Friday, July 13, 2018

7 School Culture Lessons from Japan

Culture says everything about your school because it reflects the values, goals, and aspirations of the community at large. While some cultures possess values that are selfless, others take on a “me first” mindset. Other cultures value winning at all costs while a few value the reputation of their collective character above the results that the culture strives for. 

Take for instance, the Japanese fans at the World Cup whose culture created a viral impact on the world. No matter the result, the Japanese fans supported their team to the very end and then the did the unspeakable.  They cleaned up the stadium after the game. Yes, they cleaned the stadium.  Have you ever done that after a game or better yet at the visitor’s home?   The video below illustrates why they do this abnormal activity. 

So what lessons can we take from the Japanese?
Here are a few take-aways that I believe can benefit all schools and the people inside those schools.

  1. Your character is the most important thing that grows your culture.  Protect it.
  2. Your culture will have wins and losses, and how the people in that culture act in both situations says everything about you and your culture.
  3. Be joyful in everything. 
  4. Appreciate everyone in your culture for that is how your culture is developed.
  5. Celebration is the fuel that keeps your culture growing.
  6. Respect everyone especially those you disagree with.
  7. Leave your school, stadium and every place you go better than you found it.

I was truly inspired to be a better person by what the Japanese displayed, but more than that I was challenged to build a culture that emulates the Japanese spirit.  They could have been cocky when they won or bitter when they lost, but their culture was never either of those selfish postures.  That's because their culture not a ‘winner’ culture.  It is a ‘winning’ culture, and they spread their winning spirit by showing reverence, displaying respect and most importantly demonstrating unbelievable selflessness.  

I think in this time of rudeness, divisiveness, and at times downright hatefulness, our country could use a few plays from their playbook.  Our schools can be the catalyst that actually changes this nastiness that does little more than tear people down.  I say we give it a try.  You never know.  It might definitely make our schools better for all kids, and it could even make our country better for its citizens.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

5 Leadership Lessons from the Golf Course

Golf has never been a favorite sport of mine, and I mean never. Perhaps it is the tedious and technical nature of the game that never appealed to me. Maybe it was the lack of excitement in contact sports, such as soccer, basketball, and football that caused me to be a passive golf enthusiast.

As I enjoyed my monthly golf outing with my daughter, I started to see a lot of similarities between golf and leadership. Here are a few things I learned this past week.

  1. Your current shot is impacted on your ability to forget about your last shot (this applies to both good and bad last shots.).
  2. Sandtraps, and water hazards in front of you will kill your shot if let them.
  3. Keep your head down throughout your shot.
  4. Some clubs are better for your game than others. 
  5. Your focus is your friend.
I don't know about you, but my leadership can be impacted by situations that I have no control over. I have clubs that never let me down while others seem to always hurt my game. When I focus on the sand trap or water in my way, I lose confidence in my swing before I even approach the ball. Isn’t that the same with leadership. Our head is sometimes our greatness asset and worst adversary. 

 Here's the deal, my leadership suffers WHEN I allow factors beyond my control to instill fear or doubt.  Conversely my leadership excels when I look beyond the barriers and set my sights toward the green. As leaders, we owe it to our organization to keep our eyes on the prize and not the obstacles. When we can do that, our swing will be strong, accurate, and ultimately effective, and followers will find confidence in our leadership. 

This week analyze where your swing is slacking. Identify leadership “clubs” (actions) that are hurting your game, and put in some time to get better at them. Finally, identify barriers, fears, and doubts that are inhibiting your game, and make a commitment to meet them head on with confidence.  Trust me. Your game will improve when you face your fears and view your weaknesses are opportunities for growth.  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Does your Brand Sell your School's Mission?

Brands are everywhere, and they are designed to tell everyone what the organization is truly all about.  Nike's brand sells millions of shoes by saying “Just Do It”.  McDonald’s brand convinces us to eat their food with “I’m loving it”, and Chick-Fil-A wants us to "Eat More Chicken".  Absent of a brand, people have no choice but to be convinced that your brand is a random collection of beliefs or actions. If you think about it, your brand represents your daily mission. It’s a lofty belief that you use to align with all of your actions.

So what is your mission?  
Every kid, every educator, high levels of learning, 21st century preparation, etc, etc. Missions at schools are virtually the same, but does your brand match that?  What I mean is does this. Does your mission translate into a “Just Do It” excitement that draws parents, students and educators to your school?  Does your brand make people run to your school or away from it?

Here’s the deal. Your brand is not just a bunch of words. It’s an aura, a personality, a mindset, and a call to powerful action.  Furthermore, it invites all people to be a part of your movement because it doesn’t exclude them. Your brand empowers ownership, ignites passion, and inspires commitment. 

Do your Brand do That?
Every school has a brand. It’s just that some don’t energize people to believe in what’s happening. This week,  challenge yourself to evaluate your brand. You have one, whether you like it or not, and if you don’t like your current brand, remember that you are the catalyst to create a culture that can transform that brand into one that says “I’m loving it”!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Is your Leadership Aligned?

When it comes to leadership, what do teachers hate?  If you don’t know, that might be a problem for you. Better yet, it may be a problem for your leadership, and by leadership, I mean everyone who is leading with you.

Here’s the deal. Followers hate not knowing where they’re supposed to go, what they’re supposed to do, and what they should have already done. Even more they hate getting two different answers from two leaders who are supposed to be on the same page.   Bottom line, teachers hate it when their leaders are unorganized.

We leaders owe it to our teachers and followers to work together to communicate with one voice. We let teachers and followers down when we fail to calibrate our leadership skills, and we create dysfunction when we don't plan for excellence as one leadership team with one leadership vision.  

Leaders must work tirelessly to align their message, their action steps, their communication strategies, and their responses to those who need additional time and support.  We can do the work, but it requires us to drop the ego, define our true mission (helping all teachers and students), and refine our leadership practices around that mission.  When we get on the same page, we stand a much greater chance of helping everyone else, and that fosters confidence in leaders and the school's mission of guaranteeing excellence in every student through every employee every day.

Is your leadership aligned with the other leaders on your team?  Perhaps a better question is this.  Does your leadership team function as a ship or a bunch of canoes rowing in different directions?  The answer to that question could tell you where your leadership needs to grow next.

Friday, June 1, 2018

How Can We Soften Schools?

Special Note - This is not a post about guns, safety, or security.  Furthermore, my thoughts and prayers continue to be with every parent and educator of every school shooting.

Today my heart is heavy.  Another tragedy has happened at a neighboring school.  Since Parkland and Santa Fe I have struggled with this question.  "What can we do to prevent this from happening at our school?"  I am certain that this is a common question among every educator, parent, law enforcement officer, and civic leader all over America.  And it should be.  This could happen in every school in America.

But I'd like to point out a problem that I have with my question.  I feel like the approach we are taking with prevention is predominantly from the standpoint of not allowing it to happen.  Now I agree that I and those I work with must do everything in our collective power to prevent a gunman from coming into the school, and believe me.  I am constantly thinking of what more we can do to be more prepared.

So What Are We Missing???
Yes, we can and should harden our schools more.  We can take more measures to ensure that gun violence never happens in our schools, and we better be doing more right now.  But I have to ask what we as leaders, parents, and communities are doing to soften the hearts of our children.  Honestly we can’t harden our schools unless we are making intentional efforts to soften the hearts of those inside the school. In this ever-connected world, compassion appears to be waning.  We seem to have kids more and more disconnected from significant adults and meaningful relationships with other kids.

As parents, we used to work together to raise our kids.  Now could we be afraid to work with one another when one of them is starting to fall through the cracks out of fear of confrontation or condemnation?  Authentic student to student relationships have been replaced with superficial likes, follows, and streaks, and all the while depression, promiscuity, downright meanness, and apathy are glorified every time they look into the palms of their hands.

Now let's get real.  This isn't a new problem.  Kids have always struggled to find their significance, but now with every passing year, we are starting to see their hopelessness transform into audacious acts of abhorrent behavior.  There are warning signs, and we have to start asking ourselves every day what we are doing to save the students who are silently crying out in painful desperation.

How Can We Soften our Schools???
The answer to our problems starts and ends with the hearts and minds of our kids.  We have to start talking about it with them.  That means we can't ignore how kids feel.  How they feel is ultimately how they will act out.  Being nice to one another is something that we must teach, model and expect both at home and at school.  How we resolve conflict must start with the heart and end with understanding and respecting all sides.   It means a little less selfishness and lot more selflessness.

Let’s get to work. Compassion needs a comeback, and that can't happen without connecting with kids in more powerful ways.   Reaching out to kids who are neglected or disconnected must become a core action of everyone within our schools and throughout our communities.  We can do this if we remember that our primary job is to educate the heart and mind of every student.

Finally, my heart is with everyone who has been devastated by these senseless acts both directly and indirectly.  My hope is that my thoughts today challenge us all to remember that we can harden schools but we can be more effective when we also work to soften the hearts and minds of the souls who are in those schools.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Let's Turn the Last Week of School into Student Appreciation Week

The last week of school has always been about wrapping up the year. Final exams, class parties, end of year assemblies, and don’t forget the piles of stuff for kids to take home. Yes, the last week of school is our last chance to finish the year with a bang.

When I think about my end of year tasks, appreciating students was always one of those “fitting it in” tasks.   I always appreciated my kids, and thanked them for being a part of my year, but it was always my second priority.

But what if it was our first priority?
  • Students could hear words of true adulation and praise as they head off for summer. 
  • Students would transition from one building to the next knowing that they mattered in their last building. 
  • Students who are moving to new town would have the confidence needed to make new friends or put on a brave face when making new friends. 
  • Struggling students would know that their effort was good enough to have a strong start next year. 
  • Students with poor discipline would know that they have a chance for a new start next year. 

Think of it this way. 
The last week of school is our last chance to fill every student with love, appreciation, and praise that will serve as a springboard for next school year. It will give some kids the hope to endure the difficulties they will face during the summer. It’ll remind kids of just how awesome they are, and most importantly it will make you remember why you chose this profession, to save lives. Make the last week of school the most powerful week of the year for every student. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Funny Thing about Expectations

Expectations are everywhere in a school.  Some are high, and some are ridiculously high.  Some are low and some are even nonexistent.  Yes expectations are everywhere in a school, but I often ask myself what makes kids commit to them and what make them resent and actually run away from them.

The interesting thing about expectations is that they can actually cancel one another out.  Think about it.  If Teacher A has a set of expectations that Teacher B doesn't believe in or doesn't have those same expectations, then kids will resent Teacher A for expecting too much.  Conversely, parents could resent Teacher B for not having the same high expectations as Teacher A, thus parents aren't as supportive of what Teacher B is trying to accomplish.

Furthermore, let's think about our kids and where they come from.  Some kids come from inconsistent homes where expectations very from day to day or from parent to parent.  Therefore, those same kids come to school with inconsistent expectations and then we become frustrated when kids don't want to follow 8 more and different sets of expectations from 8 different teachers.


If we want kids to reach the highest levels of achievement and therefore excellence, it's not the kids who need to get on the same page with us.  It's us educators who are not on the same page with one another.  We must remember this; expectations that are high, tight and ultimately consistent are the expectations that have the greatest chance of being followed by the kids for one reason and one reason only.

Kids learn best and grow the most in consistent learning environments, and we have complete control and choice on just how consistent that environment can be.

The funny thing about expectations is this.  Kids will reach them if we educators will commit to working interdependently to achieve a common goal by creating common learning spaces with common expectations for learning.  That is essentially the secret to excellence.  Expectations created in isolation will leave you isolated and overwhelmed, but expectations created through collaboration and calibrated with ongoing collaboration will yield far greater results.

As you finish the school year, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Do I have the same expectations as my colleagues with whom I share kids?  
  • Do our expectations support our learning goals?
  • Do we work together to stay consistent with one another on a regular basis?  
  • Do we work together to address students or groups of students who fail to meet those expectations?  
  • Do we work together to enrich and empower students when they meet our expectations?  

The answers to these questions may uncover the next step to pushing your team or even your school to the pinnacle of excellence in student learning.  Expectations are all over the place, but the best schools make sure their expectations are unified and uniting educators around one thing, supporting all kids.