As Educational Mentors, We Aspire To Inspire

In my ongoing work as an education leader, I strive to establish various informal mentorship relationships to cultivate growth and leadership opportunities for educators who demonstrate both ambition and potential. I believe that serving as a mentor can truly make a positive difference when connecting various experience levels, specific skills, and interpersonal abilities. As I spend time with fellow educators, I try to align their strengths with potential growth opportunities. I look at qualities such as dedication, time commitment and willingness, varied interests, self-motivation, leadership potential, ability to collaborate, pursuit of continuous learning, and overall grit. As mentor, I adjust my analysis to remain cognizant of shifts in any of these factors. It is always my purpose to support, teach, involve, provide guidance, encourage, and whenever possible – construct opportunities.

Here are 10 goals I aspire to as I build leadership capacity in those I mentor:

  1. Build a culture of continuous growth and learning in which knowledge is continually shared in a collaborative team approach
  2. Bring innovative programs and experiences to our schools and encourage mentees to become active participants in these new opportunities.
  3. Enhance the leadership and coaching skills of future education leaders by finding mentees (or mentor candidates) for them – allowing them to practice advisory roles or assume responsibility for the learning goals of other educators
  4. Model ambition and continuous self-growth through active engagement in organizations, education communities, scholarly opportunities, publishing, presentations, workshops, certification programs, networking, etc.
  5. Encourage mentored educators to voluntarily and eagerly pursue greater productivity in the workplace. (Committees, after-school clubs, service projects, representation at events, etc.)
  6. Encourage mentees to seek advice without fear of judgement or failure.
  7. Support educators to work toward their full potential and promote their OWN goals for personal and professional development. Help them to realize their strengths and overcome obstacles.
  8. Spread positivity through our work environment and organization. Publicly share the successes and triumphs of those who are mentored loudly and proudly. Raise them up by presenting them as role models.
  9. Give them wings and let them fly! Encourage mentees to create new ideas and projects of their own, and assure them that there is always a willing support, understanding listener, or helping hand.
  10. My overarching goal is always to grow new leaders. When it comes to leaders of the future, I aspire to inspire.

Recently I was filled with tremendous pride when I received the news that several of my dear friends – and especially a few of those whom I mentor – achieved recognition for various accomplishments in the field of education. It is indeed akin to the intense pride a parent feels when his child goes off to build a home for himself, or that a mama bird feels when her babies are ready to test their wings beyond the comfort of the nest.

As mentor leaders, we hold their hands as they negotiate their paths, we build their confidence, we watch them take their first steps, we watch nervously as they test and climb so many tenuous rungs, and then… we can just swell with pride as they use all that we have given them…to leap, and hopefully soar…and to begin to find their own place as they, too, aspire to inspire.

And we remain ever dutiful with outstretched hands to hold, shoulders to lean on, safety nets for comfort, and the wisdom of experience available for the asking. As mentor leaders, our pride is secondary only to our profound gratitude that we have been chosen by you…to inspire you.

With extreme gratitude and heartfelt congratulations to my many friends and innovative learners & leaders who have gone on to earn awards, distinctions, certifications and accolades of your own. Bravo!

Celebrate & Elevate The Experts Within

🔵 Universal truth in education #1: There is never enough time for professional development.

I connect with educators and leaders all over the world and this is one of the most widely-known conundrums we face in every country, district, and school.

🔵 Universal truth in education #2: Educators want to be able to choose PD that is meaningful and appropriate for them. Yes, they actually want the autonomy to select their own learning.

So many districts insist on bringing in gurus and paying thousands of dollars for each “show” in which these experts spray their enlightened methods upon an audience of teachers. We pull teachers from classrooms, sometimes for several days, and we pay even MORE thousands of dollars to substitutes to cover these classes. Teachers then dutifully sit and get anointed with the topic that has administrators have deemed appropriate for the masses. No choice and no voice equals disengagement, lack of relevance, and resentment over time lost.

🔵 Universal truth in education #3: There are qualified expert teachers in every single school who do creative, research-based, tried and true, pedagogically sound amazing things every single day.

Schools can save thousands upon thousands of dollars every single year if administration recognizes that there is plenty of know-how, expertise, and ambition right within its own school walls. When it comes to PD, there needs to be significantly more reliance on home-grown over nationally-known.

🔴 Herein lies the opportunity for a perfectly symbiotic solution. Celebrate and elevate the leaders within.

I’d like to share two ideas that I was recently able to introduce into two of our district’s elementary schools. Neither idea is mine, and I’ll attach credit for the inspiration for each of these ideas in the descriptions below.

Last year, the schools in our district each actively pursued a certification known as Future Ready NJ. Each school had a truly dynamic site-based team that met regularly to collaboratively and reflectively evaluate their school on a series of indicators. During this process, a few of the teams realized and discussed the universal truths that I outlined above. They lamented about how there is never enough time, they shared their cravings for continuous learning and growth, and they desperately hoped that someone would listen to their yearning to choose individually-relevant PD. Coupled with the fact that these teams were comprised of teachers who clearly have the capability and the drive to be leaders, I suggested a couple of ideas:

1️⃣ One Small Thing

This idea was born out of the TeachMeet model. Originally created in the United Kingdom, a TeachMeet is an informal but structured gathering of educators willing to share clever ideas. The idea is for participants to volunteer to share an idea in their choice of time increments – 2, 5, or 7 minutes. I’ve attended one of these in England, and I’ve also attended several in the US, and I suppose they’re all similar but take on their own “rules”. My favorite has been the huge TeachMeet that is run by my friends Kyle and Liz Calderwood, William King and Allen Martin at ISTE each year. They always reserve quite a large room, have a podium & projector set up, and just welcome any attendees who pop in throughout the day to fill out a card indicating their presentation length and topic. As the day goes on, they just call these volunteers to the front one by one, setting a timer and just letting the presentations happen! This is one of my favorite things at ISTE every year because I absolutely love learning this way – quick little rapid-fire snippets of great ideas one after the other from all sorts of creative people who just have one small thing to share!

It’s this notion of One Small Thing that I shared with a Future Ready NJ team at Wedgwood Elementary School. I told them the story of TeachMeet and suggested that it could easily be replicated at their school by setting aside time at the beginning of any faculty meeting and giving voice to any staff member who might volunteer “One Small Thing.”

The team loved the idea and added it to their Future Ready Wish List of things they’d like to see happen during this school year. For the November meeting, the principal supported this request by advertising it as a voluntary pre-faculty meeting option. Teachers were invited to come 25 minutes before the official start of the faculty meeting, and I was pleased to see about 15 people take advantage of the opportunity!

One teacher got the ball rolling by sharing One Small Thing that she had gotten from Pinterest. It’s called an “I Need” Box. She keeps it in her room along with some colorful note cards, and students know that they can write private communications to their teacher about anything they need, and that she will privately respond to them in due time. This teacher shared that she has had students ask for extra help when everyone else seems to be understanding the lesson, ask to have a seat moved, ask for school supplies that their parents can’t afford, and even just ask to have some private time to talk to the teacher about how to handle various issues at home.

Needlessly to say, the rest of the room was glad to know of this One Small Thing, and then the ideas started flowing. We heard from about 7 different teachers by the end, and I have a feeling that this will gain more and more momentum now that teachers know that:

  • their voices are respected and valued
  • they can serve as thought leaders
  • they can learn a lot each other in very little time
  • there are all kinds of different experts on faculty with tried and tested, powerful ideas to share
  • presentations don’t have to involve prep work or be a big deal – just 1, 2, or 5 minutes is all it takes to inspire colleagues and spark ideas

(Click HERE for my favorite blog post about TeachMeets – by Naomi Ward, 2014.)

Teachers became inspired to share and to respectfully learn from each other

The “I Need” Box, which gives students a private way to communicate things that they don’t feel comfortable saying out loud or in front of classmates

2️⃣ The Pineapple Chart

Again, this idea is not mine – it’s just something I shared with a Future Ready NJ team at another one of our schools, Bells Elementary School. They were another ambitious group looking for solutions to the same problem….fitting in PD and giving informal leadership opportunities to the talented folks in the building. I mentioned something called The Pineapple Chart, and nobody had ever heard of it.

I first learned of The Pineapple Chart from a blog called Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales. Click HERE to read the article that explains the origin and premise of The Pineapple Chart. It’s also an idea that is widely and positively shared on Twitter. I’ve been following success stories about Pineapple Charts for years, and I am excited that we have a school with teachers brave enough to put their ideas out there and learn from one another! Last week, I stayed late one day to create the Pineapple Chart that is pictured below. Again, this idea is supported by the building principal, who is an advocate for celebrating the strengths of her staff. She is planning to present this model to the teachers at the next faculty meeting, and I can’t wait to write future follow-up posts about the fantastic things that result from this new-to-us PD model!

This is truly the idea of “celebrating and elevating the experts within.” Putting one’s name on a Pineapple Chart requires a certain amount of vulnerability by welcoming anyone into the classroom to see an idea. More importantly, it relies on a high degree of excitement and pride about the experiences one’s students are having – and hoping others find inspiration in those ideas!

Teachers write their name in the day/time block and also write the topic, skill, tool, or ideas that they welcome others to come in and observe.

Minah Minah… #EdLeadership Lessons from a Muppet

minah minah

Someone shared this video with me this morning, and I haven’t been able to get the song out of my head ever since.  I’m pretty sure I just did the same thing to you – sorry!  It’s such a catchy little tune and it’s been around since I was a little kid, which means it’s been around for a long, LONG time.  It’s old school Sesame Street, it’s the Muppets…it’s Minah Minah.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that this is the PERFECT metaphor for how I approach educational leadership.  Minah Minah……..

See those two fuzzy pink critters?  They do a great job.  They work in harmony.  They have found a schnazzy little number that really just works for them.  People like it. It has caught on.  It makes others feel perky and peppy and good.  BUT – it’s so repetitive.  It is so monotonous.  It’s goes on and on and on…it’s the same old song.

See the shaggy orange-haired rogue rebel?  He’s part of the trio.  He has a voice, and he’s expected to come in and do his scripted part at just the right moments. He goes along with the plan and sings their tune, too…at first.  After a few rounds of the same old chorus, he decides to put his own spin on things.  They stop and look at him funny, so he goes back to doing what is expected and just sings the same old song with them again.

until he just can’t contain himself and the very NEED to be creative and try something new just explodes out of him!  It’s who he is.  It’s in his nature to take risks, to add a little unexpected magic to the music.

He doesn’t abandon their song altogether, he tries to enhance it.  He just wants to be allowed to get a little creative and perhaps make that same old song a little newer and a  little better.  After getting funny looks (are those reprimands?) several times, we see him walk off into the distance – seemingly giving up.  I think we would all understand if he left to go find a new group because staying would mean continually fighting that resistance to change.

But our shaggy, orange-haired friend comes back!  He has grit, and he’s not afraid to use it!  He’ll keep plugging away to have his inspired, wacky, off-the-cuff little vision be a part of that song.  Yup, that’s grit – and steadfast belief in a vision to make things better.  Not only does he keep plugging away at that monotonous pink duet, but then he goes out and spreads his song!  Okay, it’s just to Kermit in this video, but let’s face it – Kermit knows all the right people.  If he can get Kermit to make a few phone calls in support, pretty soon there will be a whole SNAGGLE of Muppets jamming to a new beat.

If you watch to see what happened at the very, VERY end of the video, you’ll see that even the staunchest, most set-in-their-ways spectators are interested and suddenly asking the question, “What’s a Minah Minah?’

whats a minah minah

This is the work of transformative and visionary leaders in education.  Be shaggy.

 

 

Schedule Meetings with Consideration for your Team…with Doodle!

There’s a really cool, simple, and free little web tool called Doodle that you’re just going to love.  It’s like a scheduling agent – but it’s a very thoughtful one!  Doodle lets you poll the people you want to meet with and gives them the gift of choosing the dates & times that work best for them.  I have used this so many times with my various teams, committees, and staff – and I know that they appreciate having a voice in when a meet-up will occur.  I’ve noticed some administrators have begun to try Doodle, too, and I applaud that effort, because educators (and other administrators) REALLY love it when they feel that their time is respected.

It couldn’t be simpler.  You, as the organizer, just list all the potential days and times that you’re willing to meet.  Doodle puts them on a grid and gives you a link that you send to anyone you’d like to invite.   People respond by entering their own names and putting checkmarks next to all of the times that they are available.  You’ll get an email each time someone responds, so you’ll know when all the ‘votes are in’….and boom – majority wins!

doodle3

Doodle even lets you integrate your calendar, so the final meeting date is inserted for you.  I told you it was easy!

doodle2

Just for fun, I created a quick little video tutorial (less than 6 minutes is always my rule for ALL tutorials)…Click HERE to see it!  Doodle away, my friends!

 

Do you have feedback or ideas?  Please share with me here in the comments section of my blog, on Twitter at @kerszi, or I have a Facebook page called Integration Innovation, and I welcome your thoughts there, too!  Thanks for reading!