A New Beginning, a New Mindset

I have been thinking about writing a post for a very long time…it has actually become the thing I know I want to do but I haven’t been able to bring myself to actually do it. I told myself it was writer’s block, or unclear thoughts that I just haven’t been able to get down “on paper.” But I think I can finally admit, it’s been fear. I began my journey into administration in 2014 and haven’t recovered my writing abilities in this blog since. That was three years ago! I can no longer even tell people I blog, because I haven’t done a real post in so long. Today I read George Couros’s post, “Finding Inspiration in Yourself” and today, I found the inspiration in myself to write. Thank you, George Couros.

I think I have been afraid to share my thoughts as a leader. I know that as a school leader, people can interpret the simplest things you say in many different ways, and sometimes those interpretations have adverse effects. But today, I realized, it is even more important for me, as a school leader, to share my thoughts and beliefs with my community. I talk a lot about “walking the talk,” being vulnerable, and taking risks So here goes…

I am so excited for the new school year to begin and part of my excitement stems from our school’s shared summer reading of Neuroteachby Glen Whitman and Ian Kelleher and the conference I attended called the Science of Teaching and Leadership Academy at the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL) at St.Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland. It was an intense week of learning about utilizing best research practices, specifically regarding mind brain education, into our teaching practice. The first group experience entailed dissecting a sheep’s brain! Although the smell of formaldehyde brought me right back to 7th grade science class, I loved learning about the brain and I now can actually remember what specific parts of the brain do–experiential learning at its’ best! Each day ended with our Translation small group. We reflected and then listened to our group members’ reflections. It was wonderful and much needed after intensive learning throughout the day. Our Translation group leader, Hillary Hall, was incredibly patient, pushed our thinking and led us in beginning to create a question for possible action research in our own community.We continued with two intensive days learning as a group, followed by two more days of “Deep Dives” moving into the teacher track or leadership track.

Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez, Asst. Professor in the Center for Early Childhood Health and Development in the Department of Population Health at the NYU School of Medicine and author of The Teaching Brain, led a full day of learning. Dr. Rodriguez proposes a “Theory of Mind” that states teaching is a process and a natural human act.  She proposes that there are “Five Awarenesses of the Teaching Brain:  Awareness of the Learner, Awareness of Interaction, Awareness of Self as a Teacher, Awareness of Teaching Practice, and Awareness of Context.” (Check out this book review to learn more!)

Dr. Rodriguez explained that in education, we often talk about everything being student-centered but that there is someone else in that mix, the teacher. She certainly doesn’t propose stating your school or your classroom is student-centered is wrong, but when talking about teaching, perhaps we need to include thinking about who the teacher is, what he/she brings to the table, and what his/her perception is of who the learner is and what’s happening in the classroom is also very important. As a teacher, I can attest to feeling the magic that happens when great learning occurred in my classroom. There are so many factors that go into making learning happen that have to do with connection and relationships between students and the teacher! It was validating to hear someone talk about this out loud. As an administrator, I thought about how these five awarenesses could be brought into developing collaborative professional growth plans for teachers, as well as myself as an administrator. Much food for thought in that “Deep Dive!”

The next two “Deep Dives” included David Weston, Founder and Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust. His talk was entitled, “Unleashing Greatness in Teachers: What effective professional development looks like.” He shared that great PD is focused, responsive, has a supportive environment, provides expert support, is sustained, and has specific outcomes in mind. His talk helped me to solidify my action research question, “How can we utilize ‘Mind Brain Education Research-Informed Power Strategies for Teachers’ to better engage teachers in faculty meetings and other professional development experiences?” Incorporating best teacher practices into professional development for teachers will hopefully be fun and inspire teachers to incorporate those strategies into their own classrooms! I believe being a school leader doesn’t mean teaching and learning stops for you, it just means your audience is different.

The last “Deep Dive” was led by Julie Wilson, Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for the Future of Learning. She too was AMAZING! She led us in assessing where we are as a school and began helping us think about a plan to get us where we want to be. We thought about co-creating a three to five year professional development plan with our community to lead us into the future. We realized that we get hung up in creating activities instead of systems and this often adds to our community feeling like they are getting “one and done” professional development experiences, which adds to a feeling of being over-initiated. And we do have so many initiatives, but also realize it’s hard to avoid…but avoid we must!

I am thankful for this learning experience. And I must admit, at times, I was overwhelmed, which is hard to do to me because I LOVE all things education! I especially love intense professional development experiences. It was an excellent reminder of how my passion for education can be overwhelming for others at times. Delivery is important but learning also happens when it’s hard. I am ready for the new year to begin, as I grew a new mindset over the summer.