flow. I immediately thought of Flo from the Progressive Commercials. But then this morning I had a flashback to an old TV show I believe “Mel’s Diner,” that I watched as a kid. So back to Flow, the concept in “Drive” resembles the things in life that fill your bucket. The aspects of life that bring you joy, happiness and fulfillment. They did a study where they asked people to avoid aspects of their day that brought them Flow. Those moments in life and work that provide you happiness. What they found is that depriving yourself of Flow led to people feeling mentally drained, sluggish, and in the end they researchers realized after two days they had to stop the experiment to protect the participants.
Flow is necessary for our happiness. Pink suggests that if you want to help identify the Flow in your life, you set up 40 random reminders to go off over the course of the next week or two. Each time one of these notifications goes off, you stop what you are doing and record the following: What you are currently doing, How does this make you feel, and are you in flow? Are you satisfied, happy, content with what you are currently doing. After you have examined these entries, you should be able to better identify what your Flow is and where it exists in both your personal and professional life.
The last major takeaway from the book was the discussion of 20% Time and FedEx Days. 20% Time is the concept of using 20% of your week, or 1 day out of the week to be able to work on a project of your choice. Doing something that you are passionate about. I used this concept in my classroom and the results were amazing. Students worked on personal goals to improve skills in sports, or learn a foreign language. Some wanted to explore technology and build apps. What was surprising is that some students struggled to find their passion. They hadn’t been provided the opportunity for autonomy in learning. For businesses that have implemented this, they have come up with things like Gmail, Google Hangouts, and other popular products that we use today have come out from 20% time.
A variation of this concept is FedEx days. Some employers have set up a day where staff come together to create teams and work on tackling a problem or creating a new project. These days have resulted in software fixes, new products, etc. The format of these days is to provide them a single day to do the work and the next day each team must deliver their results. There is a deliverable of their efforts, hence the FedEx days. The key to the success of these opportunities is that they are staff driven, they are non-competitive and allow people to engage in their interests and passions.
What would you work on if you had 20% time or a FedEx day?
What things make up your Flow?