Staff Engagement is Our First Intervention: How One Blog Post Inspires Another

Shanna Bumiller

Shanna Bumiller is the Associate Principal of Teaching & Learning at William Mason High School in Mason, Ohio. As Mason City Schools develops their vision for personalized learning, Shanna is able to integrate her passion for promoting student voice in shaping their learning experiences, encouraging teachers to find their true passion in their work with students, and building leadership capacity within teachers and students through “learnership.” Follow her on Twitter: @sbumiller

I jokingly say I am the most disliked person in the building right now due to the conversations I am having with a lot of staff members, a lot needed and a lot overdue, however just not a practice that has been done in the past so very new for our staff. In light of staff discussions lately in regards to homework, grades, and engagement with their work and our students, I find myself constantly struggling with the push and pull with the recognition that we need to move some of our teachers to a different way of thinking about school and their own work.

I constantly ask myself if this is the best way to encourage change with our teachers as we move into a new vision for teaching and learning. It certainly is a new hat for me to wear, not one that I want to take off and throw away because I believe so strongly in the vision, but one I constantly reflect and examine to ensure that we are bringing people along in the journey and don’t look behind us one day and see that there is no one behind us – the absolute evidence of failure of as a leader.

As I was reading some of Allison’s resources that she sent in her recent newsletter, this one from Eric Chagala really gave me pause. Engagement from both a student and adult learner perspective is everything in my opinion. We can read, talk, and learn about personalized learning until we are blue in the face but if our teachers and leadership team is not engaged with it and willing to learn and energized by the possibilities, then our students will never get to actualize the possibilities of this new vision of teaching and learning.

This concept in this piece spoke to me and got me thinking about how do we get teachers engaged in this learning and excited. “Engagement became our first intervention” – connecting with their hearts and brains…in light of our conversations about tier 1 interventions, this simple statement really had me question and think – isn’t this really what we are talking about? For me, yes, that is what we are talking about – ALL students engaged in their learning through teachers getting to know their students and thus lesson design – lofty? You betcha, but that is what we are ultimately talking about and all the other things fall into place. It just depends on how you want to go about tackling it – again a question of leadership and culture.

This leads to this question from the piece:

How can teachers create genuinely-personalized and creative opportunities that will engage and inspire their students if they aren’t engaged themselves? And then the follow up to that in asking teachers, “What have you always wanted to do with students that you have never been able to do?”

I was fascinated in how Eric used this question with teachers to help frame a mindset of empathy, encouraging them in seeking to find their own best version of themselves. That has gotten me to see the staff implications of how we develop professional learning in relation to the following personalized learning design elements:

  • Profile: having teachers use strengths self-assessments to better understand their strengths and in what ways they can contribute to the learning community
  • Self-reflection: encouraging teachers to practice simple journaling methods as a way for them to get to know themselves better, reconnecting with their “why” for choosing education as their career, and finding joy in the small interactions with colleagues and students through practicing gratitude
  • Feedback and dialogue: providing the time and opportunity for all staff members to share their strengths and insights with one another in organic and authentic environments is essential – remove the title of leader and sit shoulder-to-shoulder to share and learn together
  • Goal setting: grows out of the process naturally; now that I know a bit more about myself and my colleagues, I am ready to set a goal that pushes me a bit further outside of my comfort zone and allows me to take a small step into personalized learning
  • Culture building: honor teachers where they are and encourage small steps of change

Questions to ponder:

Is there something here for our staff? Are there components that make sense and could work as a framework to encourage talent development or would this fall flat? What supports would be needed in terms of a vision for this? Is it better to work into homework, grading, etc. or would it come out of the question – “What have you always wanted to do with students that you have never been able to do?”

Do you see the same things I am seeing and feeling or am I creating an event? What experiences have you had around these sorts of things and what have you seen work? Is this too “pie in the sky?”

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