Friday, September 23, 2016

The Character of Teacher Leaders

The Character of Teacher Leaders
Based on the work from and #CharacterDay2016

September 22, 2016 was recently recognized as Character Day promoting awareness of the Science of Character*, which enables individuals to reflect on their values - and how these beliefs play a role in personal and professional interactions - while developing/ strengthening character year-round.

This “Periodic Table of Character Strengths” is an original creation of "Let it Ripple", 
and is based on research by Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Christopher Peterson.


During a recent professional learning session, our teacher leaders - in their Reflective Practitioner capacity - responded to the following prompt, via table groups:

Which Character traits align with effective
teacher leaders, and why?

Table 1:
Kindness, Leadership, Fairness, Forgiveness, Creativity, Self-Control, Prudence, are the ones that we all discussed. We feel that a lot of these fit and could not narrow it down to one. It is determinate upon the environment and clientele you deal with. We need to have a balance between the characters. Have one more prominent than another can be detrimental to the environment, group, and leadership status.

Table 2:
The more you humanize yourself as a leader, the more people are willing to listen to you because they may feel better able to connect with you on a "real" level. Love, Kindness, and Social Intelligence are key components to building trust, and a group with a high trust factor will be able to accomplish much. Love encapsulates close relationships with others, where you - as a leader - are caring, a good listener, and affectionate (in the professional world, this is likely to be displayed as concern for your staff's personal life outside of school, aware of big events in their lives such as births or deaths and recognizing them in a supportive way). Social Intelligence displays itself when you as a leader are aware of the motives and feelings of others, knowing what makes them tick and being able to approach them in a way you know you will be best received. Kindness is demonstrated when you are able to do little things that remind your staff you are aware of their hard work and when they go the extra mile.

Table 3:
Prudence - one who remains stable through conflict.
Teamwork - one who can work collaboratively, one cannot lead alone.
Love of Learning - Learning of others needs to be at the heart of decision making.

Table 4:
In our selection of characteristics that aligned to effective teacher leaders, each table member selected from the deck of cards provided. In our analysis of the cards chosen, we realized the category most of our card selections fell under was Courage. Somehow, many of us feel that a strong leader must possess courage to lead effectively.

Table 5:
As we sit and reflect upon which character traits align with becoming a teacher leader we are challenged with the fact that teacher leaders need to have it all. They need to be well rounded and conscious of all the traits that an educator in our position could call upon and utilize in the countless situations that we face on a daily basis; in working with our colleagues, students, and our administrators. The main traits of wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence encompass a multitude of traits that we can only hope we possess in our character.

We challenged ourselves to select one that we would like to consciously work on in the coming weeks before we meet again. We choose creativity to think about the bigger picture and to be original with our ideas and thoughts. Also, forgiveness because as coaches we need to remind ourselves to be patient and compassionate with our colleagues that might need more compassion with the changes and challenges of the tasks being asked of all teachers. The third character trait that we selected was leadership, as coaches some us need to work on having confidence in our abilities and challenging ourselves to step up into our role. Building character is a part of life and our role as coaches a piece of our puzzle in life. All of the pieces fit together and work to create the completed picture of who we are. We grow and learn on a daily basis, we are what we preach life long learners.

Table 6:
In our group we discussed Creativity, Curiosity, and Spirituality. A good leader needs Curiosity because a good leader needs to constantly ask questions in order to meet the needs of the group or mission. Creativity is needed in order to find solutions to problems that are complex and diverse. Spirituality is needed to build the relationships that are so important for leaders to inspire others to complete the mission, and to help the leader recharge and reconnect with oneself without getting burned out on the work. Understanding the connection between all of the characters and its connection between the field of education is important so one can become a leader that people want to follow. Our group selected three of the discussion questions and three of the strengths and discussed a variety of things, such as ways to practice curiosity in our lives, times during the week that we feel spiritual, and who in our life we thought was creative.

Table 7:
After reviewing the Periodic Table of Character Strengths, we believe the following characteristics align with qualities of teacher leaders: Leadership - It's important to be collaborative, organized and supportive.  Social Intelligence - People have to like you to want to follow you.  Perspective- Enables a leader to encourage and mentor others Perseverance - Leaders need to be able persevere through challenges in order to affect change.  Humility - promotes a growth mindset attitude.  Optimism - Leaders need a positive outlook to believe that all students can succeed. We believe that all of these traits will enable a teacher leader to effectively work with others to promote change at his/her school/organization.

Table 8:

Which character traits align with effective teacher leaders, and why? Perspective: As a teacher leader it's important to have perspective and look at things from various lenses. Gratitude: Is important to build trust among those you work with and be grateful and appreciative of what they do. Social Responsibility: As teachers we are raising ALL children and don't get to choose who we want to teach and impact. We do it because it's our responsibility. Fairness: It's important to give everyone a fair chance and not let personal feelings and biased decisions influence our decisions. Self-Control: As leader you are in the public eye, you always have to think about how you react to different situations. People will begin to stereotype you based on your actions so it's important to monitor yourself.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Do Leaders Remember the Trenches?

How Soon We Forget …
Do Leaders Remember the Trenches?

What type leader do you see yourself as? How do others view your leadership style? Can leadership be a garment worn based on a time, place or mood and then discarded, or is it part of our DNA? How do leaders self-assess when others view practices as ineffective, aloof or less than role-modely? And, what happens when a leader loses touch with his/her colleagues forgetting what it’s like to be in the trenches?

The following story* illustrates how an individual’s leadership role did not necessarily match what was envisioned, or expected by a teacher in need - ultimately skewing the viewpoint of a potential future leader. (*loosely inspired by actual events)

Leave Your Starbucks in the Car, Please!
Danielle Mizuta, Guest Blogger

Early in my career, I remember a certain 9 year-old dropped off in our special education classroom by his grandmother - with no file or background information to guide my work. He demonstrated extreme behavioral ‘episodes’ which needed immediate attention; however, because school started earlier in Hawaii than other States no one was available to provide input from his previous school. I was stuck.

Having tried what my teacher prep-program taught on behavior and classroom management, I implemented crisis prevention and intervention techniques, to no avail. And, at the school-level, we also tried to handle issues ‘in-house’ whenever possible, using resources available, but when all efforts were exhausted, we turned to the ‘big guns’ - the saviors who could swoop in and guide us through challenging times - our District Support Staff.

On a day when my 9 year-old was showing signs of another ‘episode’, I eagerly awaited this district hero - my savior - to arrive and provide much needed support!  Initially I envisioned a sleeves-rolled-up partner-in-crime who would immediately join me on the floor and demonstrate how to interact appropriately with the challenging situation. So, imagine my surprise when the highly regarded role model walked through the door in heels, carrying an expensive laptop, sporting manicured nails and carrying an iced coffee showing the first signs of condensation.

We made eye contact, she nodded for me to carry on and set up in the corner of my room, while I continued to practice de-escalation techniques with the behaviorally challenged child. Thirty-seven minutes into the situation, my ponytail was askew, I had spit in my right ear, and bite marks on my right forearm. As the child crawled under a table continuing to cause a scene, I embarrassingly glanced toward this leader for support and guidance, only to be met by her continual nodding, and the sipping of her ice-jingling Venti drink.

When my mentor finally approached with a sympathetic smile, I was prepared for her to save me, but was less-than-enthusiastic when she leaned down and simply offered a handful of Skittles to the tantruming student. Trying not to look shocked or disappointed, I found myself caught between exhaustion and disbelief. By this point, I had missed lunch, was dying of thirst and really needed to pee - yet, all I got were reaffirming nods, candy tossed at the student, and the view of an iced cold drink now forming a condensation ring on my desk. I had not received any help, guidance or support, but rather an observer who sat idly taking notes while I tried to contain a less-than-satisfactory situation.

The most significant memory I have of that day was not the spit in my ear, or the look of empathy shown by my Educational Assistant tending to the other students - keeping them away from the profanities, spitting, kicking, biting and lunging displayed by our newest student. Nor was the fact my bladder could burst at any moment really an issue!  But... seeing that iced coffee with the first signs of condensation slowly dripping down the side of the cup, and feeling the pangs of jealousy because I couldn’t even get myself a drink from the broken water fountain outside the classroom - was more than I could handle!  

That moment transformed me - is that what leaders do? Is that what I would be like if I choose to pursue leadership? And, have educational leaders lost touch with what it’s like to be in the classroom? How can someone with a title and recognized for being a role model forget what it’s like to be in the trenches? If that was what being a leader looked like, then count me out! <Deep Sigh>

It took a long time for me to recover from that year, and the memory of what a leader may or may not be was etched pretty deeply into my psyche. Was this really the direction I wanted to head in my career or this profession? Should I let one bad apple ruin the opportunity for me to grow as a professional or inhibit my ability to support others in the future? Or, was there another way to lead?

Since that time, I’ve directed all my energy into building relationships first with colleagues, and I do everything in my power to truly understand their classroom, school expectations, strengths and needs before deciding how to proceed. I aspire to be a guide, mentor, role model (and hero if needed) when called upon, and I always leave my Starbucks in the car!

Danielle Mizuta (MEd) is an Autism Consulting Teacher with the Windward District, in Hawaii, and recently honored as a member of the "2016 Team of the Year" through HIDOE. Danielle co-teaches in an Intensive Training Center where she coaches and mentors teacher candidates and special education teachers. She is a Hope Street Fellow, and a Mentor trainer with the New Teacher Center - a “2014 Team Excellence Award Merit Finalist” with her State Induction Team. She received her BS in Communication Studies and a Minor in Dance from California Polytechnic University Pomona, and her Master’s in Educational Foundations and Master’s in Special Education from the University of Hawai’i.  Follow Danielle on Twitter (@Kohola11)