Sunday, December 14, 2014

If I'm "Just" a Teacher, Can I Drive Change?

I've been using Twitter for six months now. In that time, I've met some amazing educators who are driving change in education. I've read many of their books, read their tweets, and listened to podcasts,  discussions on GHOs, and TED talks.  Their websites are phenomenal resources of information and I have felt humbled and honored that many have followed and engaged in conversations with me on Twitter.  My admiration for these game changers cause me to do a lot of reflecting about myself. Most of the people who I consider as game changers are authors, principals, superintendents, or hold other leadership titles. I don't meet that criteria in any way.  I don't have thousands of followers, awards, a published book or have a title in the educational world other than "teacher".

Soooo....If I'm "Just" A Teacher, Can I Drive Change?" 

I'm a risk taker and I always have been. After 28 years in the classroom, I still feel like I am constantly "changing it up". I embrace change if it helps me to better meet the needs of my students.  It usually does! Discussing all of the changes that I've made would take several blog posts so I won't address it here.  Suffice it to say that I consider myself to be a life-long learner and that I'm growing and changing all of the time. I  experience many "failures" and integrating tech into my classroom forces me to have a Plan B, C, ... Z all of the time. In essence, I teach every day with a little welcomed uneasiness that keeps me on my toes.

I'm not afraid of change like others may be in the traditional sense.  No, my greatest fear is being "out there" and in the public eye on a larger scale. I've always had an open door policy to my classroom and have tried to involve the parents as much as possible. That doesn't bother me. But, to share my thoughts, feelings, beliefs with a larger public is somewhat terrifying.  I still feel very much out of my comfort zone and vulnerable.  All that has to change if I'm to be a driver of change on a larger scale. Last week, I stepped out of the box and presented the need for change in our district to the school board.  It was a huge step for me.  I hope that I will have the courage to take more steps. Someone has to step up. I can no longer sit back and depend on others to do the work.  

There are a lot of conversations on Twitter and other social media platforms about change and how it's needed in education. What I haven't seen a lot of is accountability--maybe that's just me and my inexperience. Yes, there needs to be change!  But change happens with ACTION! What are the necessary action steps? This is what comes to my mind.

Driving Change

1.  Start with a personal vision and mission statement. What do you value? What do you stand for? What is your 5 word GPS? Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess Having a personal vision/mission statement gives you a focus. It should be easy to recite: a sentence or 5 words. Post your statement somewhere where it can be seen. Say your mission statement on a regular basis if not daily.  I have mine posted on my bathroom mirror and on my desk at school.  Every time I say it, it makes me more determined to actually practice what I value in education.

2.  Immediately try something new.  I usually jump in with both feet, but start small if needed. The point is to get out of the comfort zone and try something that you haven't done before.  I think by trying something immediately, some of the fear goes away.  I've also found that my students appreciate my efforts to try new things. Whether it's a new app, a science experiment, or dressing up as a fictional character, NEW captures the attention of learners. You can always tweak the lesson for another year. In fact, I think that it's necessary! I never teach a lesson in the same way because I have a new group of learners each year with different needs.

3.  Use social media to tell your classroom story.  If you don't tell your story, someone else will and it may not be accurate.  In all honesty, this is something that I really have to work on to do better!  I started off strong at the first of the year, but the "to do" list became very long and overwhelming. I'm trying to catch up now. I wish that I'd made it more of a priority.  Parents and the kids love to see their pictures online so that it can be shared with family and friends. Smore is my favorite tool for making class newsletters because it's easy and looks professional.  Animoto allows you to literally make a professional looking "movie" of pictures in minutes.  I've learned an incredible amount about the importance of telling your story from leaders like Eric Scheninger and the authors of the Corwin Connected Educator Series.  Story telling- your story- is the best way to engage stakeholders and share the changes that you're making.

4.  Share what you learn with your colleagues and others.  Too many teachers are confined to their own classrooms with little opportunity to share and collaborate.  When I first started teaching, the culture was very competitive. Ideas were considered as "my ideas". Some teachers are STILL  stuck there. What they haven't experienced yet is how much better "their ideas" can be when shared and elaborated upon by other creative colleagues.  Together we are so much more! Not all teachers are using social media.  I would like to invite them to join in and become connected! I've loved being on Twitter, but I also enjoy Pinterest, Edmodo, and lately Google+ (although I have a lot to learn). The point is to be a connected educator. Being connected gets the conversations started and teachers greatly benefit from the expertise of the whole learning community.

5.  Be prepared for the critics. Change is hard. I wish that I could go back and talk to my younger teacher self.  I'd tell her to not worry so much of what others think, but to stay focused and to continue to do what's best for kids.  Even as a first year teacher, I did things out of the ordinary in order to engage my students. I was a PIRATE without a crew for support. I also was highly involved in extracurricular activities and in the unwanted spotlight many times. The spotlight brought professional jealousy, but that's a topic for another blog. However, it did make me feel like I was walking on egg shells much of the time trying to find balance between being myself, doing what I felt was right, and not drawing attention. I was lucky to have supportive principals and teammates. It took me a long time to get to the point where I am today. I'm still careful about being in the spotlight. I don't do what I do for accolades and recognition.  But, I still have my critics especially about my attempts to change the status quo.  The difference now is that I'm better prepared to defend my beliefs about education. I've had to grow thicker skin.

6.  Have someone hold you accountable.  Having accountability motivates you to action.  You can't just talk the walk, you have to walk the walk. Here's where I need help from my PLN. I need you to hold me accountable. Ask me questions? Call me out? Ask me to share pictures of class activities. I'm trying a lot of new things and if I'm not sharing, ask me to.

7.  Model and be the change that you wish to see in the world! Leaders and game changers need to model the change that they wish to see.  They can't expect others to change if they can't model it.  I always get a little frustrated with administrators who say, "Do this! Do that!" when they have no experience of actually trying to implement the latest initiative into a classroom setting. Show me! An administrator who is not afraid to come into my classroom to model will not only gain my respect, but will also gain an advocate for their cause.

8.  Record and document your failures and successes. I think that sharing your journey of change motivates others to make changes. I personally appreciate others who reflect and share their thinking via blogs or books.  It's inspiring for me to read about the personal journeys of people that I consider role models. It makes me think that in my own small way that I can accomplish great things too!

Yes! Even if you're "just" a teacher, you can drive change!

Leaders of change don't need an official title. They need vision, drive, and passion.  A teacher, like myself, can drive change in education by building trusting relationships and modeling the desired change. As I share what I'm learning with others and integrate changes into my classroom, people will see my passion.  Telling my story is important! I'm making a commitment to do a better job of sharing what I'm trying.  It needs to be a priority!  I hope my colleagues will trust my judgement enough to jump in, follow my example and try something new. Our kids are depending on us.

There are many changes that I feel need to happen in education and to a large extent, it starts with me.  It may only happen in my classroom at first.  Changes in my school and district may happen slower than I would like.  I'm not that patient and feel an urgency to drive the changes that will best meet the needs of my students.  But baby steps in the right direction are still moving in the right direction.  I'm hoping that I can influence others in my school, district, state, and even the world with the actions that I take.  The educators that are shaking things up now can't do it alone. More voices are needed in the choir.

What do you think are the action steps for driving change in education? What did I miss? I would love to know your thoughts.

  *Taking time to blog is a challenge for me! I'm trying! :) 

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