Monday, August 8, 2016

The Value of Teacher Leadership

For far too long some of the most important people in the school improvement process have been left out of the conversation. Perhaps left out is the wrong term. After all, teachers have been and are told repeatedly that they need to improve and improve everything. They need to improve their teaching, planning, questioning, assessments, and most of all improve student learning. However, it seems to me that teachers are often secondary conversationalist when it comes to school improvement. School improvement begins and ends with a great teacher. That's why I believe we must do a better job of valuing and utilizing teacher leadership! .

With an ever growing complex accountability system, we need teacher leadership like never before. We ought to be developing teacher leaders in every capacity. Many teachers desire to lead, but not from the principal's office. They're perfectly happy leading their peers in data analysis, improved instructional strategies, in creating rigorous assessments, and desire to do so right from their classrooms. But so often when we begin the problem solving process, teachers are not at the table. Formal or informal, we have a tendency to fill the table with administrators and coaches first, bringing teachers in as secondary folks to help problem solve.  If school improvement begins and ends with the teacher's execution of agreed upon strategies and interventions, shouldn't teachers be seated at the problem solving table first?  

We must create deliberate and intentional opportunities for teachers to lead in our schools. We must capitalize on the strengths and talents of all. School improvement does not rests on the shoulders of the principal alone. It's a banner we all must carry. My challenge to principals as we embark on a new school year is to answer this question: How are you creating opportunities for teachers to lead? 

No one should have to leave the classroom to lead if that is not their heart's desire. Allow teachers to lead from where they are and practice collective effort in its purest form.  Principals don't have to do the work of school improvement alone. When teachers are provided the opportunity to lead, collective effectiveness has the potential to significantly impact student achievement. Our work is too grand for one and too complex for a few. School improvement takes all of us. So put some extra chairs at the table and invite your teacher leaders to sit down and problem solve with you. You might just find that the road to creating your very best school is clearer than you thought. 

With respect for teachers everywhere, let them lead!

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!
-Latoya
@latoyadixon5

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Because You Must First Work on the People: The Power of Collective Effort

Too often in education, we treat our work as if there is a magic solution, an individual hero, or super powered program to move our students and our schools to a place of excellence. We spend our time, energy, and resources searching for the right program to move our students to achieve the goals we've set for them. We deliberate over whether we should choose this program or that program and make an attempt to determine if it will "work" in our school or district. However, we often forget that no matter how valuable or impactful a program or concept, it will always be at the mercy of those whose duty is to execute it. We must first work on the people. Then, and only then, can we work on the work.

School improvement is about people improvement. When people do better, get better at their craft, and work better, schools improve. Programs don't produce excellence. People are at the center of it all. We need school leaders who fully understand this. We need principals and administrators and teachers who accept, without hesitation, that improvement is a continuous concept. We never stop trying to get better at what we do. Regardless of our years of experience, expertise in our subject matter or field, the opportunity to improve your craft is constant. If only leaders would first work to develop a solid understanding and acceptance that people are at the center of any improvement in a school or district. Without an educated, driven, and committed group of people who believe that it is their professional responsibility to get better each and every day, no program, no initiative will succeed. For it is not the program that has the power, it is the people.

Collective effort is the secret to any organizational success. When a leader can rally a group of people around a common goal and everyone commits to giving their best, to improving their individual abilities so that they improve their contribution to the team, amazing things can happen. The real task of leadership is rooted in one's ability to get a group of individually talented folks to partner for the good of the cause. Collective efficacy needs more attention in our work. We need to spend more time talking about the collective impact of the group and less time discussing the individual merit and talents of folks. No matter how good or great an individual might be, no one person can produce what  a focused group of individuals who understand the power of collective effort can produce.

So what gets in the way of us capitalizing on the age old kindergarten concept of group work? Egos. Social conditioning to compare and rank ourselves against our counterparts. We have to focus on being our very best, instead of being concerned with who is the best. We must stand together, and not be distracted by our place in line. The human condition is vulnerable to this and that is why leaders must spend time making a conscious effort to highlight collective effort rather than individual heroism. How do we do this? We intentionally create opportunities for collaboration. We celebrate the work and results of the group. We talk about collective efficacy until we are blue in the face. We explicitly ask others to place their egos on the shelf for the good of the cause. Everyone must work on themselves to be selfless, to put the needs of the group ahead of themselves.

This, I believe, is the secret to producing amazing work. Imagine what might happen if everyone in your grade level, department, school, or district believed in the power of collective effort? What amazing things might you all accomplish? What if we all worked to push ourselves to maximize our personal potential? We must grow the people we have and stop looking for some super hero or super program to fix it all. The power, my friends, is in the people.

I dare you to challenge any group or team you're associated with to do just that. Building a team who is committed to collective effort is hard work. Working on the program instead of the people is far easier. However, to achieve excellence we must pose the question constantly: Do you now what we could do if we all use our talents to accomplish a goal TOGETHER? While it sounds rather simple, it is the most challenging work of any leader. To get people to put themselves aside for the good of the group, to commit day in and day out to collective effort, is nothing short of a minor miracle. We begin by at least talking about collective effort. It needs to be a part of our conversation in our schools, in our districts, in our lives. If we work it right, some amazing things can be accomplished!
Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!
-Latoya
@latoyadixon5

Saturday, July 2, 2016

This Is Your Reminder!

Attention Educators! This is your reminder. Do you know what an awesome and powerful responsibility and opportunity we have? Well, allow me to remind you:

Education is freedom. How, you ask? Being educated gives one the freedom to trust his or her own intuition, make his or her own choices, without reliance on someone else. It creates a sense of self sufficiency that cannot be obtained any other way. Education is opportunity. When you are educated, your ability to choose is enhanced. You can have choice about what you do, how you spend your time, who you spend it with, and more. You can have choice about your quality of life. Being educated can improve your quality of life. Education is powerful. There is an autonomy that comes with being educated.  Once you are educated, no one can take it away from you. My education is my most prized possession. It changed my life. Poverty of the mind can result in poverty in life, but poverty in life does not have to result in poverty of the mind. But most of all education gives power to the powerless and hope to the hopeless. Here's what I like most about being educated: It's like a secret weapon. You can't tell how much someone has by looking at them. Don't ever let an appearance fool you. It's usually not what it looks like-Look deeper, search harder, and work to connect!

The mind is a way to harness power and opportunity, regardless of your race, religion, socioeconomic status, etc. When students understand that their education is the fuel that harnesses the power within them, their ability to change the trajectory of their own lives is unlocked. Sometimes I think we (educators) need to provide more direct instruction around the power of an education. We need to share our own narratives of how education changed our lives and the things we have overcome in our journey. While I realize I am not the only one with a story, I am often reminded that I am one who is courageous enough to share it. Instead of being ashamed of the narrative that drove you to success, share it. There is power in a good story. I know so many of us overcame so many obstacles in our lives, but sometimes shame gets in the way of our sharing. Shame cannot be the narrative we live by if we want to inspire others. We must share our heart. We must remember that the mind is a powerful thing. It either coaches you up or talks you down. We must be mindful of what we allow to enter our minds. We are only limited by our own thoughts and that is why we must talk to ourselves more than we listen to ourselves. We all need to coach our conscious.

Because I recognize that for any great accomplishment struggle is a necessary precursor, we need to teach students not to be distracted by the struggle and to press on anyway. As we work to inspire students and each other, we need to tap into the power of the human condition. Pain and progress often happen simultaneously. When things become challenging, we often forget such. We must remember all of the journey, not just the easy parts. Being an educator is soul work, heart work, and it is hard work. It is for those whose soul is satisfied by serving. For all of the educators out there, keep fanning your flame, and don't forget to pass the torch!

Until Next Time-Be you, be true, and be a hope builder!
Latoya
@latoyadixon5