administration, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

Be a Reader Leader – What Administrators Can Do to Promote a Reading Culture

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I originally wrote this post in 2015 and thought it needed an update, so here you are.

Dear administrators, whether principal, coaches, or anyone else who supports reading education outside of the classroom.

I have been pleading with teachers for a few years to please help students become passionate readers.  I have given as many ideas as I could and directed toward the great minds that inspire me as well.  I have begged at times, sharing the words of my students as proof that we teachers have an immense power when it comes to either nurturing a love of reading or killing it.  There are so many things we teachers can do that will have a lasting effect.  I even wrote a book compiling all of the lessons my students taught me when it came to creating a passionate reading community.

Discussing, learning from, and teaching other educators has been a part of my journey for many years now.

And yet, within my travels of teaching others, I am constantly reminded that it is not just the teachers that have an immense power over whether children will read or not.  That it turns out that much of that power also lies within the realm of administration.  In fact, one of the most oft-repeated statements I hear when teachers struggle to implement common sense reading components such as independent reading time is that their administrators do not support it.  Yet, I also hear of how many of you, administrators, are doing incredible things to create schools that are seen as literacy communities that cherish the act of reading and becoming readers.

And so I write this post to share some ideas that have been shared with me so that others, in turn, may grow in their craft.  So that the pursuit of a passionate reading community can truly become a community endeavor and not just lay on the shoulders of solitary educators who are trying.  What  are they doing?  What can you do to foster a love of reading school-wide?

You can believe in choice for all.  That means protecting the rights of students to read the books they choose.  To help staff support this as well by speaking about choice and making sure not to put restrictive policies in place that will hinder a child from developing their own reading identity.  That will stop a child from choosing a book they want to read.  Teachers should not be the only ones choosing books for students, please don’t put them in that position.  Instead, they should be working with students to learn how to self-select great books based on many things, not just their levels, lexile or other outside measures!

You can promote meaningful work.  For too long, packets, projects and one process for all have dominated the reading landscape.  And yet, if we ask students what turns them off from reading they tell us loudly and clearly that often it is the work that is associated with reading, not the reading itself, that pushes them away.  So look at what is attached to all of the reading students do.  Start conversations with staff about the literacy work that is contained within their classroom.  Ask the students about the reading programs they are involved in and then change your approaches based on their words.  We cannot change if we don’t ask the questions first.

You can buy books.  Research shows again and again how vital having not only a well-stocked school library but also a full classroom library is to students becoming better readers.  Students need books at their fingertips, not far away, and they need high quality, high-interest books that not only mirror their own stories but also provide windows and sliding glass doors to learn about the stories of others to quote Dr. Rudine Simms Bishop.   This requires funding, so please allocate money every year to provide more books for your teachers.  Before you purchase an expensive program to teach reading or more technology, please make sure that books have been purchased as well.

You can fight to have a librarian full-time in your building. Everywhere we are seeing libraries that have no librarians, yet a knowledgeable librarian can be the lifeblood of a reading community.  I know budgets are being slashed, but the librarian should be seen as a necessity in schools, not as an unnecessary privilege.  They are another reading adult that helps support the work of everyone in the school.

You can celebrate books read.  Not the number of minutes logged or the points gained in computer-based reading programs.  Not just those who reached an arbitrary goal set by an outside force.  How about keeping a running tally of how many books students self-selected to read and then finished?  How about you keep a display board of all of the picture books being shared in your school, yes, even in middle school and high school?  How about every child is celebrated for reaching a goal that they set themselves?  In fact, at the end of the year think of how powerful it would be if every single student gave themselves a reading award based on whichever milestone accomplishment they have reached.  Celebrations should not just be for the few, they should be for all.  Celebrate the right things, not the ones that can kill a love of reading.

You can protect the read aloud.  When schedules are made there should be time placed for reading aloud.  This should not be seen as a frill, nor as something that would be nice to fit in if only we had more time. All students at every age should encounter an adult that reads aloud fluently with expression to them every day.  It develops their minds as readers and creates community.  This should not just be reserved for special times in elementary school but should be protected throughout a child’s reading experience in school.

You can promote independent reading time.  Students reading silently is not time wasted, it is one of the most important investments we can make in our school day for any child, any age.  If you want children to become better readers, then give them the time to read.  So ensure that every child has at least one class period where independent, self-selected reading is supported and protected.  Often, this is the first thing to go when we plan curriculum especially when students are older, as we assume they will do it outside of school, yet reading statistics shows us this is not true.  Therefore, we must plan, implement, and protect it during the school day for every single child.

You can hire teachers that love reading.  And not just in the English department.  I am amazed that there are teachers who teach literacy in any capacity that do not identify themselves as readers.  This should not be happening.  Years of experience shows that students will read more if we read as well and are able to create a book community where our love of reading is a cornerstone of what we do.  Even when I taught non-literacy subjects, even when I taught science, the fact that I read for my own pleasure meant that our conversations were deeper, more engaging, and the students trusted me as a reading role model.  Plus, how powerful to have students learn within a community of adult readers.  When they can see every adult as someone who values literacy?

You can use levels for books and not for children.  Too often the levels that a child reads at becomes their entire reading identity.  Yet, that level is meant to be a teacher’s tool and not a child’s label to quote Fountas and Pinnell.  That level should be a part of that child’s reading identity but not the thing that defines them.  We should not have policies in place where students can only choose books that are at their levels, but instead, have policies that promote exploration of texts so that students have a natural chance to figure out who they are as readers.  Confining them, even if meant to be helpful, will hurt them in the long run.  And this includes leveling our school libraries and classroom libraries, a practice Fountas and Pinnell are against.

You can discuss students as individuals, not as data.  Oftentimes, programs are purchased that support reading development that spits out a lot of data.  And yet, as we are inundated with data we often lose sight of the child itself.  We start to casually label children as struggling or low readers and then don’t question how that label ends up identifying the child.  So be critical responders to the data you receive and keep the child at the front of the conversation, not the back.  One idea for this comes from Dr. Mary Howard, who encourages us to always have a picture of the child we are discussing in front of us so that we remember the whole child and not just the data points.

You can support challenging texts being used.  In order for teachers to truly create an inclusive library that mirrors the lives of all of our students, we need books that represent all of their stories.  That means we need age-appropriate books about gender identity, racism, abuse, sexual identity, religious discrimination, and other harder topics.  Yet, in many districts teachers are not protected when it comes to placing these books in the hands of children.  This creates a dangerous vacuum where only certain stories are viewed as normal, which can lead to an increase in intolerance and hate.  Establish a policy of tolerance, empathy, kindness, and understanding of others and apply it to the books that are in your school.  Support teachers if a book is challenged.  Understand the urgency of these stories being present in the classroom so that we can create a more understanding world.

You can support and promote the need for two types of reading experiences.  For too long we have focused on the development of reading for skills, not for the love of reading.  Yet, we need both types of experiences in order to fully develop as readers.  Actively support your teachers in creating both types of reading experiences within their day and create a community-wide discussion of how to promote liking reading more, not just which lessons are needed to further their reading skills.

You can build a school-wide reading community.  Celebrate books together, have book announcements, book giveaways, and have every staff member have a “just read” poster outside of their classroom or office.  Give out book recommendations to students as you see them.  Pass out books to those who need them.  Host book clubs for staff and parents.  Highlight the readers in your community and yes, highlight your own reading.

You can have tough conversations.  Part of my job as a teacher is to grow and learn and while I think that most of my ideas are solid, I wish an administrator would have questioned me when I had students do reading logs and forced book reports a few years back.  While the push-back may be hard to swallow, it certainly would have made me think.  However, within those tough conversations, please do listen to the teacher as well.  What are they basing their decisions on?  Perhaps they are the ones who are right, perhaps not, but ask the questions and keep the bigger goal in mind; students who like to read!

What else can you do to create a school where the love of reading flourishes?

You can be a guest read alouder.

You can have books in your office for students to read.

You can share your own reading life by displaying your titles outside your office.

You can make assemblies and other fun events that celebrate literacy.

You can bring in authors.

You can promote reading literacy projects like The Global Read Aloud or Dot Day.

You can ask students what they are reading whenever you see them.

You can institute school-wide independent reading time.

You can speak out against poor literacy decisions being made within your district.

You can ask your teachers for ideas on how to grow as a reader leader.

You can ask your students what they need and then implement their wishes when possible.

You can ensure that your most vulnerable readers are placed with the best teachers.

You can promote the use of picture books at every level.

You can support new ideas within literacy practice, even if they fall outside of a program you may be implementing.

You can keep fidelity to the kids, and not the program to quote my incredible assistant superintendent, Leslie Bergstrom.

You can provide audiobook subscriptions.

You can actively develop your own reading identity and then share that journey with others so that they can see that there is not just one way to be a reader.

You can reflect together with your staff on what may be hindering the love of reading from growing and then do something about.

You can believe that every person is a reader on a journey.

You can send your teachers to professional development with the likes of Kylene Beers, Cornelius Minor, Sara Ahmed, Kate Roberts, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher and any other of the incredibly talented literacy experts that inspire us all.

There are so many things that fall within your realm, please help us teachers (like my principal Shannon Anderson does) protect the love of reading that students have and nurture it as we teach.  You can choose to create passionate reading environments or you can support decisions that smother them.  The choice is yours.

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administration, being a teacher

Dear Administrators – A Few Ideas to Motivate Teachers

I was asked about how to motivate your teachers just the other day.  How do you help them stay invested?  How do you stave off burn out?  An earnest question and also one that deserves a thorough answer.  Yet, before I was able to answer in full, another administrator at the table, threw out a quick idea, “Jeans Friday…”

“Tell them if they work hard, they can earn the right to wear jeans that week.  It works every time…”

And while this may be true, I still carried the comment with me, not quite sure how to process it.  After all, allowing a teacher to wear jeans as a reward seems like the lowest type of compliment there is; you finally get to dress like other adults, congratulations!  Perhaps it is because I work in a district that expects us to dress professionally and allow us to wear jeans whenever we want.  Because they trust us to dress for success.  Because they trust us to dress well.  Perhaps it was because of the unbridled enthusiasm shown for the idea as if our burn out would magically appear when such a token was placed on the table.  Perhaps I just was tired and could not come up with something good to say, so I sat in silence and quietly buried my thoughts.

So today, I am here to say what I wanted to say in how to motivate your teachers and trust me, it goes beyond allowing them to wear jeans on the last day of the week.  Because the thing is, it may seem complicated, but it comes down to just a few things that can be implemented easily.  Just a few key ideas that can make all of the difference or at the very least offer us all a place to start.

Trust us to be professional.  That includes how we dress.  That includes the lessons we create.  That includes the everyday decisions we have to make.  Tell us you trust us, so often it is assumed as a known fact but I can tell you, many teachers assume they are not trusted because of the lack of curricular decisions or even smaller things they are allowed to make.  And yes, when it happens that we make a mistake, because we all do, then help us fix it.  Have our back because you trusted us in the first place.

Trust us to try new things.  So many administrators say that they want their teachers to take risks but then don’t give permission for the things they want to try.  So many look to innovators and wish that they were in their district.  What if they are and you just don’t know it yet?  What if the most innovative teacher is already working in your building but because of technology restrictions, scripted curriculum, or teaching to fidelity, they haven’t been able to do what they wish to do.  Which limitations are being placed on staff that aren’t actually needed?  And how can those be lifted?

Trust us to invest ourselves.  From staff meetings to professional days, the educational field has such few choices when it comes to how we, educators, spend our time learning.  Yet so many of us actually burn to learn about specific things, isn’t that the mark of a passionate learner, so give us the time to do so.  Let us choose our path and plan your staff development as if everyone will take the opportunity to pursue meaningful learning rather than the opposite.  For the few who are not motivated, and you may know who they are, help them find a direction that matches them.  No more one-size PD for all at all times where few walk away inspired. No more staff meetings that could have been handled via email.  No more one thing, no choice, please.

Help us leave it at work.  Teaching is a never-ending job.  There are always more lessons to plan, more ideas to think of, something more we can do to try to reach every single child.  To make this year matter.  And yet, we have to leave it at work sometimes.  We have to have full lives outside of school so we can truly be the best that we can be in school.  So make it a policy that staff is not expected to answer emails after 5 PM, that it is not about getting it all done, but getting enough done.  Protect our prep time and our collaboration times.  Don’t steal away minutes here and there for quick announcements or that extra little thing.  Help us achieve a better balance by protecting the precious time we have in building so that we can fully utilize it.

Help us forge connections.  Teaching can be incredibly lonely, especially if you are seen as an outlier in some way, so build in opportunities to get to know one another beyond the in-service days at the beginning of the year.  Run book clubs and health clubs, yoga and garden clubs.  Create events that go beyond the school walls, that go beyond the work.  Give us time to praise each other at every meeting.  Give us time to see the good that happens in our classrooms so that we can stop with our assumptions and instead see what the experience is like in other classrooms.

Help us see the good.  Not just in each other but in ourselves.  Check in with your staff to make sure they are okay.  That they feel supported.  That they know the good they are doing.  While admin can be quick about sharing concerns and even complaints with staff, what if a pointed effort is also made to share the good, those small comments from parents, from kids, from the community?  Write a card of thanks, find out their favorite candy and leave it for them, do something to share the appreciation so that we, in turn, can share ours.

While warding off teacher burn out starts with the decisions we, educators,  make ourselves, there are also so many small things that can be done to help within the school, within the district.  Teaching is a hard job but we were never told it would be easy, we were told it would be worth it, sometimes we just need a little bit of a reminder from those that make the decisions.  What have you done to help your teachers stay motivated?

PS:  Many ask how I get to do what I do; teach, travel, write, speak, be a mom, have a life etc.  There are two main reasons I can do what I do – an incredible husband and an incredible district.  Both support me in ways I could never have dreamed of when all of this started.  I hope you all may find support like what I have.

 

administration, Be the change, being a teacher, first day, first week, new teacher, new year

On In-Service and Back to School Training

For many of us, it has been a summer of learning.

For many of us, it has been a summer of renewal.

Of finding new ideas

Of tweaking the old ones.

Of refocusing, re-thinking, and perhaps even re-committing.

We eagerly await the arrival of those kids, we hope will become our kids, and we dream of the year to come.

But before the first day of school there is bound to be training.  There is bound to be new programs, new initiatives, new things added on to our already heavy shoulders in order to make this year the possibly best year we have ever had.  And I try to be excited and I try to be ready and I try to be open-minded, but I realize now that while the program may be amazing.  While the research may be compelling.  While the intentions may be the best, it doesn’t really matter.

You could bring us the very best program in the world, but it may never be enough.

Because school is not really about implementing programs.  School is not really about the lesson plan.  Or the curriculum.  Or even about the research.  It is about the kids, of course.  We say it all the time.  And yet, where is the time spent in our back-to-school days?  What are our discussions centered on?  What do we walk away from our in-service days knowing more about?  The program or the kids?

I for one hope it is the kids, but often see them left to the end, brought up as data points and survey results.  Brought up in lofty dreams and grand ambitions.  Why not make in-service about the very kids we teach and invite a few in?  Why not interview them to ask about their hopes for the school year?  Why not have them craft questions or areas they would like us to get better at.  Why do so many of our decisions that center around kids never involve the kids?

So if you are in charge, if you are the one making the agenda, bring in the kids.  Add their voice.  Add their presence.  Let us focus not on the training of more curriculum implementation, on all the new initiatives, at least not the entire time, but instead on the problems the students challenge us to solve.  Let us focus on what we say we are really there for; the kids and let them guide us into making this the best year yet.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

administration, being a teacher, leader

To All the Great Leaders Out There

I have worked for a few incredible administrators, both at the school level and also at the district level. I have worked for administrators that saw the bigger picture, that always trusted (even if they were scared), that always kept kids first.  I have worked for leaders that were visionary in the way they created opportunities for us to grow as educators.  That saw each of us on our own learning journey and would ask how they could support rather than tell us which way to go.  I am lucky.  Not everyone works for leaders like that.

So when I think of what I could share with administrators who are looking to create empowered teachers.  When I think of what I could share with those who want to be great, who probably are great, but want to keep growing.  When I think of what I could share with some of the amazing administrators that I know are out there, it boils down to a few things.

Don’t be the roadblock.  Be the one that sees the bigger picture and encourages teachers to try that new idea, to think new things, and to always ask a lot of questions.  If your technology is blocked, ask why.  If you keep hearing no from higher up, ask why.  Be a questioner yourself, and do not be afraid when educators question the systems they work in, be afraid when they don’t.

Don’t be the dominator.  Yes, the world needs your genius, but it also need the genius of others.  Be the facilitator of conversation, be the one that gives time for those to happen, not the one that speaks the whole time.  If you worry that you may speak too much, time yourself versus how often others speak.  I promise you it will be eye-opening.

Be the path that others want to follow, not the one they have to follow.  Be a leader that questions themselves, that celebrates the great but also discusses the failures.  Create an environment where self-reflection and school reflection is the norm, not just when something goes poorly.

Be someone who supports.  Someone who trusts.  Someone who sees the good even when it is hard to see.   Someone who celebrates and knows when someone needs to be celebrated.  Make tough decisions but explain how you make them.  Say yes more than you say no, but when you say no explain why.

Invest in choices that will benefit all learners not just the majority.  If a teacher has a concern about a program, question the program not just the teacher.  make sure kids know your name, know that you are in their corner.  Be the one that searches for the bigger story not just the story that is being told.  Be curious and be proud of your curiosity.  Be proud of your school, be proud of your staff, be proud of your kids.  Even if that school is tough.  Even those staff members are not perfect, even if those kids make your day as hard as they can. Be proud, be thankful and know that you are never alone.  That great leaders always are a part of the team, a part of the community and that they stand on the shoulders of the educators that they lead and the kids that they educator.  That your staff needs you as much as you need them.

I have worked for a few incredible leaders who led with their heart, as well as their mind.  Who led with everything they had in their pursuit to make school a place that all kids and all adults wanted to be a part of.  I am so grateful, I hope that many more educators get to work for leaders like that.

administration, being a teacher, new year, principal

A Letter from My Principal for the New School Year

If you have ever spoken to me about the amazing district I work for, Oregon School District in Wisconsin, chances are you will have heard tales of how amazing our principal, Shannon Anderson, is.  Shannon is a huge reason to why I am a seventh grade teacher, she is the reason many of us love our school, and she is also the type of principal that I wish every single educator could have.  The following blog is her welcome back letter to us, it moved me, I hope it will move you, and I am so grateful that she allowed me to share it here.

Twenty-two years ago I was a first year teacher at Verona Area High School. There was more than one occasion that first year when I paused during class in a moment of panic and thought to myself, “Why in the world did someone actually entrust me with this classroom full of students? I have no idea what I am doing!” I was teaching five different classes in four different classrooms. I was planning lessons the night before, I was afraid of parents, and I had crazy grading practices (Why not give extra credit for bringing in boxes of Kleenex? I needed Kleenex boxes!). I look back on that first year of teaching and cringe.

That same year Jacklyn Keller was a ninth grade student in my Art Foundations class. She drew with confidence and grace. I remember her maturity and inquisitive nature. Jacklyn took several classes with me while in high school, and she never ceased to amaze me with her artistic skills and insightful observations about art-making and life in general.  Sometimes when I stop to pause and reflect on my former life as a high school teacher, Jacklyn is one of the students that brings a smile to my face.

Several weeks ago, I was attending Literacy by the Lakes, a three-day conference for Wisconsin teachers sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On the first day, I noticed a woman sitting in front of me that looked like Jacklyn. I tried to read her name tag every time she passed me, but I could not read it. Finally, I gathered up the courage to ask her if she ever attended school in Verona. Before the words were even out of my mouth, she exclaimed, “Ms. Roper, it is you! You were my favorite teacher in high school!” (Yes, Ms. Roper was my maiden name.) I was stunned for a minute. I was stunned because it was indeed Jacklyn. I was stunned because she actually remembered me. But I was even more stunned that I was her favorite teacher from high school. Sure, I remember having a good relationship with her when she was in high school, but I never thought I was her favorite.

Jacklyn, a former high school teacher, is now a elementary school librarian in Madison. During our short conversation, it was clear to me that she is passionate about the learners she serves and committed to making learning engaging and successful. As we ended our conversation, I was a bit overwhelmed with the sense of pride I felt. Jacklyn was no longer the amazing teenager I remembered; she is now a passionate and successful educator.

During the 2016-17 school year, you will touch the lives of hundreds of students like Jacklyn. The relationships you develop with them will likely last longer in their memories than the curriculum or lessons you teach them. Some students will let you know how much you mean to them, and some will not. In fact, in many cases you will likely never know the impact you will have on their lives. I think that is one of the most amazing things about dedicating your life to education: you can make a difference every single day and not even realize it. Something you do or say can change students’ thinking. You can inspire them to take risks. You can encourage them when they are ready to to give up. You can help them to see something within themselves they cannot yet see. You can expose them to new possibilities. You can help them turn mistakes into opportunities. But most importantly, you can show them you love and care for them.

Looking back, I acknowledge the fact that I did not have much of clue about curriculum, assessment, best practices, engaging lessons, or communication with parents that first year of teaching. However, my brief reunion with Jacklyn reminded me of Maya Angelou’s words: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Even though I had a lot to learn about teaching as a first year teacher, I was able to develop some positive relationships with my students that made a difference.

As we prepare to welcome students back into our learning spaces (at OMS), I want to thank you in advance for the impact you will have on their lives. You will make a difference every single day!

administration, Be the change, being a teacher, being me

When A School Becomes Toxic – What Can We Do to Change School Culture?

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When you walk into a school you can usually feel the culture right away.  Is this a building where teachers love to teach?  Where students thrive?  Is there a feeling of family in the air or something else?  A building’s culture is often invisible and yet it can be one of the most important components of what makes a school great.  In fact, I fell in love with Oregon Middle School because of the feeling of family I encountered in my very first interview.

So what happens when a school’s environment turns toxic?  Where mistrust and anger become commonplace?  What do we do when we find ourselves in the type of school where all we want to do is shut the door and teach in peace, too tired to deal with everything else?  Well, there are a few things we can do.

We can make sure we are not the ones being toxic.  Yes, it is hard to let go of anger.  Yes, it is hard to not get upset.  And yet, we also make a choice every day of whether or not we want to add more negativity or not.  We make a choice, it is not made for us, and sometimes we have to make it again and again throughout the day as we try to stay positive.

We can build others up.  Why not point out the positive that you see.  Just as negativity is contagious, so is positivity.  You may be the only one noticing great things but give a compliment, leave a note, do something that shows you notice the great that is happening around you and speak up.

We can choose to trust a new person.  We often only extend the trust to those we know well and everybody else in a building we are not quite so sure of.  But how about we assume that there must be more people in the building that are there because they also love teaching and kids?   Purposefully extending your circle of trust means that your “inner” circle will grow, which means there are more people you can vouch for internally.  It may not seem important but it certainly is.

We can watch each other teach.  I know nothing about what goes on in other classrooms but instead of being ok with that, I have asked if I can come watch others teach.  I have also opened up my door to anyone that would like to come in.  Yes, it is hard to feel like you are being judged but we can also assume positive intent.

We can have courageous conversations.  If someone is seemingly negative at all times, ask them why.  Yes, this may be super uncomfortable for all of us but a simple question can go a long way.  Often we establish a pattern of unhealthy venting and don’t know it ourselves.  Someone calling us out, even gently, can be all we need to see our habit.

We can focus on what we can change.  There are many things in my state that upset me, there are even decisions in my district that I may not agree with, and yet, when I cannot change things I let them go.  Why anyone wants to carry anger with them every day they teach beats me.

We can make new friends.  Often we stick to the same people in our teaching circle at school, why not extend that circle right along with the trust?  Stop by someone’s room and ask them a question, seek out someone new to sit by at the staff meeting, volunteer for a new committee.  Something to meet new people.  A toxic environment often comes from not knowing each other, so break that barrier down one person at a time.

We can refuse to give power to the toxicity.  In our silent agreement, when we nod, when we spread the stories that tear others down we are complicit in spreading toxicity.  When we agree rather than ask questions, when we stand and listen, we are complicit in the spread of toxicity. So walk away, don’t agree, speak up.  If you do not want a toxic environment then do something about it.  Shutting your door is the easy way out.

Sometimes the toxicity comes straight from the top, so administrators, this is for you.

You can be the voice of reason.  Seek out both sides of the story before you judge, don’t have favorites, and leave your own emotions out of it.  Just like teachers at times will side with students that they like, so will administrators, and that sends a very strong message to everyone in a school.

You can check your own interactions.  If the interactions you are having with teachers are more negative than positive, think of how that affects the students.  While there are always tough conversations to be had, how they are approached can make or break a school culture.

You can be positive.  I work for one of the most positive administrators I have ever met.  Every day, no matter what, she has a positive attitude, even in the hardest situations.  This makes a difference and it sets the tone.  Our culture is one where people welcome and teachers feel valued.  If an administrator always looks mad, tired, or stressed it spreads to everyone else.

You can respect privacy.   As an administrator, you probably have way more information than any teachers and especially about other teachers.  That is part of your job, and so part of your job should also be to keep that private.  I have heard horror stories of administrators sharing private things that greatly influenced how others saw a teacher.  Be mindful of what you share and who you share it with.

You can initiate hard conversations.  I think too often administrators are not quite sure how to approach a toxic person or situation, and I get it, it can get really messy really quickly.  But at the end of the day, if we don’t talk about a problem it will never get away.  So we can allude, circle, and kind of talk about it, or we can face the problem head on and try to get somewhere with it.

You can ask for feedback.  My administration just held a two-day listening session where anyone was welcome to come and discuss whatever they wanted.  That sets the tone for the level of trust they place in us; they want to hear what we have to say even if they have no solution.  Simply opening up the door and asking for genuine feedback sends a powerful message about where you are in your administration journey; are you trying to grow or are you good with where you are.

A toxic culture can arise quickly but can take years to combat.  And while it would be nice to simply point the finger to one person and accuse them of being the main culprit, we all have a role in it.  From those that continue to spread negativity by venting their frustrations, to those of us that choose to shut our door and forget about the rest of the school; we are all complicit.  So take a long hard look at yourself, after all that is the only person we can control, and make sure that what you bring to your school is really what you meant to bring.  I know we all have bad days, but some times those bad days become bad years without us even realizing it.  A school’s culture is never too late to fix; but it does take a decision to do something about it.  And that decision can be made by us. Every single day.

 

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.