Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Be Contagious

Co-written by Matt Wachel and Steven Weber
The educators who are movers and shakers in K-12 education roll up their sleeves every day.  They jump out of bed in the morning, love what they do, and know they can make a difference in the lives of those they interact with each day.  It is the tension between what is and what could be that motivates contagious educators.  These individuals realize they have the power to influence others directly and indirectly through their words, actions, and emotions.

Normally, the term contagious refers to a person who is sick or someone you avoid until they recover.  A contagious educator has passion, leads change, and seeks to add value to others.  When you have a contagious educator on your team, you will see results and other educators become contagious.

5 Ways To Become a Contagious Educator
1.  Add Value To Others
A contagious leader is not afraid to “pay it forward.”  This may be the teacher leader who sends a motivational video to the staff.  It may be the support staff member who asks a student to assist her with her job and sees this student as a leader.  It could be the administrator who looks for ways to praise teachers in the weekly newsletter or on Twitter.  Adding value to others is an intentional act.  When a school reaches a ‘Tipping Point’ of educators who go out of their way to support a co-worker, help a student in another teacher’s class, and root for the success of the team, then you will know this spirit of adding value to others is contagious throughout your school!

2.  Share Your Stories
A contagious leader tells the stories of her classroom, school, and learning community.  This may be the teacher who creates weekly newsletters and podcasts sharing the learning in his or her classroom.  It might be the teacher who invites the media to come and participate in a culminating project showcasing project based learning.  It could be the administrator who works with the community to highlight the social emotional learning of the school community and business leaders to better equip our learners for the working world.  If leaders don’t tell the stories they want heard, someone else is going to tell the school’s stories - and why would any leader leave that up to chance?

3.  Show You Care
When a leader shares an idea or concept, it is because he cares.  He cares about helping students learn at a higher level.  He cares about the emotional well-being of students.  He cares about developing teacher capacity to learn and grow the craft.  Think of the many videos which go viral and how they often trigger a level of emotion in people.  Whether it is happiness, sadness, empathy, excitement, or surprise, when people know you care, they are more willing to listen and be influenced by a contagious leader.

4.  Serve on a Curriculum Writing Team
Teacher leaders are needed in every school district.  One way to support teaching and learning in a school district is by serving on a curriculum writing team.  Standards are not a curriculum, so teacher leaders are needed to align standards to the curriculum.  What should every student know and be able to do?  This question guides the work of curriculum writing teams and it cannot be done by a single person or a central office staff member.  According to Wiggins and McTighe (2007), "The job is not to hope that optimal learning will occur, based on our curriculum and initial teaching.  The job is to ensure that learning occurs, and when it doesn't, to intervene in altering the syllabus and instruction decisively, quickly, and often" (p. 55).  
5.  Have A Contagious Attitude
Todd Whitaker often says, “The best part about being a teacher is that it matters.  The hardest part is that it matters everyday.”  Leaders have a contagious attitude, even when the chips are stacked against them.  Maybe it is the teacher who knows how hard a student has been struggling because of the challenges he faces at home; yet she won’t give up on that student even when he pushes her to her limits day in and day out.  This teacher knows this student needs her love and support more than he will admit.  When other staff members see this leader remaining positive and supportive others will be affected by this positive can-do attitude. Imagine what schools would be like if everyone embraced this contagious attitude each and every day!
Who are the contagious educators in your school?  Quit waiting for the contagious teacher or administrator to show up and BE THE ONE!
Matt Wachel is an Elementary Assistant Principal with the Park Hill School District (MO).  Connect with Wachel on the ASCD EDge social network, or on Twitter @mattwachel.

Steven Weber is the Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (NC).  He is a board member of North Carolina ASCD. Connect with Weber on the ASCD EDge social network, or on Twitter @curriculumblog.

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