Saturday, July 16, 2016

What Happens When We Empower Teachers?

There is nothing better than talking with an excited teacher, one who has just learned of an idea or has had a revelation or a shift in mindset. And when you can also give them a "YES" go ahead and try that great idea, then you are setting them on a path to share that excitement with other educators and their students. It is a win-win for everyone and an opportunity to positively impact the culture of that district. As I read this article, When School Leaders Empower Teachers, Better Ideas Emerge, I realized that just as we want teachers to empower student learners, district leaders should empower our educators. When this happens, it would seem that progress would happen more quickly and leadership capacity is being built.

Having someone listen to you and be willing to say yes to your idea is very empowering for students, teachers, or anyone else for that matter. Recently, this idea was brought to my attention during a webinar where Dr. Pam Moran, Superintendent in Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, where she talks about getting past the "yeah, but and getting to what if can be pretty difficult." You can watch her TedX Talk called Getting Ourselves to Yes where she describes this situation.

Leaders in school districts are often faced with this. An excited teachers come to you with an idea they want to try, and your brain goes through a list of "buts" that tend to deflate the excited teacher fairly quickly. But it doesn't have to be that way, and the results of saying yes can be huge. Here are just a few examples from this year where I have seen "Yes" turn into amazing opportunities for all learners.

Several teachers around our district wanted to re-design their classroom space. These teachers felt like creating a learning space that was kid friendly, comfortable and flexible would allow for collaborative learning opportunities that would become a natural part of their classroom culture. The teachers were able to verbalize their "Why" which is an important part of getting to "Yes"! Since most of what we know about classroom space is desks in rows, it would be natural for principals to say "yeah, but..." Instead, we watched as teachers created these spaces uses their own funds, Donor's Choose and any other donations they could find. Here are just a few of the Innovative Spaces that were created around our district.

During the school year, we had "early adopters" excited about Canvas, our new LMS. Without training or professional development, they were creating a blended learning environment for their students. These teachers expressed a desire to learn more and to offer a true blended learning course at the secondary level. This is not something our district had tried before, so our Executive Director of Secondary Education, Dr. Lance Campbell arranged for them to visit districts who had successfully implemented blended learning. Not only did he support their efforts with training, but also helped them as they redesigned the physical space. It used to be that our campuses were very "institutional" looking with colorless walls and 25-30 desks in a classroom. Through conversations and research, these teachers created plans for their new spaces, based on research and looking at current trends in collaborative workspaces. James Gibbens, middle school teacher, had many conversations with his campus administrator about developing a learning environment for his students. Through these conversation, support was received for a blended learning class, as well as a redesign of classroom space and repurposing space around the entire campus to create collaborative work areas.

One of our blended learning teachers, Macie Thompson has started blogging about her experience. She created a floor plan & a Pinterest board with the items she would need to create the type of learning space she felt would benefit the collaborative culture she wanted to have for her students. With her careful planning and knowing her WHY, she was able to get a "Yes" from Dr. Campbell. 

Another example is a personalized professional development pilot that two teachers proposed just a few days ago. These two teachers, Amanda Rogers & Amanda Mask are "out of the box" thinkers and self-directed learners. They can often be found attending edcamps and presenting at conferences, both near and far. During a Google Summit in May, they learned of a personalized GAFE PD program that would involve a self-assessment and a menor/mentee relationship that would help teachers move from Level 1 to Level 2 or Level 2 to Level 3. Level 2 & 3 teachers would mentor Level 1 teachers, with the hope that everyone would move up to at least the next level within 1-2 years. The teachers worked on their proposal, knew their WHY and were easily able to share this with Racheal Rife, our Executive Director of Elementary Education (and, unexpectedly, our Superintendent, Dr. Jeffrey Hanks.) With their plan, they would pilot it with volunteers on their campus and hopefully a "sister" campus within our district. The teachers accepted ideas, such as allowing it to be voluntary, and adding a digital portfolio and digital badges to their program, and were given a YES by Rife. By building leadership capacity and empowering these teachers, the reach will be much farther than what any one person could do alone. 

Our district is moving to more YES's than NO's, and is making progress in the "yeah, but" area, but it is a work in progress. Where is your district? How often do you say "yes" as a leader? 

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