“Rockstar” is a term that is being thrown around among educators lately. A few teachers and administrators who try new instructional practices—many that inevitably involve tech tools—earn that rockstar praise from their connected colleagues online.
But, teachers are driven by the same thing at their core: they want to do what is best for kids. If that is true, then they all deserve to feel like rockstars! They all deserve to feel the rush of knowing that they took a risk and it paid off in their classrooms.
Here are five ways school leaders can create a culture that motivates all teachers in your school to take a risk and try something new.
1. Capitalize on the “Teacher Brag”
We have all heard it while crowding around the microwave waiting to warm up lunch or pacing the playground for recess duty. A colleague is fresh from the classroom and can’t help but gush about what just happened. The teacher might exclaim, “The kids loved it!” or “They were actually sad when class was over.” It’s often referred to as a “teacher brag.” But some teachers are too shy to gush about their own classrooms, even though they’re eager to lift up their colleagues.
School leaders can tap into those smaller conversations and spread that excitement. Here are some ideas:
- Open staff meetings with 3 quick stories from teachers about something positive that happened in their classrooms recently.
- Host a school blog and ask teachers to share their experiences – and photos – of success with brief guest posts.
2. Professional Development with Teacher Choice and Sandbox Time
Teachers are told time and time again to differentiate, personalize, and meet their students where they are. Why doesn’t the same ring true for professional development? Teachers should be offered choices around topics, presenters, and how their PD is structured.
In our experience, teachers also want to see tried and true examples. Speakers and trainers can speak in front of a group of educators for hours about what they should do in their classrooms, but concrete examples make the experience more meaningful.
It is possible to provide both choice and real examples for in-house PD. Here’s how:
- Create teacher choice by offering an Edcamp-style event in place of a faculty meeting.
- Your faculty isn’t quite ready for its own Edcamp? Survey them in advance and ask them what they want to spend time learning. Based on their feedback, target your most gifted teachers to lead the professional learning.
- Make sure PD facilitators don’t plan to talk for the entire time allotted. When teachers talk with each other, and have sandbox time, they will learn more and are more likely to bring that learning to their students.
3. When Teachers Bring Their Homework to School
Before and after school, during the summer, and pretty much during any other free time, teachers are learning. They go to Saturday Edcamps, read the latest research, follow hashtags, watch webinars, or just play around with new apps. They invest time to discover new ideas, tools, and strategies for their students on their own time.
School leaders can tap into this bring-it-home passion among teachers.
- Allow teachers to earn PD points by hosting a before or after school session for colleagues on a tech tool or instructional practice researched on their own time.
- Encourage teachers to engage with their colleagues from all over the world on social media. Then give them props in your blog or newsletter when they turn what they learned on their own time into a new lesson or project for students.
4. Leadership that Walks the Talk
Administrators must model effectively for teachers. This requires a clear plan of professional development for school leadership. When administrators walk the talk, they are inspiring their faculty and staff to be empowered as well.
One way to accomplish this is to give teachers time to play. What about devoting one staff meeting every other month to exploration and sharing? It’s not about finding the time, it’s about making the time. Teachers enjoy social learning experiences just as much as students do. Remember to dig in and learn with the teachers. As an administrator, how are you going to cultivate your own personal learning network? What will your plan be to join your teachers in remaining first and foremost a learner? School administrators who lead from within demonstrate the mindset of a lifelong learner and that will spread. When planning for this, it’s a good idea to create year long goals for the content to be covered (i.e., Google Apps, Social Media, Makerspaces, Blended Learning, etc.).
5. Prioritize Student Driven Learning
When students are motivated to drive their own learning, what happens next? Will the teacher guide the students as they run with their ideas? Or will the teacher tend toward sticking to the original plan?
Whether tech-savvy or not, most teachers have been introduced to a new tech tool or new approach to learning by their students. And, if it is exciting enough for students to bring it to their teacher, it is exciting enough for a teacher to give it a shot.
School leaders can ensure this kind of student voice and buy-in if the children in the school know their ideas are valued.
- When forming committees–to plan events or to help roll out new programs–with parents and faculty representatives, includes students as well. They are stakeholders just like the others.
- Is your student council consulted as new policies are put in place? Are they permitted to propose new policies? If their input is taken seriously, you’ll get more buy in from the whole student body and teachers will see the benefits of adding student voice in their classrooms.
One final note: Making time for reflection and sharing is crucial if school leaders want any of the 5 recommendations to result in sustainable progress. Without time to reflect on whether the “rockstar” innovation risk was worth the effort, no one really moves forward. Whether this sharing happens via one-on-one informal meetings with administrators, faculty gatherings, in-house newsletters, public blogs, or Twitter chats, educators need to process what they tried, how it went, and where they plan to make improvements for next time.
Sharing in all forms should be encouraged. Forward movement is what our students deserve.