#G2Great #5 Yes, They Can! Empowering Community

by Fran McVeigh

Thursday, November 14, 2019 was the fifth and final chat in our “Yes, They Can!” series envisioned by #G2Great Team Member Valinda Kimmel. Our focus was on “Empowering Community” and the discussion was lively with some common threads for the evening and the entire series. Basic concepts included: “Yes, They Can”, communication, transparency, and student agency but with that quick look at our end point, I would like to recap the first four chats to establish a sequence of learning and set the scene for this post.

This “can do” theme has been a great source of optimism and positivity so when the following tweet in my Twitter feed stopped me in my tracks before I began to study our Wakelet, I immediately had a lengthy conversation with myself. (Several conversations!) This tweet seemed to embody the opposite of what our series was hoping to initiate, develop, and nurture. Numerous re-readings kept me focused on the concept of transformation and the amount, volume or depth of pressure in order for change to occur. Check it out! What does it say to you?

Twitter, November 14, 2019

In order to empower students, hear from #studentvoices, teachers, leaders, and community, the status quo will need to be disrupted. That process or transformation will take time, work and a desire to “stay the course” in spite of adversity. Keeping Denzel Washington’s words to “trust the process” in times of trouble will serve us well because our “stick-to-it-iveness will be tested. Keeping the end goal in mind will pay off when we encounter productive struggle and yet remain planful and purposeful.

Reprise: Favorite Quotes

This series of chats had some very consistent recurring phrases: Whole Child, High Expectations, Restraints/Barriers, Partnerships, Measures of Success, Advocacy, and Sustainability whether they were worded that explicitly in every chat. In isolation each phrase is specific to empowerment and worth of investment in resources. And yet, layers of high expectations from students to teachers, to leaders and to communities may result in higher levels of success, advocacy and sustainability when the phrases are also interwoven and combined.

Empowering Community

The final chapter. The final chat. I hear Frank Sinatra in the background, “And now, the end is near, And so I face the final curtain . . .” A focus on “Yes, They Can! means that community will need to be defined. Classroom community, building community and district community will all have impact. But what about the relationship between the school components, the people in the school and the community in which they reside. How well do their needs match up? How well do they interact on a regular basis?

Communication was one key factor that emerged from tweets in our chat. Communicating a consistent school mission/message about the importance of learning and the goals of the school. Communication about the roles of the students, the importance of student agency and the role of the community stakeholders on a regular basis in learning. Communication included measuring and reporting success in stories that matter to the members of the community.

Student agency was another key factor in this chat. The role of students, their own voices and their choices in their learning as well as in volunteerism in the community were noted. Real choices. Real roles. Not just checking off volunteer lists but finding, exploring and developing their personal passions.

Transparency also emerged as a third key factor that included many of the topics in the chat. Transparency in measures of success. Named targets are easier to achieve that unknown shots in the dark. What data is reported beyond the required external, summative assessments? Who tells the stories? Do they show in the board reports, local newspapers, and student yearbooks?

And then the most important factor, the “Yes, They Can!” that was the theme for all five weeks. A belief in students. A belief in parents. A belief in teachers. A belief in leaders. A belief in communities. With high expectations, everyone can reach higher. Everyone can dig in. Everyone can struggle, undergo that transformation that Denzel Washington described, and emerge victorious.

How will you use, “Yes, They Can” to stretch and grow?

DateChat TitleWakeBlog
10/17/19Five-Part Series (Yes, They Can) 
#1 Empowering Students 
WakeBlog
10/24/19Five-Part Series (Yes, They Can) 
#2 Empowering Student Voices with Justin Dolci 
BlogBlog
10/31/19Five-Part Series (Yes, They Can) 
#3 EmpoweringTeachers
WakeBlog
10/24/19Five-Part Series (Yes, They Can) 
#4 Empowering Leaders  
WakeBlog
10/17/19Five-Part Series (Yes, They Can) 
#5 Empowering Community
WakeBlog

Yes, They Can Series #4 Empowering Leadership

by, Jenn Hayhurst

Click here for the Wakelet

Make no mistake, all teachers have it within them to be leaders. It is a teacher’s work to give students a voice to express their opinions on the world.  When students first discover their identities in society a teacher is usually behind the scenes making that moment count. Teachers lead students to discover their ideas about themselves, and how to exercise their personal power. A teacher shows children how to set meaningful goals, and those goals may be life-changing. Ask any child who learns to read or write if their goals matter. I assure you, they will have lots to say if they have an engaged teacher leading them on their way. Teachers everywhere are deconstructing walls to access and equity so that all their students see themselves in their classrooms. Their students trust they will be treated with fairness because that’s just what good leaders do. Students in these classrooms understand that they are held in the highest regard not for what they can do, but for who they are.

On Thursday, November 7, 2019, the #G2Great community came together to explore ways to empower leadership in the fouth, of a five-part series entitled, Yes They Can! The kinds of teachers who go out of their way to participate in our weekly chats are change agents. These are the leaders who create agentive environments for everyone around them because they bring everyone up with them. They raise the level of discourse in their faculty meetings, they encourage kids to take risks. All of this is the truth, and here is one more truth to consider – most of these extraordinary teachers are the very ones who might be reticent to see themselves as leaders.

That is why this chat was such an important one. This perception, I’m just a teacher, has to change. Now more than ever we need teachers who see themselves leaders who will advocate for kids. The rest of this post is going to celebrate the teachers who decided to join in the conversation. I let their words stand on their own for your consideration.

Educational Leaders to Follow…

Leaders keep students and their well being at the center of every decision. They also make a point to make personal connections with students every day

@TracyLafreniere

Find student strengths and create opportunities for students to excell….the whole child can and should be able to stretch out of the four core subjects!

@ERobbPrincipal

A better mandate would be a wall of student names and a collection that every adult has of those names until every single one is taken by an adult who knows and has connected with them

@MelanieMeehan

Start with a vision, created thru collaboration, of what learning looks like, feels like and then establish the expectations. Important to remember high expectations are attainable by all students.

@mollienye72

The only way to increase sustainability is to quit chasing one initiative and quick fix after the other and look for real solutions that will breathe new life into the heart and soul of the school. We have to set our sights in lasting change!
@DrMaryHoward

As I read over these quotes, I get a sense of the impact these educators are having on the world. To me, a teacher is the most important kind of leader there is working in public service today. Every time a teacher goes above and beyond they are shaping their students’ perception of what it means to be an adult. Every time they demonstrate having high expectations for themselves they are inspiring a sense of personal excellence that will influence their students. When these remarkable teachers lean in and say, “Tell me more.” when a new piece of research or professional development, they are living a learner’s life. These wonderful people exist in the world and the world is a better place because they exist. This post is dedicated to you readers, and all the teachers just like you, who may never read it. You are leaders to admire, thank you.

Yes, They Can Series: #3 Empowering Teachers

by Mary Howard

On 10-31-19, #G2Great continued our five-part chat series, Yes, They Can! Following our first two chats on Empowering Students 10/17/19 and Empowering Student Voices 10/24/19, we turned our sights to Empowering Teachers. Judging by the inspired tweets, it’s apparent that our #G2Great chat family shares our deep passion for creating learning spaces where teachers can reside within a spirt of professional empowerment.

Before our #G2Great chat began, we shared the words of Eleanor Roosevelt that seem appropriate as I look back at our Empowering Teachers chat experience. This quote is a reminder of the impact teachers can have when given the freedom to take responsibility for their own choices. Professional decision-making driven by deep knowledge is the epitome of empowerment so it would seem that schools would want to nurture this idea, right? Sadly, that has not been the case in countless schools and districts that don’t seem to adhere to this wise proposition – a counter position to empowerment that is destined to shut the door on what COULD be.

Before we can ponder where we went so tragically awry in this professional decision-making quest, it makes sense to begin with a working definition that speaks to the heart of empowerment. To do this I turned to the wise words of Webster and friends:

Empower: to give or delegate power

Several synonyms support this succinct definition including: authorize, entitle, permit, allow, warrant, delegate enable equip with an antonym provided that says it all: forbid. With a little more searching, I found a definition closer to the meaning I was hoping for: 

to make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their own life and claiming their rights.

Certainly, confidence breeds action which increases empowerment while the opposite could also be said to be true: lack of confidence breeds inaction which decreases empowerment. I dug a little further until I found the perfect words deserving of a slide:

When schools believe in teachers as decision-makers, they endow them with the gift of empowerment. When that gift comes with a commitment to invest in teachers through professional learning, ongoing support and thoughtful resources – all things that could make a real difference in the lives of children – they bring that gift to life from one side of the building to the other. This happens when unwavering belief in teachers translates to viewing them as professionals deserving of trust. This is Empowerment.

But there has also been a sad flip side to this happy outcome. Districts and schools say that they believe in their teachers and the impact that they can have when they are empowered to make their own instructional decisions. Yet, their actions demonstrate empowerment lip service considering that in the same breath they dole out an endless array of mandates, computerized nonsense and out of the box scripted curriculum, all under the battle cry of “fidelity” as they tether teachers to a ball and chain of dictates. The reality is that professional empowerment will forever remain a myth perpetuated by misinformed task masters until we return professional decision-making to the hands of those who have the greatest potential to transform our learning spaces, decisions that may in fact include choosing not to follow mandated programs.  

But this gift of empowerment does not come without a price. Trust implies that teachers will make responsible decisions based on the research that informs our beliefs about what matters most. This gift means that we are in turn willing to make the best possible professional choices in the name of children. Empowerment holds us accountable to assume the role of lifelong learner, opting to read professional texts and articles, attend webinars and other learning opportunities in a perpetual quest for growing knowledge. We engage in collaborative discussions in our schools or through social media. We ask curiosity-inspired questions. We seek understanding rather than hard and fast solutions. We take ownership of our responsibility to make the best decisions for our children rather than to simply reach for time-wasting activity fillers.

Of course, there is also a cost for districts or schools since we cannot empower our teachers unless we are willing to support professional learning opportunities across the entire school year. The only way that we can do that is to make ongoing professional learning our first priority. Yes, that comes at a financial cost but then we would have ample resources to this end if we refused to buy those fidelity fueled programs in the first place. See how that works?

Just last month I attended the International Literacy Conference in New Orleans and in two weeks I will be traveling to Baltimore MD to attend the NCTE Annual Conference. These are growth opportunities that I give myself every year and they always fuel my head and heart while sustaining me until I return again in a state of continual refilling. But year after year, the number of attendees at those conferences have slowly dwindled Why? Because many schools no longer invest in their teachers so that they too could attend these conferences. This demonstrates little value for the very learning that inspires and informs so many of us.

And let’s be clear about the so called financial problem that has become the go-to excuse for this travesty. We don’t have a money problem; we have a priority problem. The powers that be are perfectly content to sign a check to the tune of $500,000 or more for boxed curriculum and a staggering amount for one-size-fits-all skill and drill computerized junk. Yet they’re unwilling to invest in the professional knowledge. It is disconcerting that the investment in money hungry ploys are designed to summarily reduce teachers to market-driven puppets as we continue to waste precious dollars and minutes while demonstrating that we value things above people and the learning opportunities that could be the tipping point for real change. 

Of course, our schools then insist that teachers want these things, but as a national consultant who spends a great deal of time with teachers across the country, I can tell you that most teachers want to take back the reins of decision-making that has been so cavalierly stolen from them. We fill their hands with out-of-the-box teaching and then wonder why some teachers beg for more. Why wold we be surprised when we have programmed a whole new generation of educators who want to live out their careers as the professional version of the Stepford Wives depicted in the movies. We have created our own reality and it has blinded far too many teachers, schools and districts to what is possible when we are willing to invite teacher empowerment into our learning spaces armed with the professional knowledge that fuels those choices.

As I come to the close of this passionate post, I think back to the words of John Spencer and A.J. Juliani in their wonderful book, Empower (2017 Impress, LP):

Changing the game of school means actually allowing students to create their own game. This is empowerment.

But I would argue that we will never change the game for our children until we change the game for our teachers. I’m going take the liberty of rewording the words of John and A.J. to make that point; 

Changing the game of school means actually allowing teachers to create their own game. This is empowerment.