Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Embracing Feedback

I overheard a conversation yesterday that really has me reflecting.  (Caveat, I wasn’t really eavesdropping, our beach chairs were placed so close to one another that privacy was at a minimum!) A small group of ladies were talking about teaching and the school year that just ended. One lady shared that she was quite upset at how many times her new principal came in to observe her this past year.  She further stated that he left her “areas for improvement” and wondered how could she possibly need improvement when she has been teaching for over thirty years. I fully acknowledge that I know nothing about these ladies or their teaching abilities, and that beach time is meant for friends, relaxing and “venting”, but it provided me with genuine reflection time.

Feedback is crucial to our growth as educators. In order to improve for our students we must not only be reflective in our practices, but listen to what others have to say.  It is important to invite others in (not just for formal observations or performance reviews) but on a regular basis to get a second perspective on what is happening in our classrooms and schools.

As educators we must be open to listen to all types of feedback, positive and constructive. Education changes so quickly and fresh ideas and different ways of thinking only enhances what we are doing. I love the idea of the “observe me” signs outside a teacher's door with the QR code.  The teacher gets feedback from anyone that comes into the classroom.  Feedback isn’t just for teachers either, leaders can also ask colleagues or someone in their PLN for suggestions.

It is equally important to seek out quality feedback if you feel you aren’t getting enough.  Feedback needs to be timely and specific.  Ask questions, ask for support and resources.  It is important for us to seek out what we need for growth.  Observations and visuals are one of the best ways for this.

Equally, don't be afraid to offer feedback. I think as educators we aren't willing to share with others, perhaps thinking we will hurt feelings or come off as egotistical. We can't think that way as we all have areas that we are stronger in than others. Share your strengths and suggestions to others. Provide professional development in areas where you see weaknesses. We need to keep in mind that we are bettering education for students, not ourselves!

From feedback we have the opportunity to reflect, research, take risks, and experiment.  Growth is inevitable.  Take everything in.  See feedback not as a requirement or criticism, but as an opportunity!

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Role of a Mentor

I’ve said it before, I am a huge advocate for mentorship.  Regardless of where we may be in our career, having, and being, a trusted mentor is crucial for growth.  This year I learned a lot, actually more than I ever thought I would, about mentorship.  I’ve been lucky to have mentors who established a framework for me, current mentors who encourage me, and am lucky to be a mentor as well.

What is a mentor?

A Collaborator - Mentors should work with their mentees and offer opportunities to work with others within their organization.  They should introduce mentees to others who could also help them with their career goals. Have a plan or project you want to implement?  Ask your mentee to assist.  This is a great way for them to learn and build their own skills as they advance in their skill set.

A Visionary - Where do you see yourself going in the future?  What steps do you take to get to the next level?  Mentors share visions with others.  They share their struggles, their successes and the steps and obstacles one may face on their path to the next level.  Mentors look forward and see opportunities instead of looking back at failed attempts.

An Encourager - Starting out in a new job or field could be intimidating at first.  Mentors encourage mentees through support and words of wisdom.  Mentors encourage mentees to take risks and are there by their side throughout the process.  

A Believer - A great mentor believes in their mentee’s potential and future.  They provide resources and opportunities for growth. They have conversations about the future and set up guides and pathways with their mentee.  They dream big!  They encourage others to dream big.  Great mentors have a strong “yes” “let’s do it” “how can I help” mentality as dreams are planned out.

A Dreamer - As I stated above mentors should set dreams for themselves and share these with their mentees. If we don’t constantly dream -  dream BIG - we’re not living life fully.  Mentors need to constantly evolve and demonstrate this passion of constant growth to their proteges.  

An Inspirer - A mentor inspires everyone around them to be better and to do great things. Mentors are chosen, selected, respected. They are looked up to and admired for the work that they have accomplished.  Strong mentorship leads to inspiring others to greatness.

A Role Model - By far the most important quality of a mentor.  Being a caring, empathetic, supportive role model will bring this out in the next generation of mentors. It’s ok to have tough conversations, they are needed. It’s ok to not see eye-to-eye on everything too. There is a huge amount of respect and admiration that goes out to one’s mentor, it’s a title to not take lightly.

Again, thankful for those who guided me in mentorship,
and those who honored me with the opportunity.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

SpEdCamp Ohio - A reflection

Earlier this year, I read to great books, Chase the Lion by Mark Batterson and Dream Year by Ben Arment. Both of these books encourages the reader to dream big and do what they can to bring their dreams to life.

I reflected on both books, talked about them with others, and thought, well one of my dreams is connected to other people.  I can work on it, but it “coming to life” is really dependent on others.  I reflected more.  Another dream is bringing needed resources into schools to work on all the mental health/drug problems we are facing daily. How do I get these dreams into fruition?

After a challenging day at work (I’m a special education teacher) it came to me!  I knew I needed to do something that would help my students at a greater level.  The idea of an EdCamp focused on Special Education became my focus.  Could I do this?  I sent out a random tweet and by the end of the day SpEdCamp Ohio had came to life.

I gathered a team.  I secured a location.  I started to get donations and sponsors.  I started promoting.  And promoting, and promoting.  Since this was only the 2nd EdCamp in the nation that focused on Special Education I wasn’t sure what type of crowd we would draw.  By June 12th, the day of SpEdCampOH 2017 we had 102 registrants!!!  

June 12th was MAGICAL!  I was so excited to see so many dedicated educators come together to talk about ALL students.  We discussed co-teaching, mental health, legal aspects of special education, how administrators can assist teachers, data collecting and so much more.  Our board was filled.  Educators were sharing stories, experiences, and connecting with one another.  My heart was full.

I went home that night, still on a high, and reread tweets and messages from friends and participants. I reflected, took notes and actually started planning for SpEdCamp 2018!  This EdCamp served it’s purpose.  It helped others grow.  It brought people together, but more importantly, it gave us ideas of how to best serve our students in the fall.

That night I sent out a survey to the attendees for feedback.  99% of the feedback so far has been positive and encouraging.  There was some feedback that came through that wasn’t constructive criticism/feedback.  For some reason it was a personal attack.  Although it bothered me, I thought about it, talked it over with a good friend and realized that this really was what I needed for my other dream!!!!  As an educator looking to go into a leadership role, I need to develop a thick skin, process this, and move on.  The overall outcome still shows that our EdCamp was a success.

As I sit here this morning, I still get tears in my eyes thinking “THAT REALLY HAPPENED!”  I am excited to think about the future of SpEdCamp Ohio.  Our first event has attendees excited to return to their schools and encourage their colleagues to join us in the future.  I see topics growing, deeper conversations, and connections being established.  Most importantly, I see students receiving the support that they need.

Dreams do come true.  Dream big.  Chase Lions!