Yes, They Can Series #4 Empowering Leadership

by, Jenn Hayhurst

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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.

Exploring Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential with Dennis Schug

By Jenn Hayhurst

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On September 1, 2016 #G2Great concluded our five-part leadership series, Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential with guest host Dennis Schug. Dennis is the principal of Hampton Bays Middle School in Hampton Bays, NY and he reminded us that leadership and learning go hand-in-hand:  “It’s critically important that we as school leaders model that we’re learners first. Our colleagues and students will follow.”     

How do we get to that “sweet spot”  Dennis describes so that we can encourage learning and growth for all members of a school community?  Promoting a positive school environment begins with three building blocks: Communication, Collaboration, and Professional Learning.

Everyone who participated in Thursday night’s chat embraced these building blocks and began an important discussion that needs to live beyond our chat. How do we continue to evolve our practices to expand our circle of influence? Learning and leadership are both within our grasp, and this how we will begin to unlock our personal and professional potential.  The conversation that followed revealed the dedication and “can do” spirit that these remarkable educators bring to the table every day when we open up…

Building Block One: OPENING UP  to what is possible – a  free flow of communication:

Building Block One: Dennis inspired us all to think about how communication opens the door to professional learning. My friend and mentor, Amy Brennan has been know to say, “I think better in the company of of others.” I completely agree! It is our professional responsibility to engage in a healthy back and forth dialogue about the issues that matter most in our schools.  This is extremely complex work and it requires us all to think deeply to find common ground. The time is now to build on a plurality, through compassion and a shared vision that welcomes many views and ideas:   

Building Block Two: OPENING UP  to more – unconditional collaboration:

John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”  To this I say, Dennis Schug, you are a leader to admire because you began a conversation around the importance of collaborative work. As you said, “In 2016  isolation is a choice.”  Our students will inherit a world that depends on pragmatic problem solving and we can all lead by example. Let’s look for opportunities to learn together:

Building Block Three: OPENING UP  to vitality – professional learning in action:

Great leaders are like beacons who light the way and begin a chain reaction for professional learning and growth. We selected lighthouses as the images for our administrative series because great leader like Dennis Schrug are sources of enlightenment. They take away the darkness and bring clarity where there might otherwise be confusion. They achieve this through supporting professional learning.  This is the spark that lights the fire  inside all of us to learn and grow.  We can all be learners. We can all be leaders. We can become beacons who light the way for ourselves, each other, our students, and their families:

How can we work together for what is in the best interest of our students? We begin by saying “Yes.”  Yes to what is possible if we open ourselves up to communication.  Yes to more if we open ourselves up to collaboration.  Yes to vitality if we open ourselves up to professional learning.  Dennis you made us think of our collective potential and have inspired us all to dream. You have stirred our excitement for a new school year. Thank you for hosting #G2Great and for your service in the name of students everywhere.

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Exploring Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential with Natalie Miller

by Mary Howard

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On August 25, 2016 #G2Great continued our five-part leadership series, Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential. This week guest host Natalie Miller, principal of Cornelius Hedges Elementary in Kalispell, MT, deepened our “celebration of administrators who model by their actions what is possible when they make the shift to lead learner.”

Over the past four weeks, I have thought about this celebration of possible through the eyes of four remarkable administrators: Seth Berg, Matt Renwick, Tony Sinanis and Natalie Miller. As I reflect on their collective impact, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for their vision of administrators as lead learner. Yet my joy is hampered by the stark realization that their vision for what is possible is not the norm in every school. That concern drew my attention back to a quote we tweeted during our chat:

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This quote replayed in my mind as Natalie breathed new meaning into those words, elevating my desire for lead learner magic in every school. Administrators who inspire teachers “to yearn for the vast and endless sea” help us to envision leadership from the heart. With this in mind, I posed a singular guiding question to move us closer to that celebration of possible: WHAT IF?

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And so as I look back on Natalie’s chat from a mindset of leadership from the heart, her words inspired me to ponder seven goals that I am hopeful can spark other schools to embrace a lead learner role through a lens of WHAT IF?

No 1

WHAT IF every administrator created a “positively contagious school culture?”

The word “relationship” has come up repeatedly in our series, and Natalie’s words champion this message as well. If we have any hope of creating schools where leadership from the heart is a reality, a positively contagious school culture must be our focus. Cornelius Hedges Elementary modeled these words when Natalie’s teachers enthusiastically surrounded her during the chat in joyful celebration of their lead learner. This mutual respect does not happen by chance but when lead learners are committed to intentionally nurture relationships that promote this positively contagious culture.

No 2

WHAT IF every administrator made decisions that “keep the focus on students?”

A positively contagious culture grounded in meaningful relationships allows us to shift our focus so that we can keep our eyes on the real prize –students. Our lead learners join forces with their staff to work toward a common vision that keeps students at the center of every effort. This is achieved through relevant professional learning experiences motivated by educators’ desire to know their students well for it is this knowledge that keeps students at the center on a day-to-day and teacher-to-teacher basis.

No 3

WHAT IF every administrator viewed “shared leadership as the foundation for success?

Once we have acknowledged student success as our ultimate goal, we can open the door to shared leadership in this spirit. This is not about compliance or doling out boxed programs and the STUFF that reflects lack of faith in knowledgeable teachers. Lead learners embrace a shared role that holds professional responsibility in high regard. Lead learners encourage their teachers to use understandings of literacy and children to guide decision-making as resources become flexible tools that honor responsive teaching. Lead learners bravely relinquish reigns of control so that they can make room for informed instructional choices.

No 4

WHAT IF every administrator welcomed conversations to “lead students to their highest levels of learning?”

When respectful communication and collaboration in a positive learning environment where students are the priority defines a school, it is evident the moment you walk through the front door. One of the hallmarks of successful schools where lead learners are at the helm is the deep belief in conversations that will engage teachers in generating questions fueled by their curiosity about students and steadfast commitment to lead them to the highest levels of learning. These high expectations are afforded every child because educators refuse to allow preconceptions spurred by labels and irrelevant or trivial data to blur their view.

No 5

WHAT IF every administrator celebrated their role as the school’s “Chief Storyteller?”

Schools that keep students at the center are proud of their collective efforts and willing to share their success stories with anyone who will listen. Lead learners not only pave the way for these celebrations, but encourage teachers and even students to become fellow storytellers. Social media offers a rich platform to instill a sense of pride in our work as we share with educators far and wide. In doing so, we commemorate our hard work driven by an unwavering passion to make each day the best possible learning day for the students who inspire that hard work and move us to share our collective story.

No 6

WHAT IF every administrator created an environment “for teachers to reflect on student learning?”

Research has long supported reflection as a powerful impetus to change. Effective teachers do not view the teaching experience as the end goal but as a way to closely examine their practices for the purpose of elevating those practices in the future. Lead learners encourage this professional introspection and offer time for teachers to share those reflections and use this shared discourse as a springboard to new thinking. Collegial collaborations allow teachers to analyze practices as they verbalize their thinking with others to take a renewed look at those practices from multiple perspectives.

No 7

WHAT IF every administrator demonstrates respect for all so “you can feel our smiles before you enter?”

And so we return to the “positively contagious school culture” that initiated our journey to WHAT IF. The culture Cornelius Hedges Elementary has created “where you can feel our smiles before you enter” stayed with me long after the chat ended. This is the very spirit of leadership from the heart enriched by administrators with the courage to make the transformation to lead learner. And that my friends, is where the magic lives, not only in schools where lead learners like Seth, Matt, Tony, and Natalie reside – but in schools across the country where possible could thrive if we change our view of what is means to be a ‘leader.’

 

In closing, there is no doubt in my mind that leadership from the heart where lead learners inspire teachers “to yearn for the vast and endless sea” is achievable because we have seen it in action over the past four weeks of our series. And if every school administrator was committed to becoming a lead learner in a celebration of possible through WHAT IF?

Well in the words of Dr. Seuss, “Oh the places we could go!”

Special thank you to Natalie Miller and the wonderful staff of Cornelius Hedges Elementary supported by Instructional Coach Dani Burtsfield for celebrating your possible with us and to each of our incredible #G2Great chatters who inspire us with their dedicated enthusiasm week after week!

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Five ways to connect with Natalie:

Twitter @nataliebmiller

Blog nataliebmiller.wordpress.com

Facebook: Facebook.com/CorneliusHedgesElementary/

School website: sd5.k12.mt.us/4/home

Instagram: instagram.com/hedgeshornets

Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize School Wide Potential Administrator Spotlight on Matt Renwick

By Jenn Hayhurst

Matt

Everyone Needs A Champion…

Sometimes a word can be a perfect fit. When I think of the word “inspire” and I think about the many talented administrators I have come to know, it’s really captures the essence of what makes them great . Dedicated administrators fulfill both definitions of the word. They do fill us with a feeling of elation to create great work in the name of students. They navigate the political tensions of running a school and do in fact, help us to breathe in and stay focused. They are brave and do whatever it takes so that we all keep students at the center of all the decision making.They are real life champions working for the greater good each day a school opens its doors.

InspireOn August 11, 2016 #G2Great welcomed Matt Renwick to guest host Part 2 of a five Part Series: Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize School Wide Potential. Matt Renwick is a champion, who inspires us all.   

Great Teachers, Growth, Learning…

Matt’s top three instructional building blocks to promote positive school environment are a belief in: great teachers, growth, and celebrating learning for all students. Clarity is essential so when we all understand what our building blocks for school culture are, we can all work together to make them a reality. We are part of something bigger than ourselves, because we are all champions for the same cause:

Empower, Success, Collaboration…

Creating a school environment that promotes empowered relationships is purposeful and disciplined work for a school leader. Knowing when it’s right to step into a leadership role and and when to step out of a leadership role honors collaborative work.  It shifts personal responsibility for our professional learning and each other when we embrace the thinking that we are all leaders. We are a championship team who are all working to win students’ success:

Conversation, Consensus, Team…

We merge leadership and instructional decision-making when we merge our beliefs. Our work is to encourage meaningful conversations, to find consensus, and to create a responsive team. Every championship team has a great coach, great leaders are part of the team so they seek out experts who will coach them achieve victory. Leaders listen:  

Time, Facilitate, Building-Wide…

Our best work for students comes to life when administrators think like champions. They inspire a collaborative spirit as if we were stepping into the area for a playoff game. They come to work to play hard and try new roles designed to coordinate our efforts. We are all leaders, we are all learners and this makes our schools great:

Welcoming, Being Present, Making Experiences …

We can’t stand on the sidelines. We must get out there and make connections of all kinds. By connecting our schools and communities we affect changes. Leaving a positive footprint begins when we all step into our leadership roles and leave tracks for others to follow:  

Assess, Focus, Choice …

Be a champion for a school culture that values professional learning – one that deeply identifies itself with success. Assessing and planning for this are essential parts that drive intentional decision making that accommodates teacher choice for professional learning.  This is how we grow teacher leaders.  When everyone immerses themselves in this process we embed learning throughout:   

Professionalism, Say Yes, Success …

Having a personal vision statement allows us to envision the school our educators and students deserve. Being a champion means saying “yes” to the work ahead and finding support that brings success:  

We are all champions! We can choose to be a source of inspiration that keeps the lights on in schoolhouses across our nation. If you are an administrator, like Matt Renwick, you can lead like a learner. If you are a teacher, you can be a collaborative colleague keeping students first. We can all be brave and know when to ask for help, holding tight to the belief that we are smarter together. If you are a parent, be involved and support your local schools. This is the work of a lifetime and we need everyone to be part of the team.

Thank you for inspiring us Matt. You’ve brought out our inner champions:

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Seth Berg: Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential

by Mary Howard

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On 8/4/16, #G2Great embarked on a new journey with a five-part leadership series. Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential is a virtual “celebration of administrators who model by their actions what is possible when we create a shared role of lead learner.

And celebrate possible we did when Seth Berg, principal of Meadow Brook Elementary in Rochester Hills, MI, launched us on a joyful exploration. I met Seth early in my entry into Twitter when I happened on his remarkable blog and I’ve been professionally smitten ever since. Seth lives and breathes the harmonious merger of administration and instruction in the name of children and his first tweet was a testament to his commitment for this shared role:

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.08.58 PMSo as we begin our series, I’d like to reflect on Seth’s inspirational tweets that highlight our Seven BIG IDEAS. Notice that these ideas are not viewed in isolation but through a lens of deep beliefs interwoven into a beautiful patchwork of change:

 

BIG IDEA 1: CREATING A SCHOOLWIDE CULTURE 

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It doesn’t take long after entering a school building to get a strong sense that a schoolwide culture has been thoughtfully nurtured within a collective spirit of commitment. Seth emphasizes that our core values, those things we hold dear supported by research, are at the center of this culture. Yes these are challenging times, but if we adhere to the tenets of what matters most in our schools and as we work toward a culture based on a common ground of excellence, that culture is palpable the moment you enter the front door. It is evident that these schools view time as a precious commodity as demonstrated by each minute spent in the most valuable and purposeful ways as positive energy literally emanates from every intentional choice in the service of learning.

 

BIG IDEA 2: BUILDING RESPECTFUL PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS

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This schoolwide culture where core values are celebrated is rises from respectful relationships that nurture positive interactions. These relationships do not happen by chance or because teachers are expected to become compliant disseminators of top down mandates. Rather, it is an outcome of shared leaderships where each voice is viewed as key decision-maker within a positive environment where educators work together to bring a common vision for what that school can be to life. When this happens, the celebration of possible is always in view as shared ownership reflects collective input. Mutual respect then leads to even more productive efforts as this thoughtfully intentional work has a direct impact on students.

 

BIG IDEA 3: MERGING LEADERSHIP AND INSTRUCTION

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It is not unusual to see a negative trickle down effect in districts where leadership is seen through a lens of iron fisted directives. This same trickle down effect, however, becomes a positive force when shared leadership flows from a district to building level so administrators are empowered to do this work with support from all sides. Seth’s message of collaboration from a broader culture of leadership can have a significant impact on the collective energy across an entire district. The freedom that comes with this trust affords principals opportunities to promote and support change that is responsive to the unique needs of their individual buildings as schools set their sights on this staff, these students and this community. In other words, the leadership-instruction merger is not a recipe that is merely doled out to schools within the district to dutifully implement, but a collective willingness to address the most pressing needs of the individual school at that moment in time.

 

BIG IDEA 4: PROMOTING COORDINATION AND COLLABORATION

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As an educator, I can’t think of anything I would want more than to be in an environment where everyone is present, visible, connected, engaged and above all enthusiastic. When we acknowledge that we are all working toward a common goal focused squarely on meeting the needs of students, great things can happen. Those critical qualities Seth referred to then become the fuel that has the potential to drive all we do. In order to merge leadership and instruction, we must be on the same page, coordinating our efforts through collaboration and an unwavering collective commitment to elevate the craft of teaching so that we can enrich the learning lives of the students we are fortunate to have in our care. Schools that place a high value on being present, visible, connected, engaged and enthusiastic view students as the impetus for every decision on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.

 

BIG IDEA 5: CONNECTEDNESS TO COMMUNITY NEEDS

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Schools do not exist on a lonely island in the middle of nowhere. Rather, they exist within a larger community of support where we can maximize our potential within and beyond the four walls of our buildings. This two-way perspective will require us to be cognizant of the needs of our community and willing to initiate invitations to celebrate side by side with us in any way we can. We do this through events at a building level or through social media as we share our efforts with others. When we are proud of what is happening in our schools we want to open our doors to enthusiastically share our successes. If we find that we are unwilling to share our efforts and open our doors, then we may need to take a long hard look at what we are doing and make the changes that will alter our perception of our school and reawaken pride in all that we do because we know our choices matter.

 

BIG IDEA 6: VALUING PROFESSIONAL LEARNING

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Those of us who are committed to professional learning respect both our personal and professional efforts as a never-ending process. Our lead learner administrators work to promote a mindset of professional curiosity that enables every member of the staff to reflect on and respond to personal and schoolwide queries about the learning process so that we can meet the learning needs of every child we are blessed to have in front of us. This curiosity inspires us to embrace discovery as we seek to understand this wonderful work we do so that we can do it in the most effective ways. Seth’s reminder to tap everyone and celebrate both the individual and collective progress we make along the way is essential for promoting a growth mindset designed to benefit teachers and in turn the recipients of our every effort – kids.

 

BIG IDEA 7: LEAVING A LONG-TERM IMPACT

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Seth’s final message brought us full circle back to celebrating possible. His commitment to his school is so inspiring but it is his obvious belief in his own role as learner that left a lingering impact in my head and heart days after our chat. That sense of joy was then multiplied by a second tweet that elevated my appreciation for Seth as lead learner even more.

Seth Berg

Seth’s belief in the immense beauty of learning together and embracing these moments is what long-term impact is all about. To illustrate the message that left me smiling for days after our #G2Great chat, Seth shared a blog post that reflected his ponderings when his eyes happened on a weed that had gone unnoticed on his lawn:

“Beauty does seem to be in the eye of the beholder, and I believe that beauty does exist everywhere and in everything. So, it’s up to the beholder to live in such a way that beauty becomes apparent to others. What happens when educators lead in ways that expose beauty to those they serve?   What happens when educators lead in ways that encourage students to appreciate the unique and amazing beauty within themselves?  Take one more moment, look again, behold this weed, this nuisance, this lawn pest.

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So as I look back on our celebration of possible through Seth’s eyes I am once again drawn to his eloquent words that move me to close with a question: When we know that schools like Meadow Brook Elementary with lead learners like Seth exist, why isn’t every school and every administrator celebrating the possible our teachers and students deserve? It occurs to me that anything less cheats teachers and children of the best we have to offer. Our students are an intricate thread that ties each of us together in a glorious joyful merger, and this powerful union of administration and instruction can take schools to new heights.

Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” We obviously know better because we have have seen possible at work in schools like Meadow Brook. Shouldn’t possible then be a professional and personal imperative for schools everywhere? It certainly seems like a question worth asking…

I, along with my #G2Great co-moderators Jenn Hayhurst and Amy Brennan, am so grateful to see a glimpse of lead learning in action at Meadow Brook Elementary. Thank you, Seth, for launching an inspiring journey celebrating possible through your eyes!

Please join #G2Great on 8/11/16 with guest host Matt Renwick, principal of Mineral Point Elementary in Mineral Point, WI.

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