01 Jun

5 Rules to Maintain Balance Between Your Personal and Professional Identities

How do teachers get past the challenges of their early classroom years? What accounts for whether or not a teacher remains in the profession beyond the first several years? Is it mentoring, knowledge, skills, or ability? 

Perhaps these do play a role, but what if it’s something more?elephant

While teachers remain in, and leave, the profession for a variety of reasons in the early years of their career, ultimately balancing the professional and personal identities that all educators must juggle is key to success throughout the career continuum.

After the Michigan New Teacher Conference, we started to reflect on what it was that helped us to remain in the teaching profession beyond the five-year mark. A sound piece of wisdom we received early on was to ‘be present in all that you do.’ This helped us to identify five main areas of our lives that needed equal attention.

We consider these five areas of life the ‘pillars’ that hold us up in life. Keeping each pillar strong and supportive is essential to success. The five pillars of balance for us were: physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual.

Having an equitable dedication to developing and strengthening each of these aspects of life helped us to be balanced individuals and successful professionals. New teachers and pre-service teachers can benefit from developing personal balance early on in their careers, but doing a check-in on your personal-professional balance at any point in your teaching tenure can be of benefit.

We wish we knew earlier on what we know now about balance. This has led us to try and enumerate the ways in which we have found success in achieving and maintaining balance. Now, we offer the following ideas for consideration to our fellow educators, especially those who are in the early part of their careers, as a way to guide you to the balanced and in-the-present life.

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Five Pillars of Life Balance In the teaching profession, your main focus should be students; however, you must take care of yourself before all else. If you are out of balance in your life, your teaching will be out of balance. If any one of these five pillars is out of synchronicity with the others, you will feel out of balance in your career and life.

Consider these tips that we’ve picked up over the years to help us strengthen and maintain each of the five pillars of personal-professional life:

PHYSICAL: You can’t be at your best unless you’re feeling your best

  • Eat more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day
  • Drink plenty of water and limit the caffeine
  • Watch your sugar intake (both sweets and processed carbohydrates)
  • Bring your own food to work to control how and when you eat
  • Get plenty of sleep (4 hours is not plenty…talking to you midnight-oil-burning paper-graders!)
  • Keep your recreation in check – don’t go heavy on pub catharsis; do go heavy on fitness
  • Manage stress by tracking your moods vs. your foods
  • Plan meals (and pack your lunch) ahead of time – the night before, or even meal prep on Sundays for the week

INTELLECTUAL: “Learn like you’ll live forever.” ~Ghandi

  • Don’t forget the education and training that you’ve received; and, don’t let learning stop there
  • Join professional networks and associations in your discipline
  • Read for fun and to learn more about what’s current in your discipline
  • Engage in scholarly work, meaningful projects, and share ideas with others

SOCIAL: Learning is a social endeavor; make sure to practice

  • Maximize positive relationships and minimize the toxic ones
  • Keep in touch with old friends and strive to make new ones
  • Associate with people in and outside of your career field
  • Attend events in your community and at your school
  • Make time for socializing, e.g., date night, bowling leagues, Saturdays at Jeff’s to watch the game, etc.

EMOTIONAL: Being self-aware helps you empathize with those who need it most.

  • Don’t let anyone stomp on your heart, especially your students
  • Keep empathy close and apathy far away
  • Notice your own thought patterns
  • Beware the “psychic vampires” of teaching, and carry plenty of ‘garlic
  • Keep your work and personal life matters separate as much as possible

SPIRITUAL: It’s not about religion, but it is about mindfulness

  • Feed your spirit, find your purpose, and support others in doing the same
  • Find what works for you, whether meditation, yoga, or prayer and actively keep this up in your life – it fuels emotional health
  • No matter what you believe, keep in mind that we all coexist together and essentially are the same
  • Practicing mindfulness helps center you, bring you into the present, and help you feel more connected to the world around you
  • Stop and smell the roses, gaze at the stars, and notice new things around you every day
Though we cannot tell anyone how to live their life, we do get asked frequently what are some “secrets” to the success we have seen in our careers here at the SAGA Educators Network. For us, there are not any secrets. Achieving balance in your professional career as a teacher and, more importantly, in your life as a friend, spouse, parent, family member, and more, is a foremost obligation you owe to yourself and others.
Hopefully, these quips of wisdom will mean something to you in some way. If you have others, feel free to get in touch with us and let us know your tips to achieving professional-personal balance as an educator.
31 May

Why Your School Needs a Stuffed Penguin

How often do others get to witness the great things that happen in your classroom, school, or district? Well, of course, the students see it regularly, but how about the adults?

Likely, it’s not that often. This could be for a variety of reasons, but often we in education are not able to share the great things that we are doing, because we are so busy doing them! Recognition can even seem sporadic, at best, but we don’t enter this profession to be thanked or recognized; rather, we enter the field of education as a calling to serve others. So many educators all over the world are doing amazing things in their classrooms, but some of it is going unnoticed.

Here’s a simple project that can have profound and lasting changes on the culture of a classroom, school, district, or educational organization. It’s called ‘Operation Fred’ and it is incredible!

IcebergOperation Fred is a project to recognize educators for the great things happening in classrooms and schools everywhere. It is inspired by Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter, a story of effecting successful change in any environmental challenge. After reading the book and thinking about its implications for schools, you’ll likely agree that all educators should know the story of Fred the penguin.

Fred is the main character in John Kotter’s fable about the actionable steps necessary to effect and lead change in the face of adversity. Fred succeeded in effecting change through his own and others’ actions, and all of those actions represent the actions we in education are doing on a daily basis. From the classroom to larger level, educators can learn a lot from this tenacious penguin.

We live in a changing environment of education, where the complexities facing classrooms and schools are ever increasing. While it can sometimes feel like our individual actions as educators don’t make any impact, it is important to realize that we collectively influence significant success for students everywhere.

IcebergOperation Fred is a project that helps to communicate that message to all educators to encourage everyone to reflect on the great things that are already happening and perhaps facilitate necessary change in areas where things could be even better. Effecting change in education occurs best through educators acknowledging their strengths, sharing success, and collaborating around what works in education. Entire organizations are dedicated to making this happen, such as ours, but we often neglect the resource of our own classrooms and schools to acknowledge and share success.

So what’s the first step in leading change?

You’ll have to read the book to find out, but what we can tell you is that leading change involves acknowledging the inspirations for change that exist in our organizations. That’s where Operation Fred comes in. This school culture project is an ongoing, regularly-occurring, approach to identifying and recognizing the great things that are happening in schools and the people who are doing them.

By taking on Operation Fred, you’ll crowd-source the points of pride for your school, recognize well-deserving staff, and learn new great ideas from colleagues.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A copy of Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter
  2. stuffed penguin
  3. A copy of Fred the Penguin’s open letter to educators (or your own variation of it)

Here’s how the project works:

  • Obtain the items you’ll need for the project
  • Deliver the items to a deserving educator in your school, but attempt to do this in a top-secret manner
  • Let the penguin do the rest!

You can customize Fred’s letter to fit your school or organization. To capture Fred’s adventures, much like a Flat Stanley project, you might consider asking recipients of Fred to send a postcard along with Fred to his next destination, setting up a moderated email-to-post blog where educators can share their experiences with Fred during their visit, post pictures or video of what Fred get’s to see while he visits classrooms, or Fred can have an online journal to inspire other educators. Alternatively, if doing this project secretively isn’t possible, the exchange of Fred the Penguin can be done at a staff meeting and report-outs from those who got to host Fred can be shared at subsequent staff meetings.

It’s an easy-to-implement way to recognize the great things educators are doing in your schools and to help facilitate the sharing of those stories among colleagues. You can customize the concept of Operation Fred in any way you want to fit your school!

If all goes well, Fred the penguin will make his rounds to many classrooms or buildings to witness many great things. Fred’s visit should encourage us as educators to focus on our strengths–the things that we are doing in our classrooms that are great–and share them.

Others will then come to know more of the great things happening in your school. Many educators will read come to know Fred’s story and be inspired as to how their actions can have a significant impact in their schools and the greater education community.

You can download a PDF of Fred’s letter here to distribute with a copy of the book and a stuffed penguin to an educator near you! You can purchase a copy of the book at the author’s site.

ImageFred the Penguin by Peter Mueller, courtesy of Kotter International

01 May

Get to the Root Cause of an Issue With The 5 Why Method

Start_With_Why

Have you ever been totally stumped by a persistent problem or issue that you couldn’t resolve? Besides overcoming the fixed mindset that it will never be solved, getting at the heart of the matter is critical to moving past these kinds of barriers in our work and lives.

Think, think, and think some more. When an issue presents itself in the form of an immediate or persistent problem, you might feel compelled to ask “why is this happening?” But how often do you get an answer to that question? Sometimes, the “why” question doesn’t produce results for solving problems. It can leave us periled with uncertainty and frustration.

A single why question is often insufficient for solving big problems, especially those that take place within systems or organizations. However, when at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Or, in this case, “why” and “why” again.

Why Logo White copy

That’s right, if the answer to your first “why” question didn’t produce results, it’s likely because it hasn’t reached a sufficient enough level of depth to find a root cause, or at least an underlying situation that will leverage a solution to the problem.

Here’s where the Six Sigma Method of Asking 5 Why Questions can come to the rescue:

Once you reach an answer to your first “why” question, or at least some speculation at an answer, you then ask “why” that answer is the case. The resulting second “why” question should get its own answer, which digs deeper into the underlying cause behind the surface-level problem. That answer, in turn, gets questioned with “why is this the case?” and subsequently answered. This problem-solving method continues until you get to five why questions asked and five resulting responses to them.

At the fifth level, you might just find the underlying cause of the main issue at hand. And, if this cause is something within your control, you target addressing that cause in order to effect change with the initial problem.

"WHY" 3D text surrounded by question marks. Part of a series.It kind of reminds you of the idea of six degrees of separation. You know, the notion that everyone in the world is connected somehow about six relationships away? The 5 Why approach gets at the relational connection between issues and their causes to about the fifth degree. Some issues don’t go all the way to the fifth why before the root cause is identified, and some land on an underlying issue that is out of the sphere of control of the questioner. In either case, you can always scour through all of your “whys” in order to find something that’s within your control to address.

Okay, you’d probably like a better example now. So, here goes:

Brittney, an adolescent female, is passing tests in class but failing U.S. History as a grade 7 student. They want to know how to fix the situation, so they ask this question: “Why is Brittney failing?” Thus begins the 5 Why process.

  • Why is Brittney failing U.S. History as a grade 7 student?
    • Because Brittney’s course grade is a 52%
  • Why is Brittney’s course grade a 52%?
    • Because Brittney has passed some tests, but has done no homework all year.
  • Why has Brittney passed some tests, but done no homework all year?
    • Because Brittney engages in classroom learning activities, but prioritizes other outside-school activities over doing her U.S. History homework
  • Why does Brittney engage in learning in class, but prioritize other activities over homework?
    • Because Brittney doesn’t see the value in doing homework assignments when she already understands the content
  • Why doesn’t Brittney see the value in doing homework assignments when she already understands the content?
    • Because she disagrees with the class policy that every student has to do homework, which has strong weight in the course grade, whether they need the extra practice or not

The conclusion of this example is that Brittney is failing the class because she disagrees with a class policy about homework. So, the intervention that might help Brittney here is outside of Brittney’s control and has everything to do with examining the class homework and grading policies. That is something in the sphere of control of the teacher and or school. Now, addressing that root cause can help resolve the issue identified with Brittney, and perhaps other students as well.

So, where will you apply the 5 Why Method to solving issues or problems in your work?

06 Apr

Five Inspiring Thoughts to Spark Your Self Efficacy

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This month, my personal leadership inspiration comes to from Don Miguel Ruiz and his book The Fifth Agreement. In this “practical guide to self mastery,” Ruiz offers an essential list of five agreements we should have with ourselves to help improve how we operate in our work, love, and play.

The Five Agreements:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.
  5. Be skeptical, but learn to listen.

Ruiz speaks some truths here that might seem familiar. In reflecting on what these mean for you in your own personal and professional identities, you might find that while these five agreements appear to be common sense, they are not always common practice.

This month, challenge yourself to put these agreements on your desk, up on the wall, or in your view somehow so that you can reflect on them, use them, and grow because of them.