Saturday, November 26, 2016

Are You Making the Right Choice about Choices?

Choice is essential to connect with those that you lead, and in schools providing choice makes sense.  More choice equals more freedom, and more freedom leads to more ownership.  Let's face it.  When people have more choice, they will be more engaged and even more empowered, but here is the reality about choice.

Choice is in the mind of the beholder.

If you don't believe me, watch The Art of Choosing.

Choice requires people to see a meaningful difference, and just because you offer it doesn't mean that you're helping people.  Just because you offer choices, doesn't mean you are empowering freedom.  According to research, too many choices can actually lead to higher stress, depression and perhaps psychological paralysis.

Too much choice
When was the last time you walked down the cereal aisle?  There are just too many choices.  If you don't know what you want, you could be there all day long.   The same goes for our schools.  If you offer people to many unfamiliar choices, they will become overwhelmed because they don't which choice is the best for them.

Too little choice
Ever been to a concession stand when all that was left was the one soda that you didn't want?  It is downright frustrating.  The same applies to choice in school.  If you don't provide enough choices to those that you lead, you will create an organization filled with resentment of the tasks they are asked to do.

Finding the Right Balance
If you believe in offering your people the right amount of choice, you must remember this.  If you don't know those that you lead, then you won't know the right kinds of choices or appropriate amounts of choice your people need to be more empowered.  Choice only works when leaders include followers in the development of the menu of options, and when leaders provide the right balance of choice, followers will always select the best choice that makes them more efficient, effective and ultimately successful.

Monday, November 21, 2016

26 Things You Should be Thankful for, but Probably Aren't

Thanksgiving is here, and that means it's time to give thanks for all the blessings bestowed upon us.  But to truly have the right heart for appreciation, one must be able to give thanks in all things. That means giving thanks for the good as well as the bad, but nobody wants to give thanks for bad stuff.  After all, it's bad, and it has hurt us and it has made our lives difficult.

So to help you truly give thanks for the most difficult things in our lives, I wanted to share 26 things that you should give thanks for but probably aren't. 

26 Things to Give Thanks for that You Probably Aren't. 

Aggravation and Annoyances
Betrayal and Bewilderment
Conflict and Confrontation 
Disappointment and Dismay
Embarrassing Events
Failure and Friction
Growing Pains and Gray Hairs
Injustice, Impatience, and Insecurity 
Jerks and Jams
Knives in the back and Knotheads
Loss  and Long Meetings
Mistakes and Misfortune
No's and Not Yets
Overwhelming Days
Painful Moments and Pettiness
Quirky People
Rejection and Retaliation
Setbacks, Scars, and Stress
Turmoil and Tyrants
Volatile People
Wounds and Weariness
Youthful Inexperience

If you made it through the list, how many of these bad things have found their way into your life?  If you said all of them, consider yourself lucky because that means you are living your life to its fullest. You have been stretched by these items, and they have brought you to where you are today. Give thanks in these things for they are responsible for making you the excellent person you are today.

Happy Thanksgiving

Monday, November 7, 2016

Let's Get United Behind the Vote

Beside this being the most annoying election season I have ever experienced in my life, I must tell you that I have never been more determined on who I am voting for. I have never been more excited to go to the booth and cast my ballot. In fact, every four years my desire to vote grows stronger because of my love for this country, and my hope for what our country could become for my own personal kids. 


I am not voting for Hillary, and I'm not voting for Trump. Nope, I'm not voting for Johnson or even Stein. I am not even voting against corruption or bigotry. I'm voting for something bigger and a whole lot more important than that. 

I am voting for my children and for this amazing country. I am voting in hopes that in 2017 we will have elected officials that will drop the partisan brinksmanship and actually put the "United" back into the United States of America. I am tired of hacks killing the future of our children with their divisive bias, rhetoric and slander. I am sick of our children's future being squandered by mountains of debt accompanied by no plans to protect our country for the future. 


Will it change anything?  I don't know, but I do know one thing. If I don't vote or choose to believe that my vote is worthless, then nothing will change. We live in the greatest land on the planet, and I know one thing. "We, the people" still own this country and until our God-given right to vote is taken away, we will continue to be "We, the people". 


If we want to be a united country again, there are 2 things every American must do. First on Election Day, go vote, and let your voice be heard. Second, remember that on the day after Election Day, our mission is simple. Unite as a nation around our new president even if you can't stand him or her, and let's work together as a nation to fight the trend of becoming the Divided People of America. 

We are better than that, and our children deserve to inherit one nation under God that is truly indivisible with liberty and justice for all. That will only happen if we remember that we're not republicans, democrats, or whatever party you associate with. We are Amercans plain and simple, and when we embrace our nationality, we will truly realize the reason that we must vote. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Let's Teach Kids Tenacity in #NoExcuseNovember

October is over, and November is here.  For men, No Shave November is here, and for school No Excuse November is here.

The purpose for No Excuse November is to challenge students, parents, and teachers to crush all the excuses that prevent us from growing in our work and in our learning.  For example the biggest excuses made by most people are "I don't have time" or "I can't do that".  That's simply not true.  We have the time if we make it, and we can do anything we commit our minds to.

Let's face it.  Excuses do nothing more than allow us to remain in our current state.  They keep us in our present state and serve as a barrier to finding our inner excellence. As parents and educators, we must challenge kids to stop making the following excuses when it comes to learning:

  • I'm not a good reader.
  • Math is not my thing.
  • I can't write.
  • I don't have time to study.
None of these excuses are true.  Students can be good readers, excellent mathematicians, fantastic writers, and studious learners if we teach them to avoid the trap of making excuses.  When excuses are no longer allowed, learning increases, students learn the value of hard work and perseverance, and No Excuse November will be a powerful tool that leads kids to success.  I hope you will challenge your student to adopt the No Excuse November movement.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Do You have a Fixer Upper Mindset?

This is a guest post by Blue Ridge Elementary Principal, Matthew Todd. If you're not following this guy, you should. 

Anyone else out there addicted to the show, Fixer Upper?

For those of you who are not, each show follows a similar routine...

1) A person or couple want to purchase a home in central Texas to fix up.
2) They choose one house from three options presented by Chip and Joanna Gaines.
3) Joanna gets plans together, has them approved by the person or couple, then Chip gets the crew together and starts the remodel.
4) There is usually one phone call made when a big problem emerges and more money needs to be spent.
5) Chip finishes the remodel, Joanna decorates the house.
6) There's a big reveal where the person or couple is shown the finished product (which they love).

Why am I bringing this up?

I was watching the show this weekend, and began thinking about how it compares to what we do.

1) Parents or guardians drop off their most prized possession that needs to be "fixed up" before moving on to the next grade.
2) We get together as a campus, develop a plan, then the grade level teams get together and being the process.
3) There's usually something that goes wrong during the course of the year, which requires a phone call home.

Seems surprisingly similar up to this point...

So, what do we need to do to ensure we get this type of response:

You're probably thinking of several things right now.  I'm going to keep it simple:

1) Stick to the plan.

2) Consistently communicate the good and bad.

We have a plan in place.  Stay with it...and try not to get frustrated.  Those of you who watch the show know that whenever Chip and Jo come across a problem with the blueprints, they make an adjustment and move on.  They don't scrap the whole project and start over.

They also talk to the homeowners during the process...even when it becomes apparent that to do the job right, more money is required.  You can't be afraid to have that tough conversation.  It pays off in the end.

What reaction are you building toward this school year?  

What is that one adjustment you may need to make in order to have that reaction be positive?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Equipping Kids with Toolboxes of Excellence

Special Note - I am honored to share this post by Rene Sawatsky, Assistant Principal at Blue Ridge Elementary School, Blue Ridge ISD, Blue Ridge, Texas.  When it comes to excellence, I am always excited to see how others create a culture of excellence and this post gives another lens through which leaders and educators can view the process of developing excellence in all learners.


Do you have a toolbox of excellence at your disposal?  How are you using that toolbox?  In Ron Berger's book, An Ethic of Excellence, he describes 3 toolboxes of excellence.  The first toolbox of excellence is creating a culture of excellence in your classroom, and the second toolbox has to do with the creating and expecting the work of excellence.  The third tool box is self-esteem

"Self-esteem comes from accomplishments not compliments."

Below are a few suggestions to help teachers begin to work with students to create their own excellence:

1.  Incorporate Powerful Project Learning - As Berger puts it, "there's only so much care and concern that students can put into fill-in-the-blank work."  When students see purpose in their work, the self-accomplishment rating goes through the roof.  Celebrate their high-quality projects, publish the results so parents can see, align your projects with real community needs, connect globally with others to show off what's being done, but whenever possible show how their work is of service to others outside the school walls.  This is highly motivating for the 21st century student!

2.  Show good models so students know the difference.  Collect work samples from some of the best and show them off, telling why they make outstanding examples of work being done.  If this is the first year or you don't have models, use images.  Challenge them to strive to create work that is at the level or more excellent than the model.  Have students critique the models of various levels of excellence, so they can make determinations about what constitutes and excellent work before turning them loose on their own projects.

3.  Utilize peer critique and multiple drafts of work, keeping the drafts as a paper trail for the level of improvement and growth.  Make a clear distinction between what's rough and what's polished.  Create an atmosphere where the first is always a draft, where mistakes are common and need to be revised to make it better.  Utilize peers to encourage students that they're on the right track with their ideas.  Build a camaraderie in your classroom so students don't feel threatened but welcome input to make their projects even better.  

Be Kind, Be Specific, and Be Helpful - 3 tenets of peer critique that the author feels are important for students to develop this skill with each other.

Put your Tools to Work
When we work with an attitude of excellence, seek excellence in all things, and make the ownership of the excellence belong to the student (instead of seeming like punishment from the teacher), the self-accomplishment quotient will rise to the top and give rise to even more excellent work in the future.

It's what Berger calls working on the work!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Secret to Helping Kids find their Excellence

The greatest examples of excellence are not found in accomplishments or even accolades. They are revealed in silent, unnoticed events when we quietly demolish barriers and overcome obstacles. When it comes to our students, we must teach them that they are not defined by their results. They are actually refined by the process that produces those results. To create a culture that supports this mindset, a student must learn in an environment where he knows and hears often that his worth is never based on a numerical or letter grade. It is however derived from the effort and sweat he or she expends to achieve the result.  

In its truest form, excellence is not a result.  It is mindset, and this mindset is best reinforced by this Vince Lombardi quote. 
Source - What It Takes to be Number One by Vince Lombardi and Vince Lombardi Jr. 

Some of the best ways to condition students to find their excellence is by acknowledging and reinforcing work ethic, attributes of high quality work, persistence, and sheer determination.  These intangibles are some of the most powerful tools that kids will need to discover the excellence that is already deep inside them.

As educators and parents, we must encourage our children to define their value through their character, perseverance, hard work and sheer determination, for these are the skills that will take them  the furthest in life.  When we find personalized ways to help each individual kid see his value without being influenced by letter and numerical grades, we inspire kids to identify their strengths through their learning styles and abilities, and eventually motivate them seek exponential growth.