What I Read in June 2018

In June I finished some books I started on my vacation last month. I also read a few books on another vacation this month. I do love a good plane ride to catch up on my reading! I’m halfway through the year, but behind the amount of books I read last year. My summer goal is to watch less TV and read more. Stay tuned for July’s book list!

  • Missing You by Harlan Coben – This is the first Coben book I’ve read in a while that doesn’t focus on his usual main character. I loved how the author weaved the stories of such diverse characters (Kat, her late father, Jeff, Aqua, Brandon, and some very bad guys and catfishing) into interesting twists and turns.
  • Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe – I listened to this audiobook read by the author. I’ve loved Rob Lowe the actor for years. At least two of my close friends told me they loved this book so I had no doubts that I would too. His honesty and charming storytelling were entertaining! Listening to this made me want to go back and watch St. Elmo’s Fire (one of my favorite 80’s movies) and The West Wing (one of the best TV shows ever made!). I was fascinated by the decisions surrounding The West Wing salaries and Lowe’s scenes from the movie The Outsiders.

Rob Lowe

  • The Kidney Hypothetical or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee – A fun YA book about some typical and atypical high school drama, where a student learns about himself and the world, as we survives some traumatic-to-him events leading up to his graduation.
  • Foreign Affairs (Stone Barrington #35) by Stuart Woods – I finally downloaded a Library app (Libby) so that I could borrow e-books from my local library.  For all the reading I do, it’s embarrassing how long it has taken me to do this. It was easy to read on my iPad and convenient. As usual, I enjoyed this fast paced Stone mystery, that took place in Italy and France, with a cliffhanger ending in England.
  • Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky – This is YA novel that ended up in a pile I’ve had around for a long time. I am a life-long fan of boy bands and YA fiction, so I was excited to read this. Unfortunately, it was not enjoyable as all of the characters were irredeemable. I disliked them all, with their bad choices and poor moral compasses.  That is, unless it was just fan-fiction…
  • The Fix Up by Kendall Ryan – This was a fun, cheesy romance novel I found on my library app, that was a perfect summer read. Camryn has the job to play matchmaker to bachelor Sterling, who will inherit millions if he gets married within the next six months. Of course, Camryn and Sterling are each secretly attracted to the other, and a lot of miscommunication ensues.
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Sit & Get… Compliance

I have been an educator for over 20 years. I have spent significantly more than 20 hours in my career, probably in each school year, sitting in meetings and being talked at. We often call these meetings the “Sit and Get” meetings.  Today I am here to PLEAD with my fellow educators to find other structures for meetings beyond the old sit and get.

I believe that we, as educators, are rule followers and by nature are compliant. If our boss asks us to attend a meeting, we will attend.  If the presenter(s) talks at us for the entire meeting, we will sit quietly, sometimes taking notes. The outcome of meetings such as this is often continued compliance.

follow rules

But as a leader I want much more than compliance.

  • I want to transform our educational systems on behalf of each learner we serve.
  • I want to inspire others to be their best.
  • I want each person with whom I work to discover their own strengths and how they can use those strengths to enhance our collective work.
  • I want to collaborate because two minds truly are better than one.

I know that as leaders and content experts, people often feel that the best way to share information is to tell people all that we know, often in a lecture-style with PowerPoint slides FULL of text.  A sit and get meeting structure does not lead to the educational transformations mentioned above. However, there are other structures that can help us get to those big ideas.

Read & Discuss

Professional readings and discussions can help us come to a common understanding about a key concept, understand a need for a change, or delve deeper into curriculum and instructional information. A facilitator can send out a reading assignment ahead of time and encourage people to read the text and come prepared to discuss it. Sharing a few reflective questions or asking people to bring a favorite quote can help the reading be purposeful. Having a protocol for the discussion during the meeting can make the time useful for all members, as with a protocol everyone has a voice and a role.

[Protocols I’ve used and appreciated include: Save the Last Word, Three Levels of Text, Four A’s, Orchard Cove]

Share & Collaborate

If we believe that two heads are better than one, we want to create structures that allow for our colleagues, our stakeholders, to collaborate with us on work that will directly impact them. For instance, if a district level director develops a discipline plan in isolation, he or she has missed an opportunity to collaborate directly with the site administrators who handle student discipline issues day in and day out. There are a number of ways we can build in opportunities for collaboration into meeting structures.

Similar to the idea above, we can send out a draft of a discipline plan a week before a meeting, asking our site administrators to review the draft and to come to the meeting prepared to share one item they appreciate, one item they have questions about, and one item they are concerned about. We can guide participants through a collaborative discussion protocol at the meeting, where the ideas are shared and collected as feedback to enhance the discipline plan draft.

If we want to collaborate with our staff to make a decision, we can guide them through a dot voting protocol and discussion (here is a thread describing a few options). Dot protocols provide each staff member with a voice in the decision-making process. It’s important to note that a leader should only use a voting protocol when they are truly prepared to honor the vote of the majority. If you ask people for feedback and then ignore you, you risk losing trust and respect.

Another way to gather feedback or to move a group towards greater understanding is to use the Affinity Mapping Protocol.  This is a SILENT but interactive task, that requires collaboration and shares thought process. Getting people up and moving around helps with brain flow as well as overall health!

Mix & Mingle

Sometimes we just need to get up and move and talk in a meeting. As a facilitator, it’s important to read your audience and know when they need a mental or physical break. You can build these into your meetings as brain breaks or as a way to transition from one topic to another. For instance, after reviewing a new initiative overview, a leader can ask everyone to stand up and find a partner from a different team, content area, or table. The pairs can discuss what they heard and what they wonder. The facilitator can give 3-5 minutes for one discussion, and if time permits, ask participants to find another partner to discuss the same ideas or an additional idea (such as what resources they need to begin implementing).

You can also add a mix and mingle as a community builder in as you prepare to take a break in a longer meeting. The facilitator says a prompt such as, “On your way into this 10 minute break, tell one person what you appreciate about him or her.”

Speed Dating

I love including a speed dating option in any meeting I can. I learned this idea from my friend and colleague Shelley Burgess, who described it in her book Lead Like a Pirate. In the past I have asked meeting participants to line up in order of years of experience as an educator or by their birthday month. I then fold the line in half (like a taco) so that the educator with the most experience is facing the educator with the least experience. I provide a discussion prompt and give participants an opportunity to speak. After an appropriate amount of time, I will ask one row of the taco to move down a few spots, so that everyone has a new partner to talk to, using either the same or a new prompt. Every time I use this activity, I get amazingly positive feedback about how fun it was as well as being a powerful way to ignite discussion between very diverse pairs.

 

The structures above are just a few ways to build in opportunities for participant voice within a meeting, thereby avoiding the dreaded sit and get… compliance.  I look forward to moving beyond compliance and into transformation with each of you. Please share additional structures you have found successful in the comments. unique fish

 

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Teacher Leadership Academy

This is a blog co-written by a group of teachers who participated in the first Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA) in our district during the 2017-18 school year; I was one of the Amy administrators who created the TLA. 

Teacher Leadership Academy Experience

What is TLA and how did it come to exist (Amy I.)

The idea for the Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA) came from our district’s Title II committee last spring. As we were brainstorming how to build teacher leadership capacity across the district, the committee agreed to two key pathways: teacher leadership book studies and a teacher leadership academy. I found a partner in another Amy, a district leader colleague who works in HR.  We began to create a plan for the year of learning. The committee helped create a promotional video about the academy, with thanks from our communications department. We sent this out in an email inviting teachers to attend an informational meeting to learn more about the TLA.

Our goal was to create an application process so that we could find a relatively small cohort of teachers who wanted to participate in this monthly professional development opportunity; I think our initial goal was 12-20 participants. We received interest from nearly 25 teachers. We brought our Title II committee together to review applications and we selected 17 teachers to participate.  Two of those had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, so we ended up with a cohort of 15.

We scheduled meetings once a month for two hours after school, which teachers were paid to attend out of our Title II funds.

What made teachers want to join?

I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because it provided classroom educators opportunities for personal and professional growth, without the pressure/expectation of taking our work into administration. Teachers being supported with time, collaboration and reflection is empowering and engaging for us to cultivate at leaders in our professional learning communities and schools. (Alicia)

I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because I wanted to gain new skills I could take with me back to the classroom. I also hoped to learn leadership skills I could take with me as an administrator. I wanted to gain as much experience as I could prior to completing my admin credential. I also wanted to learn new tactics for dealing with various issues in the workplace, particularly with issues that may arise in a PLC. (Sophia)

I wanted to join TLA because I was looking for the next step in my professional development apart from the administrative track. I was so excited to learn this was being offered. I was (and am) eager to continue growing and excited at the prospect of receiving mentorship from district leaders as well as learning and collaborating with others in the cohort. (Melody)

Since my long-term professional goal is to mentor current teachers and teach credential courses, the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy provided me with a important stepping stone in my journey towards that goal.  Receiving mentorship was an attracting factor. As leaders, we take care of our colleagues and students’ needs and sometimes put aside our own needs. I had forgotten what I need to do to make sure I am taken care of, so that I can better take care of others. Knowing that I was going to be nurtured by Amy and Amy, as well as other colleagues in the district, was a driving force in my decision to apply for the program. (Anna)

I joined the TLA cohort because I was concerned with a growing trend of plucking “qualified” teachers out of the classroom environment to serve in administrative roles.  My concern was twofold: first, that we would thin the ranks of quality practitioners, leaving less mentors and dedicated classroom teachers; and, second, that this inadvertently told teachers that there was a ceiling to professional growth as a teacher, and if they wanted to aspire to anything higher, they had to become an administrator.  The experience of TLA gave perspective on the district’s growth of leaders both in teachers and administrators as well as opportunities for teacher leadership. (Melissa)

I applied for the Teacher Leadership Academy, eager to improve my skills as a leader. With no desire to pursue the administrator track, I found myself with a lack of growth opportunities within SUHSD. Even though I was hesitant to take on any more commitments for the 2017-2018 school year, I knew this was necessary; and, the cherry on top was that it was led by Amy I, who I look up to as a strong leader. After our first meeting, I realized that this would be, by far, the best in-district professional development I had ever experienced! (Mari)

Enjoyable experiences and anecdotes from the TLA experience

I appreciated the time to collaborate with teachers across our district. Getting to hear experiences from different departments and schools allowed me to learn more about not only teaching practices, but how to use professional learning communities to support teachers and students. (Alicia)

I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent getting to know other teachers from different sites, understanding the dynamics of different school sites, different ways to engage, and having something to take away from each session. Although I was unable to attend every session, I was pleased at what I learned and the growth I experienced after being a part of the TLA. (Sophia)

I appreciated all the thoughtful materials shared, but I most appreciated the lens that we were asked to look through- a loving and compassionate one that promoted empathy for all personalities. Fun themes that thinly veiled professional challenges, like herding cats, helped frame the monthly growth conversations with self-awareness. (Melody)

I very much appreciated how every monthly meeting was thoughtfully planned out and engaging.  After a long day of work it was a lot of fun to go to the teacher leadership academy meetings because not only were they informative but they included many hands on activities.  I specifically enjoyed the role playing activities, because it provided me with a new perspective. It helped me understand how to work with different personalities which is important to know how to do as an educational leader. Thank you for all the support, strategies and feedback that was provided to us.  I will definitely be putting what I learned into practice. (Maria C.)

Takeaways that have impacted teacher leadership

The time spent role playing, discussing personal strengths and areas of improvement, and having courageous conversations has impacted my teacher leadership. I feel better versed in not only how to manage a team meeting, but to also build and cultivate positive relationships with my peers. Emotional intelligence is pivotal for high performing teams. Through TLA, I am prepared for effective collaboration centered around student growth and success. (Alicia)

I particularly enjoyed asking for feedback and receiving feedback from colleagues, including the principal at my school site. This had the most profound impact on my teacher leadership. It gave me the courage to continue to speak up, while also continuing to work on myself. I feel that I have received valuable tools that I can utilize alongside my peers. (Sophia)

Amy and Amy did a fantastic job leading our cohort through a series of activities, reflective questions, and challenges that pushed us to dig deep into our own perspectives. I enjoyed learning from teachers from across our district. One of the most memorable activities was when we talked about how to deal with “difficult” people; acknowledging that there are different ways individuals can be difficult, helped me accept that the only thing I can control is my own actions and reactions. (Mari)

Next Steps

I absolutely loved my experience in the TLA, and I am craving more opportunities to grow as a leader. Anna and I tweeted that we need a year 2, and no matter if there is funding or not. We’d love to have Amy I. lead us again, and if that is not possible, we will build our own growth opportunities. Maybe that’s the natural progression of an opportunity like this? We’ve been empowered to grow as leaders, and there’s no stopping us! (Mari)

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What I Read in May 2018

This month I read 6 books. My Caribbean vacation helped to add many of these titles this month and into next month!  As always, I’d love to hear in the comments what you are reading and what you recommend.

  • In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende – A work colleague loaned me this beautifully written story. I haven’t read an Allende novel in a long time, and I truly enjoyed this. Three different lives intersect in the middle of a winter storm, and as you slowly learn about each character’s past, you see glimpses of where the future will take them. Each character was endearing in his or her own way. The tragedies they each overcame made them weak and yet strong.
  • Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward – My work colleague (see the book note above) is determined to expand my reading repetoire, in culturally diverse ways, which I appreciated. While I did not enjoy reading some of of the more savage parts of this book (dog fighting described in vivid details and the realities of hurricane Katrina), I am glad I read this book. It was a beautifully told story, with respect for the author’s culture and lived experiences. These characters lived a life so different from my own, I felt like I was eavesdropping on their lives.
  • Rules of the Game: How to Win a Job in Educational Leadership by Marilou Ryder – I heard a few different colleagues reference this book recently, as we gear up for interview season around here, so I wanted to see if it is a worth recommendation.  Spoiler- it is! I wish someone had given me this book 10 years ago, before I began interviewing for my first Assistant Principal position.  The author addresses the move from teacher to AP/VP, from AP/VP to principal, from Principal to district office and from district office to Assistant Superintendent/ Superintendent. She offers practical advice about how to make your paperwork shine, to the legitimate work it takes to practice and prepare for a successful interview to branding yourself. Some of her tips I have learned along my journey, but others were great to hear, even at this stage in my career. I made lots of notes for the next time I plan to apply for a job and prepare for an interview. I highly encourage anyone who wants to be an educational leader and anyone who wants to move to the next level of leadership to read this book and follow the author’s detailed advice.
  • The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork – This is a YA novel I’ve had sitting in my house for a long time and I’m glad I finally read it. The story begins after a teenage girl has attempted suicide. She spends time in a mental institution with three other teens, who have mental health struggles. Together, they form friendships as they learn about their own issues and that of each other. There were some dark moments, but the therapist who works with them was good and the reality that time, medication, and therapy would be necessary to “get better” was honest.
  • Hot Pursuit (Stone Barrington #33) by Stuart Woods- Another Stone mystery with exotic plane rides, a new love interest, a connection to the president, and international crimes. Great read for my May vacation!
  • The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie – I’m not sure where I saw this book recommended, and when it began with a woman seeing a building destroyed I thought it was going to be about 9-11, but it wasn’t and I was glad to enjoy a new mystery! The building in question was in Chicago and suffered a fire from an explosion. The women in question lost her cheating husband in that building, as well as her best friend. A photographer’s picture of her on the street watching the building burn went viral and led to unintended fame and consequences. I loved the random twists that popped up as the author revealed new details to the reader.
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What are teachers doing with the feedback you provide?

I recently read an ACSD InService blog entitled “What are your students doing with the feedback you provide?” While the blog was about how we can coach up our students to respond to feedback in our classrooms, I reflected on how teachers are or are not using feedback provided to them by administrators during formal or informal classroom observations.

There are some key ways we, as leaders, can make our feedback to teachers meaningful. We can also support them in using the feedback in authentic ways in their teaching.

Making Feedback Meaningful

  •  Administrators and coaches who are in classrooms often are best able to provide relevant and meaningful feedback – so get out of your office and get into rooms! For support with this, check out my post on making time for classrooms visits.
  • Feedback that is based on a teacher’s individual goals is more meaningful than generic praise or commentary.
  • Feedback that is aligned to school or district initiatives is more likely to be meaningful to the teacher’s daily practice.
  • Strength-based coaching meets the teacher at his or individual learning point, presuming positive intentions and a desire to grow.
  • Consider narrow and specific, evidence-based feedback.  Generic statements like, “Good job!” or “I liked your questioning techniques” do not support a teacher’s growth.  Evidence-based feedback requires you to notice the specifics of what you see in a room in order to provide meaningful feedback.  For example, “I appreciated the way in which you did a quick check for understanding with your entire class by having them chorally read and fill in the review cloze paragraph. You heard someone say a wrong answer and you immediately gave the class corrective feedback on that content, which is what is so powerful about a quick check for understanding within a lesson.”

Support Teachers in Using Feedback

  • As Tricia Kurtt, the ASCD blogger, wrote, teachers need time to reflect on feedback in order to use it. Teachers are incredibly busy. There never seems to be enough time in the day or week. Prep times are used for catching up, preparing and looking ahead, lesson planning, grading student work, collaborating with colleague, communicating with parents, and more! In order to help teachers build a habit of reflection, we need to give them dedicated time.  Time for self-reflection, time to consider their professional growth, and time to read and digest feedback. Reflection is a powerful tool for each of us!
  • Consider providing grade or content area teams, or PLCs, with team feedback. This feedback can be about alignment to curriculum guides, evidence of collaboration, or other team-specific initiates.  The teachers can come together to review the feedback and discuss how it might impact their planning or instruction.
  • Follow up! If a leader comes into a classroom for a few minutes, drops off a note (or an email) and doesn’t return for weeks or months, a teacher is unlikely to use the feedback shared. However, if the teacher expects the administrator to return to his room within a week or so, the teacher is more likely to want to address the feedback in order to be prepared for the follow up conversation.

Always Learning

My email signature reads, “Always learning, Amy” at the end of each email I send. Not only am I a lifelong learner, but I try to model this in all I say and do. When we create a culture of learning, or a culture of “continual improvement” as was described in the ASCD blog, we crave feedback. We seek out feedback, we share our goals so that we can receive authentic and specific feedback, and we make adjustments to our practice based on feedback from trusted peers and leaders.

 

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What I Read in April 2018

In April I read 3 books and listened to one on audiobook. I keep waiting for the month when life gets a little less busy and I have more time to read for pleasure, but that hasn’t happened yet.  I did enjoy these books this month.

  • Insatiable Appetites (Stone Barrington #32) by Stuart Woods – Whenever I have a vacation, or even a small break, I find myself reading another in this series, because it’s fast, easy and predictable. I love Stone’s random events. It’s nice to see, at least in this story, a woman become president of the United States; and it’s fun to hear that Stone is on her “Kitchen Cabinet” of advisers!
  • What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton – I’ve had this book for a while, but at first I wasn’t able to start it, and then I sad to finish it. I appreciated Hillary’s honest attempt to explain the election, her path leading up to running for president, and her resilience following the devastating loss. I feel like I learned so much more about her as a person, a woman, a politician, and an American citizen, by reading her words, her stories. And the chapter about Russia, though a year old now, was frightening, especially considering all that we know now. While I am scared for our democracy, I have hope that there are more leaders like her out there, ready to step up and support what is right.
  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas – This was a YA book recommended by my colleague Mari (thanks Mari!); I listened to the audiobook, which was performed very well by Bahni Turpin. The title comes from Tupac’s explanation for what “THUG LIFE” meant. This was a powerful and relevant story that I would put in my classroom library if I still had one. The story address a white police officer shooting an unarmed blank boy, riots as a result, interracial dating, and many other realities of life in 2018 in America. It was well told, from the perspective of a conflicted teenage girl. I highly recommend this to everyone!
  • Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich – A colleague loaned me this book because she loves the author and thought I would enjoy this. I had no idea what to expect and was more than pleasantly surprised. The writing is beautiful and otherworldly at times, in this odd dystopian novel about what happens when evolution begins to work backwards in America. Pregnant women are kidnapped, and their newborns, if they survive, are taken away to be studied. Cedar, the pregnant protagonist, spends most of the novel in hiding, trying to figure out who she is by learning more about her adoptive and birth families as she studied religions and Native American history. This was a fascinating story.

What are you reading lately?

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Teacher Leadership Book Studies

This post is co-written with Mari Venturino, and cross-posted to Mari’s blog!

One thing we (Amy Illingworth & Mari Venturino) have in common is our love of books! We both read a good mix of education, fiction, young adult, and nonfiction books. What better way to bring together teachers than with a Teacher Leadership Book Study? Our district did just that! Read on, for how we did it and what we learned, from the perspective of a teacher participant and an administrator facilitator.

Where the idea came from

Amy:

Our large, urban school district has a committee of teachers, site leaders, and district leaders, who come together to discuss how we can use our Title II funds to improve teaching and learning across the district.  In the spring of 2017, as the committee reviewed the federal guidelines for Title II funds, we kept coming back to a big idea – leadership. We wanted to find ways to support teacher leadership.

Our district has a number of leadership support structures in place, creating a pathway from teacher to administrator roles, if one chooses to go in that direction. However, we have many dedicated teachers who want to take on leadership roles without stepping out of their classrooms. With those specific teachers in mind, our committee came up with two ideas: A Teacher Leadership Academy and Teacher Leadership Book Studies. The Academy was designed to follow a small cohort of teachers through a year-long learning opportunity. For the book studies, we agreed that we would offer a few throughout the year, and that any teacher in the district could join any single book study anytime. We used our Title II funds to pay any participating teacher to attend the two hour book study discussion meetings and to purchase the book for any interested teacher.

Mari:

A few years back, I started a book club at my school. We alternated YA novels and an education-related books each month, but it fizzed out before the end of the school year. I was craving more formalized book chatter, but couldn’t keep up the interest and commitment from my very busy colleagues.

I received a whole-district email from Amy at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year with information about a district-hosted Teacher Leadership Book Study. Although one of my goals this year is to be careful about what I commit to, this was an easy and enthusiastic “yes!” I love chatting about books with colleagues and friends, and thought it would be a great way to have conversations with teachers across the district.

 

Implementation

Amy:

Trying to plan a book study that would be open to 2,000+ teachers is not easy! In September I sent out an email to all teachers in our district explaining what the Teacher Leadership Book Study would be. There was a website available for more detailed information, explaining that we would read a few books throughout the year and that any teacher was welcome to participate.  I advertised our first book selection, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, with an RSVP linked to a Google Form.  When I hit send on that first email, I didn’t know if I would have more than one teacher sign up to join me on this new adventure.

I had 50 people sign up to read the first book! I ordered a copy of the book for every teacher who signed up.  Teachers had about a month to read the book, and then they attended one book study discussion meeting (which I offered on two consecutive nights to break up the large group and for flexibility with busy schedules).

When teachers walked into our Professional Development Center for the first discussion meeting, they were immediately surprised because I had all of the chairs arranged in a large circle. I asked everyone to make a name tag so that we could get to know each other and refer to new colleagues by name throughout our discussion.  We sat in the circle and I facilitated a discussion about the book. I would share a quote or a prompt from the book, and then open it up for discussion by anyone. We let the conversation go wherever it was going and had fun getting to know each other in this new setting. At some point, I had participants get up and form a pair with someone from across the circle, to encourage more dialogue and to give all participants an opportunity to speak, since some seemed intimidated trying to speak in the large circle.

At the end of the first book study, I asked for recommendations for future books and used teacher feedback to select the rest of the books for the year. With each new book, we had more teachers participate, reaching 90 for our last book! As the meeting groups grew, I had to change the structure. Instead of one large circle discussion, I had teachers sit in small table groups and facilitate their own discussion, with prompts provided by me. To get everyone up and moving after a long talk period, I had the entire room stand up and form a line based on how many years of teaching experience they had. We folded the line in half so that the newest teacher in the room was talking face-to-face with the most veteran teacher in the room. We did a few minutes of this “speed dating” style partner talk, with each teacher having the opportunity to meet a few more colleagues for a 1:1 conversation.

Teacher Leadership Book Study Pictures (2)

Mari:

I participated in all four of the book studies: Innovator’s Mindset (George Couros), Shift This (Joy Kirr), Overcoming the Achievement Gap Trap (Anthony Muhammad), and Lead Like a Pirate (Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf). I thoroughly enjoyed the book discussions. There were a few people from my school who also signed up, and I saw a few friends from across the district. However, I loved meeting so many new people from my district during the discussions!

During the conversations, Amy would put up a series of discussion questions, and we would choose the direction of our conversation. My favorite part was hearing from teachers at different schools, including middle school, high school, alternative education, and adult education–the variety of voices and experiences helped me to deeply reflect on how I am best meeting my students’ needs.

One particular activity I loved was “speed dating” from Lead Like a Pirate. Amy facilitated it with a group of about 30 teachers. We first lined up by number of years taught, then folded the line in half. Amy gave us a couple minutes to answer a question together. Then we waved goodbye to our partner, one line rotated 3 spots down, and we repeated the process.

Teacher Leadership Book Study Pictures

Perspective from district leader

It’s always scary to try to implement something new. This was especially true for me,  as I was still relatively new to my position and new to this large district. You never know what the turn out will be or how the initiative will be received.  I was especially aware of the fact that I was an administrator attempting to lead conversations with large groups of teachers. While I always consider myself a teacher first, then a coach, and finally a leader, it has still been many years since I was last in my own classroom, doing the hard work of teaching every day.

My biggest takeaway from this experience was how open and excited teachers were to have the opportunity to talk to peers from across the district about their reading and professional experiences. In the final survey I sent out to get feedback on the book studies, I read a version of this quote over and over again when I asked what teachers most appreciated, “Being able to openly discuss ideas and concerns about our classrooms and teaching methods with others who read the book.”

Perspective from teacher

My biggest takeaway from the Teacher Leadership Book Studies was being given the time and space to talk with teachers from our district. Being in a very large district with 1500+ teachers, sometimes I feel like other schools are lightyears away. The Teacher Leadership Book Study made me feel closer to my colleagues at other schools. I appreciated the opportunity to learn together, meet new friends, and continue these connections on Twitter. I realized it didn’t matter how much I liked the book, but rather the little nuggets I gained from our conversations together.

We are lucky to have Amy as a leader in our district! While she may be at the administrator level, she is approachable and frequently at schools and in classrooms. Amy’s facilitation style is respectful, she is a patient listener, and her presence allows us to have honest conversations without fear of repercussions.

The books were the vehicle, Amy was our Google Maps, and we were the adventurers.
Here is just a sampling of some of the feedback from our many participants:

  • “I appreciated the theories about mindset and being a teacher that can propel change.”
  • “I really appreciate everyone’s genuineness. Every individual shared some really valuable insight, opinions, etc. and it was so helpful to hear other reactions to the ideas in the books.”
  • “I enjoyed it a lot.  It helped inspire and motivate me during the year when I was starting to drag or feel overwhelmed by the job.  Thank you!”
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