Survey Results and Opportunities to Grow...


In my line of work, feedback comes in a million forms from whispered comments to frustrated emails, from thankful notes to exhausted declarations. The reality of the job is that I have the privilege to work with a lot of hard-working adults and for me...adults are not as easy as kids. When I am in the classroom, I can see, feel, hear, and touch my success. I am a middle school teacher, so I am going to leave smell out of it. While adults definitely smell better, their feedback is so much less tangible. So what do we end up doing? Surveys. Lots of surveys.

Surveys are great. They give you data. They collect thoughts. They organize information. Surveys are an acceptable choice because they are efficient. What they aren't is kind, considerate, caring, or sensitive. Unlike a respected mentor, surveys cannot highlight your areas for growth in a way that simultaneously grows and encourages you. How could they? Surveys are intimate objects. So when the cold, hard data rolls a leader, I have to navigate the frustrations, exhaustion, excitement, and celebrations to find the kernels of feedback that will truly help me grow. 

I am going to be honest, step one for me is to focus on the frustrated comments. Like throw on some sweatpants, grab a bowl of ice cream, and mope in a corner kind of focus on the frustrations. As my own worst critic, it is easy for me to contemplate all of the ways in which I fail. Reflection is a beloved past time of mine with a regular dabbling in over-thinking. So please, imagine what goes on in my mind when someone comes close to touching on an insecurity. Please tell me that I am not the only one that picks up the irritated quips rather than the accolades?! But at the end of step one, I question if it's all worth it. I pull out my, "why" and ask myself if I believe it.

Being able to take anonymous feedback for growth requires maturity. 

Step two generally comes within 24 hours. Step two is where the growth starts. Because during step two, I step back confident that what I am trying to accomplish is worth boop-boops to my pride (I have a 3 year old). It is here that I turn OFF the emotional responses and the focuses on failure. Instead, I turn ON my analytical eyes. I search for patterns. How many people said x, what does that mean for my practice? I ask a trusted mentor or colleague to read through and share what they see. I pull out trends. I sift through comments that are not really about me. Then I start asking myself, "What parts of this can I own?" for the rest. Often times, there is something there. (Thank you to Deb for that insight). You see, what I am realizing over and over is that being able to take anonymous feedback and use it to grow requires maturity. It is easy to write off the negative. It is just as easy to become consumed by it. What isn't easy is creating a plan to grow. 

Step three. Now that I have taken time to think through this data and analyze the comments... I have to ask myself "What am I going to do about it?". This is where the magic happens. As imperfect beings, we are always going to have shortfalls, but that does not mean we give up. It means we dig in. I like to write out my conclusions, think about what I would need to do differently to address the conclusions, identify clear and achievable action steps, and then move to step four.

Step four is all about follow through. Seriously, I embrace the old Nike adage and "Just Do It". I always feel better when I do. Set goals. Revisit the goals. Reflect on the goals. Keep going. An insightful friend recently reminded me that if you have hit step four, you are likely doing amazing things already. Because a person is willing to do the work and end up in step four is committed. Those people believe in what they are doing. They have a "why" that is strong enough to forge through the darkest depths of self-doubt.  

Step five...I move forward knowing that another survey will come. More data will be collected. More comments will be made. Some will notice and note the positive changes. Some will "find" and relay new growth areas. It will probably sting. I may find myself at Step One all over again. But I will move through the steps. I will reflect. I will grow. And I will be better for it. I hope you join me and do the same. 

Is your building better BECAUSE you lead it?

This was the title of a session I attended with Principal Kafele at Empower18. If you haven't gotten a chance to hear Kafele speak, I encourage you to look for an opportunity or check out him out on YouTube. 


The energy in the room was contagious as Principal Kafele challenged us to look in the mirror as a leader. Initially, I felt intimidated. I was sitting in a large ballroom full of successful individuals: Principals, Superintendents, and Central Office people...and me, a teacher leader. Was I in the right session? But as Kafele continued to share, I realized I needed the message as much as any other individual in the room. We were challenged to ask ourselves these questions: What is my leadership identity? What is my leadership mission? What is my leadership purpose? What is my leadership vision?

I was humbled when I realized that I did not, easily, have answers. I am not a decision maker in our building. I am a teacher leader. I am a support person. Did I really need to know my thoughts on these questions? Simply...yes. Because the answer to these questions have been the breath to my lungs whenever situations have gotten difficult. 

Because the answer to these questions have been the breath to my lungs whenever situations have gotten difficult. 

I was humbled when I realized that I did not, easily, have answers. I am not a decision maker in our building. I am a teacher leader. I am a support person. Did I really need to know my thoughts on these questions? Simply...yes. Because the answer to these questions have been the breath to my lungs whenever situations have gotten difficult over the last week. Vision, mission, why...those are like a shot of adrenaline to the leader who is weary. 

What is my leadership identity?

I am an advocate. I see justice a moral imperative. I believe in the idealized power of education. I also live in the reality that our educational systems are not set up to engage all students and provide every child the opportunity to succeed. While I cannot fix every injustice within an educational system, I have to believe in my ability to positively impact the world around me. "When you know better, you do better." Being an instructional leader means that I get to share a lot and learn even more as work with the incredible teachers and administrators of Nevada to provide the best educational opportunities for all of our students. 

What is my leadership mission?

I want to delve into deep personal and professional development in order provide all of my students with the best learning environment possible and support my colleagues as they do the same because I believe education, when done properly, can open doors that otherwise seemed closed.

What is my leadership purpose?

I work with incredible educators who want to achieve great things with their students. I also know my colleagues are often nearing capacity. My role is to come alongside my peers and make growth accessible given the immense demands of teaching. 

What is my leadership vision?

In 2 years NMS will have an established structure of coaching and supports that will meet teachers where they are at as they engage students in the best learning environment we can possibly provide. 

I am beyond excited about this vision. I had some HUGE revelations at ASCD that are already impacting our coaching plans for 2018-2019. I cannot wait to share the entire vision with all of you soon. 

Vision, mission, why...those are like a shot of adrenaline to the leader who is weary. your building better BECAUSE you lead it? If you have a moment, share your responses to the questions below. I would love to connect with you around them. 

The Negative Impacts of Our Strengths?

During a conversation yesterday, I started to reflect on a pivotal experience that lead to extensive personal and professional growth. If you'll indulge my reflection, here is my story.

In a Coaches training during the summer of 2014, I was challenged to think about my strengths. I would generally think of my self as a fairly reflective picking out strengths was pretty easy. 

  • Loyal 
  • Caring
  • Passionate about what I believe in
  • Analytical
  • Able to learn and synthesize information quickly
  • Driver
  • Highly Expressive

Then...they asked us to slim it down to 3. 3 characteristics that most accurately convey who we are?! Hmmm...that was going to be a bit more challenging. I remember writing and crossing out ideas. Repeatedly. Listen, I am an analytical person. This challenge was not easy for me. I may (or may not) have leaned over to my close friend and asked for help. This is what we arrived at:

  • Passionate about what I believe in 
  • Highly Expressive
  • Able to learn and synthesize information quickly
  • Driver

What?! I struggled to settle on four worked fine and the process wasn't too bad. But our next steps were humbling in the best possible way. Honestly, this single experience impacted me personally and professionally from that day forward. We were challenged to think about how our strengths can negatively impact others if not managed properly. Yikes.  So I started the list...

  • Passionate about what I believe in 
    • Overwhelming
    • Off-putting
    • Talk too much
    • Frustrated easily by those not on the same page
  • Highly Expressive
    • Dominated verbal & nonverbal communication
    • Forgets to stop & listen
    • Too blunt
  • Able to learn and synthesize information quickly
    • Assumes everyone is on the same page as me
    • Misses out on social learning opportunities
    • Alienates those who can't do the same (processes information differently)
  • Driver
    • Controlling
    • Not good at delegation (which leads to burn out)
    • Wants things done my way
    • Seen as not flexible or rigid

"Oh my gosh..." I remember whispering, "I am such a jerk." My sweet friend replied, "You are not a jerk! But sometimes people might see you that way."

I cannot control how others PERCEIVE me, but I can control how others EXPERIENCE me. 

It was like a light bulb flicked on and illuminated multiple experiences from my past. My entire adult life, I had been told that I was intimidating. Each time I heard it, I fell discouraged. I love people. I care about people a lot. I have never wanted someone to be intimidated by me. But...I could not and cannot control the perceptions of others. Which is precisely the point of the exercise. I cannot control how others PERCEIVE me, but I can control how others EXPERIENCE me. 

Here are the strategies I developed after identifying the icky, icky impacts of my strengths if unmanaged. 

  • When working with others, choose not to be the first one speaking.
  • Try to clarify PRIOR to adding information.
  • Summarizing the thoughts of others is key.
  • Value ideas even if they are different than mine.
  • Check my response both verbal and non-verbal.
  • Slow down.
  • Remember, in every moment, we are always better as a team. 

Since I am on a trip down memory lane, I sought out my reflection after completing this professional development. I thought I would share it below:

"Perhaps the best place to start a personal AIW local coaching reflection lies in the more intimate, lower half of the coaching diamond. My journey to becoming an AIW coach coincided with some other life-changing events including my first pregnancy and my first child. Decidedly the conglomeration of these events has led to one of the most challenging and rewarding years of my personal and professional life. In fact, the original draft of this reflection was written on my smartphone in Gmail while in bed lying next to my newborn son. It has been in moments like these and the ones that I will discuss below that I have learned invaluable things about teaching, learning, and, most of all, about myself.

The beginning of my development into an AIW coach started with embracing who I am. I admit, on our first day of coaches training, as I scribbled out my strengths and shadow-sides, I became transfixed with the less than desirable outcomes of my personality. I missed that my passion drives me to learn deeply and often inspires others as I communicate with enthusiasm. I ignored that my ability to take in information, contextualize and analyze it quickly can help others in the process of thinking things through. I overlooked how my outgoing and friendly personality makes others feel welcome. I was unaware of the simple fact that my work ethic drives change. Instead, I focused on my tendency to lack balance, railroad others, make snap judgments, talk too much, overwhelm and make people feel under-valued. I found myself wishing that I could be the person that just wants to make everyone happy. I was so misguided. Understanding and accepting who I am is not only important in my life, it is essential to the strength of my AIW teams. Without a doubt, "people focused" individuals are needed, but so are drivers. Trying to be anything other than oneself will only result in the malnourishment of an entire group; the unit is healthier when individual parts are varied.  Groups are healthiest when each part is growing professionally and personally."

Now I am a little bit older, I have two babies rather than one. I am quickly becoming part of the "older" group of teachers. I have had a billion experiences, failures, and opportunities to grow. Still...I will always appreciate this exercise because it helped me accept myself and reflect on my impacts. I use the outcomes from this activity on a daily basis. I have colleagues comment on my changes over the years. Some of the changes are attributed to becoming a mother, but many are attributed to a hard look in the mirror!

If you work with leaders or are a leader yourself, I strongly suggest that you lead your team in an exercise similar to this. I have included a free Presentation and Graphic Organizer to use if it would be valuable. 

I would love to hear your strengths and the impacts of those. Share your thoughts with me!