Sunday, November 19, 2017

Leaders Need Community: Leadership With Latoya

Far too often we've heard the old mantra, It's lonely at the top. It doesn't have to be though and that's why I started leadershipwithlatoya. I am building a community virtual and face to face, for leaders who want to grow in a safe, encouraging, resourceful, and collegial environment. Much has been written about the growing complexity of the principalship and the great deal of stress that nearly half of all principals say they feel on a regular basis. I created #leadershipwithlatoya to save myself, and to also support others. I'm on a mission to help others in this same manner.

Why Leadership With Latoya?

It's no secret that the principalship is a demanding job. It requires a mental and emotional presence, along with a physical one, almost seven days a week, 24 hours a day. It's highly rewarding, but not without it's own set of complex challenges and growing responsibilites. I know all too well the stress and challenges of being a leader and feeling alone on the battlefield, and so I tip my hat to those continuing to practice and also put my heart and soul into my passion project, #leadershipwithlatoya.

I want to create a place and space for leaders to connect, support, and learn together. While we often speak powerfully about the value of collaboration in successful organizations, leaders are sometimes left out of that particular conversation. I believe that if we can restructure the way we support leaders, build in job embedded collaboration for them, and create the same community that creates a positive collective efficacy among others who engage in such, we can improve the sustainability of those in the principalship and other leadership positions.

How Can I Join the Leadership With Latoya Community?

You can become an official member of the Leadership With Latoya community by visiting our organization webpage, and clicking on Join LWL. You'll need to register for an account and then take a moment to introduce yourself on the forum page. Whether we have one member or 400, we're going to do our best to create a platform to help you grow into the best leader you can be and do it with you as a community of practitioners, aspiring and experienced, who are committed to helping and supporting each other.

What's In It For Me?

Be sure you check out our free podcast on iTunes where we tackle a variety of leadership topics. You can subscribe to the #leadershipwithlatoya podcast here and leave a comment or rate us here. Read our latest e-magazine here for practical tips and tools you can use tomorrow. Follow us on Twitter at @latoyadixon5 or @mwaiksnis and let us know how we can make this a great community for leaders on the grow!

We hope you'll find our resources useful and give us feedback. We want to give you what you need and welcome you to submit your suggestions, ideas, and comments regarding how we can be more helpful to you and supportive of your efforts by clicking here. Scroll down and leave us a message. We're here for you.

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

An Open Letter to Superintendents

This post was inspired by a few recent conversations I've had with some friends who are principals and an informal poll I ran asking principals about the stress of their jobs. I surveyed over 250 principals and asked them to rate the stress of the principalship as highly stressful, moderately stressful, or rarely stressful.

84%  rated it as highly stressful.

Dear Superintendent,

I am writing to you today on behalf of all of the principals who lead your schools. They are stressed beyond measure and dealing with new and complex problems. The job of the principalship has changed tremendously over the last twenty years.

Are you aware of how much time your principals spend trying to find ways to solve or assistance to tackle mental health issues of students and or their parents?

Do you realize how the success of their leadership is defined by a once a year series of high stakes tests? If students perform poorly, so does your principal. What a pressurized environment!

Do you realize how difficult it has become to find teachers because there is a nationwide shortage and then the challenge in retaining those new to the profession because they didn't realize how difficult it would be to teach 26 different children on different reading levels, math levels, some with social emotional needs beyond their expertise, some with mental health challenges they didn't learn how to deal with in their ed prep programs, and some with severe behavior challenges that make learning difficult for all the other children and teaching nearly a miracle some days?

Are you aware that your principals are now working 24 hours a day, nearly seven days a week? I mean, yes there's the school day, but there's the quiet of the morning before everyone arrives to get things prepared for the parent conference you have coming up or for the mental preparation for the irate, rude, and threatening parent that you weren't expecting. Then there's all the wonderful after school opportunities we have for children and the sporting events until late evening to attend so that your leadership and commitment to the school isn't questioned even though your own family hasn't seen you at the dinner table before 8 in weeks, maybe months.

Let's not forget the weekends you spend writing lesson plans for the long term substitute in the math class for which your principal has not been able to find a teacher. Or the phone calls from parents who need your help with raising their kids, who don't know what to do about their child's refusal to listen or oppositional defiant disorder. Of course, the occasional alarm call in the middle of the night that requires your principal to go check on the school and interrupts their already disrupted sleep pattern because they go to bed with numerous problems on their minds that need to be solved but are becoming more complex year to year.

Do you know the stress of restraining a student whose mental state is questionable, but who must be kept from attacking others or the teacher? Do you recognize that you can't schedule those sorts of things?

Are you aware of how much time your principals spend listening to stressed out teachers whose anxieties are sky high because last year their students didn't do well on the math test and the last parent conference they had was one in which the parent was downright rude and disrespectful, not to mention the divorce that the teacher is currently going through that isn't going so smoothly?

Do you know what it's like to be in a constant state of multiple things coming at you, none of which you were expecting, and still trying to complete the paperwork for the Title I needs assessment, the PowerPoint for the staff meeting, analyze MAP scores to take a look at how kids are performing and make instructional leadership decisions to help improve their academic performance for the next testing session, prep the agenda and preparation for the department meeting, and prepare for the data presentation with the central office folks, while preparing for a meeting with the parent who is concerned that their child is abusing social media, or reviewing IEPs, after you do lunch duty?

Are you sure your principals are ok? Do you recognize how lonely they feel? Is stress getting the best of them? Do you ever ask them about how their quality of life is and if they are maintaining a healthy work-life balance? Have you stopped by just to ask:

How are you doing?

I think you should.

A former principal,


Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Courage To Speak Up-Part 2

Some people will never understand inequality & injustice until it touches them in a very deeply personal and individualized way. That's sad.  When we fail to see our own humanity in the humanity and mistreatment of others, we enter a dangerous place. One that separates us in multiple ways, not just by race, by gender, class, or socioeconomics. We become separate in our ideas of humanity, separate in what is right & and just for the human being because we have bones, skin, a brain, & most of all, a heart. When we begin to be blind to our commonalities, we unconsciously normalize the mistreatment of our neighbors, our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ. That which likens us, all one to another, cannot be separated. When we begin to see rights garaunteed to all of us as conditional, as partial, as circumstantially applicable, we enter into a dangerous place. One where justice becomes a privilege and not a right. Where freedom becomes conditional, only available to some and not all. We defy the inherent nature of democracy: of the people, for the people, by the people. We teach our children that rights we are all garaunteed are of some people, for some people, and by some people, not for all people. We mustn't take this lightly. To do so is to normalize something this country prides itself on, and that is the guaranteed rights and freedoms for all. This is my country. This is our democracy where these words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life,liberty, & the pursuit of happiness" guide our lives. Whenever I see these rights being compromised for any person, any human being, I will speak out. I will not be silent.  My courage is not of any good purpose if I do not exercise it. For I recognize that the denial of the rights of any any human being is also the denial of my own. When we leave it to others to guess where we stand on issues of injustice, we perpetuate the practice of being silent for fear of retaliation, consequences, personal and/or professional, and acceptance among those we may call friends but know better. I refuse to be held hostage by fear & I refuse to not utilize the freedom granted to me by the same Constitution that makes it a right for others to express an opinion different than my own. This is what makes America great. This is what makes America, America. As an educator, I recognize that our children are watching. I will not make it unclear to them as to where I stood in times like these. They will always know unequivocally where Dr. Dixon stood and will eternally stand, and that is, "with liberty and justice for ALL". Peace, Love, Blessings to all who took a moment to read this. Xoxo

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Courage To Speak Up

I wish I could string together the right words in a precise fashion that would express how elated I am to have found my voice. I have been a writer my entire life. At the age of seven I fell in love with writing. Now at 40, I've determined that we are at perhaps one of the most critical moments in our love affair. I with it, and it with me. It's hard to explain but the growth that's occurred in me as a writer is really fascinating to me. It's taken me some time to find my voice, to discover the right way to mix facts and research with my thoughts and ideas. In my last few blog posts, I've seen a maturation, a critical turning point in my written work. I have found my voice.

While I would not say that my previous writing was not good, I would be remiss if I didn't say my more recent pieces and the book I am writing have a different style. It's authentic and genuine, yet bold and courageous. It incorporates research, yet connects to the practical realities of leading, teaching, and learning.

I believe what helped me find my voice, is that I have been writing with a new found courage. I've given myself the freedom to write the things that I've wanted to share, but had not found the courage to do so. Figuring out how to share what matters most to me in a way that inspires and moves others has been a journey. So often my passion laden writing can come across as a lack of openness, a reluctance to listen to others, or be misinterpreted as something other than I intended. My writing voice has matured. It has not been silenced or muffled by fear. Instead, I believe that I've been made free by my courage to write from the inside.

I want to inspire educators everywhere to exercise courage in your advocacy for our profession. Extend your conversation beyond your inner circle. For it is not our colleagues who need to hear our voices, but those who are making decisions that impact our daily practice. I've found the courage to speak up about the things that matter most to me. I've found my voice.  Find yours and join me.

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

Saturday, September 2, 2017

If You Want to Solve A Problem, Go To The Source: Ask Teachers How to Solve The Teacher Shortage Crisis!

I'm always quite baffled by the relative distance between those who provide commentary on viable solutions to the teacher shortage crisis and their proximity to the actual problem. I don't mean that they ought to go visit a school before they share their opinion or that their opinion should be given while physically standing in a school building. It's really simple to me. Well, the issues surrounding teacher shortages aren't simple, but if we want to know why teachers and or principals are leaving the profession or reluctant to sign on at our most challenging schools, ASK EDUCATORS! Who better knows why teachers leave the classroom or don't want to teach in our most challenging schools than those who are making such choices. If we want to know why students aren't choosing to major in education, we ought to ask the students! Without ever fully investigating the reasons and rationale at the core level, we are bound to come up with pseudo assumptions and solutions. Those things that sound good and seem rational, but aren't the actual answers to the questions we must explore before we can ever come up with solutions to solve the looming and present teacher shortage crisis. Those three questions are:
1. Why is enrollment in educator preparation programs down?
2. Why is it difficult to recruit and retain teachers at our most challenging schools?
3. Why do teachers leave the profession and are doing so at an increased rate?

You don't have to search far and wise to find the answers on this. I mean, for example take this article published on August 21, 2017: Schools throughout the country are grappling with teacher shortage, data shows  Read this research brief published by Learning Forward last September: A Coming Crisis In Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the US 
Don't have time to read the entire paper, just review this snapshot from the brief:

From: Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher
supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S.. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.
This issue didn't just show up and it's not going away anytime soon. We'd prove ourselves wise to take action now, but of course we're still talking about what to do and how to fix this because we've yet to solve this problem. I could be wrong about this, but I have a theory on why we're struggling to find solutions to this issue. Here goes nothing:

1. Are we asking the right educators?
 Are we asking those who leave why the leave? Are we asking those who had a desire to teach but didn't major in education why they did that? Are we asking those who chose not to go teach and work in our toughest schools why that is? We must make sure we are asking those who leave, not those of us who have stayed and continued along the path in spite of it all.

2. Are educators being honest? 
I tend to think HR exit interviews aren't the exact place you share the real reasons you're leaving the profession. I mean who hasn't heard all the common rationales: work-life balance, family reasons, exploring other options, taking time to figure out what and where I should go with my career, etc. I am in serious doubt that people tell the truth on surveys (especially those that already have the multiple choice options for you). Some answers are too raw and too real and too traumatic to share in a formal exit interview. Sometimes teachers don't feel safe in sharing why they are leaving as they fear retaliation. Sometimes educators fear others will judge them as not being genuine in their intention and effort all because they say they can't feed their family.

3. How far are policy makers willing to go to change this trajectory?
I won't deny that lots of things have been tried to address this issue, but as we know all solutions have their limits. By that I mean, depending on how far the solution goes, it can only address the issues but so much. What if policy makers were willing to make some serious changes to address this? No temporary bonus or incentives, but a real change that elevates the profession in a way that attracts the best and brightest to our field, and compensates them well to stay there. Could policy makers consider how the policies created around education have perpetuated the teacher shortage crisis? Unless you're one who'd rather believe it all happened by chance. I think not. Compensation issues can no longer be avoided either. While our work is missionary in nature, no educator ought to have to take a vow of poverty because they choose to stay in the classroom where the real differences are made for children.

Speaking of compensation, I must share this article I read: U.S. Teacher Pipeline Has Burst: But Not in Finland or Singapore It seems national comparisons are good for evaluating teachers and their performance as well as how the U.S. fares in comparison to other countries in terms of student achievement. The one place we rarely see such a hyper focus on how we compare nationally is in how we recruit, retain, compensate, and treat the teaching profession. If we're going to be compared to other nations, let's not leave the aforementioned items out of the analysis. While I haven't verified some of the information in the article, it was a little astounding to read this statement:

"In 30 states, a teacher with a family of four,who is living on an average teaching salary, qualifies for government assistance."

I was somewhat shocked, but I can't say it truly surprised me.  How unfortunate is this? How does this perpetuate the growing decline of those students who choose not to enroll in educator preparation programs? Ever think about how choices we made yesterday contribute to the problems we face today?

With the continuous assault on the narrative of public education and educators over the last few years, one can't help but think, perhaps this teacher shortage crisis is a result of such. Educators have fought some battles with NCLB, pay for performance, value added evaluation, school choice, the resegregation of our schools, etc. We've won a few, but lost too many. Real solutions mean making real changes to the way our profession is respected, viewed, honored, and celebrated. As Sutcher, et al. (2016) note:

"The teacher shortage provides an opportunity for the United States to take a long-term approach to a comprehensive and systematic set of solutions to build a strong teaching profession. Although these proposals have a price tag, they could ultimately save far more than they would cost. The savings would include more than $8 billion now wasted annually on replacement costs because of high teacher turnover, plus much of the expense of grade retention, summer schools, and remedial programs required because too many children are poorly taught. In the competition for educational investment, the evidence points strongly to the importance of a strong, stable teaching force. Preventing and eliminating teacher shortages so that all children receive competent, continuous instruction in every community every year is, in a 21st century economy, essential for the success of individuals as well as for our society as a whole."

So if no one else will ask the right folks and beg of those who provide a response to be truly honest, I'll do it. I believe we are either held hostage by our fear or made few by our courage. Today I choose courage. You can join me by following the #imagesofed on Twitter. Tweet me your answers to the big three or share them here on our Flipgrid page.

It's time for educators to speak up and the time is NOW. Join me.

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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Standardized Testing in a Personalized Learning Environment: Not A Good Marriage

From a series of tweets inspired by #leadupchat on Saturday, August 26, 2017.

We are discussing having a personalized learner centered environment when our effectiveness is decided in a standardized way, yet we have become a profession so held hostage by standardized testing that student and teacher voice has been silenced, in my opinion. Make no mistake. I'm all for accountability and ensuring we measure our effectiveness, but why do it in a standardized manner? Essentially, we agree that students need a variety of ways to learn & master content, yet we give them one way to show that. There's a continuous conflict between standardization & innovation/personalization. You can't have it both ways. Think about that!

If we truly value learning over teaching,let's change the way we assess effectiveness of our schools to align with that. We've essentially made the assessing of schools about the educators and not about the students. The focus seems to be on which educators & schools are "failing" instead of the students who aren't learning.  What if we talked about the consequences of students not learning instead of the consequences for schools with failing labels? How is measuring a school's success relative to another school's success personalized? That's standardization at its best. If the finish line is the same regardless of where you start the race,then it seems fairly logical to assume some won't make it. The way we currently asses schools says it doesn't matter where you start. The finish line is the finish line. Get here or be a failure.

When we boil down the profession and it's worth to a few of the 180 days, it's not hard to see why we have a teacher shortage. We certainly ought to be held accountable for our work! While we're at it, can we invite some other entities to the accountability party? On my guest list would be quality housing, quality healthcare, quality economic development, quality access to jobs and transportation. I mean it's too bad articles like these: How Free Eyeglasses Are Boosting Test Scores In Baltimore-Politico Magazine don't come w/ school report cards. I wonder if it might build understanding. Instead of looking for the root causes, which could be as simple as eye glasses,when students don't perform we attribute their failure to bad teachers & ineffective schools. The work we do as educators is too complex to boil it down to a series of absolutes. Yet,we do just that. One big test, once a year, to determine the overall quality of a school and its' teachers.

We label without context, we make success relative to other schools instead of individualized, & we standardize the way we determine effectiveness. While we are labeling, or grading, schools, let's share the fun with others. What if we graded our communities & polices that support access to quality healthcare, housing, and economic development, and their implications on communities? Let's also grade lead content in water (❤️to Flint), air quality that causes chronic asthma, and mental health access. Ever take a look at where landfills are located? Guess where? In our poorest communities. Read Jonathan Kozol's work and then look in your own community. You might end up surprised but you shouldn't be. Our poorest kids go to school in the poorest conditions & live in the poorest environments. As educators we can provide the best quality educational experiences inside the school building, but we can't change or control factors that surround their lives & impact their learning outside of the school building. However, there are some who can-policy makers.

If we're going to improve learning for ALL students it's going to take more than us. Educators can't do it alone. We need & want the help. We welcome you to take a deeper dive into why test scores are so varied among schools, why some communities are in a constant struggle.  We ask that you that you look for the root cause. Let's go beyond the classroom, and not to excuse it from responsibility. Watch this: Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health | TED-Ed Perhaps, it will help you understand that teachers are up against bigger challenges than simply having the right resources, the right curriculum, the right support, and the right work ethic. It's about so much more! There is a great conundrum of factors that impact a child's learning, but there are no ratings for neighborhood air quality, access to quality healthcare, food security, access to mental health services, or the like on the school report card. It's simply an assessments of absolutes. Either you made it across the finish line or you didn't, and if you didn't, no one cares about why it could be taking you a little longer, or what obstacles you faced that perhaps those you're being compared against did not, or resources others had access to that you did not, or support others had that you did not. It's real simple. You pass or you fail. Except, it's not simple at all.

It's more than teaching, it's about a quality life. When we improve the quality of life for all students, we can improve their learning too. Please don't get confused. We're not asking to be alleviated of our responsibility. We welcome it. It's why we CHOSE to be educators. We're simply asking that you join us in our efforts. What can be done differently? Well, if you must know...

Start by respecting our profession. Treat us like we are valuable-not a profession of those who couldn't do, and so we taught. We matter. We're important. Elevate our profession in your words, policies, and actions. Affirm those who choose to teach by paying us a respectable wage, and telling stories like this one: Special ed teacher surprises her student with graduation cap and gown, tears ensue.

You see, we are more than a test score, and so are our students. We are more than a school report card, and so are our students.  Stop defining us with your narrow measure of success. We are educators. We do more than make a difference. We change lives and we're sharing the stories of what is happening inside our classrooms and buildings on this #imagesofed hashtag.

So-when you see the good that we're doing in this world, share it in every way. Maybe, a word with condition, just maybe, more folks would choose to teach. Maybe we'd have a teacher surplus if those outside of the profession shifted the narrative from positive to negative. Perhaps the teacher shortage is related to how we've been treated, perceived, and critiqued. Want to know what's happening in schools? Go see. Be like Sen. John Kennedy: Senator from Louisiana spends summer recess substitute teaching in home state

I'm determined to ELEVATE, HONOR, and CELEBRATE our profession. Our work is too important. It's more than noble. It's more than service. It's spiritual. It's soul satisfying. It's necessary for living and thriving. It's humanity at its best. That's why I'm an educator!

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


Friday, August 25, 2017

To Find Transformational Leaders, Transform The Way You Think About Leadership

# To Find Transformational Leaders, Transform The Way You Think About Leadership

Proven. Experienced. Hard nosed. Decisive. Direct. Demanding. Fearless. Those are the words I've heard others use to describe their idea of a transformational leader. Often when an organization is broken, we are quick to look for people who are willing and have proven themselves to lead an organization to success. While that's highly commendable, I beg to differ in that it's not the only considerations that should be given when searching for a true transformational leader.

When we examine the practices of those we see as having the ability to successfully lead, it's important to note the contributing factors that played a vital role in their success. Simply put, having been successful once, doesn't make you a transformational leader. In fact, it's not about having been successful multiple times, or even experienced. There are, at least in my mind, some key considerations that should be taken into account when selecting a leader to transform a broken, perhaps disjointed, maybe dysfunctional organization whole and thriving again.

Consideration 1: Prior success does not guarantee future success.

It's critically essential to identify the context and circumstances under which that person was successful as a leader and to determine if the troubled context and circumstances align with the leadership opportunity before them. In other words, consider the resources, tools, support structures, etc. that were present and/or contributed to the leader's success. A simple example would be that being proficient at playing basketball doesn't make you a star tennis player. The context is different. The objective of the game is different. The tools are different. The support needed to improve your game is different. The way you win is different. It's the context of how your athleticism is used that makes you successful. Context matters. Don't ignore it.

Consideration #2. It is not enough to be eager. It is not enough to be equipped. You must be both.

In considering folks for transformational leadership opportunities we are often in a place where we perceive the ideal candidate as one or the other. We tend to think, "This is so difficult that it will require a person who has a deep desire to be here". We give credence to the need for a will to be present over the need for the skills, practices, and behaviors that are needed to truly transform what is said to be broken. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to hear folks express that because the organization is so broken the anticipated leader must be highly skilled. Their ability to do the job is ultra important. I contend that you must have both if you wish to be a transformational leader. You must be eager and you must also be equipped. One without the other is too one dimensional to really make a difference in what it is you are trying to change. The complexity of the situation or organization you are trying to transform also requires a complex skill set. We do no justice to the job of transformational leadership by boiling it down or characterizing it in a single handed manner.

Consideration #3: In a situation of transformational leadership, some skills matter more than others.

It's no secret that leadership involves the ability to use multiple skills given the context of a situation. While some situations may call for the leader to execute stellar emotional intelligence, other situations may require a more technical skill set. At any rate, transformational leaders are different in that they are able to recognize and prioritize the skill set most needed to bring success back to the organization. They don't see themselves as having to be highly skilled in everything all the time. Instead, they are able to determine which skill they need to highlight to move the organization forward, and that changes given the context, circumstances, tools, and resources available.  For example, a staff that has had a high degree of turnover at the leadership level requires a great deal of more emotional security than a staff who's had relative stability in leadership. This means that the leader must be keen in the area of emotional intelligence at the onset of becoming the leader. He or she must pay close attention to the emotional needs of those members, and quickly capitalize on building trust.  In this given context, building trust is more imperative than technical ability. Once trust is present, the leader can then focus on ensuring that he or she is modeling the technical ability needed to change outcomes, and influencing the improvement and talent of  those who do the work on the ground level.

What seems to impair our ability to identify transformational leaders is that we tend to generalize leadership. Leadership isn't general at all in my opinion. In fact, how you lead and why you lead, is extremely contextual. If we can give consideration to these elements mentioned here, we can improve our ability to identify and select transformational leaders who can truly change what is broken.

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