Monday, April 11, 2016

The Quieter Side of Teacher Leadership Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I gave you some background about myself and some of the misconceptions of being an introvert. In this part, I'll discuss some of the qualities that introverts have and how these types of teacher leaders can really benefit a school or district. *I use the term "teacher leader" loosely because I think that all teachers have the potential to lead and to be leaders. I realize that the term is often used as a specific title or position.

Depending on what research you read, about 1 out of every 2/3 people is more introverted. This is important to know for principals and other leaders of a school or district. Many of our school structures are organized for large groups of people. Meetings are usually with a group of educators trying to communicate and collaborate to make decisions and move forward. Often, the decisions are made during one meeting. Extroverted leaders voice their opinions, argue their points, and then a decision is made. Many times more introverted leaders don't have time to reflect on the possible outcomes, problem-solve, or have time to prepare thoughtful responses. They listen, observe, and try to process all that is said. Extroverts think out loud by talking. Introverts are thinking but in their heads. A misunderstanding can happen when extroverts make the assumption that introverts have no opinions or thoughts on the topic at hand. Introverts can be easily thought of as non-contributors. Nothing could be further from the truth. So how can a principal or other school leader identify and tap into the talents of the quieter leaders? What strengths do introverts have? Are introverted teachers capable of being true leaders?

Strengths of Introverted Teacher Leaders

  • Relationships: Introverts are good listeners. They highly value a few close friends because it takes so much energy to develop a trusting relationship. Introverts are genuinely invested in the people they come to know on a deeper level. Small talk is draining. Real conversations are energizing. Introverts are sensitive and intuitive. They think about others' comments and often have the ability to draw out vulnerabilities in confidential conversations. Think of introverts as great 1:1 mentors and teachers.
  • Observant: Being observant is closely related to the introvert's ability to develop deep relationships. Non-verbal cues and body language can reveal what a person is really thinking and feeling. An introvert is in-tune with people because of their observations. Introverts can often describe the school climate/culture with more detail because of being able to observe the little things that other people miss.
  • Creative: Many introverts are also on the gifted spectrum and highly creative. Given enough time to let ideas incubate, introverts have the ability to think out of the box or think of divergent solutions within the box. 
  • Reflective: Introverts naturally engage in self-reflection. They can help others learn this skill. We know that much of our learning happens because of being able to reflect on our practices. An introvert can guide others through the process.
  • Knowledgeable: Reading about a lot of topics and reading to study topics in-depth is a favorite activity for introverts. They can be a tremendous resource for teachers and principals.
  • Prepared: To compensate for other weaknesses, an introvert spends a lot of time planning. They may not be the most fluent speakers off the top of their heads, but because of their ability to focus and prepare, they have the capability to present high-powered, engaging presentations that could bring an extroverted counterpart to shame.  
  • Advocate: Introverts will be an advocate for teachers to have more time for planning instruction and reflection. They will also advocate for meeting the needs of diverse learners. Not all kids benefit and learn in a traditional school environment.
Teacher leaders that are more extroverted are "out there" in the public eye with seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm. They easily catch the attention of principals and other administrators and are labeled as "all-star teachers". Their talent for speaking, unwavering confidence, and ease in multiple social situations is admirable. They easily volunteer to lead various committees and initiatives. Their leadership capabilities advance them up the hierarchical ladder. Extroverted teacher leaders seem to do it all and deservedly earn a lot of public praise and credit. 

It'd be easy for an administrator to overlook the talents and abilities of an introverted teacher. They may not volunteer to take on a leadership responsibility. But by communicating their value with a personal conversation, memo, or note and then asking them to take on a leadership role, there's a high probability that all they needed was an opportunity and a nudge.  

There is nothing wrong with being introverted and there is no reason why introverts can't be great teacher leaders. Many of the natural qualities of introverts are highly coveted leadership traits. The quiet leadership of introverts can facilitate significant changes that will improve teacher practices and student learning. 


The Quieter Side of Teacher Leadership Part 1

For most of my life, I felt like something was wrong with me. I teetered between two worlds that I didn't even know existed. One part of me loved my "alone" time where I could get lost in my books, art, and music. Another part of me enjoyed being in public performing the plays that I'd written, dancing, and competing on sports teams. One part of me was very outgoing, silly, and energetic. The other part was more "reserved". Sometimes people frustrated me by pointing out my quietness and accused me of being mellow, shy, or sad. I wasn't sad or shy. Because shyness had a negative connotation, I didn't like being boxed into that category.  In social situations, I  listened, observed, and tried to process an abundance of stimuli. Then, without realizing that I wasn't talking very much, time would pass. I wasn't purposefully quiet. My mind wasn't quiet. I was always thinking! But, if a teacher called on me to give an answer in class, I'd get all tongue-tied, and my brain would freeze. Answers always flooded my head after the embarrassment of looking and feeling dumb in front of my peers.

A life of puzzling contradictions followed me into adulthood and my profession. I've walked a fine line between my natural introverted tendencies and the flipside of being extroverted. Teaching brings out the best of both worlds. I love the creative process of planning instruction! I'm in a constant state of asking, "What if?" That's my introverted voice. My extroverted voice comes out in the form of wearing goofy costumes and participating in a whole host of other "humiliating" acts to engage my students in laughter and learning. Risk taking and trying new things are second nature to me which is not characteristic of many introverts. The yin and yang of teaching and working with kids drive me.

To be fully transparent, this is the first time that I've identified myself as an introvert. Why? Because being an introvert has always meant something negative. Our society values all of the characteristics of the extrovert. So although I have a lot of extrovert tendencies, there have been many times when I faked being more extroverted than my usual. The truth is that I had many misconceptions about being an extrovert and even more about being an introvert. Introverted doesn't mean shy and extroverted doesn't mean outgoing. Those misconceptions, along with the fact that I completely ignored that everyone falls on a spectrum, led to denial and feelings of not being as valued as more extroverted teacher leaders. No one is purely introverted or extroverted. Most people have characteristics of and need both.

One is not better than the other. It's a matter of energy and how we recharge our brains. The neuroscience is fascinating and a topic for another post. Basically, introverts get their energy from inside and extroverts get their energy from outside. If you have no background about the misconceptions of being introverted, watch this powerful TED talk by Susan Cain. Whether or not you think that you're more introverted or not, someone that you know is and this will help you to better understand them.


So how do the introvert/extrovert preferences come into play with teacher leadership?

Often when we hear the word, "leadership," we think of someone that is outgoing, charismatic, energetic, in the public eye, and one who delivers passionate, motivational speeches. The nearest bookstore has whole sections of self-help and leadership books to teach people how to be more extroverted. To a certain degree, leaders do need to develop some of the extroverted characteristics. Leaders are in the spotlight. They do need communication skills. They do need to be a people person.

For most of my career, I've felt a sense of shame that I couldn't be more of a "leader" or at least my perception of what a leader entailed. I listened and observed in faculty meetings. Rarely have I jumped into a discussion in a large group setting. Sure, I had my opinions, but it was much more comfortable to have an extrovert express a similar view. And I've been mortified when someone has said, "Sandy, you're the creative one. What's your idea?" Because in that moment, not one original thought comes to me. I experience a complete brain freeze. Sometimes with so much emphasis on group work and collaboration, it's difficult to feel like a competent, contributing member of the staff. Now don't get me wrong, I know the power of collaboration. I teach it and preach it. But what happens more often than not with any faculty meeting is that there is no "down time" to plan and prepare for collaborative work. There is never enough time allotted to collaborate let alone to plan and prepare for the time to work together. How much richer would our conversations be without the constraints of time?

I've often been thrown into an uncomfortable spotlight. I haven't directed school musicals and other programs to have attention drawn to me. I've done it for the kids! The same is true when I've used my connections to bring opportunities to my colleagues and school. However, the more I lead out, the more attention is drawn to me. It's not always comfortable. 

I think of famous introverts who changed the world not because of wanting attention, but because they felt compelled to make a change and did. I think of what I want my contribution to the world and legacy to be. Instead of thinking that something is wrong with me, I need to celebrate the strengths of my introverted side. People have always told me that I've been blessed with the ability to influence others. Only recently have I come to know that influence is really leadership. I do have strengths. They may not be as easily recognized as the more extroverted leader, but never underestimate the power of the quiet catalyst for change.
In Part 2, I'll discuss teacher leadership and how the quieter teacher can be an asset to any school or district.

Monday, April 4, 2016

I Have Nothing To Contribute

Congratulations! You made a Twitter account and are ready to find out why so many have told you that Twitter is the best place for professional development/resources. However, when you look at your stream of tweets, they're flying by faster than you can read them. The signs and symbols (# @ RT #FF) look like a foreign language. It all seems a little strange. But like with anything, with a little practice, you'll learn. The best way to learn is to participate in a chat. There are hundreds of educational chats! You can find them here.

At first, you may want to lurk a little, and that's okay! Everyone started that way. But you won't experience the benefits of being a connected educator until you begin to interact with other educators. I often hear-

But, I Have Nothing To Contribute!
Nothing could be further from the truth!

Think about what you've accomplished so far. You've moved out of your comfort zone and are making an effort to connect and learn with/from other educators. It's a sign that you're willing to try something new. You want to improve your practice for the sake of the kids and/or teachers that you work with every day. Professionals don't wait for PD; they take the initiative to learn and grow both professionally and personally. They model life long learning. You've started on a wonderful journey.

You've joined a learning community. There are no titles, positions, or a traditional hierarchy. Superintendents, teachers, administrators, parents, board members, business leaders, and others are learning alongside each other.  Every contribution is valuable! The collective thinking of the group challenges, encourages, asks better questions, is supportive, and collaborative.

Your life experiences are rich. You have a lot to offer! Start interacting with others by asking a question, or retweeting (RT) a resource/comment that you think others would enjoy. Follow those people that you find interesting. Engage in a side conversation. Don't worry about reading all of the tweets during a chat. The moderator will usually send out a link with all of the tweets that you can read later.

You may not always agree with what is being said during a chat. That's okay! Share your point of view, ask for clarification, and ask thought- provoking questions. Your courageous leadership will push people's thinking and inspire a richer discussion. Most people want to hear other perspectives.

Continue to connect with people that inspire you, that share resources, and that support you. Don't worry about the number of followers you have or who is following you. Build your PLN (personal/professional learning network) with those with whom you enjoy learning. Building relationships is far more important than numbers.

Fear often is a barrier for educators to connect and share. They may fear the possibility of "saying something wrong" or looking/sounding less than intelligent. Educators can also have a fear of sharing in a public space. Believe me; I've had all of those fears (and sometimes still do).

But, I've come to realize that every time I've overcome a fear, I've experienced incredible growth.

 I want to keep growing!

And because I want to keep growing, I will continue to battle those feelings of being inadequate, that creep up now and then, at bay.

The truth is, my thinking has shifted. Like so many others, I started off using Twitter asking, "How can I benefit?" But what's happened over the last couple of years is that I'm continually asking myself, "How can I benefit others?" My answer to that question is to help them become connected educators!

You see, I have grown so much since my very first tweet. And since then, I've continued growing by being in Voxer groups, attending edcamps, going to conferences, reading blogs/blogging and meeting my PLN in person. I can't explain in words how much I've personally/professionally grown. It's something you will have to experience for yourself. I can say that I've learned more about how to improve my practice in the last couple of years than I had previously learned during any PD or college course. Being a connected educator is helping me to become a better teacher, leader, and person.

So in the words of Dr. Seuss-

"Think left and think right and think low and think high. 
Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!"

Becoming a connected educator takes a little effort. You won't find "the good stuff" on Twitter, Voxer, or other platforms until you interact and share. Share your thoughts and resources. Share your experiences. What has worked? What hasn't? Share a new strategy, a book, an article, or a blog post. You may never know the impact. Do it for you. Do it for your students or teachers. Do it for our community of learners.

You have a contribution to make to our profession.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Pooped Out Pioneers!

Being the one and only elementary class, in a 1:1 Chromebook setting, in my district, is wonderful...most of the time. I'm living my dream as a teacher! I love our blended learning classroom! I love not having to schedule time to be in a computer lab. We have access to the Internet and can search for answers for all of the questions that come up during the day. My students have enjoyed using technology to collaborate on projects, to communicate with each other online, to connect with peers outside of our classroom, and all of the other benefits that come with having a device at their fingertips. We have enjoyed learning together this year!

We Are Pioneers!

But, our journey hasn't been smooth! We've experienced barrier after barrier (mostly from being blocked) and pressed forward. 

So I'm wondering...did the pioneers ever sit on the trail and say, "We're pooped!"? 

I'm from Utah with a rich pioneer heritage. Those pioneers may have rested for short periods of time, but they had to keep moving. They had to work together. They had to have faith that their journey would benefit others following their lead. The first pioneers blazed a trail so that it would be easier for the next wagon train or handcart company. 

As I reflect on our pioneering journey, I think of all the stories that my kids will be able to tell their children and grandchildren. Chromebooks by then will be nonexistent, collectibles, maybe hard to find except for in an antique store, and most assuredly covered with a layer of dust. I hope that there will still be a way to access their blog posts and digital creations. I hope that our story will someday be a funny family story. 

We're off-track now. We needed the time to rejuvenate! In a couple of weeks, we'll come back stronger and ready to continue our journey. We have so much more to learn!