#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: Lead Beyond Your Title

Thinkerbell…. My SuperHero name is Thinkerbell. A dear friend and colleague nicknamed me Tinkerbell as a joke one day because of my (slight) obsession with all things Pirate. (I’m still trying to figure out why she thinks I am that into pirates. HA! Kidding! Love this Pirate Fam!) Every once in a while, she’ll even reply to my Twitter posts with a Tinkerbell image or gif. It doesn’t really bother me because Tinkerbell is a pretty amazing little character! She’s stubborn, small, and sassy. She is a problem solver and likes to, well, tinker. She learns best when her hands are moving, and I’m the same way. I changed up the nickname to Thinkerbell for my superhero name as I analyze everything and focus on learning everything I possibly can. I ask [too many] questions and am sometimes accused of being a “creeper” because I can do insanely fast research and excel at deductive reasoning. (I am pretty good at Sudoku.) I thrive when I’m thinking. So I embrace the pirate obsession & overanalytical nature as strengths rather than deficits. Thus, Thinkerbell.

Why in the world am I creating SuperHero names and what does it have to do with #DBCBookBlogs? You’ll have to read the latest Lead Like A Pirate guide, Nili Bartley‘s Lead Beyond Your Title, to truly understand – it’s the perfect mix of inspiration and practicality!

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Nili shares with us her journey from classroom teacher to technology integration specialist, using clear examples of leadership in every role. What I love the most about this book is that she is leading by empowering others to lead using their own superpowers. She shows specific examples of this throughout each page. Whether she’s talking about the exceptional students in SuperPIRATES of Crew 202 (Seriously, you’ve got to read about these kids in her book!), the teachers she serves, the administrators, or even her superintendent, she leads by passing the mic. It’s like the whole book is bragging on the awesomeness of others, which is exactly the kind of leader I want to be. I never want others to get the vibe that I’m a “Look At Me” leader, but rather want to known as a “Look At Them” leader.

When I was teaching in the classroom, I never would have considered myself a leader. Isn’t that ironic? I literally led dozens of 10 and 11 year olds every day, but never thought of it as leading. Every teacher is a leader. Truly every person is a leader. In some way or another, we are leading others. Even my 2 year old nephew is leading; my niece wants to be exactly like her big brother! Whether we choose to embrace that role as a leader is what makes all the difference. I choose to embrace my role as leader because it will allow me to have a more profound impact on those who feel empowered to lead based on my example. Nili did just that! She embraced her role as leader, regardless of her title. The president of Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc, Dave Burgess (author of Teach Like A Pirate) says you can’t announce change from the podium. In other words, true change will come from grassroots movements. Who are the grassroots in education? Teachers and students. This makes me pause and ponder, does a title actually give us a diminished authentic influence? Just food for thought.

Nili encourages us to lead through conversation, developing relationships. She speaks of building trust and rapport with those she is leading. She shares phenomenal and practical examples of opportunities she gave others to lead (students and teachers alike). She talks about defining and crafting your role. This particular chapter hit home for me because I am in the final year of a 3-year pilot position in my district. I was asked in the Summer of 2016, by my superintendent, to read a new job description which formally merged the roles of media coordinator and instructional/digital coach (aka, my dream job). After a couple of hours of wrapping my head around what he was asking and realizing that I would have to leave a school that I very much loved, I accepted the position. I had no idea what I was getting myself into – this new position meant that no one really understood what my role was. After several discussions on where we wanted to go with the position, we crafted a road map and made some big changes to “the way we did it last year”. The first year was one of the worst years I’ve ever had in education. I wanted to walk out more times than I can count. It was like no one was getting it. Well, of course they weren’t – we hadn’t even shared what it was, what the endgame looked like.

Standing here, looking back on the past 3 years, I am in awe of the changes that have occurred at my school with the students and teachers I serve. I am so proud of the exponential growth and the willingness to constantly move forward and get better. I love the educators I work with and the students are the reason I never feel like I’m going to work. Instead, I’m going to fun. This didn’t happen accidentally. I’d love nothing more than to sit down with Nili and hear more of her story and compare notes. We have so much in common. I knew I would love her book from the moment I saw the title, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least by the content within the covers!

Check out these phenomenal finds in Lead Beyond Your Title!

 

 

Now the question is: how do I implement this book? This is a tough one, and not because it’s not practical. It’s TOO practical. I believe I could literally take any of these examples and tweak it to meet my needs and find success. This adventure (#DBC50Summer and #DBCBookBlogs) is more about pulling back and doing one or two things intentionally. One thing I did immediately to implement this book was check out Thrively.com and SuperYouFun.org! Both are as awesome as advertised! In Thrively, I completed my strengths profile (a real superpower discovery tool), and found it to be spot on with the other profiles I’ve done in the past. The best part is that the assessment questions to discover your strengths are written in kid-friendly terms! I love that! I found out that I am 110% Thinkerbell! Check it out!

Man oh man can you think your way out of anything!! You are like a Vulcan, breaking down problems piece by piece, even talking them through out loud if you need to. You are very logical and have a mind that works like a computer. You can analyze situations and problems with the best of them and will not let your emotions rule you. Distraction? Complexity? Too many moving parts? All in a day’s work! Problems are to be solved, and you are the one for the job!!

-Excerpt from My Thrively Results

My other implementation is getting students involved in professional development for teachers. I haven’t thought through the actionable plan just yet, but I want to make this happen. Whether it’s by survey, video, or having students physically join us to lead workshops, I feel that their voice needs to be heard. Nili shares this passion and offers examples of each of the options I mentioned. Stay tuned to see how we make this happen!

I highly recommend you go directly to Amazon to purchase this book. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. (Man, wouldn’t $200 be nice right now?! Can I get a witness?) Jump in the conversations already happening on Twitter about this amazing new book using the hashtag #LeadLAP and follow Nili at @nbartley6! Be sure to check out the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc website for a preview of the book and more information about how to connect with the community! As always, the Flipgrid is available (thanks to Andrea Paulakovich for allowing me to copilot this space) for your reflections. Feel free to share your thoughts there, comment below, or connect with me via Twitter! I look forward to leading beyond our titles together!

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!