The Power of Collective Effort

Too often in education, we treat our work as if there is a magic solution, an individual hero, or super powered program to move our students and our schools to a place of excellence. We spend our time, energy, and resources searching for the right program to move our students to achieve the goals we’ve set for them. We deliberate over whether we should choose this program or that program and make an attempt to determine if it will “work” in our school or district. However, we often forget that no matter how valuable or impactful a program or concept, it will always be at the mercy of those who have the responsibility of executing it.

School improvement is about people improvement. When people improve their practices, get better at their craft, and work better, schools improve. Programs don’t produce excellence. People are at the center of it all. We need school leaders who fully understand this. We need principals and administrators and teachers who accept, without hesitation, that improvement is a continuous concept. We never stop trying to get better at what we do. Regardless of our years of experience, expertise in our subject matter or field, the opportunity to improve your craft is constant. Leaders must work to develop a solid understanding and acceptance that people are at the center of any improvement in a school or district. Without an educated, driven, and committed group of people who believe that it is their professional responsibility to get better each and every day, no program, no initiative will succeed. For it is not the program that has the power; it is the people.

Collective effort is the secret to any organizational success. When a leader can rally a group of people around a common goal and everyone commits to giving their best, to improving their individual abilities so that they improve their contribution to the team, amazing things can happen. The real task of leadership is rooted in one’s ability to get a group of individually talented folks to partner for the good of the cause.

Collective efficacy needs more attention in our work. We need to spend more time talking about the collective impact of the group and less time discussing individual merit. No matter how good or great an individual might be, no one person can produce what a focused group of individuals who understand the power of collective effort can produce.

So what gets in the way of us capitalizing on the age old kindergarten concept of group work? Egos. Social conditioning to compare and rank ourselves against our counterparts. We have to focus on being our very best, instead of being concerned with who is the best. We must stand together, and not be distracted by our place in line. The human condition is vulnerable to this and that is why leaders must spend time making a conscious effort to highlight collective effort rather than individual heroism.

How do we do this? We intentionally create opportunities for collaboration. We celebrate the work and results of the group. We talk about collective efficacy over and over and over again. We explicitly ask others to place their egos on the shelf for the good of the cause. Everyone must work to be selfless and to put the needs of the group ahead of personal pride.

This, I believe, is the secret to producing amazing work. Imagine what might happen if everyone in your grade level, department, school, or district believed in the power of collective effort? What amazing things might you all accomplish? What if we all worked to push ourselves to maximize our personal potential? We must grow the people we have and stop looking for some super hero or super program to fix it all. The power, my friends, is in the people.

I dare you to challenge any group or team you’re associated with to do just that. Building a team who is committed to collective effort is hard work. Working on the program instead of the people is far easier. However, to achieve excellence we must pose the question constantly: Do you now what we could do if we all use our talents to accomplish a goal TOGETHER? While it sounds rather simple, it is the most challenging work of any leader. To get people to put themselves aside for the good of the group, to commit day in and day out to collective effort, is nothing short of a minor miracle. We begin by at least talking about collective effort. It needs to be a part of the conversation in our schools, in our districts, in our lives. If we work it right, some amazing things can be accomplished!
Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!
-Latoya
@latoyadixon5

This Is Your Reminder!

Attention Educators! This is your reminder. Do you know what an awesome and powerful responsibility and opportunity we have? Well, allow me to remind you:

Education is freedom. How, you ask? Being educated gives one the freedom to trust his or her own intuition, make his or her own choices, without reliance on someone else. It creates a sense of self sufficiency that cannot be obtained any other way. Education is opportunity. When you are educated, your ability to choose is enhanced. You can have choice about what you do, how you spend your time, who you spend it with, and more. You can have choice about your quality of life. Being educated can improve your quality of life. Education is powerful. There is an autonomy that comes with being educated.  Once you are educated, no one can take it away from you. My education is my most prized possession. It changed my life. Poverty of the mind can result in poverty in life, but poverty in life does not have to result in poverty of the mind. But most of all education gives power to the powerless and hope to the hopeless. Here’s what I like most about being educated: It’s like a secret weapon. You can’t tell how much someone has by looking at them. Don’t ever let an appearance fool you. It’s usually not what it looks like-Look deeper, search harder, and work to connect!

The mind is a way to harness power and opportunity, regardless of your race, religion, socioeconomic status, etc. When students understand that their education is the fuel that harnesses the power within them, their ability to change the trajectory of their own lives is unlocked. Sometimes I think we (educators) need to provide more direct instruction around the power of an education. We need to share our own narratives of how education changed our lives and the things we have overcome in our journey.

While I realize I am not the only one with a story, I am often reminded that I am one who is courageous enough to share it. Instead of being ashamed of the narrative that drove you to success, share it. There is power in a good story. I know so many of us overcame so many obstacles in our lives, but sometimes shame gets in the way of our sharing. Shame cannot be the narrative we live by if we want to inspire others. We must share our heart. We must remember that the mind is a powerful thing. It either coaches you up or talks you down. We must be mindful of what we allow to enter our minds. We are only limited by our own thoughts and that is why we must talk to ourselves more than we listen to ourselves. We all need to coach our conscious.

Because I recognize that for any great accomplishment struggle is a necessary precursor, we need to teach students not to be distracted by the struggle and to press on anyway. As we work to inspire students and each other, we need to tap into the power of the human condition. Pain and progress often happen simultaneously. When things become challenging, we often forget such. We must remember all of the journey, not just the easy parts. Being an educator is soul work, heart work, and it is hard work. It is for those whose soul is satisfied by serving. For all of the educators out there, keep fanning your flame, and don’t forget to pass the torch!

Until Next Time-Be you, be true, and be a hope builder!
Latoya
@latoyadixon5

In Pursuit of Passion

It’s not uncommon to hear educators talk about what they are passionate about. A word with such strong emotion attached to it should not be used ever so freely. Passion is what we can’t die without, not what we can’t live without. Passion is soul necessary. Passion is a spiritual experience, one in which we work to get our heart and mind to operate in tandem with each other. But above all, passion must be tended to, it must be protected, and preserved.

For educators, summer can be a time we use to rest and recharge. It’s a time to relax, to turn off so to speak from the daily hustle and bustle of school. However, during a recent #leadupchat I began thinking about how important it is to feed our passion on a regular basis so that we keep our energy we bring to our work in the right realm, one that’s positive and productive. Over the years I’ve heard keynote after keynote speaker talk about how important it is for educators to be passionate about their work. In some instances, they make it seem as if it is a characteristic or trait that is easily obtained, can be turned on at moment’s notice, and created by sheer wish. But I believe differently. Passion is a function of the spirit and soul. You can’t make it up and you can’t learn it. Either you feel it or you don’t. It is often born out of pain. Passion is the sum of our experiences-pain and progress-that has inspired us to use our work as a platform to spread hope! Passion comes from a place of authenticity. It is not trendy. It is not a buzz word. It is real and you feel it.  Passionate leaders are as passionate about people as they are about their work. People drive their passion for the work!

My challenge to all of us and question is this: How are your pursuing and protecting your passion? How do you ensure that you don’t allow the other factors of our work dampen or even exhaust your passion? What are your strategies for reviving your passion when it appears weak? Do you recognize when your passion is at risk of dying?

Our work is too important to not care for the inner narrative that drives us. My wish for educators everywhere, myself included, is that we are more passionate in our latter days than our beginning ones!

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!
-Latoya
@latoyadixon5

Cognitive Engagement-The Missing Part of Professional Development

A week ago, during my participation in #leadupchat, I tweeted:

76 likes and 57 retweets later I recognized this resonated with my PLN and I began to wonder why it had such an amazing response from so many people. In addition my tweet was acknowledged by @BAMRadioNetwork as the top quoted tweet in education for the week. See more here: http://www.bamradionetwork.com/top-10-education-quotes/3600-top-10-education-quotes-this-week

This tweet is a reflection about my own cognitive engagement in my leadership and work. I’ve become a dedicated participant in #leadupchat because it cognitively engages me. Regardless of the topic, I find myself being able to deeply think about my work and my leadership when I participate in this chat every Saturday morning at 9:30 EST. However, I realize this kind of critical thinking doesn’t always happen for me during what I’ll call traditional style professional development. In fact, in most face to face PD that I’ve experienced I feel like an audience member being trained on what to do or focusing on making sure I am exhibiting good listening behavior. I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes I spend more time and effort in ensuring I am giving the impression that I am paying attention, rather than engaging in what’s being presented.

So after so many acknowledgments of this tweet, I began to think about how professional development has changed since the start of my career as an educator in 1999. I was stunned when I realized that other than the edcamp model, PD hasn’t really changed. It still follows the model of a presentation and listening style. We sit as audience members while someone trains us, shares with us, or shows us how to do something. We occasionally get a turn and talk opportunity with a partner or participate in a gallery walk to review the ideas or answers to questions posed to us written on large sticky note paper. These things are great ways to document conversation, but does it push us to think insightfully and critically about our work?

What’s Missing?
What happens when we disengage from years of the same “I do-you watch” style of professional development? Do we lose our empowerment to act and to enter into the cognitive space that leads us to believe that our actions impact our work?  When we fail to empower others, do we create doers or thinkers?  You know, those who say, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it’?  Is this the prevailing feeling after a professional development session in education? Are we training or developing capacity in others to lead, think, and problem solve? Are we presenting a narrative of problems and directives? Or are we inviting others to think through and problem solve with us? Are we silencing the voice and thoughts of others because our focus is training and not development?

Somehow, I think we’ve missed the mark on this. Isn’t it odd that we push the methodology of the mini-lesson, guided practice, independent practice model in the classroom with students, but in our teaching of teachers, we abandon this approach all together? If being a reflective practitioner is an empowering way to improve our skills as leaders and learners, why do we leave this exercise as an independent act to be done after work? Is there a way for us to create an opportunity for teachers to do this as an embedded practice of professional development? I find this especially needed for administrators.

Leading is thinking and doing, yet an incredible amount of time is spent simply on doing. Have we emphasized the cognitive side of school leadership enough in school administration? Or have we created a situation that has pulled us away from being able to differentiate between the ability to get things done and the ability to do things right? Is there a better way to cognitively engage teachers and leaders so that it allows them to innovate and improve their efficacy? Are we really training instead of developing others? Training focuses on telling individuals what to do, while development gives individuals the opportunity to think about what to do, how to do it, and connect it to why it needs to be done. How often do we get the opportunity to work on our thinking? How does traditional PD perpetuate the doer vs. thinker model? Is it our allegiance to the presentation PD model in education that keeps us from breaking free from this? And if so, why? The process matters as much, if not more than the product.

What If…?
What if we approached professional development with a problem based or project based approach the way we approach student learning? Would teacher engagement increase? Would teacher innovation and efficacy increase? Would we develop more teacher leaders and improve the leadership efficacy of administrators? What if we applied the same methodologies for engaging students in the classroom to adult learning in professional development? What if we added more choice, differentiation, and more opportunity to actively learn and reflect on our individual preformance? What if we abandoned any professional development that followed the presentation style model of presenter speaks and audience listens? Last, but not least what if I’m wrong about this whole thing? I highly doubt that, but you never know.

As evidenced, this has led me to more questions than answers. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet me @latoyadixon5 or leave your comments on my blog!

I’m on a never ending quest to improve my ability to think critically, insightfully, and reflect appropriately. Perhaps together we can create an opportunity for cognitive engagement for educators everywhere!

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!
Latoya

Reflections on Accelerating Team Growth!

This morning I participated in #leadupchat. It’s every Saturday morning at 9:30 EST. I love it. When I start thinking about what I like about it and why I love it so much, I realize it’s mostly because it makes me think! Today’s topic was about accelerating the growth of team, identifying potential barriers to team growth, and monitoring the progress of team growth. I wanted someway to capture my thoughts so below you will find a compilation of my tweets from this morning’s chat:

1We must remember the talents of an individual will never supercede the work of a team. One is never greater than ALL!
2. We need to remember that intellectual conflict is about attacking ideas, not people. I question ideas, but it’s not about you!
3. When you’re smack dab in the middle of something your view becomes routine. New eyes see things we overlook. Perspective matters.
4. Embrace conflict. Harmony feels good, but conflicting perspectives make collaborative solutions. Don’t be afraid of it.
5. Invite all perspectives to the table-even those we don’t understand/agree. The best compromises are born out of conflict.
6. We need analytical thinkers to make us better, not a bunch of “yes men”!
7. We’ve got a real problem in education with confronting the brutal facts. We end up working on symptoms instead of root causes.
8. Real problems call for real solutions. Don’t use band aids when you need an antibiotic. Be brave enough to face the facts.
9. Be honest about your current reality. Don’t use the “we need to be positive” to avoid dealing with the brutal truth.
10. Goal setting is a simple way to monitor progress. Set a goal, be strategic in action steps to reach it, check progress, repeat.
11. Selflessness takes intentional practice. Understand excellence isn’t about you! It’s about the organization. Team before self.
12. Comparing ourselves or our organizations to others also slows growth. Make the standard the mirror not the telescope. Look inside first.
13. Nothing slows down team growth like a lack of FOCUS. Trying to do it all instead of do it well. Quality trumps quantity every day.
14. Selfishness prevents team growth. Professional jealousy is poison to organizational excellence.
15. To achieve team excellence we must work on changing mindsets from believing success is luck to believing success is the result of intentional and deliberate action.
16. Inspiring others to believe that they don’t have to settle for average is leadership. It is possible to be excellent and to be the best.
17. Making people uncomfortable with the status quo is an art. We must move them to believing and not wishing. Understand that success is addictive and once experienced it is likely to create a desire to experience it again.
18. Excellent teams understand everyone has a role. No point guards trying to play power forward! Get in where you fit in & work!
19. Team growth happens when we capitalize on the strengths of members of the organization & combine those to achieve excellence!
20. To accelerate team growth, we must master recognizing untapped potential. Organizational excellence is team excellence.

I don’t know about you, but I believe these are 20 good thoughts worth remembering about working toward team excellence. Join the tribe next Saturday at 9:30 EST for another great and inspirational #leadupchat!

Until next time, be you, be true, be a hope builder!
-Latoya
@latoyadixon5

Teachers Are The Real MVPs!

Because Teachers are the MVPs!

This morning I was scrolling along my Twitter feed when I saw a tweet from a teacher on our staff:

“Forget losing teachers to other states, why are we losing teachers to other professions? #wedontvalueteachers #evenpennieshavevalue”

It sparked a flurry of tweets from me because when we get right down to it, whether we are talking about improving achievement, improving our schools period, and helping students reach their maximum potential…
TEACHERS ARE THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYERS!
When the rubber meets the road, nothing good happens in a school  without a relentless dedication and commitment of teachers. No initiative succeeds unless teachers make it so. You name it-PLCs, Responsive Classrooms, Whole Brain Teaching, Collaboration, Common Assessments, RTI, and anything else you are trying to implement in a school and the defining factor in fidelity of implementation and quality of implementation is the TEACHER.
It’s high time we value teachers in every way. In NC, where I currently serve as a coprincipal of a middle school, teacher pay ranks 42nd and per pupil spending ranks 46th. As coprincipal, I can organize meetings, complete evaluating and observations, conference with parents, and so much more but the reality of it is this TEACHERS make it happen. My coprincipal and I can work collaboratively with staff to develop a collective vision for the school but TEACHERS are the ones who carry it out day in and day out. The daily grind of the hard work belongs to TEACHERS.
TEACHERS deserve more. None of us chose the profession because of the money, but none of the teachers I know agreed to take a vow of poverty. The service orientation of our work does not mean teachers are ok with being poorly compensated. Many of the teachers in our school have second, even third jobs. I am constantly torn when I ask them to do more when I know they are working every hour of every day, except when they are sleeping. How can we give our students the best in every way when we treat those who serve them as if their work is a sort of sacrifice in which one diligently exerts effort, time, and talent all while struggling to make ends meet? Get married and have children and the struggle intensifies. That’s why I cringe when I hear others say: “I don’t know how y’all do it! My hats off to you!” Because I want to say, it’s very apparent that many don’t know how we do it, don’t have a clue what we are dealing with daily, and are pretty much comical when they talk about what needs to be done to “fix” schools-especially when the conversation comes back to accountability and firing of bad teachers.
I don’t have the right words or enough of them to adequately provide a written description of how urgent I believe it is that we do something major to demonstrate the following:
1. Education is a profession worth pursuing.
2. Teachers are valuable to our schools and communities and deserve to be compensated accordingly.
3. If we want to recruit and retain the best and brightest, we must provide a competitive compensation package that encourages such instead of doing the opposite.
Some days I feel our profession is under siege in every way. But all I know to do is fight hard, work hard, and be courageous enough to speak the truth. Sometimes my courage scares me. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I can’t help it. I lead and work with my heart. It’s my blessing and my curse-and also my gift. One thing I know for sure, is somewhere some teacher is reading this and nodding and saying “Amen!” (I’m from the South!) and so glad that I finally wrote what’s on their mind and in their heart every single day like it will be tomorrow…when we go back to school and keep trying to MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Until Next Time-Be you. Be true. Be a hope builder!
-Latoya

An Open Letter Regarding The Flint Water Crisis and the Children Affected

To Whom It May Concern:

I am deeply disturbed by the news regarding the Flint, Michigan water crisis. I have been reading about this a great deal. Articles abound regarding the high levels of lead in the tap water and some sources are alleging that a variety of officials were aware of this and took no action. The pictures of the water alone will move you. Google “Flint Water Crisis” and read from reliable sources. Article after article appears with pictures of the water and of those affected. A few of those links are listed here:
1. From CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/13/health/flint-michigan-water-crisis/
2. From NBC:http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michigan-prosecutor-opens-probe-flint-water-crisis-n497286
3. From the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/16/us/flint-water-michigan-attorney-general.html?_r=0

Exposure to high levels of lead can have a variety of effects on people, none of which happen to be good. Researchers at Virginia Tech conducted a study on the water crisis in Flint. Dr. Marc Edwards is the primary author of the following article that describes the timeline and inquiries that lead to the present state of affairs. Researchers began making their inquiries regarding lead levels far before now.
At some point, I look forward to the whole truth of this crisis coming out, but this article by Dr. Edwards is interesting to say the least: http://flintwaterstudy.org/2015/12/michigan-health-department-hid-evidence-of-health-harm-due-to-lead-contaminated-water-allowed-false-public-assurances-by-mdeq-and-stonewalled-outside-researchers/ Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital has a great article that details how lead poisoning can impact children titled, Neuropsychological Effects of Lead Poisoning on Child Development. You can read it by clicking on this link: http://www.mwph.org/programs/lead-treatment/effects

The following is an excerpt from the article on their site:

Checklist of Possible Neuropsychological Problems Associated with Lead

  • Delayed language or motor milestones (infant, toddler)
  • Poor speech articulation
  • Poor language understanding or usage
  • Problems maintaining attention in school or home
  • High activity level (hyperactivity)
  • Problems with learning and remembering new information
  • Rigid, inflexible problem-solving abilities
  • Delayed general intellectual abilities
  • Learning problems in school (reading, language, math, writing)
  • Problems controlling behavior (e.g., aggressive, impulsive)
  • Problems with fine or gross motor coordination

Real-World Outcomes of Lead Poisoning in Children

  • Learning Disabilities
  • Problems Paying Attention
  • Disorganized Approach to Learning
  • Poor Work Completion
  • Increased Risk to Drop Out
  • Communication Deficits
  • Impulsive, Hyperactive Behavior
  • Problems Sharing and Taking Turns
  • Increased Aggression
  • Increased Need for Adult Supervision

What Can Be Done?

  • Lead-safe housing
  • Education of public, medical and educational communities
  • Universal early identification
  • Lead-safe housing
  • Aggressive early medical treatment
  • Aggressive early behavioral treatment
  • Rehabilitation and special education services
  • Adequate nutrition

It is the law of our land that all are innocent until proven guilty, however I cannot help but think about this from the educator’s perspective. Is this an isolated event? Could this be happening elsewhere? And if it is, do the victims even know it?

As I think about those affected by this, my heart breaks at the thought of the children in Flint who may have been exposed to or have high levels of lead in their bodies. They will all enter the classrooms of teachers who will be held accountable for their learning or lack there of, for their test scores, for their growth from the start to the end of a school year, etc. If the children have difficulty learning, they will be expected to find and use a multitude of academic interventions to change their learning trajectory. If they have difficulty behaving, they will be on the never ending search for a different set of rules, a different reward system, a more engaging strategy or methodology to increase their compliance so that they might learn at the rate required by district, state, and federal expectations. As teachers sit across the table from their principals to discuss their student learning outcomes, they will rack their brains thinking of what else they could have done, should have done, or need to do to improve test scores and increase student achievement. Their principals will do the same as they are held accountable for student achievement of students within their schools for all students. They will scratch their heads, attend conferences, read more, research more, and learn more so that next year’s results will be improved and their jobs won’t be jeopardized. While I don’t presume to know the outcome of the future for the children of Flint, my heart goes out to those who will have the distinct opportunity to teach them. The children’s struggle will become that of their teachers, as it happens for educators all over the land.

When we talk about holding educators accountable for student learning,we treat accountability as if it is a singular responsibility, especially if students don’t learn at the rate and levels that we expect them too. I’ve yet to see an EPA official or health department official sitting at the table discussing test scores and explaining why student outcomes in learning are what they are or are not. The accountability table is a lonely one that only teachers and administrators seem to be invited to sit and chat. If the children of Flint have neuropsychological effects of lead poisoning that impact their learning, who will be held accountable? That is an important question that I, and others I am sure, anxiously await to be answered.

With love for the children, parents, and educators of the children of Flint,

Latoya
@latoyadixon5