Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cognitive Engagement-The Missing Part of Professional Development

A week ago, during my participation in #leadupchat, I tweeted:

76 likes and 57 retweets later I recognized this resonated with my PLN and I began to wonder why it had such an amazing response from so many people. In addition my tweet was acknowledged by @BAMRadioNetwork as the top quoted tweet in education for the week. See more here:

This tweet is a reflection about my own cognitive engagement in my leadership and work. I've become a dedicated participant in #leadupchat because it cognitively engages me. Regardless of the topic, I find myself being able to deeply think about my work and my leadership when I participate in this chat every Saturday morning at 9:30 EST. However, I realize this kind of critical thinking doesn't always happen for me during what I'll call traditional style professional development. In fact, in most face to face PD that I've experienced I feel like an audience member being trained on what to do or focusing on making sure I am exhibiting good listening behavior. I'm ashamed to admit that sometimes I spend more time and effort in ensuring I am giving the impression that I am paying attention, rather than engaging in what's being presented.

So after so many acknowledgments of this tweet, I began to think about how professional development has changed since the start of my career as an educator in 1999. I was stunned when I realized that other than the edcamp model, PD hasn't really changed. It still follows the model of a presentation and listening style. We sit as audience members while someone trains us, shares with us, or shows us how to do something. We occasionally get a turn and talk opportunity with a partner or participate in a gallery walk to review the ideas or answers to questions posed to us written on large sticky note paper. These things are great ways to document conversation, but does it push us to think insightfully and critically about our work?

What's Missing?
What happens when we disengage from years of the same "I do-you watch" style of professional development? Do we lose our empowerment to act and to enter into the cognitive space that leads us to believe that our actions impact our work?  When we fail to empower others, do we create doers or thinkers?  You know, those who say, "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it'?  Is this the prevailing feeling after a professional development session in education? Are we training or developing capacity in others to lead, think, and problem solve? Are we presenting a narrative of problems and directives? Or are we inviting others to think through and problem solve with us? Are we silencing the voice and thoughts of others because our focus is training and not development? Somehow, I think we've missed the mark on this. Isn't it odd that we push the methodology of the mini-lesson, guided practice, independent practice model in the classroom with students, but in our teaching of teachers, we abandon this approach all together? If being a reflective practitioner is an empowering way to improve our skills as leaders and learners, why do we leave this exercise as an independent act to be done after work? Is there a way for us to create an opportunity for teachers to do this as an embedded practice of professional development? I find this especially needed for administrators. Leading is thinking and doing, yet an incredible amount of time is spent simply on doing. Have we emphasized the cognitive side of school leadership enough in school administration? Or have we created a situation that has pulled us away from being able to differentiate between the ability to get things done and the ability to do things right? Is there a better way to cognitively engage teachers and leaders so that it allows them to innovate and improve their efficacy? Are we really training instead of developing others? Training focuses on telling individuals what to do, while development gives individuals the opportunity to think about what to do, how to do it, and connect it to why it needs to be done. How often do we get the opportunity to work on our thinking? How does traditional PD perpetuate the doer vs. thinker model? Is it our allegiance to the presentation PD model in education that keeps us from breaking free from this? And if so, why? The process matters as much, if not more than the product.

What If...?
What if we approached professional development with a problem based or project based approach the way we approach student learning? Would teacher engagement increase? Would teacher innovation and efficacy increase? Would we develop more teacher leaders and improve the leadership efficacy of administrators? What if we applied the same methodologies for engaging students in the classroom to adult learning in professional development? What if we added more choice, differentiation, and more opportunity to actively learn and reflect on our individual preformance? What if we abandoned any professional development that followed the presentation style model of presenter speaks and audience listens? Last, but not least what if I'm wrong about this whole thing? I highly doubt that, but you never know.

As evidenced, this has led me to more questions than answers. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Tweet me @latoyadixon5 or leave your comments on my blog! Perhaps you'll join me for the first cognitive engagment chat #CEEchat  (Cognitive Engagement Educators Chat) for educators to help develop some possible answers to these questions. I'll be moderating it with my dear friend and colleague, Mike Waiksnis (@mwaiksnis-Follow him on Twitter) every third Wednesday of the month, beginning June 15 at 8:00 p.m. I'm on a never ending quest to improve my ability to think critically, insightfully, and reflect appropriately. Perhaps together we can create an opportunity for cognitive engagement for educators everywhere!

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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

#Leadupchat Reflections on Accelerating Team Growth!

This morning I participated in #leadupchat. It's every Saturday morning at 9:30 EST. I love it. When I start thinking about what I like about it and why I love it so much, I realize it's mostly because it makes me think! Today's topic was about accelerating the growth of team, identifying potential barriers to team growth, and monitoring the progress of team growth. I wanted someway to capture my thoughts so below you will find a compilation of my tweets from this morning's chat:

1. We must remember the talents of an individual will never supercede the work of a team. One is never greater than ALL!

2. We need to remember that intellectual conflict is about attacking ideas, not people. I question ideas, but it's not about you!
3. When you're smack dab in the middle of something your view becomes routine. New eyes see things we overlook. Perspective matters
4.Embrace conflict. Harmony feels good, but conflicting perspectives make collaborative solutions. Don't be afraid of it.
5. Invite all perspectives to the table-even those we don't understand/agree. The best compromises are born out of conflict.
6.Yes. We need analytical thinkers to make us better, not a bunch of "yes men"!
7.We've got a real problem in education with confronting the brutal facts. We end up working on symptoms instead of root causes.
8.Real problems call for real solutions. Don't use band aids when you need an antibiotic. Be brave enough to face the facts.
9.Be honest about your current reality. Don't use the "we need to be positive" to avoid dealing with the brutal truth.
10. Goal setting is a simple way to monitor progress. Set a goal, be strategic in action steps to reach it, check progress, repeat.
11. Selflessness takes intentional practice. Understand excellence isn't about you! It's about the organization. Team before self.
12. Comparing ourselves or our organizations to others also slows growth. Make the standard the mirror not the telescope.
13. Nothing slows down team growth like a lack of FOCUS. Trying to do it all instead of do it well. Quality trumps quantity every day.
14. Selfishness prevents team growth. Professional jealousy is poison to organizational excellence.
15. To achieve team excellence we must work on changing mindsets from believing success is luck to believing success is the result of intentional and deliberate action.
16. Inspiring others to believe that they don't have to settle for average is leadership. It is possible to be excellent and to be the best.
17. Making people uncomfortable with the status quo is an art. We must move them to believing and not wishing. Understand that success is addictive and once experienced it is likely to create a desire to experience it again.
18. Excellent teams understand everyone has a role. No point guards trying to play power forward! Get in where you fit in & work!
19. Team growth happens when we capitalize on the strengths of members of the organization & combine those to achieve excellence!
20. To accelerate team growth, we must master recognizing untapped potential. Organizational excellence is team excellence.

I don't know about you, but I believe these are 20 good thoughts worth remembering about working toward team excellence. Join the tribe next Saturday at 9:30 EST for another great and inspirational #leadupchat!

Until next time, be you, be true, be a hope builder!


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Teachers Are The Real MVPs!

Because Teachers are the MVPs!

This morning I was scrolling along my Twitter feed when I saw a tweet from a teacher on our staff:

Forget losing teachers to other states, why are we losing teachers to other professions? #wedontvalueteachers #evenpennieshavevalue

It sparked a flurry of tweets from me because when we get right down to it, whether we are talking about improving achievement, improving our schools period, and helping students reach their maximum potential...

When the rubber meets the road, nothing good happens in a school  without a relentless dedication and commitment of teachers. No initiative succeeds unless teachers make it so. You name it-PLCs, Responsive Classrooms, Whole Brain Teaching, Collaboration, Common Assessments, RTI, and anything else you are trying to implement in a school and the defining factor in fidelity of implementation and quality of implementation is the TEACHER.

It's high time we value teachers in every way. In NC, where I currently serve as a coprincipal of a middle school, teacher pay ranks 42nd and per pupil spending ranks 46th. As coprincipal, I can organize meetings, complete evaluating and observations, conference with parents, and so much more but the reality of it is this TEACHERS make it happen. My coprincipal and I can work collaboratively with staff to develop a collective vision for the school but TEACHERS are the ones who carry it out day in and day out. The daily grind of the hard work belongs to TEACHERS. 

TEACHERS deserve more. None of us chose the profession because of the money, but none of the teachers I know agreed to take a vow of poverty. The service orientation of our work does not mean teachers are ok with being poorly compensated. Many of the teachers in our school have second, even third jobs. I am constantly torn when I ask them to do more when I know they are working every hour of every day, except when they are sleeping. How can we give our students the best in every way when we treat those who serve them as if their work is a sort of sacrifice in which one diligently exerts effort, time, and talent all while struggling to make ends meet? Get married and have children and the struggle intensifies. That's why I cringe when I hear others say: "I don't know how y'all do it! My hats off to you!" Because I want to say, it's very apparent that many don't know how we do it, don't have a clue what we are dealing with daily, and are pretty much comical when they talk about what needs to be done to "fix" schools-especially when the conversation comes back to accountability and firing of bad teachers. 

I don't have the right words or enough of them to adequately provide a written description of how urgent I believe it is that we do something major to demonstrate the following:
1. Education is a profession worth pursuing.
2. Teachers are valuable to our schools and communities and deserve to be compensated accordingly.
3. If we want to recruit and retain the best and brightest, we must provide a competitive compensation package that encourages such instead of doing the opposite.

Some days I feel our profession is under siege in every way. But all I know to do is fight hard, work hard, and be courageous enough to speak the truth. Sometimes my courage scares me. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I can't help it. I lead and work with my heart. It's my blessing and my curse-and also my gift. One thing I know for sure, is somewhere some teacher is reading this and nodding and saying "Amen!" (I'm from the South!) and so glad that I finally wrote what's on their mind and in their heart every single day like it will be tomorrow...when we go back to school and keep trying to MAKE A DIFFERENCE! 

Until Next Time-Be you. Be true. Be a hope builder!