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.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Underneath the Excellence

I am often inspired by excellent results. When teams win championships, organizations attain major accolades, and individuals reach the mountaintop, I can’t help but be motivated to push myself to aspire for greater personal results. While I am often inspired by excellent achievements, there’s one thing that piques my curiosity even more.

The Story behind the Excellence

We never see the unnoticed hours of painstaking work. We never hear about the setbacks that transformed into comebacks. We never felt the failure and rejection that fueled the hard work and perseverance. All we ever see and therefore know is the product, not the process.

Everyone wants excellence but not everyone wants invest time in writing the story that reaches it. Mediocrity and comfort often creep into those stories as the antagonists, while sacrifice and resolve are unable to save the day as protagonists. The fact is this. 

We glorify the product but demonize the process. 

As leaders what stories are we telling to inspire excellence?  Are we illuminating the all-stars while ignoring the stories in the making?  Are we setting lofty goals while failing to show examples of how the work is the excellence? The answer to these questions will tell you if you’re superficially scratching the surface of excellence or digging deep to discover what it takes to achieve it. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

6 Actions to Convert Followers into Leaders

Leaders are everywhere and so is their impact. Some make tremendous gains for those they lead while others see their role as maintaining the status quo.  And of course there are always some who appear born to do nothing but destroy their organization minute by minute.  Yes, leaders are everywhere, but what does it take to stand out as an excellent leader?

Bass defined the highest level of leadership as transformational leadership which is the leader's ability to convert followers into leaders and perhaps moral agents. Well that’s a pretty lofty goal for all leaders to aspire for, but what do great leaders do to get everyone to become a leader, let alone moral agent?

They get everyone following first with these 6 critical leadership skills. 

6 Attributes of an Excellent Leader
In order to get everyone following, ( aka - the first step of leadership), great leaders exhibit these 6 traits. 
Listening - Leaders learn the most when they listen more than they speak.
Empathic - Leaders can't become excellent unless they walk in their followers' steps.
Approachable - Excellent leaders create an environment where everyone feels comfortable enough to approach the leader with any concern, suggestion or even complaint.
Disciplined - Great leaders don't do everything.  They are disciplined, and they do the most essential things.
Energizing - Excellent leaders are like phone chargers to their followers, and they find unique ways to revitalize those they lead.
Reflective  - Leaders can't find excellence without looking in the mirror frequently.

Excellent leaders basically inspire everyone to run a marathon of organizational improvement.  Improvement can't be mandated, dictated or even scripted.  It requires everyone to play a critical role.  If we want everyone to run, we have to create the conditions to inspire everyone to start by crawling first, then learning to walk (i.e. lead), then learning how to run, and finally learning how to improve their running form, endurance, and speed. 

Running is hard work, and not everyone wants to do it.  The same can be said of leading.  Not everyone thinks they are a leader, but excellent leaders know that their mission is not improvement.  It's to create a system where everyone is working interdependently to achieve a common goal, and that system isn't comprised of just one leader, but of everyone leading in their area of expertise to make the entire organization and the people within it better.

Monday, April 23, 2018

3 Ways to turn Why in to Why Not

Why, what a powerful word. It can push thinking to even greater heights, but it can also stop progress dead in its tracks. Have you ever wanted to do something big only to have your leader kill it with a question that started with Why?  Sure we have.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. 
Why can become the beginning of the end of your idea, but you have a secret weapon to defeat the Why makers in your life. It’s called a Why Not. 

3 Ways to Turn a Why into a Why Not. 
Negate Excuses by anticipating them
Offer evidence that supports your Why not. 
Tell your Story of possibilities behind your Why Not

The reason we do anything starts either with a Why or a Why Not. Our approach to each why can lead to our failure to make meaningful change or it can inspire us to take a chance that could lead to amazing possibilities. Why and why not. The difference between the two is your desire to make this world a better place.