I’d Love to Tell You I’m a Great Educator

I’d Love to Tell You I’m a Great Educator

By: Janna Sells

You know how they say timing is everything?  True story alert.  I’m not one who believes in coincidences. 

I was having a casual conversation during a professional partnership call.   A friend on the call said something so profound that it caused me to stop and really reflect on his words.  He said, “I’d love to tell you I’m a great husband, but that’s not my call.” .. Wait, what? .. He continued, “My greatness is decided upon by my wife.” 

[Mic Drop]  

What would those I serve say about my greatness? It’s not my call.

Flash back- two weeks.  Our team solicited feedback from our stakeholders to work on our own continuous improvement.  We all have room to grow.  Quoting my wise and late, Grandpa Wes, “Janny, when you’re done learning, it’s time to die.”

As we began reading some of the anecdotal feedback from our service community we were smitten by the positive affirmations.  What a bucket filler.  We were feeling pretty amazing!  Living our mission to REACH, EDUCATE, EQUIP, and MATTER.  Our hearts were full .. but the feedback was not all positive.

There it was, the criticism that specifically stopped me in my tracks.  Referencing a personal experience that I shared with a team of teachers, I knew immediately exactly who the feedback was referencing.

My immediate feeling was defeat.  I was the one.  I was one who in the midst of 100s of affirmations had the one negative (err .. 3 actually) comments. There were 3.  All referring to me.  I had let my team down.  The team that I help to lead. Gut punch.

The next feeling I felt was failure.  I failed this particular team.  I failed the school they serve.  Worse, I failed their students.  The very first action of our mission is REACH.  Failure.

The feelings following were a mix between, regrets (should haves) and hopes (next time).

I began reflecting and praying over the feedback because the reality is, while their words are not true to me, I allowed their words to be true to them.  It is so true that our perception is our prison.  Thank you to one of my inspirational coaches, Trent Shelton, for that piece of wisdom.  

I began to question the approach I used to lead the crucial conversation, my choice of words, the way I made someone else feel, and sadly my passion and purpose for serving children.  I asked colleagues to coach me up.  I referenced some tactical approaches from my own crucial conversation training.  I pulled some articles and texts from my educational leadership resources.  I was so hurt that I made someone else hurt.  So vain.  I know.

The more I mulled over my shoulda, coulda, wouldas, the more my God showed up for me.  I had prayed for the opportunity to redeem myself.  I had prayed that in the future, I more genuinely articulate the WHY behind my work.  I had prayed that the people who were hurt by my support would somehow know that at the end of the day, I will passionately and unapologetically try to give more than my best to serve and grow children.  I prayed for grace. 

Another core belief I hold is that teachers do the best they can, with what they know at the time they know it.  Once we know better, we do better.

Flash to the Present.  I recently bumped into one of my former 3rd grade students.  Shortly following our reunion I received a social media friend request.  ACCEPTED.

Within 24 hours I received the most uplifting message from this now beautiful rising senior.

Yall.  There are so many times in our life we question our purpose.  What is our roll in this big world?  I am so blessed to have found and live in my purpose, but it doesn’t mean that I do not occasionally feel the pressure to question it.  

I will always VALUE and APPRECIATE my stakeholder’s feedback to continually grow in my practice.  Even when it hurts, there is room for improvement.

This simple message from a former student reminded me that just because I need to work on some outward communication doesn’t mean that I should question my worth when I’m working in my purpose and driven by my compelling why.  She is part of my why.  To allow someone else permission to judge or evaluate MY why is not growth mindset nor is it part of any continuous improvement model.  My why is mine and no one no matter the feedback will take it from me.

Here is your simple two step challenge friends-

  1. STAY TRUE TO YOUR WHY.  No one has permission to rob your passion or purpose.  Remember the desire for personal or professional reflective, continuous improvement does not represent a weakness in your purpose.  It’s quite the opposite.  It represents humility and that you are so solidly grounded in your why, that you’re comfortable being uncomfortable growing in your practice.

     

  2. No matter your life or professional role, identify who it is that you serve and allow your consumer the opportunity to make your call of greatness.  The reality is, I’d love nothing more than to tell you that I am a great educator, but truth be told, it’s not my call.  Make your impact matter to those your serve.  Humbly and reflectively, GROW IN YOUR PRACTICE while maintaining your WHY.

I hope you leave these thoughts determined to be the best version of yourself and that those you serve no matter your practice know how great you are!

#neverquestionyourwhy but rather #improveyourpractice

The Seven D’s of Leadership

The Seven D’s of Leadership

Written by Principal Angel Oliphant

As a child I developed a love of reading and was like a sponge when it came to learning new things. By the time I got to high school, it was clear to me that both race and socio-economic status have a major impact on student learning and achievement. I saw this as a huge problem and made a vow to be a part of the solution. Now as a principal in a Title 1 school, my top priority is meeting students’ academic and social-emotional needs.    

These are seven leadership tips that I’ve used over the years that have contributed to my effectiveness as a principal:

1. Determine the needs of your students and put them first. Before any decision is made I always ask myself if it is good for students. I analyze multiple data sources and make sure students’ basic needs are met before trying to close their academic gaps. This can be accomplished through formal and informal assessments and observations. Counselors and Social Workers also play a key role in this.

  1. Develop strong relationships. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Show compassion for students and teachers and what they are going through. Be a good listener as they share their concerns with you. Just as I encourage teachers to develop strong relationships with their students, it is important for me to develop relationships with my teachers. Teacher support, nurturing and coaching are extremely critical for students’ success.

3.Depend on parents and other stakeholders within the school community for support. Parents love their children and want them to be successful. Partner with them by keeping them informed of students’ progress and engaging them in what is happening in the classroom and throughout the school. Remember the saying, “It takes a village.” All stakeholders are important. I’m a firm believer that the collective knowledge and experience of the whole far outweighs my knowledge and experience as a single individual. 

  1. Deposit into students’ and teachers’ emotional bank accounts. Even the smallest accomplishments should be recognized. This helps to motivate and encourage students and teachers to persevere. Let them know how proud you are of their efforts. They want to feel valued and appreciated.
  1. Delegate to others. You can’t do everything on your own.  Empower and promote the growth of teacher leaders by assigning them responsibilities and various leadership roles in the school. I trust teachers to accomplish these tasks independently because I’ve armed them with tools for success. This also includes soliciting input from teachers on important decisions.

7. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Choose your battles wisely. It’s ok to give in sometimes as long as it doesn’t hurt the students. Some things are just not that important. Spend your time on things that matter the most.

The Power of Presence

The Power of Presence

How often as leaders of an organization do we implement a new instructional program, new curriculum or new initiative only to see it fail after only a short time? It’s often easy to look around and point to reasons why:

1) Teachers didn’t have the enough resources or proper training

2) Teachers didn’t have enough time

3) Teachers have too much on their plates

4) The technology wasn’t reliable, etc.

As leaders of our organization, do we ever look in the mirror for any of the reasons? How often do we reflect on what we as leaders did or didn’t do to make sure that the implementation was a success? There are 3 simple steps that leaders can take to help ensure higher levels of implementation.

1) Be present during the training

2) Clearly communicate the timeline and expectations

3) Follow up and provide coaching and feedback as needed

To ensure a higher probability of a successful implementation, organization leaders need to be at the table all along the way. I’m all for cross functional teams that include representation from all areas when deciding the direction, but how often is top leadership at the table beyond that point?  As leaders, we need to be a part of the training so that we can be aware of what the expectations are for staff.  Not only do we need to be present, but we need to be present and aware. . .not checked into email and all of the other pulls on our time. If we expect our teachers and those who are implementing to give it 100%, then we need to do the same. We’ve all heard the saying that you have to “inspect what you expect.” If you’re not at the table when those expectations are being shared, how do YOU know what you need to inspect?

Often, we implement a new initiative, but we haven’t clearly communicated what we expect by when. A clearly communicated implementation timeline should be developed prior to the initial training and implementation so that all parties know what to expect and by when. The document should be revisited by the implementation team along the way and adjustments made as needed based on feedback and data from the roll out through full implementation.  Leadership should build in process checks along the way to determine if things are progressing as planned or if teachers need more support to meet the expectations defined.

The third step that can be taken to help ensure a more successful implementation is for leadership to provide on-going feedback throughout the process. Teachers and staff need to know if they’re meeting the targets set out in the implementation timeline. If not, they need feedback, coaching and support to help them get back on track. It’s also a valuable time to get feedback from teachers on what’s working well and what areas they may need more support as a whole group. This allows leadership to tweak the timeline and expectations if needed based on the data to support.

At the end of the day, any successful implementation takes leadership presence. Presence during the training so that teachers see the importance. Presence to know what the expectations are for accountability of implementation. And, presence to know what is actually working and not working during the implementation.