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Engaging Teachers with a Teacher Leadership Book Study

This post is co-written with Amy Illingworth, and cross-posted to Amy’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.

Small group discussions with teachers across the district.

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.

Small group discussions about Shift This

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.

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!

Teachers participating in the “speed dating” sharing activity.

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.

Perspective from Amy, 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 Mari, 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.

Lead Like a Pirate

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!”

 

Reflections

This one time, at band camp…

Dress-up dinner at Camp Winters, only a few feet from and
2 years before my magical “ah ha!” moment. August 2006

No really, this one time, at band camp I had my “I need to be a teacher” epiphany. As a biology major in college, I was naturally following the pre-med path. I always knew I loved teaching, but it wasn’t until August 2008 and my annual adventure up to Camp Winthers Music Camp in Soda Springs, CA when I realized teaching was my life direction. I distinctly remember leading a flute section rehearsal near the campfire pit, making eye contact with the head counselor, and immediately knowing I had better become a teacher. It was a magical moment.

Four years of high school band, ten band classes, private flute and piano lessons, a zillion hours practicing, and two band teachers taught me many essential life lessons that directly apply to teaching. I spent a year in Concert Band, three years in Honors Concert Band, two years in Jazz Workshop (one of four jazz bands!), two years TA-ing zero period, and one year in Small Ensemble (think Genius Hour class for band nerds!).  The human being and teacher I am today is directly influenced by Mr. Faniani and Mr. Murray, our two incredible band directors.

“You never have a second chance to make a first impression”
Whether it’s a firm handshake and eye contact, hitting the downbeat, or welcoming students on the first day of school, it’s essential to be the best version of yourself at any given time. Backing up this first impression requires hard work, practice, and confidence (fake it ‘til you make it, if necessary). In my AVID classes, we discuss what makes a good handshake, and students practice correctly and incorrectly with their classmates until they feel comfortable shaking hands and introducing themselves. When they’re finished, I send them on a scavenger hunt to shake hands with their teachers and at least one administrator. Then, they put these handshakes into practice when they show up for their mock job interview! They constantly cite the confidence they’ve gained in AVID as an essential part of their middle school experience.

First year as a counselor, August 2005. These babies are now
graduated from college and doing amazing things!

“Perfect practice makes perfect”
Why do something only half-good? In music, this simply means grabbing a metronome, slowing way down, and gradually working up to tempo. When you make a mistake, keep your head up and recover quickly. In teaching, I try to focus on getting better at a few things at a time. Lessons never ever go perfectly, but the habits of mind of reflecting on our work are essential to growing ourselves as teachers and learners. There are so many great practices, lesson ideas, projects, and methods discussed on Twitter every day; if we get bogged down in trying to do them all, we will fail miserably. I am intentional about my opportunities for reflection: I blog occasionally, talk to a few trusted colleagues and friends daily (Voxer is great for this), and talk to myself using voice memos on my phone.

Annual Playathon fundraiser, honored for my 2 years as the
student chair. November 2006. 

Sometimes you have to stand up and dance!
Every year, Mr. Faniani told us a story about a time he was recording a percussion track, and kept hitting his part too early or too late. Once he stood up and started dancing, he nailed it. Obviously, this story is way more entertaining with Mr. Faniani acting it out for us, but you get the picture. This story has stuck with me because it’s so easy to sit in our comfy chair and play it safe, when really we must stand up, be bold, and take risks.

Both teaching and playing music take years of practice and hard work, moments of complete frustration, and an unparalleled joy when sharing our passion with others. And, both are entirely worth it!

Band tour in Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai China, June 2006.
GSuite

Using Google Forms for Walkthrough Observations

As many of you know, I have a major obsession with Google Forms. Last school year in a Faculty Advisory Committee meeting, we were discussing our district’s walkthrough evaluation form, and how it did not adequately address our school’s focuses and goals. Once I realized I could customize a Google Form and use Autocrat to generate personalized walkthrough evaluations for teachers, I literally started bouncing in my chair. (One of my colleagues lovingly calls this “Tiggering” because I get bouncy when I’m excited!) I began a semester-long project creating the walkthrough Form, iterating on it, and troubleshooting technical problems.

I personally love it when my principal and assistant principals come through for walkthrough observations. These walkthroughs are informal, unannounced, are not put into our permanent records, and admin stays for about ten minutes to observe what is happening in my class. I can understand where there could be pushback from individuals about being observed. Building a culture around learning and framing observations as admin’s opportunity to learn from teachers can help introduce this to a reluctant teacher.

Often, our administrators sit down at an open student desk, interact with students, and ask students about what they are learning. In one very memorable walkthrough, my principal was sitting at a student desk, and I called on him to answer after a turn-and-talk (I call randomly using 2 sets of popsicle sticks–each seat has a group number and color, and I pull 1 color and 1 number stick.). He eagerly participated based on what he and his partner discussed!

Once admin leaves my classroom, I receive an email with their observations and suggestions. I always enjoy following up with them to discuss the lesson further or ask for specific support.

Here is the Google Form and the Autocrat template for the walkthrough. You’re welcome to make a copy of the Google Form (force copy) and Autocrat template (force copy), and customize for your own use! 


Here’s the basic workflow of the Form walkthrough setup and implementation process: 
1. Create a Google Form with the criteria you are observing. Create the Response Sheet. 
2. Create a Google Doc template for Autocrat, using <> tags for each section header from the Sheet. 
3. Go into the Sheet and run the Autocrat Add-on. Set it to email and/or share a copy of the doc or PDF to <> and <>
4. Take your walkthrough form into teachers’ classrooms and complete it as you are observing their lessons. 
5. Once you hit submit, you and the teacher will receive an email with the observation notes! 

Here’s a video on how to use Autocrat–repurposed from our Breakout EDU Digital how-to videos. Autocrat has since updated their interface, but there is little difference on the actually set-up process. Remember, if you make any changes to the Form, change the <> tags in your Autocrat doc template to make it easier to match up. 


If you end up using this or something similar with your teachers, I’d love to hear about it!



Reflections

Spreading Positivity with #FlyHighFri, 2016-2017 update

This #FlyHighFri blog post is cross-posted on Justin Birckbichler’s and Mari Venturino’s blogs.

FlyHighFri Year 2
Welcome to #FlyHighFri, year 2. In July 2015, we began FlyHighFri as a way to emphasize the positives in our schools and classrooms in an effort to combat negatives we were observing. Read more about our initial set-up on Justin’s blog and Mari’s blog.

We have crafted a mission statement to guide our journey with FlyHighFri: FlyHighFri is a place for educators to gather to share their successes and positive moments from the week with a supportive community. It is our hope that this community grows organically together, and spreads throughout schools, both through social media and with face-to-face meetings.

In order to continue the positive momentum with FlyHighFri, we have established some community guidelines:

1. Positivity Rules
Celebrate the great things going on in our classrooms, schools, and districts.

First and foremost, FlyHighFri is about being intentionally positive. Building the habit of finding the positives within your day and week helps all of us persevere through the tough days. We want to celebrate all the wonderful things going on in schools across the world!

2. Share Real Successes
Share great stories from this week, big or small, that made a positive impact.

We make a sincere effort to read the the tweets each week. We love seeing the actual stories from the classrooms and schools. Have a student meet a goal? Great! Share it out. Staff member go above and beyond? Recognize them and share why they are important. Took a risk and it paid off? Tell us about it. Be intentional and specific about your tweets – there is a time and place for encouraging phrases but let’s make this community about sharing successes and positive moments.

3. Keep it School-Centered
Focus on students and teachers, and let them be the stars.

No matter your role in education, the learners always come first. There are other avenues on social media to promote products, books, blogs, and the like. Our goal is for FlyHighFri to specifically be about great things happening in our classrooms and schools, not about self-promotion or promotion of a product. Of course, if you’ve written a post or a certain app or product has directly made a positive impact in your school during your week, we want you to share that!

Mar Vista Academy #FlyHighFri lunch group
in the school garden

We have high hopes for our FlyHighFri community for the 2016-2017 school year. We’d love to see the positivity message spread throughout schools and districts, but we also don’t want it to be forced. Be the invitation to your colleagues to share their positive moments. Mari often finds her principal at some point on Fridays and asks him, “What’s your FlyHighFri from this week?” It’s an easy 30 second conversation, that often turns into a longer discussion. We both also hold weekly get togethers for our teachers to join and share.

This year, we’ll be managing FlyHighFri through the official Twitter page. We’ll be quoting tweets that really stand out to us and want to highlight. We’re not concerned about it trending on Twitter. If it does, great. If not, that’s great, too. We value the individual contributions of each person, and prefer quality over quantity. Share successes with each other and use their ideas in your own schools. Challenge each other to continue growing as educators and positive people.

How can I spread #FlyHighFri?
– Connect with others in the FlyHighFri social media community using #FlyHighFri.
– Create an on-campus teacher group. Buy or make coffee to share with teachers and invite them to join you before school. Meet together for lunch.
– Go asynchronous to share online with a group of teachers through an online tool such as TodaysMeet or Google Hangouts Chat.

We look forward to a school year filled with positivity!

Uncategorized

Why I love GAFE Summits!

Presenting on Digital BreakoutEDU with
Justin Birckbichlerat GAFE Summit IV.
Thanks for having fun with us, Ari! 

It seems that all EdTech-y people hit a wall at some point in their conference-going life when they are no longer blown away by new tech tools, apps, or devices. The first few are always “drinking from a fire hose” experiences, but even the best tech conferences eventually slows down into a small trickle.

I attended my first GAFE Summit in LA County in March 2016, and had my mind blown. It wasn’t the apps, it’s wasn’t the willingness of all to learn, and it wasn’t even the stellar presenters and speakers–it was the people! This was the first conference where I felt confident in my abilities as an EdTech leader (yes, I now see myself as a leader!) and in the connections I made with other people.

GAFE Summit Team welcoming
everyone on Sunday morning.

I went into that first GAFE Summit knowing only one person, and left knowing dozens more. Reflecting on my second GAFE Summit (Imperial Valley!), I have had a similar experience feeling energized by the amazing people. The conversations I had at lunch, between, and even during sessions push my thinking and drive me to take more risks. I’m thankful for the EdTechTeam summit team for all the laughs, inspiring keynotes, and for making the experience seamless and wonderful weekend. I presented in four of the eight sessions, and I felt so much love and support from the participants. They were all willing to learn, grow, and push their own abilities to learn new tech tools.

This is our friendship. Exactly. 

Another great thing that has come out of my recent conference experiences is the opportunity to collaborate with Ari Flewelling (@EdTechAri). We’ve started a half goofy and half serious YouTube show called “EdTech Adventures with Ari and Mari” where we talk about the latest fun in the edtech world. Going back to watch it, we are pretty weird and silly, but it’s awesome and we bring up excellent points. In Jason Markey‘s closing keynote, he put up the quote “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? Thought I was the only one.’ -CS Lewis” Ari and I tried to get a selfie with the quote, but Jason changed the slide too quickly. I must have said “oh darn!” out loud or something, because Jason switched it back for us to get our selfie, then carried on with his keynote. But it’s the perfect quote for this friendship!

EdTech Adventures with Ari and Mari

Take Aways from GAFE Summit Imperial Valley
– “Think Open” is a concept brought up by the one and only Dee Lanier. He definitely challenged us to think about the accessibility of what we are doing, and if it can be achieved on any platform. It has made me reconsider the emphasis I put on specific apps, and shift to the technology skills I want my students to have, no matter the device.

Mind Mapping success with Dee Lanier! 

– Mind Maps: Mind blown! Thanks again, Dee Lanier. I too often put myself in the “not an artist” box, then walk away. I appreciated Dee’s session, and felt him instill authentic confidence in the participants that we can be creative and use colored pencils to convey our ideas through Mind Maps. I’m so excited to go check out Tony Buzan’s books on Mind Mapping so I can bring this (and sketchnoting) to my students.
– Fluffy is a powerful friend. I had people who wanted pictures with Fluffy (a picture with me was obviously secondary in that request), and others who knew me as “oh you’re the one with the unicorn!” Thanks Fluffy!

It was an amazing weekend in El Centro. Can’t wait for the next one!