Today’s guest post is by Amy Heavin, an elementary lead learner/principal in Angola, IN.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” ~Henry Ford

In my house, the kitchen table is not just for eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At any given moment, it can become a dinosaur’s landscape, a race track, a Lego field, or even a family show and tell event. We might illuminate a light with a Snap Circuit set, or we might gather around my Chromebook screen to learn how to play a math game. The kitchen table is a place of many possibilities, of conversation, and of inquiry. It is within these inspired moments that I see the opportunities that can await our children in their classrooms, the endless possibilities that can build into deep learning experiences. These experiences are founded in the premise of collaboration and creativity.

Our growth is dependent on our ability to build a culture of learning and collaboration. How can we grow if we do not foster it? I have found that the best way to build the culture of a disneygrowth mindset is to intentionally build opportunities for teachers and students to learn by modeling it. Whether it is on my kitchen table with my children’s imagination running wild, or in the teacher’s lounge huddled around a computer screen asking questions, these opportunities build trust, in turn fueling personalized learning and ideas.

Leaders must practice what they preach. If we want teachers to collaborate more, we must build time for it in our day. If we want teachers to use particular tools, we must be willing to use them ourselves. If we want teachers to take risks in their classrooms, we must be willing to take risks with them. This culture of learning and sharing does not happen overnight, and it does not happen spontaneously.

Our ultimate goal is for the growth mindset of our staff, fostered through learning opportunities and collaboration, to filter to our students. When we walk into our classrooms and see our students collaborating and creating together, asking questions and finding their own answers, then we know the collaborative culture we wish to create in our school is taking hold for everyone.

And so, in an effort to build this growth mindset and collaborative culture in my school with my staff, I have focused on intentionally creating learning opportunities for the staff. It all started with my leadership team, who completed an Affinity activity, brainstorming possible professional learning topics. Team members were given post-it notes and complete silence. They each had to brainstorm what topics they would like more professional development on, writing only one topic per post-it note. When the time was finished, we discussed the topics, categorized and grouped them together, sharing ideas of how we might facilitate opportunities for our staff to learn and grow together. We quickly realized there are many experts within our school who can facilitate the learning and sharing.

With this freedom to pursue interests and seek feedback from others, our staff’s learning has been uplifted, personalized, and rooted in the growth mindset culture we aim to build for our school. Each month, our leadership team discusses the current needs, and we hold “EdCamp-style” professional learning opportunities, facilitated by our very own staff members. On any given week, a visitor may see an after-school voluntary PD Roundtable, where teachers come together after school to discuss an idea, concept, or learn how to use a new tech tool. During lunch time, the staff hangs out in the teacher’s lounge, eating, sharing, and discussing a topic in a format called a Lunch n’ Learn. Topics are typically technology-driven, but many times we end up discussing other ideas that are sparked from questions.

With these two face-to-face formats facilitating positive conversations throughout the school, it is also imperative that we personalize the growth of our staff even more by using online platforms, flipping professional learning and creating online discussions. Our sharing can move to new levels by establishing staff backchannels using tools like Today’s Meet or using a Twitter hashtag for the school. I have encouraged all of my staff to build their own PLN on Twitter, learning from others around the globe along with sharing the ideas they have too.  Our staff consistently uses Google Apps for collaborative efforts on lessons and activities as well, and we now house links, videos, and folders in our staff Google Classroom “class”.

appleFurthermore, by practicing these collaborative efforts with staff, our teachers can then take those opportunities and creative ideas into their own classrooms.  Teachers are now using those same tools with their students. Sharing tools such as Padlet and Google Docs are not only used by staff members, but also by our students to collaborate on projects and research. Our teachers can feel empowered to create classroom environments where students collaborate often. These classrooms are intentionally set up with flexible seating, different areas focus on a purpose, and access to technology for digital sharing. by giving teachers personalized learning for their own growth along with the autonomy to build those same opportunities for their students, they are engaged in developing their classroom in the way that best meets the needs of their students.

Leaders today must foster this shared culture, facilitating personalized growth and risk-taking so that not only teachers soar to become their best, but our students do as well. When our teachers embrace their professional learning, creating opportunities for themselves and sharing with others not only in the same building but throughout the world, their growth will translate to the growth of their students. Our students need to be masters of collaboration in order to be successful in the future.

The “kitchen table” is in every school and every classroom. Leaders need to foster the collaboration and creativity that can be started at the “kitchen table” of their schools, and they also must model it. The development of the culture of our school’s growth mindset is established through these personalized learning opportunities, in various formats. But more than that, our ventures in learning filter directly into our classrooms, building opportunities for growth, collaboration, and creativity among our students. It is at this point that we have truly made our impact for the betterment of our children.

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