This blog post is intended to accompany a podcast episode. Check out the "Remember Why You Started" podcast episode at the page linked above.
There are so many names that come to mind when I think about the people that helped guide me to be the leader I am today. I have been so fortunate in life to have a great tribe around me. I come from an amazing community that has always struck the perfect balance of finding ways to challenge me while always providing the necessary support. I went to a college that invested in me as a person and a future educator. I have the best friends that anyone could ask for. But above all, I come from an extraordinary family. The people that I am blessed enough to call family have influenced my every decision in life. In this entry I want to single out my mom and dad, these two individuals are hands-down the most influential people in helping me become the best version of myself.
My dad is the hardest working person I have ever met. He commits 100% to whatever project he starts, whether it is his or someone else’s. He never operates from the mindset of just simply “getting things done”. When he commits, he gives you his best. Growing up he had one piece of advice on replay for my sisters and I, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.”. That has stuck with me through life. As a leader, this mindset has helped me build trusting relationships with others. When I give you my word or join you on a journey, I am with you 100%. I will forever be grateful for my dad for instilling this mindset in me at a very young age.
My mom is the one who encouraged me to chase my passions in life. She wore so many hats for me growing up, but the one she was most proud of was being my number 1 cheerleader. She never missed a game while I was in high school. She knew that I loved the sport of basketball and told me that I was going to coach it someday because I was fueled by working with kids. So, low and behold, when I started coaching for Benton, my mom was, again, my loud and proud cheerleader in the bleachers for all home games! This summer she told me she was so proud of me because I was doing exactly what I always wanted to do in life...teach at Benton Community, create opportunities for other kids like my teachers did for me, and raise my boys to be involved in the community. If you are passionate about what you do, you are charged by something more powerful than money. Your jolt comes from the heart. My mom was passionate about finding what makes me tick and supporting that. I hope that I can find and support whatever makes others tick and support them through their journey.
In the first year of teacher leadership, instructional coaching was a job that I knew very little about as a classroom teacher. I had never been coached instructionally and I wasn’t exactly sure what this could or should look like. When I started to research and read about the vision for instructional coaching, I soon realized that I did, indeed, have an instructional coach. Her name was Sandi Gibney.
Sandi was my teaching partner for 17 years and was one of the great educators that have influenced me as a teacher. Although our personalities were very different, our common belief in what good teaching and learning should be was the thread that always brought us together. As I think back to the many coaching sessions that Sandi and I had, it often happened over a bag of popcorn, a morning chat, or a hallway discussion between classes. During these times, I remember Sandi being one of the best listeners I have ever experienced. Sandi was so intentional about listening that she never multi-tasked. She would always stop whatever she was doing when I would come in the room and give me her full attention. She would ask questions to clarify her understanding and give me time to reflect on what I just said. It was through this listening that she often guided me to my next steps without once telling me what she thought I should do. She was a master instructional coach.
When I moved into the role of instructional coach, I found myself channeling my inner Sandi. Listening without multi-tasking was so difficult. Asking and not telling was a challenge for me. Although these are still things I work at during conversations, I remember the way it felt to be coached this way. Sandi nurtured the young educator that I was and helped mold me into the teacher I wanted to become. She was my teaching partner, my role model, and my friend. I feel so lucky to have had her in my life and I can only hope that I can be half this person for someone else.
I have had so many influences in my life, that have contributed to the type of leader, strengthened my leadership qualities, and enabled me to set goals as a leader...that it’s hard to narrow this to just one person. It helps me to think of the qualities I feel a leader should have and look at who contributed most to the qualities I have, am growing, or hope to have as a leader.
A few of the qualities that come to mind are; confidence in my abilities, reflective, work effort, problem solving, forward thinking, flexible, ability to work in a team, perspective, and independent. I feel like a leader should be a go getter who can manage many things (organized) and be a solution finder. I also feel like a leader should think first to find answers rather than always look for others to “help” them.
When I look over this list the first person that comes to mind is my father. While we did not always see eye-to-eye as I grew up (I will be honest, he was/is a very stubborn and sometimes scary man) I respected him, his opinion, and did what I needed to do...even when I didn’t like it. My father taught me about the value of hard work, figuring things out myself, BEING myself, and to “stop and think”. My father also taught me how to speak my truth...and how NOT to speak my truth.
When I look over the characteristics I listed and the things others have done to build me as a leader (things my father did not) do for me, the words reflective, forward thinking, working as a team, and perspective stand out. My father was VERY independent and I am not sure I ever even heard him say the word “team”. One of the most important qualities a leader can have (in my opinion) is a reflective nature and that can sometimes mean looking at yourself for all that your are...even when it’s something that needs “refining”.
After my father, there are so many various people who have instilled other leadership qualities in me. From students to friends, to teachers and principals, and ultimately the leadership team I have a part of for the last 4 years.
When I think about how these people, and what they gave me, influences my coaching practice...the better question is, “How do they not?” I set goals based on the qualities I feel I need to work on, look to my peers for guidance on what I may not see and when I need a partner in reflection (a different perspective). Their influence impacts the effort I put into my work because I would want them to be proud and many of them have left their voice in my head...which means I carry what I hear them say with me as I make decisions, have other conversations, or with what I do in my practice.
My hope is that the time I have spent in this leadership position has allowed me to pass this influence onto others and impact them as leaders in their lives.
In October, the Iowa Department of Education released the Iowa Digital Learning Plan. This plan focuses on digital learning as it relates to five key components: Leadership, Teaching, Learning, Assessment, and Infrastructure. At Benton Community, we gathered a team of teachers o focus on this work.
At the beginning of the school year, teachers, students, and families took a survey around digital learning. The BC Digital Learning Team came together and spent most of their first meeting and part of their second meeting really digging into the survey results. The survey data helped the team see where Benton Community needed to celebrate and where Benton Community needed to grow. Access to devices and high speed internet were definite areas of celebration. When looking at the results for places to grow, the survey pointed the team in the direction of work on the 4Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. The team had continued conversation about technology and its purpose. No one wanted to use technology for the sake of using technology. This led the group to more discussion around what “digital learning” really means.
Digital learning is learning supported by digital tools and resources. Examples of digital learning include online learning, blended learning, adaptive assessment solutions, and open educational resources. The focus of digital learning begins and ends with the learning experience of the student. That experience starts with the instructional practices a teacher uses in the classroom. Digital tools and resources should be a part of the tools available to teachers to support their instructional practice. As Michael Fullan (2017) eloquently stated, “Pedagogy is the driver and technology is the accelerator.” A teacher’s instructional practices are enhanced and learning is transformed when digital learning is used to support, or accelerate, those practices. (Iowa Digital Learning Plan)
The state has developed an Iowa Digital Learning Plan that was rolled out this fall. In this video, Dr. Wise, shares information about the development of the plan including the stakeholders involved in creating the plan. He also makes connections to Iowa’s Future Ready Iowa goals. The Benton Community Digital Learning Plan is modeled after the state plan. All of the key components of the state plan have been included and connected to the spokes of the Bobcat Wheel.
The Benton Community Digital Learning Plan is broken down by the spokes of the Bobcat Wheel. Again, the BC Digital Learning Team did not want to talk about using technology only to use more technology. The conversation really centered around the idea that technology needs to leverage or support what is happening in classrooms, not replace it. Also, the work of the team did not focus on devices, types of devices, etc. Instead of getting into a device conversation, the team really focused on how technology fits into what teaching and learning needs to look like across Benton Community.
Each spoke of the Bobcat Wheel is featured in the plan, including a definition that describes each spoke’s focus area and additional information on how students and teachers can use digital tools to grow in the skill area. Working from a common definition helped guide how students and teachers can use digital tools to support the spoke or skill being addressed.
Both the Iowa Digital Learning Plan and Benton Community Digital Learning Plan contain examples of digital learning. Benton Community is included in the Iowa Digital Learning Plan under the Leadership section. The story in the Iowa DLP focuses on the #BCEdCamp hosted each summer. The Benton Digital Learning Plan includes local stories of how our teachers are promoting the skills addressed in the spokes of the Bobcat Wheel using digital learning tools. There are a variety of stories included in the plan. Each Bobcat Story has a link to additional information as well as additional resources. The BC Digital Learning Team recognizes that these are just a few examples, and more stories will be added over time.
After hearing about the Benton Community Digital Learning Plan, teachers engaged in a morning full of opportunities and choice tied to digital learning and the spokes of the Bobcat Wheel. Session information and resources can be found below.
BC Digital Learning Plan (Also accessible from the district website)
BC Digital Learning Presentation
In the world of coaching sports, there is not a coach around that doesn't use video to analyze their team's play. From basketball to soccer, coaches find people to video their competitions to help them improve. Coaches celebrate the successes, analyze their weaknesses, and even chart statistics to help their team grow. Why does this change when coaches switch from coaching sports to coaching teachers? This blog post, will touch on why Benton Community Instructional Coaches use video to improve coaching practices with teachers.
Video can be an essential tool to help instructional coaches reflect and improve their craft. Although there is not a coach on our team that enjoys watching themselves on video, we all know how important this experience can be to help us grow as coaches. We believe video impacts our team in a positive way. One reason we use video is to help build a collective vision of a coaching cycle. As a team, we talk about coaching cycles all the time, but over the years I know that each coach on our team often wonders if what they are doing with teachers really constitutes as a coaching cycle. Is this what it is supposed to look like when I coach? By using video, we can share our vision and push ourselves as coaches to define a coaching cycle. Video is the springboard to the conversation that creates a "one voice" for our team when it comes to coaching. By taking time to watch our teammates coach, we develop a clearer vision of where we want to go individually and as a team.
Another reason why I believe video to be an important tool is because coaches need to watch themselves coach. When you are in the middle of coaching, it can be challenge to consider what do or say. Why am I moving my hands so much when I talk? Does my face really look like that when I am listening? These are all important facets of working with others that need to be addressed and video doesn't lie. It is the mirror needed to deepen reflection.
Reflection is another reason video impacts our team in a positive way. By using video, our team can reflect together on planning for a coaching cycle, coaching stems and questions used during the conversation, and possible next steps for the coach after a meeting with a teacher. With video, we can stop, start, and replay conversations that happen within the cycle. We are able to discuss celebrations and address missed opportunities. Reflecting together with your team requires vulnerability, but builds trust and a growth mindset for everyone. When we step outside our comfort zone, we create an opportunity to grow and learn.