Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Reflection of Habits (Part 1)

Habits like all things can be good or bad. As a teacher-leader I have formed habits in my classroom. For example, I like to listen to music that is instrumental only or it is in another language. Frankly, I don't care what language, though I prefer Italian or Spanish so I can sing along. Yes, I can sing along but my students can't, so therefore, they are not thinking about other words as they are working, they are using the music as background noise without singing karaoke.  I have formed a bad habit that I have changed this year. I have always been a teacher with a desk in the classroom. Now I am not a teacher with a desk in the classroom. After reading much research into the matter and discussing it with my PLN in depth, I have had it removed and it is in an office away from students. I am the token guinea pig in this matter. We will see how a new habit forms in that regard indeed! After spending time studying Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People I have found myself questioning habits that I have as a teacher-leader and how his theory has affected me so far in this journey in education. This is not the first time I have read Mr. Covey's work. I will combine that with  important elements that are needed for someone who is engaged in  21st century leadership and with Marazao's research that lead to the Art and Science of Teaching as well as Martin Haberman's work, “Can Star Teachers Create Learning Communities?” and attribute action points for myself in my educational development.

According to Covey, the first habit is to be proactive. I need to realize that my decision-making skills determine my effectiveness in my life and to take responsibility for them.  That is also one of the key leadership qualities in the 21st century. It is important to calm myself first in the face of stress or difficult decisions. Difficult decisions are what I face everyday as a teacher or what I will face everyday as a principal. Keeping a clear presence of mind and by the power of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that will empower me to make deliberate and decisive choices for my classroom, the school body, a student or family. Even in the heat of the moment, I should take into account what is the outcome that I am seeking. How can I maintain my decorum as well as honor the spirit of the student as well as the family or other coworkers? How can I show them that they matter and that they are important and still resolve an issue?  That is a very high priority for me. I feel like I do that well in the classroom yet, it is not a destination I seek in this matter. Different students, different families, different cooperative teaching sections every year. It is a matter of MINDSET and getting my head in the game as a habit. When it becomes a habit, it becomes a lifestyle. My goal is to keep this in the forefront of my thoughts, people matter and treating them with dignity matters! According to Haberman, modeling is a very important skill to creating effective communities. I can model proactive behavior. One of the people in my PLN is Jimmy Casas,principal from Bettendorf High School in Iowa. He signs off most of his mentoring during PLN with, “BE THE CHANGE.”

Ghandi said it first Modeling. Be what you want to see changed around you and pretty soon, people will follow you and your ideas. One way I do this for my administration is to keep a blog and to show what is going on in my classroom and some of my educational view points or what I am learning along the way. My administration can't always be in my room, and I have found that this helps my administration keep a pulse on me and I am ever happy to share! 

I can also begin with the end in mind as I develop lessons.  Keeping the end in mind is the second principle Mr. Covey states. With all the instruction being found in text books, it is easy to do that. What I like to do is challenge myself and one way I do that is to create genius time in the classroom where students are working on their own project based learning (PBL) and I have a rubric for them to use. That helps keep the end in mind. I also enjoy this when I develop a PBL activity for my whole group to learn together with even though they are in small groups. Different from genius hour, this would be a topic that may be broad like SPACE and from that there would be several small topics. My students did a great job of this and I attached a rubric to help them keep on track. The end result was eight different projects for 34 students and we made a lovely picture/audio video with it using 30 Hands.  If I don't begin with the end in mind, I will not know where I am going. If I don't know where I am going, the student won't either. Again, it must be about the student so therefore, I must have my act together!  

It is really important to think what Mr. Covey calls, “Habit 4: Think Win Win” in educational leadership. When combined with the fifth habit, “ Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood,"  this creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving. When we value people we say to them, you matter. One of the people in my PLN is Angela Maiers, she is the founder of  She says, “These two words can change lives and change our world, if we understand them and we leverage them in the right way. When someone believes that they matter, they see the world in a different light. They approach life and work in a manner that understands that their actions can have a positive impact on the world. Yet every day, someone asks: Did you notice me? Do you appreciate what I do? DO I MATTER?” I want each person that I meet to know at my school that they matter, not just the students but also the custodians, the cooks, and the office staff. I want the families to know that they matter. When you think win win, when you make a choice that people matter, you will see problems resolved to their best potential. You will see situations resolved in the best approach that will take people to victory. Not me. Not myself. The collective group of people involved. When you win, I win. All for one. One for all. Philippians 2:3 reminds us that we must put others ahead of ourselves. I think that is why I don't prefer to be called a TEACHER. I prefer to be called a LEAD LEARNER. Teachers have given that name a bad rap. It comes with some crazy notion that we know everything. Do as I say. No, that is not how I teach. That is not how I learn and

that is not what is best for any learning environment. Haberman also suggest this same concept. He  knows that if you want to get work done, it is best to get your EGO out of it! Somewhere in a Bible study I learned that EGO meant Easing God Out.  Yes, you ease out God and you ease out others. Maybe it should read EGOO!  

Yes, it is time to reflect over the summer on new habits that I want to now cultivate for next year and old habits that need to be ditched. Perhaps, that is why God gave teachers summers! Thank God for that!