Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Our Professional Growth Tale

I'm giving a huge shout-out to my amazing staff! Once again, they have demonstrated their commitment to their own growth so that they can become the best for their students.

I strive to live my life with a growth mindset. If we are growing and learning the best strategies and ideas for our students, implementing those ideas and strategies in our classrooms, then our students ultimately benefit. Not only are they getting our best, but our students are also seeing us learn - we are modeling what we want our students to become, what many school's mission statements state - we are showing our students what it takes to be life-long learners.

And so, at our first staff meeting of the school year, I challenged my staff to model life-long learning, developing a growth mindset. This mindset can be overwhelming since there is SO much out there to learn right now. But, I knew my staff could do it, because they want to be the best for our students.

In just the first few weeks of school, the staff has taken this challenge head-on. They have been learning all about Google, developing their Google sites and collaborating on many documents in Google Drive. It has been a fast and furious transformation, but its use has transformed how we communicate and collaborate as a staff. It has been powerful! We had a lunch n' learn, where I just sat in the teacher's lounge and answered questions as they came in. Kelly, our technology coordinator, joined me after school for a couple days and met with teachers so they could work on their Google site. We had a mini EdCamp and shared insights together. But more than this, teachers have been asking each other questions, jumping into each other's classrooms to help each other, building strong partnerships to learn together. Now that is powerful, fantastic learning!

Last week, our leadership team came together to build an affinity diagram, all around the concept of our professional growth needs and wishes. They brainstormed quietly, placing one idea on a post-it. I knew they wanted to talk, but the important part of this activity is for ideas to come from within each individual. After our brainstorming session, we took a collective look at our post-its. We got out of our seats and categorized them, talked about what was written on them, and had meaningful dialogue about each post-it. 

At this point, we began to think about HOW we needed to approach each topic. What were our current priorities? How would this information best be shared or delivered? Together, we talked more and placed each post-it in categories, between PD Roundtables, Wednesday Collaborations, Lunch n' Learns, How-to Videos, and Other. Our PD Roundtables are voluntary before or after school sessions, open for sharing, asking questions, and discussing resources and ideas. Wednesday collaborations are one-hour after school sessions and a great time for the entire staff to come together. Lunch n' Learns just started this year, and while we have had only one, it was well-received. I've made a few videos this school year to flip staff meetings and information, and there is a desire from the staff for more of these! Our other category covered all topics that wouldn't "neatly" fit under the HOW categories already put together. 

The most exhilarating aspect of our conversation centered around how we can help each other grow and learn, sharing resources. We developed our big picture together, and through our conversation, we understood more of what it will take to truly unfold our growth mindset throughout this school year.  

This conversation was fabulous. If this is the what the development of our collective growth mindset looks like, I am so excited to see how it transforms into the future. We have so much to learn, grow, and share together. My hope is to further take these actions and ideas, and help the staff push beyond this list, building their PLN to seek answers outside of our school.  Even more than that, I hope to build time for reflection and conversation, as this is where the most powerful learning takes shape. With more tools in our toolbox, more opportunities to discuss and gain insight on these topics, our growth mindset will blossom for the betterment of our students. What an exciting time to be at our school!!!

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/deannabeth/5616446797/">Asmaa Dee Photography</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>

Saturday, October 4, 2014

My Connected Adventure

It is Connected Educator Month. Today, I tell my story of how I have become a connected educator. It is journey of self-discovery and growth. It has been a marathon, not a sprint.

So what does it mean to me to become a connected educator? It means that I have connected with like educators around the world, learning together, reflecting together, sharing ideas together, and asking questions together, all to be the best we can be for our students and their growth. In this past year, my professional growth has exploded. It has been the most powerful learning I have found. Being a connected educator has changed my professional life for the better, and I urge every educator to take this leap and do the same.

My Twitter account was dormant for a number of years. I had it, scrolled through my feed every couple of weeks, and moved on about my day. My professional learning was grounded in workshops and conferences, reading articles that I happened to come across, and reading books I came across in catalogs.  Was there anything wrong with this? Not particularly, but my growth was slow.

I can't quite remember what pushed me over the edge with Twitter. But I do know that about one year ago, I decided to take a risk and jump on Twitter more often, retweet great insights and ideas, and follow more people. Overnight, my life changed. There was something exciting about getting new notifications, others following me. There was excitement when I posted an idea I found, and others retweeted it because they too found it interesting. And through this, I was learning at a greater pace than before, finding out there are others like me, who want to be their best for our students, and grow for the betterment of our school. I learned how to help my staff grow too. I learned new ideas to encourage stakeholder involvement. I learned, I learned, I learned.

However, I still was lurking, not truly active in sharing and contributing to others. My PLN was growing, but how was I contributing to their growth and learning? If a PLN is truly to work, ALL members must be a part of the discussion. So, I took another leap and took part in a Twitter chat. I had heard about these, saw them when I jumped on Twitter at night, but I was full of excuses to not jump in. One night, I hit a bout of courage, and jumped in, saying hello. All of the sudden, I was a part of this chat, sharing ideas, TALKING with other educators in real time about education. It was an hour that changed me. When I was done, I looked over at my husband, who was wondering what in the world had gotten me so excited, and I told him that was the best hour of professional development I had been a part of EVER.

At that point, I was all in this wonderful social media world of learning. Twitter chats, whether I took part or not, became a nightly ritual to review. I jumped in a few each week, and started growing my PLN like never before. While some might think I'm just playing around on Twitter, I'm really growing and learning, taking control of my professional growth, sharing ideas with fantastic educators around the world. My professional development was, and now is, anytime, anywhere, and designed for me. Personalized PD, invigorating and refreshing in every moment.

But this wasn't enough. One snowy day, I sat on the couch and wrote my first blog post. I really didn't know what I was doing, but felt compelled to write. I created my blog - very simple - and then hit publish. Talk about taking a risk. It was the best professional risk I have ever taken. Now, I wasn't just sharing and discussing ideas on Twitter with other educators, I was reflecting on them, taking my growth to a completely new level. And my professional career will never be the same.

To be a connected educator, you must take risks. It is uncomfortable, but if we aren't taking those leaps, then we are stuck in a traffic jam with no where to go. I decided to take the wheel and find a way, maneuver around the jam, and go to the places I want to go. Was it always easy? No. Going outside your comfort zone never is. But if I want to be the best for my staff, my students, my parents, and my school, it was an essential part of my growth, and I do not regret one second of those uncomfortable feelings.

We are all in this together, this magical adventure called education. We must take control of it, become connected, and build a stronger connection with other educators around the world in order to propel our students forward to be prepared for anything to come. During this Connected Educator Month, become MORE connected, take the plunge, and you will never regret it! Let this be the beginning of becoming connected EVERY month!

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/5364620846/">opensourceway</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">cc</a>