Monday, December 11, 2017

Great Game Plans won't Work with Poor Fundamentals

All the players in the world won't help the football team if they collectively don't know how to block. Great defensive schemes won’t work if your players can't tackle. If you can't run, throw, and catch, you might as well forget going back to the drawing board to find a new play to help you win the game.

How does this analogy apply to schools?  Curriculum is a plan, but plans don’t work if they are being carried out by those with poor fundamentals. Bottom line, curriculum is worthless in the hands of an educator who can't manage children. Formative assessments will never work in a classroom that fails to engage minds and inspire excellence. Interventions will never work for kids in a classroom with ineffective instruction. 

The key to winning any game successfully requires every player to possess the basic fundamentals of guaranteeing excellence in their performance.  In education, instructional fundamentals in every teacher are the foundation of academic excellence in every chid.  But the secret to winning the learning game does not rests in the hands of simply one or two "all star" educators while everyone else plays a secondary role. Every educator must possess the fundamentals and talent to perform at high levels in order to get all kids into the end zone we call excellence. 

 To accomplish this lofty goal, leaders must transform into coaches and create systems that give all educators the basic fundamentals that lead to excellence. In other words, leaders must create intervention systems for teachers in the same manner they would for struggling students and pervasive professional learning plans to grow the rest. If this can be the goal of all school leaders, the success of every school and ultimately every student would be found in the collective efficacy in the team, not the contributions of just a few all star performers. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Where do your Principles Reside?

Being principled is essential to being a transformational leader. But here’s the thing. You will never know what your principles truly are until you placed in a difficult position to use them. Principles are never tested when things are going your way. They are revealed when you have to make the hard decision, when you have to have the uncomfortable conversation, and when you have to take the unpopular action that will cost you political capital.

Everyone of us has ideals, and ideals are great, but they disappear when we're put the test.  But one thing is for certain.  Our ideals can become principles when they are held to the fire of confrontation, conflict, and standing up for what's right.  The only way that ideals can become principles is that they must be born.

Principles are not convenient. They are driven by conviction.   They will cost you acquaintances but acquire friends.  The funny thing is that you will find out if you have principles when you stand up for what's right at the moment when all you have standing tall with you is your principles.  If you want to find them, principles reside with courage, vulnerability, moral authority, and greater good.

Where do your principles reside?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

3 Tips to Making your Mark Matter

Thanksgiving break was a huge learning opportunity for me as our family embarked on a road trip west.  On the way home, we discovered Cadillac Ranch just outside of Amarillo, TX.  An eclectic row of soil-submerged Cadillacs line the middle of a seemingly random corn field.  Its purpose is simple.  Stop and make your mark.  And this unusal mission is accomplished daily as tourists from all over the world park on the side of the road to leave their mark on these strangely half-buried cars.

As I examined the cars more closely, I noticed layers upon layers of spray paint indicating that I was not the first to make my mark, and I definitely wouldn’t be the last. In fact I doubt that my mark made it through the day after I left. The reason was simple. Everyone wanted to mark their mark and there wasn’t enough room to preserve someone’s else’s mark while adding their own.  Marks eventually are marked over. 

Are We Making a Meaningful Mark?
So how is a row of random West Texas Cadillacs similar to school?  Even if you make a great mark on your school, chances are it will be forgotten by most people because someone else will come behind you and make another mark on the school. The reality is that the tangible marks we make on schools eventually fade into oblivion.  So the question that I have to ask myself is this.  How can we leaders make a long-lasting and meaningful mark on our schools that will endure long after our leadership is gone?

Below are 3 marks that I believe all leaders must make.

1. People Marks 
The longest lasting and the most meaningful marks we can leave are on the individual people we serve.  Whether good or bad, you are making marks right now.  Leaders make marks on people, but great leaders make motivational marks on them.

??? - What are you doing to touch people in a way that adds value to their work and inspires them to make their mark on the world?

2. Movement Marks
The Cadillac Ranch in and of itself is a mark on the world. It inspires and invites everyone to come and be a part of something bigger than themselves.  This place is more than a strange sideshow.  It is a subliminal symbol that illustrates how we all can move people beyond the scope of our normal reach.

??? - How can you create a movement like this that makes a permanent mark on your school?

3. Visionary Marks
In education Rick DuFour made a dent of a mark on the education world by creating a vision of what schools could become if they envisioned a new and brighter world for education where educators worked interdependently to ensure that all students succeed. But the beauty of his vision is that he didn’t do it alone. He had to build a team that would not just join him but own their role in making this vision a reality. DuFour's mark is visionary because it continues to grow after his passing.

??? - How can build a team of passionate leaders that can create a brighter vision for your school and work closer toward it everyday. 

On your Mark... Get Set...  Mark!!!
Cadillac Ranch is a powerful vision of what our schools can become. People will come. People will go. People will make their mark, and people will come behind you and cover your marks with marks of their own. One thing is for certain. Cadillac Ranch, like the school, came before you and will continue long after you leave, so the question that we must ask ourselves is this. What kind of mark will you leave on our school that will continue to inspire long after you're gone?

Legacy is based on what remains long after we’re gone.  Ready... Set... Mark

Friday, November 17, 2017

Want a Better School? Look Inward not Outward

National and state politics are such an annoyance for me.  If you are currently watching our national political climate, both parties do nothing but bash one another about doing nothing when in reality neither one of them are doing much.  And what's worse is that so many people waste their time rooting for one party or the other like it's the SuperBowl or something.  All the while little changes.

The fact is this; no government and no person has the ability to make your life better.  Only we can.  Notice I said we, not you or me.  If we can create a culture where working together, listening to one another and learning from each other becomes a way of life, we will have the world that we will be proud for our children to inherit.   If we want a better school, we must stop looking outward for someone to provide it to us and start looking inward for what we can do.  The same rule applies to our country.

Do you want to be happy?  Start with you.  Do you want your school to be a better place?  Then be a better person for your school.  Changing your perspective won't end problems.  In fact it won't reduce them either.  All I'm saying is this.  Our attitude determines our altitude.  Our reaction determines the impact of our future action, and our outlook on life will determine if we will look out for others.

The video below says it all.  We must refrain from hoping for change.  Hope is not a strategy.  If we want things to change, we must BE the change that we want to see in our world.  If we wait for someone else to change the world for us, we may be waiting a while.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Learning can't exist without "I Don't Know"

Dan Rockwell rocked my thinking when he said this. 

Everything is remembering until someone says, 
“I don’t know.”

Think about the statement, "I don't know".  What does it mean in the ecosystem of traditional leadership?  If we are honest with ourselves, we don't like making that statement especially when we are put on the spot or when it is something we should know.  Just the thought of stating your ignorance makes you feel inadequate and unprepared, doesn't it?  But here's the thing.

Learning can't occur without "I Don't Know".

The best learners don't avoid "I don't know".  They embrace it.  They look for it, and they run to it.  The reason is simple.  Learning can't occur unless you don't know, and authentic learning will never come to fruition unless the learner loves not knowing and wanting to find out.  

As leaders we must reflect on our ability to capitalize on a collective lack of knowledge, for this vacuum of information is the blueprint for systemic improvement.  Here are a few questions that can guide you to lead when you and others don't know.
  • What are you doing to embrace not knowing?  
  • What are we doing to stop one another from judging and demonizing one another or those who don't know? 
  • How are we pushing others to find comfort in not knowing something, and using that comfort to seek information?
  • How are we praising people on our team when they convert lack of knowledge into long-term learning that improves others?
  • What are we doing to create a culture of learning where the goal is to transform "I don't know" into "Let me show you what I learned".

The Secret to Learning

The secret to learning is not found in our current knowledge.  It is found in our accumulation of new knowledge that eventually enhances organizational efficacy.  Does "I don't know" stop you in your tracks, or is it the starting point for excellence?

I'll choose the latter. How about you?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Is your School's Guarantee really a Guarantee?

Every business has a guarantee. Weak businesses guarantee inconsistent service or unreliability. Successful businesses, on the other hand, back up their rhetorical promise with a guaranteed response that matches that promise. In fact these self-imposed commitments are so powerful, that they convince you to buy their product. Your guarantee (good or bad) represents your belief in your product and your confidence in those who provide it.

Examples of Guarantees You can take to the Bank

  • 100% satisfaction or your money back.  
  • If you don't like it, we'll give you a complete refund. 
  • Delivered in 30 minutes or less or it's free. 
Did these guarantees sell you?

What's your School's Guarantee
Source - Brainquote
Looking at the definition of a guarantee from a business perspective, it makes you wonder what schools could guarantee in respects to student achievement from a holistic perspective.  Think about it. Do you deliver on what you promise or do you let excuses get in the way?  Is you guarantee truly aligned to your universal mission of high levels of learning for ALL kids, or does it reflect ambiguous niceties such as making kids feel a sense of belonging?  

Below are a few questions to see if your guarantee really is a guarantee. 

  • What do you publicly guarantee in regards to student learning?
  • Where is this guarantee posted and published, and how often is your guarantee promoted to all stakeholders?
  • What percentage of your teachers, students and parents know what your guarantee is?
  • When was the last time your guarantee was referenced in an RtI or teacher team meeting by someone other than you?
  • When was the last time a parent referenced your guarantee when discussing their student's struggles?

How did you do?
A guarantee is your commitment to deliver your promise to your customers. It is your bond, your word, and even your legacy. To be blunt,  it is the only thing that will ensure that your school truly becomes a success. Is your guarantee truly a guarantee?  The answer to that question will tell if you believe in 'Learning for All' or if you're dimly attuned to the mere idea of it.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The 5 Makings of an Excellent Mentor

Mentoring is one of the most valuable tools to help someone find their excellence, but why does mentoring fail some while it helps others?  It helps to know that the word mentor comes from the person whose actions actually inspired the word.

Mentor comes from Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus, king of Ithaca, fought in the Trojan War and entrusted the care of his household to Mentor, who served as teacher and overseer of Odysseus' son, Telemachus.  Mentor was Telemachus' teacher and overseer, and he was trusted so much that Odysseus left the country because he knew that Mentor would get the job done.  

Here's the crux of mentoring.  In order to be a mentor, let alone an effective one, it requires us to do more than merely agree that we'll help another teacher or leader.   We must oversee and teach so that we can ensure that excellence is achieved in those we have committed to help. 

The 5 Makings of an Excellent Mentor

What does it take to be an excellent mentor?  Below are 5 attributes that mentors exhibit to lead their followers to excellence.

  1. Motivator - Mentors are positive people, and they motivate their mentees to believe in their own abilities.
  2. Ownership - Mentors own the success of their mentees because they deem themselves great only when they bring out the greatness in those they help.
  3. Discipline - Mentors protect their mentees by keeping them focused only on tasks and actions that will help them grow the most.
  4. Exemplar - Mentors model excellence everyday by serving as a living example of what mentees should aspire to become.
  5. Leader - Mentors don't boss mentees around.  They lead them by showing them the way and influencing them to make incremental steps to find their excellence.
The best description of an excellent mentor is found in what they model.  What they do is mentors more than what they say.  How they inspire growth and development supercedes the information they pass on to those they want to help.  In short the best mentors model excellence for those they wish to mentor.

Who will you mentor to find their excellence this week?