I don’t know what I’m doing.

Ever have one of those days? When you feel unsure with just about everything? You wonder, “How am I the best person for this work?”. You second guess, have self-doubt, and always worry about whether or not you’re making the best decision for students/teachers/staff/team, etc., etc. It’s a hard place to find yourself, and I like to think I’m not alone. Actually, I know some of my friends share a similar struggle. There’s comfort in that; having people in your corner who either are there with you or have been there at one time or another. When you feel totally lost, clueless, frustrated – like having to install a new light bulb that isn’t going to come on no matter how tight you screw it in even after double checking that the electricity is working.

We’re hard on ourselves about this. We’re afraid to ask for help many times for fear of seeming incompetent or we worry too much what others will think of us. How many kids do you know that have the same struggles in their learning? It feels like, through the media, including social media, we’ve created too much negative stigma about what it means to be vulnerable and reach out for help. If we as adults struggle with these feelings, imagine how it must feel for kids.

It’s okay to be vulnerable and ask for help. It should be okay if you don’t know the best answer right away. It’s a culture thing we need to bring back to our work as teachers, learners, and to our schools.

Letting Others Shine

I don’t attend a lot of concerts, but last night was easily one of the best I’ve ever been to in my life. I saw the man himself, Billy Joel. That dude brings it! He also makes no qualms about it and recognizes the fact that he has no new songs and knows exactly which ones people want to hear the most. He truly performs for his fans and for his love of music.

One of my biggest takeaways from the concert though, was how Billy made time in the show for others in his band to perform on their own. Some of them were highlighted for their specific instrument (trumpet, guitar, drums, etc.) during some of the songs he performed, but then others were completely given the spotlight for an entire song and he backed them up. One band member gave an amazing tribute to Aretha Franklin with a cover of “Respect” and brought the house down! Another band member sang opera (yes, opera!) his rendition of “Nessun Dorma” and that piece always blows me out of my chair.

These are just a couple examples. I then started paralleling it to leadership in education. How often do we as leaders (school or district level) not only recognize our peoples’ strengths but provide them the stage/medium to showcase those strengths? There is tremendous strength from within if we make the time to recognize it and showcase it. Let someone lead a staff meeting around an area they excel or let them lead a session on a district PD day. Or maybe invite them to write a post for the school/district blog to showcase the awesome things they’re doing. There’s lots of ways to let our people shine. We need to do more of it!

Billy Joel Concert in Kansas City

Growing People Change People

I often see this question in Twitter chats, in keynotes, or when it’s asked of esteemed panelists: “How do we create real, systemic change in education?”.

While I’ve never thought there was one clear answer to this question; one particular action or formula that could solve all the problems in education, I do believe that people (as in you and I and every other education Bonsai plant picturestakeholder) have all the power to make the changes that need to be made for our students. The power lies with us. We should never underestimate the power of a group of people who are well-informed about the possibilities available to our students.

Think about it this way. What if every person that attended a conference, went to an edcamp, participated in a Twitter chat, etc. committed to sharing 1 new idea with just 1 person? Then the 1 person they told commits to sharing with 1 person, and so on and so on. While your school or district likely sees the value in participating in professional learning opportunities, do they see (and hold teachers accountable to) the value of sharing out what has been learned? Not just creating reflection around how it will help me as a teacher, but looking deeper at how it will help me help others.

Just like we should be personalizing and differentiating learning for students, I wholeheartedly believe teachers should get the same in their professional learning. While I’m sure there’s more work to do in that specific area, I think a lot of systems are seeing the value and starting to provide a wider variety of options, particularly self-directed ones. However, we must make a more concerted plan of how our learning is not only going to affect our teaching and learning but how it could affect all teaching and learning. We need to lean more on our own people and empower them to spread their genius to all stakeholders.