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:
Build a culture of continuous growth and learning in which knowledge is continually shared in a collaborative team approach
Bring innovative programs and experiences to our schools and encourage mentees to become active participants in these new opportunities.
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
Model ambition and continuous self-growth through active engagement in organizations, education communities, scholarly opportunities, publishing, presentations, workshops, certification programs, networking, etc.
Encourage mentored educators to voluntarily and eagerly pursue greater productivity in the workplace. (Committees, after-school clubs, service projects, representation at events, etc.)
Encourage mentees to seek advice without fear of judgement or failure.
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.
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.
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.
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!
🔵 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.)
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!
It happens all too often. Someone has a great idea. It gains momentum, picks up speed, maybe even gathers new participants. Heck, sometimes a committee is born. Now it’s an all-out awesome idea! A movement – a movement with a vision and a purpose and objectives. The anticipation and optimism are palpable. The hypothetical ball gets rolling. Great things are starting to happen, and it’s only going to get better!
And then it happens. There’s a shift, a turn, an unanticipated plot twist. Suddenly the vision starts to feel “fake” and stakeholder buy-in starts to wane. It’s such a let-down from the rah-rah high of just a few days/weeks/months ago. I know. I’ve been there.
How can you stop this from happening? How can you prevent your vision/ mission/ dream project from going from forward thinking – to fake – to fizzle?
Here are six ideas that might just be worth a shot:
1) Upcycle Your Team: Even if there are only two or three of you, switch roles from time to time. Let everyone feel valued. Is there a hierarchy or is it a group of equal partners? Be open about these roles & responsibilities. If you’re going for equality among all, there should be no secrets or sidebars.
2) Crowdsource The Agenda: If you have meetings (real or virtual), allow the players to set the agenda. Add your own topics, too. Each contributor should write the expected amount of time next to his topic so that an overall timeline for the session can be determined. Again, this comes down to valuing all the stakeholders. When members feel like they’re wasting their time and nothing they say matters, they start to feel like it’s all fake. Remember, everyone’s contributions are welcomed, valued, and given due diligence. (That doesn’t mean they’ll all come to fruition.)
3) Tantalizing Teasers: Always leave a little something fun on the horizon “to be discussed next time”. Ask the team to think about a topic until then, or gather resources, or bring examples & artifacts to share at the next meeting. This gives everyone not only a feeling of importance, but continues to drive that sense of anticipation and looking forward to what’s coming next. This is your greatest chance to block the fizzle.
4) Advertise: I know it seems obvious, but sometimes folks just need a well-crafted reminder at just the right time. Give enough notice but not too much. Make your invitation/announcement bold, colorful, creative, interesting! Without a doubt, use all kinds of social media and multimedia to draw ’em back in. The effort you put into ‘advertising’ shows that you’re still 100% all-in, and that goes a long way with stakeholders. (Be extra careful not to forget anybody – that could go a long way, too – in the wrong way!)
5) Outsource: Sometimes, you’ve got to think outside the box, and to do that, you need to GO outside your box. Go on a site visit to see how someone else does something. Skype or do a Google Hangout with a guru of some sort. Bring in a guest speaker for a fresh new voice. Maybe a little exposure to a new perspective will be just the impetus needed to but the fire back into your project.
6) Shine a Light On The Elephant in The Room: Don’t hide what’s wrong. Be open about what’s not going well. Let the other guy (or team, or committee) express what THEY think isn’t working. It’s okay. Invite suggestions, and live like you have a perpetual fliud action plan!
Bonus: One more idea. Want to know how they’re all really feeling about your big project, idea, or committee? Take an anonymous poll. Put it online; nobody ever really felt anonymous on paper. It’s pretty hard to create a poll or survey that’s unbiased, but that’s what you’ll need to do to get the real truth. And the truth? Well, the truth shall set you free to make informed improvements and get your vision back on track.
I’ve been on an incredible journey for the past several years. I have been scooped up and sucked into the magical vortex of being a truly connected educator. This means that I’ve gotten my head out of the hypothetical sand that is ‘just my school’ or ‘just my district’ and I have made powerful, wonderful connections with brilliant and inspiring educators from all over the world. I swear that there is not one DAY that goes by that I don’t tap into that treasure trove of knowledge. Not one day.
Sometimes I just peruse the Twitter feed, bookmarking items of interest for later reading or just plain ‘liking’ various posts that make me think. I receive notifications for certain people or organizations that I follow, and I search for hashtags that interest me at any particular moment. I interact with interesting people, I continue conversations privately through direct messaging, I get further in-depth through incredible group Voxer conversations, I belong to several Slack groups, I’ve joined communities of various EdTech company ambassadors that I just love, I cherish opportunities to chat via Google Hangout, Skype, or appear.in……and I travel – sometimes far – for the beautiful opportunity to have face-to-face meet ups.
It turns out that that are so many more like me. I swear, five years ago, I never would have known it. I lived in a bubble, never knowing that there is a whole universe of educators who are reaching out to find others who want to learn, grow, work overtime, play overtime, create new learning opportunities, try new things, network, share ideas, share failures, ask for help, go to workshops and conferences and meetups and hackathons and CoffeeEdus and edcamps on weekends – just for the fun of it!
I’ve found so many new friends who have given me a new hope for the future of education. I’ve found optimists who eschew the negativity of the faculty lounge and the union meetings and who embrace the FUN that learning brings (for little kids and for us big kids, too!) These are educators who aren’t ashamed to ask if they can borrow your innovative idea so that they can tweak it and make it their own ~ and they’re cool enough to mention you and give credit for the idea. These are professionals who want to help each other grow, sharing opportunities like grants and conferences and proposals and contests…without secrecy, insecurity and competition. These are innovators who say, “Look at this amazing thing I created. I want you to have it, too. Here, I’ll share it for free.” These are my kind of people. I’ve found my tribe.
Ending with gratitude: This whole story -the whole experience – was the beginning of a true leadership journey. The friends I have made, the knowledge I’ve gained, the network I still bow down to, and the confidence I’ve acquired have led me to places beyond my dreams. I have become not just a digital leader, but also a leader in so many other ways – and I’m so very, very grateful for all of the opportunities.