Sunday, January 23, 2022

Supporting and Rewarding Teachers with Time

If it’s true that life is a test, then the COVID-19 pandemic represents the most challenging one education and everyone in the field has ever faced.  The impacts are far and wide.  Not a single person is unaffected, and everyone needs help in some form or another.  However, one group, in particular, stands out as they are on the front lines every day working with kids – our teachers.  I don’t have to go into specifics as they are well known, but many of the issues include quarantined students, skeleton classes, concurrent teaching, covering classes, abrupt shifts to remote or hybrid learning, increasing demands, and personal exposure to the virus.  As a result, the workload and stress just keep piling up.  If something is not done and soon, I fear, as many others do, that there will be a mass exodus from the profession.  


As someone who is in schools on a weekly basis and working side by side with educators under these conditions, I always ask what could be done to make their professional lives a little bit easier.  The response is always the same no matter where I am in the country, and that is time.  Some might say that this is easier said than done.  Still, districts across the country have made innovative changes to the school calendar and amended contracts to provide uninterrupted time to plan and collaborate.  That means no meetings, phone calls, emails, or mandated professional development.  However, professional learning support is also imperative, and there are other time-sensitive strategies that can be implemented.  Below are some ideas broken up into two categories:



Uninterrupted Time

  1. One day per month for planning and collaboration (no kids in school): I have seen more and more school districts moving to this model, which has been celebrated by teachers, administrators, support staff, and students.
  2. Half-day per month for Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): We took this route in my former district, where I was a principal.  We don’t want PLCs to become “just another thing” teachers have to do.  By providing time, they inherently become more powerful and something that is valued.  On a side note – administrators should be in their own functioning PLC as a way to model. 
  3. Extend holiday breaks for mental health: I have seen a few superintendents across the country take this route resulting in a win-win scenario.

Time for Professional Learning

  1. Add professional learning days: My opinion is that it is best to frontload these at the beginning of the school year to alleviate distraction and pressure.  Another idea is to build in back-to-back professional learning days during the school year so concepts and strategies can be explored in more detail. 
  2. Job-embedded coaching: Teachers want to grow and improve but pulling them from their classes and trying to find subs or coverage creates additional headaches.  Job-embedded and ongoing professional learning support uses the time that is already in the schedule to provide needed growth opportunities.  This model uses staff meetings, team time, and non-instructional duty periods to facilitate targeted sessions on strategies that can be implemented immediately.  Additionally, by observing classes and PLC meetings, valuable feedback can be provided either synchronously or asynchronously.  All of my coaching cycles aligned to longitudinal work with schools worldwide involve this approach. 
  3. Asynchronous modules: There is no better way, in my opinion, to align current context to sound pedagogy than developing personalized options for teachers to engage in at their own pace.  Scaling professional learning is hard.  It is even more challenging during a pandemic.  I recently coached John Orcutt, the principal of Arlington High School in New York, on creating an asynchronous course on personalized learning in Google Classroom.  It came out great!  Now teachers and administrators can work through the activities at their own pace, apply them to their practice, and receive professional learning hours.  Since I am in the district once a month supporting schools, I will be providing targeted coaching and feedback to everyone who has taken the course. 

Please note that these are only suggestions, but each has been successfully implemented in a district or school.  Changes to the school calendar and, in some cases, staff contracts have to be made.  In collective bargaining situations, a compromise must be reached.  Where there is a will, there is a way.  Teachers have earned the attempt to at least try. 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

5 Ways to Unleash Your Leadership Potential

Leading is not easy.  I am a believer that leaders are not born but instead develop over time based on both the environment and learned experiences.  No matter where you are on your journey, there is the opportunity to grow and evolve.  Your potential is not set in stone.  It can be unleashed by being cognizant about where you currently are and taking the necessary steps to get to where you want, and others need you, to be.  Here are five ways to unleash your potential now and beyond. 

Be present

People by nature are very distracted creatures, and it has only gotten worse over the years.  Keeping one’s attention in the digital age can be an arduous task.  Just watch people in public places for a few minutes, and you will see countless individuals glued to their devices.  Social media and constant connectivity have evolved into both a blessing and a curse.  While you might not be able to control the actions of others fully, you can work to ensure that you are fully present during conversations, meetings, and professional learning events.  Listen intently when warranted, ask questions, avoid interrupting, use non-verbal language, and most importantly, stay off your devices.  An engaged leader is one who empowers. 

Don’t overreact

Emotions are often hard to control.  I know that I, like many others, grapple with how to hold them in check.  Losing your cool can alienate the people who are closest to you while also raising questions about your ability to lead.  The fact is that things will go wrong no matter how much you prepare.  A well-thought-out action plan will never prevent emergencies or rogue personalities from chaos every now and again.  Even though it is easier said than done, try to remain composed and not overact when something does not go your way.  The job of a leader is to help others remain calm in the face of adversity. 

Model authenticity 

People can sniff out those who are fake in both intentions and actions.  The same can be said when weaknesses are continuously masked with excuses.  Authentic leaders not only talk the talk but strive to walk the walk.  I shared the following a few years back:

Be true to yourself and others.  When you fail (and you will), showcasing your learning side will only help to strengthen the bonds with those you work with.  Being human is more important than being right all the time.  You will never have all the answers or solutions needed to move large change efforts forward.  Look to others to find answers to questions and help you achieve your change goals.  Continue to improve in ways that push you outside your comfort zone.  With authenticity on your side, finding success will be much easier.

In a world where exponential advances in technology are the norm, there is nothing more authentic than being a digital leader. 

Embrace curiosity

There are certain truths when it comes to leadership.  Not a single person has all the solutions or even the best answer to many situations.  There is immense power when a leader acknowledges that they don’t know.  It’s not always about being right or wrong but instead seeking out ways to make the best decisions for the people you serve.  Curious leaders inspire while also breaking down traditional barriers when it comes to transforming culture.  Francesca Gino shared the following after exploring research on the topic:

When curiosity is triggered, we are less likely to fall prey to confirmation bias (looking for information that supports our beliefs rather than for evidence suggesting we are wrong) and stereotyping people (making broad judgments, such as that women or minorities don’t make good leaders).  Curiosity has these positive effects because it leads us to generate alternatives.

Curiosity fuels a more collaborative and vulnerable approach that works to empower others to join the cause.  

Take action

Passiveness rarely leads to change and can negatively impact when it comes to motivating the masses.  While there are certainly times for consensus, sitting on one’s laurels when crucial decisions need to be made is something that many people often complain about when it comes to their leaders.  Navigating the change process and ushering in innovative practices requires decisiveness.  As I stated in Digital Leadership, the desire and drive to act is all that matters.  When it is all said and done, leadership is about action, not position, title, or power. 

Your potential is not set in stone.  In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” 


Sunday, January 9, 2022

Tips for an Abrupt Shift to Remote or Hybrid Learning

The other day I was with one of my partner districts as part of ongoing longitudinal work that will last at least two years.  As I was facilitating a model lesson near the end of the school day with a group of teachers and administrators, a staff member came by the room to inform everyone that the district would be going remote the rest of the week.  An email was also sent informing all educators to plan for an asynchronous day of learning on Thursday and synchronous on Friday.  Naturally, I ended the session a little early so they could begin to map out the rest of the week, but I also had planning to do in terms of converting my face-to-face sessions with the leadership team to virtual that was scheduled for the next day.

Unfortunately, what I have described above has become quite common as of late.  COVID-19 has roared back with the highly transmissible Omicron variant resulting in scaled disruption.  Schools are having immense trouble staffing their buildings or even getting kids to school as bus drivers must go out on quarantine.  In this case, the result has been an abrupt shift to remote learning.  The other scenario that has panned out has been many children succumbing to the virus and being quarantined or families keeping their kids home as a safety measure.  In this scenario, a decision to move to hybrid learning has been made.

Undoubtedly, this is a very stressful time for educators, but their resilience and flexibility have, and continue to, shine through to make things work.  Remember, we have been here before, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel.  I have been going back through some of my most-read posts ever, and many of them are on the topics of remote and hybrid learning.  You can access all these curated on a Pinterest board HERE.  Below are some straightforward tips that will help you get through this without losing your mind:

  1. Adapt what you already have planned (don't reinvent the wheel)
  2. Update your learning management pages (LMS) such as Canvas, Schoology, or Google Classroom so kids can seamlessly access all assignments and tasks
  3. Use breakout rooms in replacement of face-to-face discourse activities 
  4. Integrate digital tools to increase engagement and empower learners
  5. Leverage personalized strategies for asynchronous work such as choice boards, must-do/may-do, playlists, and flipped lessons.
  6. Be realistic (substance over quantity, prioritize standards)


There is nothing inherently new in the tips provided above.  The key is to remember pivotal lessons learned during the great remote and hybrid experiment of 2020 and parts of 2021 to power through what I hope is only a couple of weeks.  Effective leadership in these unpredictable times is not only needed but greatly appreciated.  Finding additional resources for staff and freeing up time to plan are two quick wins that won’t go unnoticed.  Together, you’ve got this, and if there is anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to reach out (esheninger@gmail.com). 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Hitting Curveballs

If only everything could be simple.  Life is anything but an easy journey.  While this, for the most part, has been manageable in the past, the pandemic has upended professional and personal lives.  Just when there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, a new variant materializes.  For now, Omicron is the current curveball.  As I write this post on the first day of 2022, I can't help but reflect on the resilience educators showed the year before.  They stepped up to the plate every time for kids and each other because that is in their DNA.  As the curveballs kept coming, they hit them.  In the midst of immense adversity, they persevered. 

What the future holds, no one can know for sure.  Many schools have or will be making the decision to revert back to some form of remote learning.  While this can be frustrating and challenging, educators have been here before.  The silver lining is that lessons learned in the past can be leveraged to make it a smoother process.  There were many successes when it comes to remote learning that have value now and will for years to come.  I made sure to capture these in chapter 6 of Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms.  Good teaching and leadership shine through no matter the circumstance.  If you are in need of remote learning resources I have you covered. Just click HERE

For schools that do not go back to remote learning, the curveball will be high rates of absenteeism.  In the case of students being out, we will most likely see hybrid learning come back into the picture.  Just like in the case of remote learning, educators have been there and done that to ensure learning continues.  Throughout the pandemic, I captured successful hybrid learning strategies from the schools where I was coaching on the topic.  You can access those HERE.

Another curveball comes in the form of the emotional and physical impact on educators.  While they valiantly and selflessly continue to serve students, the pandemic has taken its toll on them.  I shared the following in a previous post:

Educators are also in desperate need of social and emotional support.  Many teachers are at their wit's end, and who could blame them.  Morale and mental health are suffering as board meetings spiral out of control, and the pandemic rages on.  Administrators can lessen staff load by offering mental health days, covering classes, getting rid of meetings, providing grading grace periods, and eliminating non-instructional duties.  Grace and empathy can be shown through electronic polling to see what they need.  Bigger lifts include finding ways to add additional time for planning or securing outside counseling services. 

We cannot ignore the other educators who need social and emotional support, including counselors, coaches, instructional aides, administrators, or anyone else who serves students.  While they are typically more behind the scenes, some are suffering as well.  Here is where Central Office, boards of education, families, and community members can step up.  Extending breaks, thank you cards, substituting, or food items can go a long way to help all educators cope a little bit better. 

A systematic approach employ's a Maslow's before everything else lens.  If we don't take care of all of our people – students, teachers, support staff, administrators – our education system could be damaged in ways that will be felt for generations.  

With 2021 in the rear mirror, one can only be more hopeful for the year ahead.  There will be curveballs, but educators will keep hitting them.