#DBCBookBlogs: From Teacher to Leader

During the summer of 2016, I received a call from my Superintendent’s office asking me to meet with him the next day. I wasn’t entirely sure what this meeting was about and to say I was nervous was an understatement. I joked with him as we walked to his office that I now knew how it felt to be called to the principal’s office.

After exchanging pleasantries, he shared a job description with me that was pretty much something out of a dream. Not only would I formally combine my love of instructional technology and reading, I would be piloting a position unlike anything in our district. I would be working with students and teachers in an effort to support our first magnet program that had opened just a couple years before, in a school that had been open for 16 years.

There were tears as I realized this would mean I would have to leave an elementary school full of students (including my own daughter), teachers, and administration that I loved like family and venture into a completely new world of middle school.

The 64th book in the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc line of incredible books is one that I would have loved to have during this transition in my career. In the book From Teacher to Leader, author and educator Starr Sackstein takes us on a raw, unfiltered journey through her first year as a leader.

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From the very first chapter, I knew this book would be something special. Two quotes from page one had me fully invested in whatever Starr was ready to share from that moment on.

“Regardless of whether they stay in the classroom or go to another position, they must reimagine themselves in order to stay relevant and excited about the work they are doing.”

“From the second I decided education was my path, I never allowed good enough to be part of my story.”

Status quo, complacency, and mediocrity are some of my biggest pet peeves. I appreciate that Starr shares this same philosophy and lives it out loud immediately in her book.

Making the decision to leave the classroom was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done professionally. It was November 2013 when a media coordinator position opened in my district. Anytime a singleton position opens in a school, especially in a small district that you love, you know you have to go for it – even if it is 45 minutes from your home. So I did. Telling my students that I was leaving mid-year was devastating. I will never forget that last day of school with them. They were so proud of me for following my dreams and yet, we cried through the entire day. One student didn’t even come to school that day because he was so upset. When we returned from Christmas break, they had a new teacher and I had nearly 300 new students.

Even as I left my classroom that afternoon (nearly five hours after the students left from their early dismissal), I stood in the doorway and cried as I thought about the laughter, learning, and love shared in that room. It’s one thing to leave the classroom… I was leaving my students. I felt so selfish leaving them; I knew that if I didn’t go for it, it might be several years before another position came open. I had to do what was right for my family and me. It didn’t make it any easier to leave.

As a media coordinator, I felt the first of the feelings of isolation that Starr authentically shares with us in her book. I was a “singleton” – the only person in that position in my school. However, when I began the pilot position I mentioned above at the middle school… well, that was a whole new level of isolation. By definition, a pilot is the first. In this case, it was the first and only in a middle school. There was only one other educator in the entire state of North Carolina with the same job description (who interestingly enough was also named Alicia) and she was nearly two hours away and serving in a high school. I couldn’t share any of my frustrations with anyone at school for many reasons. I didn’t know them, there was no trust built yet, and to be honest, some of my frustrations were about one staff member or the other, or the way things had historically been done, and I certainly couldn’t air those as an instructional coach. Talk about destroying relationships before they even started! Isolated, alone, and desperately craving camaraderie and fellowship with others, I turned to Twitter.

Oh how I wish I’d had this book then! Knowing that others have felt those same feelings would have talked me off a ledge so many times. Thankfully my directors were just a phone call away. I tried building relationships that first year and planting seeds as Starr suggests. I felt like an epic failure. I couldn’t see that I was making any difference, like I was a hamster spinning in my wheel inside my big brick cage. Anytime I felt like throwing in the towel (which was about weekly), my directors would come to my rescue. I can’t tell you how many times my mentor and friend Lucas Gillispie shared the same line with me.

Play the long game. -Lucas Gillispie

Looking back on the past three years, he was right. I see the shifts that have happened at my school. While I’m not naive or prideful enough to believe it was all because of me, I am grateful to have a small part to play in those changes. I am so proud to work for the students, teachers, and community I serve and I love that I get to see many of the seeds that I sporadically threw on the ground that first year grow into some amazing experiences and terrific relationships!

Starr shares excellent advice on how to handle that first year (let’s face it… years, plural) as a leader. She shares about cultivating relationships, co-planning and co-teaching, remaining relevant, supporting teachers by meeting them where they are. The reflections from her Education Week Teacher blog “Work in Progress” are so powerful because they are truly the unfiltered version of her first year. These were her thoughts as she went through those trials and successes – reflecting and celebrating, sharing her intentions publicly.

I did quite a bit of highlighting in this book because I kept reading things that stood out to me as truth! So much of what Starr shares I can personally vouch for its effectiveness in new leadership roles. Things like showing up, modeling learning, gathering feedback, knowing adult learners, and knowing your change-makers are all vitally important in establishing yourself as a successful leader.

Starr encourages us to frequently ask ourselves if we are the type of leader we would want to work for. I love that she never asks the teachers she serves to do something she wouldn’t do herself. I fully support that and I believe teachers appreciate when leaders are willing to “do the dirty work” – I know I did as a classroom teacher. It spoke volumes to me when one of the leaders would work one-on-one with a student, or teach my class while I observed another, etc. I try to do the same for the teachers I serve.

So finally… that brings me to my implementation of From Teacher to Leader which stems from Starr’s wisdom about listening. I’ve got to be honest with you; I’m a horrible listener. My brain is always going a mile per minute and I’m so guilty of thinking about how I will respond (or even something totally off topic) while someone else is talking to me. During one of the coaching PD sessions I attended, we participated in some excellent protocols for listening.

In one, Partner A did the talking for 2 minutes while Partner B drew sketchnotes about what Partner A said. Then, for one minute, Partner B shared the sketchnote with Partner A sharing what they heard them say. Partner A then had 30 seconds to correct or extend on anything Partner B said in their restatement.

Another protocol was based solely on feelings. For three minutes, Partner A talked about something they felt strongly about while Partner B made eye contact and listening without speaking. Partner B then has 90 seconds to restate what Partner A said relaying the emotions they saw exhibited from Partner A. Finally, Partner A gives feedback about how it felt to truly be heard by Partner B. Then the roles switch.

I have to tell you that both of these were incredibly awkward. I didn’t realize how strange three minutes of eye contact with a friend would feel and how many times my mind would start to drift and I’d have to purposefully bring myself back to the conversation. It did prove to me how important active listening is and how poor I am at doing it on my own!

So my implementation is to purposefully engage in active listening with both the teachers and the students I serve. I’m not saying I’ll employ either of the protocols I just shared, but I will be more attentive and intentional about pausing the thoughts in my head and allowing what others are saying to process completely before responding. (This is going to be so tough for me… anyone else struggle as much as I do with this?)

No matter what, it’s important to remember what Starr says here! The learning happens through mistakes. Take all the learning you can from every mistake throwing perfection out the window. Leaders make mistakes, too. Being transparent in those mistakes will build more authentic relationships which leads to more successful leadership.

Man, what a book! I am loving Starr Sackstein and her vulnerabilities in sharing her story. If you’re considering making the move from the classroom, have recently made the shift, or are already in a position of leadership and are looking to grow professionally, I would definitely get From Teacher to Leader and start reading! Bet you can’t put it down!

As always, the flipgrid is available for your reflections if you choose to use it (thank you Andrea Paulakovich for allowing me to join in this brilliant idea for global collaboration on every DBC, Inc book) and I would love to connect with you on Twitter or Instagram. I definitely recommend that you connect with Starr (contact info will be updated here soon) and check out a free preview of the book here. Warning: you’ll want to purchase it! If you want more awesomeness from Starr, you can google her to find tons of podcasts, YouTube videos (including this TEDxTalk about giving up grades), and check out her other books!

#DBCBookBlogs: Creatively Productive

I have a secret. One of those things that only my family knows.

When I am overwhelmed or anxious, I do two things; I react in two ways & they never fail. My telltale signs of being overwhelmed are evident only to my family (and now you, I guess).

A – I get insanely irritable. Abrupt noise bothers me, questions aggravate me, and I become quick-tempered. #truth

B – I clean & organize. By clean, I mean I deep-clean. Just last week, I was anxiously awaiting a meeting and our kitchen cabinets were the lucky recipient of that deep-clean. All of the plates and glasses were removed from the cabinets and put on the kitchen island. The insides of the cabinets were wiped with a Clorox wipe, dried, then the plates were returned and glasses/cups were inventoried. Only about two-thirds made it back into the cabinet to be used again.

These occasions are when closets are cleaned out, book shelves are reorganized, and the playroom looks like something out of a magazine.

It could be said that this is counter-productive because I’m not even working on the things that I’m anxious about or crossing off items that have me overwhelmed. I agree. But goodness, I feel so much better after a good deep-clean of just one area that I then feel more equipped to handle whatever is coming at me.

The 63rd book in the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc line shares skills for moments like these in life. Lisa Johnson wrote Creatively Productive to share ways to “calm the chaos”, “tame time”, share “notes on note-taking”, help us set goals and track habits, provide tools for reflection, and encourage us to “read, write, review”.

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I have decided that Lisa and I would be best friends in real life. I am a Xennial, sandwiched squarely between Generation X and Millennials, not identifying with either group. I enjoy organizing just a tad too much and although I am a digital learning coach (stereotyped as one who knows everything about & only values computers & devices), I have a real appreciation for all things analog. Anything in the teal family is also my favorite color! In fact, my wedding colors were a shade of teal (David’s Bridal Oasis), silver, and white.

I’ve always been a “to-do” list kind of girl! I love creating & using calendars marking time as it passes and tasks that have been accomplished. At the moment I have no less than 7 calendars I am using regularly – a mix of digital and analog. There are TWO on my fridge at home – one is a dry erase calendar that keeps our weekly plans visible, while the other is a traditional monthly calendar that gives us a long-range outlook. I am goal-driven and sometimes create goals that seem (or ARE) impossible to accomplish.

For all of these reasons, I was so eager to read Lisa’s book, Creatively Productive! Typically I can finish and blog about a DBC book in one day, but I kept getting side-tracked by all of the resources and tools that Lisa mentions and it took quite a bit longer than usual to finish this one! Her book has a theme of Alice in Wonderland and the idea that the rabbit hole can go as deep as we’re willing to dig. With some topics Lisa writes about, I dug a very, very deep rabbit hole. I also discovered that I might go broke buying new journals for myself this month… my husband thanks you, Lisa <sarcasm font activated, ha>!

There are *SO* many things I love about this book! Rather than write a 2000-word blog, I’ll just list some of the things I’m most excited about:

  • A technology base camp for our 6th graders
  • Allowing students time to organize themselves digitally after modeling it
  • Bullet journaling (Oh Em Gee, how have I never heard of this?!)
  • “The real key to success is exploration and error.”
  • Flow-charting a recurring event (Chromebook collection)
  • Productivity BINGO (My kids will be willing to do their chores with this!)
  • Note-taking templates for research
  • Goal autopsy
  • Lisa’s habit trackers (I got the pre-release goodies and whoa! Hope there’s more where these came from, Lisa!)
  • Visual goals with a muse (I have the picture of Dave Burgess & I at the second #tlap keynote I attended thumbtacked to my cork board in my office.)
  • Apps: Aging Booth, Moment, Paper by 53 (now Paper by We Transfer)
  • Year in Pixels
  • Positive procrastination
  • Doodle-A-Day
  • “There are multiple versions of you, and you must figure out which prototype fits the best.”
  • 16personalities.com (Seriously, go do this real quick!)
  • Flawd by Emily-Anne Rigal

See what I mean? To extend on each of these would take forever, and I truly want to implement every single one of these bullet points! These are ALL new ideas, or things I want to ponder from this book! You’ve got to get a copy to find out what all of these are about because they really are pretty awesome! Lisa gives tons of photos in the book so you can see where she, someone she knows, and/or her students have implemented these themselves!

Some of the super unique features of this book are the “Awesome Amulet”, “Wakeful Whimsy” and “Working Wisdom”! The Amulets are checklists written as learning targets and the Wakeful Whimsy has ideas for how to implement these targets in each core subject area (ie, think of a historical figure and determine what the folders in their Google Drive would say, etc)! Finally, the working wisdom is at the back of the book! Lisa asked dozens of successful people to complete a survey answering questions about topics relevant to her book, and we reap the benefits of seeing their answers & advice! One of my favorite questions is about the advice for the future that they would give to middle and high school students! I will be sharing this advice with my students, for sure!

There is so much to takeaway from Lisa Johnson‘s book and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did! Again, here’s a link to purchase it! All of Lisa’s contact information will be available on the stellar Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc website here. Specifically you can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and on the web. As always, there is a flipgrid available for you to share your thoughts and reflections, thanks to Andrea Paulakovich (an incredible educator in Kansas that you absolutely must follow).

Here are some tweets that highlight my takeaways as well! I can’t wait to see what you tweet out to #CreativelyProductive!

 

 

As for implementation, I was serious when I said I want to implement each of those bullet points! I can’t even pick just one or two! This book will impact both my professional and personal life! It’s just too full of terrific ideas! Lucky for me, I already have a Rocketbook Wave, so it looks like the Year in Pixels, Doodle-A-Day, and Bullet Journal already has a home! This is going to be fun!

My #OneWord2019

Last year my community group from my church did a book study on the book My One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen. It was the first time I’d ever heard of using one word to define the year, and I loved it! I rarely made New Year’s Resolutions because I knew I wouldn’t keep them, no matter how good my intentions were. The idea of only needing to remember one word was intriguing to me.

Last year, my word was moderation. I laugh every time I think of that being my word because reading 60 professional development books would likely be considered anything except moderation. My reason for choosing that word was that it applied to many aspects of my life. Financial moderation, moderation in eating unhealthy foods, moderation at work, etc, etc. I’m a bit obsessive when I put my mind to something. My focus is laser-like (to a fault) when it comes to achieving my goals. If I want something, I will push and push until I get it or until I’ve exhausted all options.

Jokingly I mentioned that I had failed miserably at my word for 2018 during a #MakeItReal Twitter chat. Denis Sheeran (author of Instant Relevance) shared this with me.

When he reframed it, I couldn’t help but agree that my epic fail was actually success through a different lens. (Thanks, Denis!) Also, I lost 40 pounds in 2018 and managed to make fairly decent financial decisions! Yay!

2018 was a year to remember for sure! Many amazing things happened, like being elected to the NCTIES Board of Directors, celebrating 12 years of marriage with my husband, meeting Dave Burgess, growing through #DBC50Summer, presenting about #BookSnaps, Twitter, and NCWiseOwl throughout my state, attending Badge Summit in Chicago, taking our family on a Disney cruise, and connecting with all of you, as well as some trials and setbacks, like our youngest daughter being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. With 2018 being so amazing, I really questioned how 2019 was going to top it.

Then, my word for the year practically fell in my lap. Now, I know how 2019 will top this year! I will connect with others!

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I will connect on a deeper level with the students and teachers I serve. I will connect students with curriculum by making it relevant. I will connect my students with other students from across the world. I will connect with my family by spending more quality time with them. I will connect with my PLN through Twitter chats and on Instagram. The part I’m most excited about is connecting face-to-face with people in my PLN. I can’t wait to see the incredible educators of NC at NCTIES in March. I’m hoping to attend an event in Houston this spring, and am begging my husband to let me go to ISTE in Philadelphia. I have absolutely no idea how we will be able to afford it (the aforementioned Disney cruise pretty much drained any savings we had, but it was oh-so-worth-it), and I am definitely a country girl. Being in the city makes me so anxious – I need wide open spaces and pastures with cows, haha. But if being in the city gives me the opportunity to meet some of my absolute most favorite people, I will smile through the busyness of the city & get after it! Now… anyone have suggestions for getting to ISTE for cheap? HA!

I can’t wait to connect with each of you! If any of you are ever planning to be within driving distance of North Carolina (anywhere around north of Atlanta, NC, SC, TN, VA, and even parts of western KY), let me know! I love taking a road trip & will do everything I can to meet you for dinner! And if you’re speaking at a public event around here, send me a DM!!! I totally want to learn from you in person!

Here’s to 2019, friends! Let’s go get it!