Sunday, March 19, 2017

One Person

I've always been a proponent of the power of relationships in learning. My recent experiences and learning confirmed and extended my belief to further pursue a greater understanding of others' impacts on my learning.  

Steve Gilliland stated: "One person, in a single moment, can change and define direction." He followed with the challenge of identifying five people who changed the direction of your life. Who would make your list? Take a moment, right now... the top five people who made the greatest impact on my life are __________.

Chances are an educator made your list. Or at least, a caring adult from your formative years who encouraged you and invested in your success. Someone who saw some genius/talent/skillset that could be ignited and developed.

Three of my five included influences from my younger years:
*Ms. Weber, my first grade teacher, with whom I credit teaching me to read so that the world continues to be open to me because I am literate.
*Mr. Haws, my middle school math teacher who taught me that I could do algebra & geometry, despite my learned helplessness in math during my upper elementary years. He also taught me that daily effort pays off - significantly.
*Coaches Steve Witcher & Jim Nickell (yes- I'm cheating here...2 for 1), my swim coaches who taught me the science of swimming fast. More important, they taught me there was a big difference between being a winner and being a champion.

As I reflect on this list, each of these people taught me specific skills. But more importantly, they stood out to me because of the manner in which they taught me. They believed that I could own the content of their teachings and turn them into something amazing. I believed in them, and because I believed in them, I believed in what they were teaching me. In teaching me, they reinforced this lesson: Relationship and content are both important; and so is the order.

Consider the reciprocity of this influence list: Who would put you on their list?

Recently I heard Dr. Adam Saenz, author The Power of a Teacher, state: "Education did not change my life. Educators changed my life." Given my choice of a career is in education, the statement gave me pause for reflection. Saenz is right on. It's not the school system or buildings, the oversight or administration, or any other formalized education structures of "school." My third grade classroom, my high school facilities, or my college lab did not change the direction of my life. But the adults who led me in those settings did, with their planned lessons & experiences, impromptu life lessons, and in the manner in which to developed me. They changed and improved my life.

I was fortunate to have many; three listed here, but there are certainly more. Unfortunately, too many of our students may not even have one...one caring adult in their life who changes or improves their now and their future. As Rita Peirson taught us: “Every child deserves a champion — an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”




Each of us can be that one person for someone else. One person can make a difference. One person can change the trajectory. One person can influence culture. One person…




Sunday, August 7, 2016

Using boundaries to succeed

As part of my summer reading, I came across the 1911 story of the expedition race to the sourth pole between Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott (in both Great by Choice by JIm Collins, & in Essentialism by Greg McKeown). Scott's team walked as far as possible on good days; resting up on bad days to conserve energy. Scott planned for best-case scenario, while hoping for ideal circumstances. Amundsen took a different approach. He stuck to a strict regimen of consistent progress by walking 20 miles every day, no matter the weather. He prepped for things to go wrong, and built slack and buffers into his plan.

One common goal. Two very different plans. Which one succeeded?

The team that took consistent action.

Scott had a goal, but unfortunately, he wasn't consistent in his dailly must-dos. The outcome was that not only did Scott's team fail, but members of his team also tragically died. Admundson and team successfully completed their journey to and back from the South Pole, the result of consistent action.

Accomplishments and success come as a result of the daily grind. What are the non-negotiables you will include as a part of your Daily 20? Those individuals that plan and act upon their daily priorities end up defining themselves. Those that don't are most likely defined by their work.





Much has been articluated and shared about the need to have passion for what you do, as it helps us to push to and beyond limits. But I think there is wisdom in having both a lower and upper limit. Baseline non-negiotables of what has to be done, while recognizing & honoring a daily stopping point to reserve passion, leaving you wanting more the next day. There appears to be great power, focus and healthy discomfort in working within these boundaries. As we are days away from the start of our 172-days school year, I'm excited what this focused approach could mean for meaningful learning.


What other implications can you think of for your leadership and learning?


Sunday, July 3, 2016

All In

Most of us who have ever heard of the great American leader Abraham Lincoln will recall what he said of his mother: “All that I am, all that I hope to be, I owe to my Angel mother.” (in Abraham Lincoln’s Philosophy of Common Sense, ed. Edward J. Kempf, 1965) But do you know what his mother’s last words to him were? They were “Be something, Abe.”
Simple but powerful terms, and such wise counsel, “Be something.” She didn’t say, “Be someone.” She said, “Be something, Abe.” There is a significant difference. In the dictionary someone is defined as “conceived or thought of, but not definitely known,” while something is identified as “a person or thing of importance.” Abraham Lincoln’s mother knew her son, his potential, and the rocky roads ahead of him; hence, she wanted him to commit himself promptly to being steadfast and immovable in living and promoting deeds of courage and faith in the lives of all mankind.
Marvin Ashton wrote: "A word of hope is poured out on every generation of people by those who advocate accomplishment, an exemplary life, living up to one’s abilities, and keeping one’s commitments. True happiness is not made in getting something. True happiness is becoming something. This can be done by being committed to lofty goals. We cannot become something without commitment."
Karate Kid came out when I was a teenager. In the movie, Mr Miyagi provided some words of wisdom concerning commitment. Commitment isn't a "guess so." It really is an all or none-

Commitment as a word cannot stand alone either. We must always ask, “Committed to what?” As all of us blend into education and learning, it behooves us to set goals for ourselves in order to reap growth. In setting our own goals we need to examine our own needs and abilities, which is part of modeling the growth mindset. The direction in which we are moving is more important than where we are at the moment. Goal setting should cause us to stretch as we make our way. Self-examination is most difficult. Surveys have shown that most people take credit for success to themselves, but blame their failures on external forces or other people. When our progress seems to be at a standstill, it is well for us to ask who is at fault. Is it I? Am I sufficiently committed? Do I have the courage, fortitude, and wisdom to apply self-examination—or will I be inclined to try and decide which of my associates will fail?
Dale Carnegie once said, “If you are not in the process of becoming the person you want to be, you are automatically engaged in becoming the person you don’t want to be.”
I’m thinking of a five-year-old boy who fell out of bed during the night and came crying to his mother’s bedside. To her question, “Why did you fall out of bed?” he replied, “I fell out because I wasn’t in far enough!” It has been my experience over the years that, generally speaking, those who falter are those who aren’t in far enough. They lacked commitment. They weren’t “all in.”

The difference between those committed and those who are not is the difference between the words want and will. For example, “I want to my students to be successful, but their home lives are so sad,” or “I will support the success of all my students.” “I want my staff to grow,” or “I will provide meaningful learning experiences for my staff.” “I want to be a good teacher, but the children are so disrespectful,” or “I will be a good teacher.”
Please add to the discussion. What words are you expressing as a want that needs to be turned into will? How will be commit and be all in?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Random lessons

I have become comfortable in being constant in failure. That is not to mean I haven't had successes; I've been blessed in that regards - better than I deserve. Redefining failure may be necessary. It is failure to arrive at a level I am completely satisfied with that I'm driving at. Recognize the beauty in this mindset: it provides a permanent fresh start, a constant revitalization, and a regular newness. While some may say that life is tough enough without seeking challenges and great growth, there are greater opportunities and successes when purposeful collisions are created. In the attempt to enjoy the ride along and between failures and success, I share a few personal lessons I've learned or picked up along the way (in no particular order)-

*Defeats and victories go hand-in-hand. They are meant to co-exist.

*Nothing disrupts my comfort zone like being with challenging situations or people. It is the discomfort, the uncertainty and the challenge - all the things that many of us spend time and energy avoiding - that keep me relevant and in the game.

*Encourage the people you find challenging, and do it sincerely. Your actions say more about you.

*Few things are as therapeutic as swearing (this purposefully follows working with challenging situations and/or people)

*There is more to life than my life. Or yours.

*We are more than our position in our classrooms, schools and work. Define your role; don't be defined by your role. 

*Express your gratitude and appreciation for others. Tell them why. It's a win for them and a win for you-

*Be kind. Kick ass. Repeat.

*Be especially kind to our children and students. Besides setting up the future generation for success, one day you are going to be admitted into a home, and you want a good home.

*When it comes to learning, relationships and content are both important. So is the order.

*It is not enough to be good; you must be good for something.

*Know your why. Know you are why.






Thursday, November 26, 2015

The 4 Practices of Servant Leadership for School Leaders


The concept of Servant Leadership is something of a misunderstood but very desirable leadership style. Considered to be "soft leadership," Servant Leadership is rather challenging, as it requires fantastic levels of emotional vesting. Many people want to be, and believe themselves to be, a servant leader. If you desire to be a Servant Leader, it must start with having a deep understanding and belief that a Servant Leader is servant first, and focused upon genuine needs versus artificial wants of those within your influence.

I ascribe to the definition that servant leadership is the ability to influence and connect people to a greater purpose through relationships. And what better place for this to happen than in our schools? For learners of all ages, generous and meaningful learning experiences transform the ordinary person into extraordinary individuals. To grow your servant leadership capacity and influence in others, consider the four following Servant Leadership practices.

The Servant Leader Values & Develops People.  Trust and respect are generally viewed as linked values, and although generally earned, the servant leader practices them openly. Leadership excellence is caring about people, and leaders respect their people. It comes from leader's ability to first recognize each other's gifts, strengths and interests. While encouragement from a leader is appreciated, it is positive affirmation that people want- appreciation, acknowledgment and praise that recognize people for who they are and what they do.

The Servant Leader Displays Authenticity. Being open, while accepting others without judgement or need of approval, is a hallmark of being authentic. When we are in touch with our open nature, we exert an enormous attraction to others through vulnerability. This opens the door for mutually collaborative and empathetic relationships. Being present, having your whole self available to to others, as you influence authentically from values that are attuned to people's feelings transforms the relationship, so people move beyond what you do into why you do it.

The Servant Leader Builds Community. Community means different things to different people. To some it is a safe haven where survival is assured through cooperation. To others, it is a place of emotional support. Some see community as an intensive atmosphere for personal growth. For others, it is simply a place to pioneer their dreams. Whatever the reason, the servant leader recognizes that leadership is a relationship rooted in community, and embodies the groups most precious values and beliefs. Servant Leaders recognize that community building teaches people how to empty themselves, and how to really listen. It teaches how to make meaningful change through increased consciousness.

The Servant Leader Provides & Builds Leadership. As leaders pay attention, day-to-day experiences trigger promptings that might take followers somewhere important if they allow themselves to be led. Although required to be in the present, looking back and learning from the past is the first step to envisioning and casting the future story for those around them. Leaders model risk-taking, as they provide encouragement and shelter for venturing and risking the unpopular. While providing leadership insinuates followership of others, sharing leadership implies a collaborative effort. As leaders, we would be wise to adopt the term primus inter pares, which translated means first among equals.

These practices are transforming because they are based upon the human experience - they are engaging, they are relevant, and they are personal. As leaders, may we increase our desire to develop and drive our personal capacity to serve out of love - a love for those we serve and the purpose we are called to.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

First day thoughts for principals

The first day of school is a misnomer.  Everyday can and should be considered a first day.  This Wednesday is the first Wednesday of the Week. Most will consider this Friday to be the end of the work week, but it is also the first Friday of this week.  Everyday is a new day, and as a leader, the daily culture is influenced by the leader’s attitude toward it. 



Having said that, there are a number of practices principals and leaders, novice and experienced alike, to do for the first day/days of school:

1) Avoid the office on the first day, even the first week of school. Be out and about your school. Be visible to students and staff alike. Your visibility will scream so much more than you what you ever say or write at your desk. Establish visibility and being out and about the learning as your priority, on the first day, and everyday afterward. It is difficult to lead a school from behind your principal’s desk.

2) Make the first week or two about relationships. Rules and curriculum or learning standards certainly don't matter during the first days; relationships do. The learning time that you will get later in the school year is completely dependent upon the quality of relationships that are established those first days of school.  

3) Use their names- teachers and students alike. Nothing acknowledges the worth and value of a person like greeting them warmly, calling them by name, and sharing a positive comment with them. You will never get their heads if you don’t get their hearts.

4) Learn the power of empathy. Don’t confuse this with compassion, sympathy or being soft. Rather, use empathy on the first day and every day after to serve in giving others what is needed for them to be successful in learning and achieving. (note: this does not translate to giving them what they want- this is a very important distinction)

5) Focus on the students through the adults. One of my greatest failing forward moments from my first year as a principal was trying to run a classroom of 350+ students. I was focused on the students. I failed miserably. I learned that my role was to be a teacher of teachers- that I needed to focus on leading, supporting and building the capacity of teachers so they would, in turn, do the same with students. 

Finally, develop an understanding that culture and leadership are two sides of the same coin. Their influence on each other is inseparable and direct.  When one suffers, so does the other. When one is influenced, the capacity of the other is always directly impacted, and that knowledge prompts action for the better.







Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Principal of Potemkin

As the story goes, in the late 18th century, Catherine the Great of Russia announced she would tour the southern part of her empire, accompanied by several foreign ambassadors. The governor of the area, Grigory Potemkin, desperately wanted to impress these visitors. And so he went to remarkable lengths to showcase the country’s accomplishments.
For part of the journey, Catherine floated down the Dnieper River, proudly pointing out to the ambassadors the thriving hamlets along the shore, filled with industrious and happy townspeople. There was only one problem: it was all for show. It is said that Potemkin had assembled pasteboard facades of shops and homes. He had even positioned busy-looking peasants to create the impression of a prosperous economy. Once the party disappeared around the bend of the river, Potemkin’s men packed up the fake village and rushed it downstream in preparation for Catherine’s next pass.

Although modern historians have questioned the truthfulness of this story, the term “Potemkin village” has entered the world’s vocabulary. And I wonder, how many leaders have ended up serving as the Principal of Potemkin? Some leaders may have lost their way, relying on themselves, failing to connect with other leaders, build their PLN, and grow their capacity. Left alone to maneuver through political pressures and regulations being passed by state and federal officials, often by those least understanding of its impact, many principals find themselves caught in the trap of setting up a facade school, disguised as the next best fix. And because many initial changes generally work due to the excitement and enthusiasm of "school reform", many leaders fall victim to making others believe they are better than they really are. They put on the dog-and-pony show with all the bells and whistles, but have forgotten the focus.
I think we can avoid becoming the Principal of Potemkin if we focus on learning: Learning as leaders, and building a school culture that centers on learning for adults and for students. When we have this as our focus, it matters not who passes by with the education reform flavor-of-the-month. 
This is why I enjoy conferences such as #NAESP15 I'm able to connect with other leaders, who expand my learning and capacity. I'm also able to continue my understanding of what learning is, and how I can influence the learning of our greatest gifts - our students.