Thursday, January 23, 2020

Teacher Leader Academy reflections

Starting a new year is a natural time for reflection. What worked in the previous year, what you want to change or do differently, what you want to start. Much of my 2019 (and quite a bit of 2018, too) was spent pursuing my M.Ed degree through NDSU and the BPS Teacher Leader Academy (TLA). I, along with 17 other fantastic teacher leaders, spent five semesters learning, working on practicum experiences, attending (and presenting at!) conferences, and action researching (is that a real phrase?) our chosen topics.
            There are so many exciting opportunities that I could share with people interested in participating in the next BPS Teacher Leader Academy (and I do!) but, for me, my learning in Educational Leadership was supported and most successful by our continuous implementation of one phrase: Bird by Bird.
            It may seem like a small phrase but it hugely impacted my success and confidence in myself during the Teacher Leader Academy and beyond. During our first few meeting times, we read parts of Anne Lamott’s wonderful book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life 
The section titled “Bird by Bird” became somewhat of a mantra for our TLA cohort. Basically, Lamott details a story of her younger brother neglecting to complete a report on birds during his summer vacation. The night before the report was due, the brother panicked because his report was unfinished and the task looked beyond impossible. Their father sat down with the brother and took out the encyclopedias and shared with the brother that they would get this report finished “bird by bird” - basically taking things one step at a time, especially when we feel overwhelmed, which was a common concern at the early stages of our TLA cohort. 
As a (self-appointed) Type A teacher, I have often felt overwhelmed by constant to-do lists and wondering how I am going to get it all done. Those feelings were amplified when I was contemplating starting a Master’s degree and I knew I would feel overwhelmed with balancing work and life and graduate school (vulnerability was also a topic we discussed important!). 
I was so fortunate that our TLA cohort started (and continued throughout) with reminders to take it all “bird by bird”. Yes, we can write an action research report. Yes, we can complete 110 hours of practicum experiences, Yes, we can present at a TLA conference. Yes, we can do it all when we take it one step at a time. This simple phrase (and all of the meaning behind it) is something (just one thing out of MANY positive experiences in the Teacher Leader Academy!) that I will be able to take with me as I move forward in my journey as a Teacher Leader.  - Sarah Morrow (Sunrise Elementary)

            It has been just over a month since we wrapped up the first BPS Teacher Leadership Academy and I find myself reflecting back to those 5 semesters often.  Something I go back to is receiving feedback.  Feedback can be intimidating and when we were first faced with doing peer reviews we froze up.  As teachers we naturally give feedback to our students daily without thinking twice. When asked to give our paper to someone else for peer review we were all a bit nervous and you could hear “I’m sorry”, “It’s a really rough draft.”, “Don’t judge.”, and other very nervous conversations.  Why were we so nervous to receive feedback from our peers? Why is it so hard to be vulnerable and show your hard work?  As we worked through the multiple peer reviews of our leadership book it hit all of us like a ton of bricks, we began to thrive on the idea of receiving feedback from each other.  
            In our fourth semester we were fortunate to have a speaker come into our class and talk about feed forward and giving/receiving cranks.  A crank is a way to expand possibilities and have an outlook of “How can we make it even better?” This is a way to feed FORWARD.  Something our speaker spoke about was how when the animators of Pixar films do their daily rundown of their work they reflect as a group.  When a member gives feedback they cannot simply just say the problem and leave it at that.  When giving feedback, they also need to propose an alternative solution for the team to consider.  Guess what, Pixar film makers aren’t the only ones that use this. TEACHERS do this EVERY day! We don’t realize how often we give feedback and how often we receive feedback. We naturally give cranks every single day and encourage our students to keep moving forward.  But when we take time to ask for feedback we get uncomfortable. Why is that? Maybe if we look at it from cranking each other up, we might begin to look for opportunities to receive feedback from each other more often!  - Melissa Haas (Liberty Elementary)

Q1: How do you take things “bird by bird” (achieve balance by taking things one step at a time)?
Q2: What is the hardest part of receiving feedback?
Q3: How can we incorporate feed forward into our daily/weekly/monthly work time?

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