Leading from Within: From the Classroom to Leadership

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

“Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid and act anyway.” –Dr. Robert Anthony

Once a preschool teacher, I recently began my work as an assistant director.

Based on what I have experienced and researched so far I learned that it’s best to have one foot in and one foot out of the classroom. It’s like taking a pulse of the place and people as a collective. Just like with students it’s checking in and meeting them where they are, learning from them and working together. As I reflect on what will soon be almost a complete year as a school leader, I pause and take a deep breath. Two words: growing pains.  It takes a lot of hard work, working smart, collaboration and most of all courage to lead.

In my heart I always wanted to be an educator. Given the privilege to serve others is what is in my being…it is in my genetic make up, my DNA, my blood. It’s in my soul. It’s inevitable. It’s unavoidable no matter where I end up or what I do in life.

I have a vision. I still consider myself an educator and learner first and foremost. With this in mind, I enjoy keeping a pulse of our program. I look forward to saying hi and good-bye to everyone each and everyday. I look forward to seeing how others are truly doing and how they are feeling. Think: Mr. Rogers.

I believe every single person in this world deserves high quality and equity in education no matter where they are or where they’re from. I live to push everyone to realize and grow into his or her fullest potential.

There are 3 major takeaways and reminders since stepping and growing into this role:

  1. Being in Classrooms

Educators should never forget what its like to be a child/student. I take this perspective as I think about myself…I promise never to forget what its like to be a teacher. It’s similar to when I think and reflect on my experiences growing up…I never want to forget where I came from. My experiences made me the person I am today.   I work to spend time in classrooms not eyeing every little thing. I see the little things but I focus in on those little moments. The good things, the kinds of things that remind me why we are here in the first place to care, guide and challenge our children. In return to be challenged and learn from each other, families and children.

  1. Understanding, Empowering and Empathizing with Others

Taking time to understand other’s points of view. Perception is reality. Taking time to truly understand where others are coming from is important to me. It’s like two people looking and gazing at a work of art but feeling and seeing something completely different. I work and take the time to listen in order to understand why they are seeing it the way they are.

  1. Connecting, Building and Maintaining Relationships

I saved the best for last. When eating something delicious I like to save and savor the last “best” bite for last. Relationships are at the heart of our existence and being. No one wants to listen, be with or work with a person who does not genuinely care about them. Working to know everyone on a personal level is vital. I think about it like this: great teachers get to know their students and families. Knowing your people is important. Asking them how they are doing, creating outings and go to them. Work should not feel like work. You should want to be there.

Looking at leadership from several perspectives, I share some of the interesting experiences with Jill. I have taught 4th to 12th grade prior to taking my seat at the administration desk. I strongly believe that once you are an educator, you are an educator for life. A leader in a general sense must LEAD. To lead, one must possess the ability to listen and collaborate. As a leader in the field of education, you must possess other special skills such as high emotional intelligence and understanding the people you work with. I say “work with” because a good leader leads by taking part in the team.

On a daily basis, I am a very busy person. However, I enjoy taking the time to talk with my teachers, greeting children and families, squeezing in a little time to sit on the floor and play with children. This is not my main role of course but the classroom is where the action is. I remember my days being in the classroom and asking, “Who came up with this policy or regulation? Have they thought about this or that? This is unrealistic.” It seemed more “drop down” policy or rule rather than “well thought and realistic”. I have been in the trenches of teaching. I have faced many challenges and learned how to over come them and how to figure out a way to reach the goal. I am a firm believer that people like us make the best leaders. Why? Because we have been there and we have not forgotten what it was like. And we know and realize how it is now.

A leader approaches situations collectively and with a solution finder attitude. No matter what sector you work in, there are always going to be challenges, hardships, problems and negativity. A true leader gathers the team around, brainstorms together, takes everyone’s ideas and feedback into consideration and moves forward. There may be times when failure is inevitable. A leader knows what to take away from it as a learning lesson and shares it with the team trying to figure out how to avoid falling into the same situation again.

I enjoy empowering the people I work with. The stronger they get, the stronger I become. It is a cycle and a positive one. We grow together. I find coaching the most effective and enjoyable way to raise the bar for everyone. Seeing someone achieve makes me happy and gives me the biggest satisfaction. Just because I am no longer in the classroom does not mean I cannot influence what happens in the classroom. Better yet, now I can do it for more than one classroom at a time. I can establish a culture of doers, go-getters, problem solvers, communicators, and collaborators.

The most effective leaders are effective because they respect the mission, vision and the employees of their organization. They set the tone, establish a shared goal and produce a plan involving everyone. They are the role models. They get up regardless of how many times they fall. They are persistent, strong and have confidence not only in themselves but also in their teams. True leaders are inspirers and cultivators.  True leaders have courage.

courage

 

 

 

Top 10 Ways to be Remembered as the Worst Educator of All Time.

Posted by Jill Telford and Berna Artis

We all remember the best and worst teachers in our lifetime. While teaching is a profound calling for some, others fall into it as a 9-5 job, not a calling. Here are the top 10 ways to be remembered as the worst teacher of all time. Before going any further… if you are stumbling down the road of becoming a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad teacher as Alexander’s day is described in the beloved story Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day now turned into a family comedic film, please check yourself, breathe and remember why you’re here in the first place. Teaching is not easy and not for the faint of heart: it demands tough, courageous and dedicated individuals and if you can’t handle the heat well, get out of the kitchen. While we all know what to do in terms of developmentally appropriate practice and forming strong relationships with children and families, here’s a list of what not to do as a teacher.

  1. Sitting down all of the time and being detached: ignoring students and being apathetic.    Why teach if you have no enthusiasm, interest or even concern? Students’ will pick up on this and will not want to be there either. You should be up and moving about helping, supporting, learning and teaching. Your job…is that. If you’re modeling apathy then we’re in trouble. Your students are doomed. Be present in the moments…so many of them are teachable ones.
  1. Always on computer, cell phone, reading something unrelated to the lesson. I know and realize we are in a technological age but what I cannot wrap my mind around is doing this inside of a classroom and/or while teaching. Sure, technology is awesome. However, always on a phone or computer while inside your classroom screams that a. something or someone outside of the classroom is more important than who is inside of it: b. your students.
  1. Often has tantrums, is dramatic and loses it over small issues. No one is perfect but if everyday you have an issue then there is a problem not with your surroundings but in fact, you. You must have a reality check. Ok, life is not sunshine and rainbows 24/7 BUT if you can’t learn to manage a few raindrops then you need help. If you are losing your cool and calm mostly everyday then you need to figure it out, seek help and learn how to cope. How are you to help your students keep calm, cool and be collected if you’re exploding and tripping out about every little detail? Take a lesson from the book I Was So Mad by Mercer Meyer. That little critter was frustrated but figured it out.
  1. Complains, gossips and spreads rumors about colleagues, administration, families and children. Why and for what? Misery loves company for sure but if you are a true teacher then you don’t judge and wreak havoc and wreck relationships but build them. Communication in Latin means to come together. If you’re communication is not a coming together and building relationships then you should not be saying it. Reflect and work on how to work and play well with others. No one likes a complainer. If you don’t like something try to fix it and make it better…offer solutions.
  1. Teaches using only one strategy. Every student learns differently and needs a differentiated approach. You will not connect with children on an individual level if you 1. Don’t know who they are and 2. Have unrealistic expectations of him or her. In our current education world we can CHOOSE how and what approach to reach each and every child. I know and recognize it is hard work but it pays off. Connecting, caring and helping are at the heart of teaching and human existence. If your kid wants to write about it let them write about it, if your kid wants to dance about it let them dance about it, if your kid wants to draw/paint it out let them do it, if they want to sing it let them do it, if they want to talk about it let them do it, if they want to listen let them listen, if they want to whisper let them, if they want to act it out let them do it, if they want to test it out let them do it and so much more. Give them the freedom to do this. They will remember, appreciate and do that thing you let them do forever. And, most of all they will be good at it.
  1. Acknowledges “good” and “bad” behavior. Why? When we are all good and bad. That is to be human. When we label good versus bad that is pitting children against one another. We all have good and bad in us. Read stories capturing people who have both of these traits. Teach children what it is to be human. Teach that it is ok to make mistakes but to learn from them. Teach kindness and forgiveness. Believe that every child and family is good but makes mistakes. Encourage children to take risks and be courageous.
  1. Teaching the same material every year in the same way. Every year we get a different diverse group of students. Why teach the same subjects using the same ways as the prior year. Growth is about being in a process of constant change and renewal. When we teach the same way every year then we become stagnant like a still pond of stagnant water. No one likes stagnant water unless you’re a fly, mosquito or some other kind of insect.
  1. Doesn’t show up on time or is inconsistent. If you are sick a lot. If you show up late with coffee in your hands and your cellphone…you are making a bold statement. You are basically saying you don’t care. Work at a coffee shop since you’re willing to be late on behalf of one. Coffee is awesome, we love coffee but coming in late because of it is not. Some teachers need coffee…but plan time accordingly so you make it to class on time. You are an example…set a good one, please. 
  1. Lacks compassion and does not understand human psychology. One of the most important corner stones of education is building relationships and connecting with children. Let it be a young child or a teenager, every student wants to be understood and heard. Each student is unique; therefore, requires a different approach. Understanding and connecting, means showing regard and trying to reach and help that child where he or she is. There is always a reason behind every behavior. A teacher’s job is to understand and tailor his or her approach accordingly. Is their something upsetting happening in the child’s home? Maybe there is tension or fights in the house? Is the child feeling left out or being bullied? Teachers should not use the same discipline method or guidance for every child as each child is different and requires a different approach. 
  1. Does not respect students. Just because children are not adults does not mean teachers should roll over them. It does not mean teachers will disregard the idea or the need of the children nor does it mean they will make fun of children. As young as infants, children need and deserve respect. It is important to show them they are worthy, valued and important. Lack of regard will harm a child’s self esteem and self respect. Children should be treated with kindness, respect and with the same kind of manners you ask of them. Treat others how you want to be treated. Model it yourself.
  1. Bonus* Being dismissive and knows what is best. When a family raises a concern, wants to have a conversation about their kid and you dismiss it and act like you know it all. This is not ok. A child is made strong through strong partnerships and relationships between families and teachers. Families want what is best and is a child’s first teachers in the first place…remember that. Establishing open two way communication is key in providing the best support for children. Do not pass judgment…seek first to understand than being understood. Show compassion, care and concern for your student and his or her family. This is how you build a strong foundation.

The preceding ten +bonus ways will definitely make you a memorable worst teacher in someone’s lifetime. Work at these and you will be regarded as the worst educator of all time brought up over dinners, lunches and over drinks with phrases such as “I really could not stand _______”, “That was the worst year of my childhood life”, “Thank goodness, its over”, “Oh man, you had him/her too?!”, “She/He was horrible”, “I hated______”, “She/He couldn’t teach!” and written down in academic history as a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Teacher.