16. The Intersection of Technology, Schools, and Mindfulness with Amber Teamann
In this engaging episode, School administrator and Technology Director Amber Teamann talks about how schools can strategically utilize technology that was implemented as a result of COVID-19. She also shares many key insights into educational leadership and how school leaders can incorporate intentionality and embracing their mistakes in order to be the best leaders they can be.
About Amber Teamann:
Amber Teamann is a campus administrator, recently turned Technology Director. She co-authored the Amazon bestseller Lead with Appreciation and helps thousands of administrators with her Facebook groups on culture, climate, and productivity. When she isn’t chasing her two girls or fireman husband, you’ll find her tweeting her opinions on leadership, the Dallas Cowboys, and empowering educators.
The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, by Shawn Achor
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, by Adam Grant
Lead with Appreciation: Fostering a Culture of Gratitude, by Amber Teamann and Melinda Miller
Tara: Today, we’re joined by Amber Teamann. Amber is a campus administrator, recently turned technology director. She co-authored the Amazon bestseller Lead With Appreciation and helps thousands of administrators with her Facebook groups on culture, climate, and product.
When she isn’t chasing her two girls or fireman husband, you’ll find her tweeting her opinions on leadership, the Dallas Cowboys, and empowering educators. Welcome Amber. We’re so glad you’re here.
Amber: Thank you so much for having me. It’s such an honor to get to spend time with you guys.
Aubrey: And I’m excited too. I had the pleasure of talking to you before this, but I know that our audience would be eager to hear more about you. Can you please tell us a little bit more about yourself and your journey to get to this place?
Amber: Absolutely. So I was a fourth grade teacher and loved using technology in the classroom.
And so I actually got my master’s degree, not in administration, but in instruction and technology integration. Loved that, but found it difficult to service all of the campuses that I had under me and in an effective way, that was not something, I literally had 17 schools, so you could see them once a month.
And that was not as much support sometimes as I wanted to give or that they needed. And so someone in my education world suggested I look into administration and that was like a captive audience. That was my people and they couldn’t get away from me. And so we got to do incredible, amazing things when I was an assistant principal and then had an opportunity to become principal, spent six years with the cutest and smartest wolves in all of the land.
It was literally the very best I’ve ever. Knew that I wanted to be in administration three to five years. So I’ve got some good goals in life, right? Like a 3 year goal, five year goal. And so I wanted to have a K-12 perspective, a K-12 vision, incredible opportunity in Crandall ISD, which is a fast-growing suburb outside of Dallas. And so we are a 5A school district, but two years ago they were 3A school district. So it is fast and furious around here. And so I got to come on as their Director of Technology Innovation in October. So during a pandemic, moving, changing jobs, changing titles, changing district.
Basically careers. It almost feels like some days. It has been a, an interesting six months in my world, but it’s pretty incredible. And this is an awesome opportunity. The superintendent has such an incredible vision. So for me to be here and get to just follow along and help develop some things, it’s pretty great.
Tara: Yeah, what a great new position at a fascinating time. I mean, technology has become much more of a key to education than it used to be for sure. So I’d love to hear more about this position from an educational and from a technologist standpoint, how are you evaluating what to keep that’s been implemented as a result of COVID. And what about thinking about like a long-term view of how technology is going to be impacted by what’s happened over the past last year?
Amber: So I love the fact that I got to start my year with my teachers at my campus. People who knew me, love me, trusted me understood my rate of pace. They knew I bounced, they knew I gave snacks. Like they knew me. So getting to experience what it looked like to be an educator at a campus in a classroom during a pandemic, you started with all online or all virtual, and then it very quickly shifted as the year progressed. By the time I left in October, we had already shifted a good percentage of our kids back to in person.
And my teachers were having to straddle and do both lenses knowing that they did not have a choice meant that they took incredible risks, but they put themselves out there, things that they would have never done had I greatly encouraged them to do they had to do in order to meet the needs of our kids.
And it was so incredible to see you’ve got veterans of 30 years teaching who didn’t have a smartphone when I started working there. Sweet, Mr. Boatman didn’t have a smartphone when I started it with and bought one so he could keep up with us, was virtual teaching. Like how awesome is that? And to see them do it at such a high level, I don’t know that we’ve given our teachers enough appreciation for having to change the way they do it, and the why of why we do it. Meeting kids’ needs at home is a completely different ballgame than just teaching math facts in a classroom. So I then now in this role, get to embrace the steps that they’ve already taken, whereas before I would’ve been like, let’s talk Google classroom, let’s talk about streaming lessons.
Let’s look at what it means to record and to post somewhere. They all know how to do all that stuff now. So now we just get to harness and hopefully move forward with the pieces that get to meet all the needs all the time. We, as a district decided as we move out of this virtual world that instead of taking Chromebooks away from all of our kids, we were a one-to-one district grade 6-12.
All the years, right? Next year, instead of being one-to-one K-12 or going back to that six, 12 business, we’re gonna put class sets of Chromebooks in every classroom. We’re going to make sure teachers have the ability to utilize the things that they built and spent time on. Some of the pieces really lend themselves well to being done in a digital way.
Small group reading instruction probably still needs to happen at a table with kids in front of me. There’s some manipulatives that need to happen with some fine motor skills and kinder and first with math learning, but there are opportunities for them to create a video of them solving a problem and post it to Google Classroom.
Those are the kinds of pieces that we want to hold on to, and hopefully with my guidance and help and saying, a teacher can’t do this from a Chromebook. We’re going to need a different device. They’re going to need a really good camera to, to make sure that parents on a parent conference can hear and see them effectively.
Some of those pieces that I know as an administrator make a difference in the lives of what they’re trying to do, I think is a lens that hasn’t been necessarily in the seat before. The typical technology directors, talking switches and networks and connectivity a whole language, that I don’t have. And so for us to be able to say, Linda, breathed it, done it.
Let me show you what we need to embrace the handle moving forward while allowing us to still make the best decisions for our district. I’m super excited about.
Aubrey: That’s really interesting and you bring up such great points here because it’s quite one thing to be outside the classroom and make recommendations.
Quite another to see it in action and to get teacher feedback and to see what you can still incorporate moving forward. I think that’s so important, such a gift that you bring to the situation. Have teachers been really involved in getting the feedback about what works and what didn’t and what sort of things were really helpful to them?
Because, I mean, they did, they had to switch so fast. And like you said, I think I’ll still be thanking all the teachers for years to come for all the amazing work they did in such a short period of time. But I’m interested to know more about that process?
Amber: So we met with our teachers again, campus administrator weekly, and if they were virtual teachers, they came virtually and if they were in-person, they came into the room with us and we were able to make it happen.
But we asked, what’s working, what’s not working. What have you seen? What are you doingthat’s making a difference.. And it’s some of the really most basic of things. Teachers are issued laptops in my district previously, and that’s what they took home to work with and conduct themselves virtually with. But when you’re on a laptop and you’re talking to people classroom, if I’m showing my screen to show my work, I can’t see my kids.
I can only have one of those avenues on my desktop. And so we learned that they need to have a chromebook, and be signed in as a student in their own classroom to see the kids on the Chromebook, but conduct instruction and lead the lesson from their laptop. That’s a real basic thing, but it made a world of difference when I could say, hey, I read as on me, don’t listen to mom.
I want Aubrey’s answer. Real basic stuff. But yet again in life, they don’t need two devices. They’ve got laptops. They can handle this. It’s cause some of those kinds of feedback, if you don’t talk to the people in the actual trenches, you’re going to make a decision based on a bottom dollar or you’re going to base it on your experiences when you were in school 20, 30 years ago.
And that’s not what we want to see for our people.
Tara: So interesting. And what a great attitude to have is to be open-minded and be ready to make those adjustments based on their needs and as primary focus. So I wanna pivot a little bit and talk about your book, because it sounds super interesting.
And so I want to hear a little bit more about that and the focus of gratitude. The role that, that plays in school leadership. So how do you define school leadership first of all? And then can you tell us more about your book?
Amber: Absolutely. So Melinda Miller and I co-wrote Lead with Appreciation.
And she is the principal in Missouri. We’ve met three times together in person, and yet did this book together, which is again, such a sign of the times. So she’s an elementary principal as an elementary principal, and we talked about how our love languages and our Enneagrams just any of the personality types lend themselves to gifts. To words of affirmation. I had to have an assistant principal next to me who could be my systems person who could be my details person, because I could think of all the super fun, cool stuff. So when it came down to spreadsheets and data and numbers, that wasn’t my go-to. If I was asked to name a strength, I can do it. It’s fine. However, those aren’t necessarily my strengths and the importance of surrounding yourself with people who think differently than you and have strengths differently than you led us down the path of what resources can we provide to school administrators who have to be the good guy, the bad guy, the counselor, the nurse, the coach, the supporter, the heavy, like all of the roles that you’ve played, appreciation sometimes can follow the very bottom of that list and because it can be seen as something fluffy or something superficial sometimes it may not get done at all. Based on the matter of the priorities you’ve got in front of you each day. Melinda and I strongly felt that if you show, and again, we’ve all seen the quote that people who feel appreciated are always going to go above and beyond and do more than what’s asked of them.
If that falls off your to-do list, how could we make it easy for you to make it happen? We have a Facebook group called Staff Motivation and Morale, and I think there are 15,000 administrators. It’s administrators only right now on Facebook. And that’s literally all that we share. So whether or not you are amazingly creative and let yourselves your skillset strengths to that topic, you’re contributing, but maybe you just don’t have time and you need to jump on and find something for St. Patrick’s day or for summer, or for a holiday or for a rough day, or how do I thank my secretary or any of those kinds of pieces, we just had all of these administrators starting to share. Collectively, we started to get the questions. When do you do it? How do you make it happen? How do you make time for it? How come you have so much more money than me? How come your calendar isn’t as busy as mine? I was at the highest performing elementary school in my district. I had the top standardized test stores in my district.
Not saying that to say. That I was the very best principle, but in the sense that I think that both are important, I think it’s important to be an instructional leader, but I also think it’s important to be a relatable relational leader. You’ve got to figure out a way to do both and our goal was to give you a resource in your hand that not only broke down some of those, how to matter of fact pieces, but gave you a ton of ideas.
The main concept from the book, Tara, just to actually answer what you asked is intentionality. You have to be intentional and we try to teach some of the strategies, how to be strategic and to make sure that appreciating your people, empowering your people, creating a culture that says I see you. I know how hard you’re working.
I appreciate that. That was the baseline of what we wanted to have as administrators for our campuses.
Aubrey: That’s amazing. And I think something that’s so important. Oftentimes we think, oh let’s just put the best people in the room, but the best people as long as you have a good leader, who’s showing appreciation and gratitude and really fostering that culture of gratitude and appreciation throughout.
You’re not going to have the most effective team you could have, so it’s optimizing what you currently have. I’m so curious as you were, looking at this book and researching this book, what were some key findings or what are two tips you might give people for just easy ways to integrate gratitude and appreciation into their leadership?
Amber: So we definitely found a correlation between retention, positivity and their workspace. And so Shawn Achor who wrote The Happiness Advantage. Fantastic book, really speaks to the science, even teaching a class at Harvard about how happy people are people of gratitude, how people in stress can turn to finding areas of strength, areas of positivity, and that will help you just completely change that mindfulness mentality.
Not necessarily my automatic, like I just bounced by nature. But Melinda had to have a specific strategy every single morning. Every single morning, I’m going to write three things I’m grateful for while my coffee is brewing, that was something that she had to do with intentionality to make sure that she was practicing an act of gratitude.
Being intentional, we keep a Christmas list, right? Like a Christmas card list. I keep every year who sends me a Christmas card, I don’t know how much longer that example is going to fly in this digital land. But the things that we think are important, we track Christmas card lists. We make grocery lists.
We track data that is important. I wanted to make sure that every single one of my whittles got a happy note for me, a note from the principal that says, Hey, Tara, I heard that you were rocking your small group reading instruction today. I am so proud of you, get it done. Love Mrs. Teamann and I tracked that. I put a little circle by Tara’s name on my class list. I put the date that I wrote the happy note and it got mailed because I wanted to make sure it mattered to me that every single kid had a personal connection to their administrator. I did the same thing with my teachers. I had a teacher list, the same way that I had a class list as a teacher, I had it as a principal and I wanted three happy notes per staff per semester.
And so every time I would go back in and say, Hey, Norma, loved your attitude at the staff meeting today, you rock. I had pre-populated notes that I still have, cause I’m planning on integrating in at some point just a note to say you’re a rockstar. So it’s already made, it’s already developed for you. You just gotta fill in your happiness and you can throw it in their box.
But again, I never wanted to lose sight of the fact that we can get lost and miss the most important parts of our days, because we’re just trying to get through the day. And I never wanted my people to feel like I had taken advantage of their long hours or didn’t recognize how much time they forsake of their families for us.
And that we had carnivals at night and we had afterschool tutoring and we had early morning meetings. I wanted to make sure that they knew I wasn’t taking those things for granted. And I didn’t have an entitlement expectation as their administrator.
Tara: Brilliant to think about that, you mentioned that it correlates to retention and job satisfaction. And so we talk about mindfulness. We also talk about marketing. So a lot of the schools that we work with are independent schools. And so when they’re marketing themselves, I’m just wondering how this school culture can grow from this attitude and practice of being grateful.
That’s a marketable characteristic for a school because it translates to happier, more satisfied teachers and families and students. And so I think that’s really smart approach. Beyond the goodness that it does for yourselves, for your organization, it’s also the benefit, right?
Amber: One of my favorite things that I get to speak to now, because it was a, it’s a chapter, right? I had five and a half years closed those doors. The first year I was an administrator, probably the worst principal of all time. I have survey data from my staff to where it was not great. I had some growing and some learning to do, but I did, by my fifth year we’d had 27 people leave in the past three years, 24 of them, 23, 24 of them had been promoted.
So you typically only left my building. If you were going off to do something bigger and better and building capacity and empowering my people was so incredibly important to me. And I feel as if just within those five years, being able to transition from somebody who went to school and got your paper.
And now you’re a principal to literally changing. So many pieces of what we did at Whitt Elementary are now a part of that school district because my people scattered and they went on to bigger and better and amazing things. They took the hallmarks of what we felt was so important and so meaningful and done in such an intentional way.
And they got to take that to that new role. And so that was a little bitty pieces of Whitt Elementary that, that got to bounce around. And again for a charter school being able to celebrate those successes would be so incredibly important because at the end of the day, the ultimate benefactor are the students.
Tara: Sure. It’s great habits that you developed too. Yeah. I love that.
Aubrey: So I just, I’m loving all this, both for the value it provides people, because I think when you’re thinking about gratitude, appreciation, we don’t think about the things that you mentioned, like the longterm effects. And I can’t remember the book, but what you’re just reminding me of is one of the great books I read where it talked about how empowering people around you and how being like, oh, Buyers, I think, right. Yeah. How empowering the people around you and being like that go-to person, that magnet person, what it does for not only you, but the organization surrounding you. And it just, they showed so much data associated with that, which I think is amazing. So thank you for bringing that forward.
I’m just curious as we’re looking at mindfulness, it is part of our podcast, you mentioned intentionality. How would you think about mindfulness in terms of appreciation? Or you could go through the lens of technology and your work. I think reflection is incredibly important. I think that, again, I’ve referenced before my blog is mainly a place where I talk about all the things that I could have done better and being able to reflect on that means I not only have to own the things that I’ve gotten wrong or had done incorrectly, but that I was able to see an alternative to what could ever should have been.
Everything I wrote my first year as a principal was hash-tagged the first year. And it’s literally a hallmark of don’t do this, try that. But I felt like that was really important because I never wanted to misrepresent the mistakes that I had made because they were pretty cliché but they also were genuine and done in an honest way. None of it was malicious or intentionally negative. I didn’t mean to come across or impact in this manner. And I think that sometimes we can miss that and think that as the principal, it becomes Amber Teamann Elementary, but it’s not, that campus had a culture that campus had traditions.
You get to be a part of them and build new, but you never want to be the person who’s tearing them down or destroying. I think being mindful of the impact that our words have in a position of leadership, your words mean more. It’s just the way that it is. It’s and again, my jokes were always the funniest and my outfits were always the cutest.
And if I didn’t keep that in mind when interacting with people I felt like it would be very, again, disingenuine to forget that what I say matters more because of the title. Not in a, again, the position of authority and title, but just in a sense of you’re the boss and it’s hard to always, you don’t get to forget that you’re the boss and they’re never forgetting that you’re the boss.
And so I think reflection and intentionality, which I know is again, I keep saying I’m probably one of the most mindful things that as an administrator or a leader in any position can keep in mind.
Tara: How brave to put your mistakes out there in a blog and how it just makes you vulnerable which makes you, I think, a great leader, right? It takes a lot of courage to do that. Yeah. So I’m going to move on to a question that we ask all of our guests which is what, and you may have alluded to this already, but what are the most important things that you do to grow professionally and personally?
Amber: Oh, goodness. So I love to learn. I love in fact, Adam Grant’s Think Again, so along that same Multipliers track there, he talks about the ability to not ever think that you have the answer, that there are lots of versions of the right answer and humbling yourself enough to know that other people in the room that different experiences, different lenses, and are going to grow from that.
Sarah Lewis talks a lot about the difference between achievement and mastery. Easy to have levels of achievement, but what does long-term mastery look like? All of that to say, I am a voracious reader. I read constantly a good 80% trash, but 20% professional and growing. And I love Twitter.
I love learning. I love conferences. I love listening to people. I love getting people who I wouldn’t normally get to interact with in a room and just soaking up all of their gems of greatness. I love the groups on Facebook of administrators who share the things that they’re doing and that I get to see and benefit from.
I’m a big believer in a professional learning network, and I’m a better person because of the parents that I had conversations with because of the other administrators that I’ve had connections with people on Twitter that are now best friends, believe it or not that maybe we’ve met four times, but yet I value their opinion and the ability to grow from them.
Tara: Yeah, those online relationships are they’re really important. And I think it’s hard to even underestimate them because you have a different kind of closeness with people that you meet online. Have you discovered clubhouse yet?
Amber: I have. I have a 45 minute commute right now. And so trying to navigate on my phone for that, one’s a little bit more difficult and it is fast and furious around here.
So I haven’t gotten as connected to that. Twitter is probably my go-to only in the sense that I’ve been on it for so long, but the Facebook groups, Voxer is other really great tool, but it’s on my list. I’m a member. I can go do other things. I just haven’t quite been able to harness adding one more thing to my plate yet.
Aubrey: That’s so good. I feel like you have, what is it called? A beginner’s mindset where you see every, every experience is an opportunity, right? When you were just talking about the different people you meet and the different situations and remembering that everyone in the room has perspective and that if I go in as a leader and think, oh, my way is the right way. I’m not really learning from the room. So I admire that in you and that’s such great wisdom. And it sounds like we’re fellow book lovers too.
Amber: I see those stacks back there.
Aubrey: I know now are you Kindle or paper?
Amber: Confession time. Are we best friends? Now?
Aubrey: We are!
Amber: Okay. I like to read the shower, which means I need a book. I need a real book because I can hold with a water behind me and wash and still be. So now we’re best friends. We know this.
Aubrey: That is awesome. I may try that.
Tara: That sounds like an audio book opportunity to me. I don’t want wet pages for
Amber: That is true. I could do that, but I love holding a book. I love smelling old books. I love the value of having a ridiculous amount of books.
I love all those things and then nobody’s talking to me in the shower. There’s nobody there trying to have a conversation with me. So we’re going to drag that baby out, as long as we can.
Aubrey: I actually love that. I signed have to steal that because you’re right. It is a quiet time. I’ll start taking 45-minute showers now I have to get to the next chapter.
Amber: It does mean that I can’t take advantage of a library as much as I want to because just in case splashing for dropping
Aubrey: The library wouldn’t appreciate it.
Amber: They won’t appreciate the multi-task.
Aubrey: So that leads us to our second question. What is one of the most important things we can do to be more mindful?
Again, I think that you have to be intentional. I think that if you don’t make it a habit, if you don’t structure it in a way that it becomes something that you make yourself do, we all have. So an accountability cadence. If we think of one of those cubby mindsets of having an accountability cadence, when my teachers would set goals, we would talk about how easy it is to say, I need to lose 10 pounds, but then you don’t change anything else.
You set a goal, you decide you want to be mindful, but you’re not really actually doing anything to become more mindful. So we would say, I want to lose 10 pounds, and here are the five things that I’m willing to do. And now I need Aubrey to hold me accountable. So I’m not going to eat out. I’m going to drink two gallons of water, no more sugar, and Aubrey I’m going to check in with you and you’re going to help me make sure that I’m not doing this. And just remind me to guide me that this was my goal. And here are my steps. Am I actually doing it? And so I think making sure that you decide that’s something that you want to do, who’s going to help hold you accountable in a positive, supportive way.
But then also, what does it look like to be mindful? Is it diet? Is it writing a journal? Is it quiet time? Is it walks? Is it exercising? Is it some other form of self care? But then making sure that you’ve built out enough space in your world to make it happen, versus just setting an arbitrary goal, but not changing anything else and expecting things to be different.
Tara: Yeah. That’s great. Mindfulness is It covers so many different things. And I think it starts with that habit. I think you’re absolutely right. Yeah. Making steps, making tasks, not just goals. So thank you for sharing that. All right. I’m going to jump into some rapid fire questions. First one, speaking of books, if you could put one book as mandatory reading in the high school curriculum, what would it be?
Amber: You know, what I think I would go with the happiness advantage. I think I would think that a high schooler could appreciate seeing the research about self choice and self owning a mindset and the benefit of finding a place where you’re going to be happy is a huge difference than what you want to be when you grow up, because we could want to make a lot of money, but yet we ended up doing this and now we’re unhappy. And how does that impact us? So it’s a psychology type of book, but the happiness advantage I think, would help shift their focus on their future.
Aubrey: Ooh, I love that. That’s awesome. Yay. Now what are you reading right now in the shower?
Amber: I know in the shower. So I read Think Again by Adam Grant and it’s literally is right here. I have this one. I have one at home and one at work, because Renee Brown did a podcast with Adam Grant and I listened to that two or three times. Every time I listen, I hear something different, but there’s such incredible value and so many different pieces.
And I have found that first, when the book came out versus where I am now, just in the scope and sequence of the year, different things are resonating. And so I don’t know that I have other than a fiction book, a book that I’ve re-read as much as this one, because depending on when I read it, the things that I value and are taking away are different.
Tara: Thanks. Okay. Next rapid fire question. What is one app that you could not live without?
Amber: Twitter and not the scary, argue, follow the celebrity Twitter, but the hashtag following of leadership of positivity of gratefulness, any of those kinds of components, I’m a really big fan of following a hashtag. And that’s true on Twitter, Instagram either, or right.
But instead of necessarily following a person and an ideology, I’m trying to follow a trend or a topic.
Aubrey: Ooh, I like that’s strategic, right. It sounds like you’re strategically loading it with positivity and like things you actually want to learn about. All right. Final question. That is one great piece of advice you’d like to leave us with.
Amber: I think it’s really incredibly important to remember that in order to get to be where you want to be, you gotta be really great where you. And instead of looking so far down the road at what our goals are eventually, remembering that there’s so much to be taken away in the space that you are putting myself in this new position with a new role, with new expectations in a new place with new people immediately, I start thinking, okay, I’m going to do this because I want to. That’s not where you need to stay Amber, you need to focus on what value can you bring to where you are right now and get really good at this. Before we start branching out, I had gotten so automatic in my role as a principal situation’s changed, but by and large, it was being a principal.
And so recognizing that I needed a challenge and to change, God listened and I’m here. And I got both of those things. But that I need to not think too much about tomorrow, that I need to focus on today and learn what today has to offer. That’s wonderful.
Tara: Thank you, Amber so much. I’m bummed that we’re out of time.
I want to hear more about your books and your your gratitude. It’s been really great. Thank you so much for sharing with us today. Where can people find you online?
Amber: I blog at amberteamann.com and I am on Twitter @8amber8. And those are probably the two spaces that I am most easily reached at.
Tara: Wonderful. Thanks a lot. Have a great day.