Monday, October 29, 2012

The Intersection of Memory Ln. & Busy St.

Life's what you make it.

You get out of life what you put in it.

We've heard this mantra from every kind of motivational quote that focuses our minds on constant improvement. This is the path we call Busy Street. It is the path of progress and growth.  Much like a freeway, you must move fast, narrow your focus and keep your eye on the road and your hands on the wheel. 

Life's not the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.

Live, Laugh, Love.

When we hear these quotes, our minds quickly gravitate to our family, and we instantly cherish the time and special memories that we have had with the people that mean the most to us. We call this place Memory Lane.  This path is one of emotion and feelings.  Much like a less frequently traveled country road, you can drive slow, enjoy the view, roll down the windows, soak up the sun and feel the wind in your hair.

This post is dedicated to my son, who is a senior this year.  As a senior parent, I find myself reflecting daily on the time that has passed so quickly.  With every last event in his high school career, I feel him naturally growing out of our house.  His last football game, his last pep rally, his last band performance at the football game, his last 'this' and his last 'that'.  Being at these "last" events, I take mental snapshots of everything I can on my path down Memory LaneEmotions and feelings of sadness, elation and guilt abound.

Yes, I said guilt.  Did I spend too much time on Busy Street trying to provide the best for him and my family?  Did I sacrifice too much time being busy instead of making memories?  Did I fail to sit quietly and observe when I was preoccupied with tasks?

So which way do I go now?

Here are some tips for myself that I think would benefit all leaders that are stuck on Busy Street!
  • Go down Busy Street, but make sure you exit the freeway often to take a slower scenic route.
  • When you get on Memory Lane, don't take Busy Street behaviors with you.  They take you away from the reason you're on Memory Lane in the first place.
  • While on Memory Lane, pull over on the side of the road.  Stop and just soak up the scenery.
  • Put your phone down and don't worry about what's happening on Busy Street.
  • Make your time on Memory Lane special by showing your love for your family with your words, actions and most importantly time.
As we get older, there is a consuming fire within leaders that drives them to do everything we can to solidify our career.  We must reach the goal, achieve excellence and make our organizations highly effective and efficient.  Everyday, this fire forces us to narrow our focus even more to the point that we forget that there is actually life beyond the superhighway of success.

So for Thanksgiving, I challenge you and me both to exit the freeway wherever we may be.  Take a path that is slow where we can create memories that will last forever in our lives and in our families' lives.  Disconnect and unplug from all the tools and structures of progress, and enjoy life.  That is hard for driven people because true life is not task driven, and in the end, it doesn't really matter how far you got down Busy Street.  Life is relationship driven and that is what Thanksgiving is all about.  Give thanks for the life that God gave you, the people that he put in your life and the ability to create and remember special times with them.

Happy Thanksgiving

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Never Neglect Insignificance

I read a blog the other day about the leadership of the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, John Wooden. I wondered what epic leaders do differently, and I was shocked to find that the first lesson that Wooden taught his players was how to correctly put on their socks. Really?? Socks??? His rationale was rather simple. If the players can't put on their socks correctly, they will get blisters on their feet. Once that happens, no amount of leadership, motivation or coaching will make the player effective or successful.

So What are the Socks in Education?

To me, it seems that the socks of education are support and how to access it. Teachers stay covered up in the ever changing mandates and accountability pressure. If educators don't have the necessary supports in place, they will surely get blisters or burnout; thus, knocking them out of the game. Sadly, many leave the teaching field because their lack of support gave them a poor impression of the profession all together.

How Do We Correctly Put on our Socks?

From day one teachers must hear and feel from their coach or leader  that the leader's job is to support and serve the teachers. The leader and fellow teachers are the socks that prevent initial injury.  Teachers must also know the detailed expectations for how to be prepared with the curricular, instructional and assessment practices of the district. This takes lots of organization on the leader's part to ensure that teachers are adequately prepared for success in the classroom. If teachers do not receive support through mentors, teams and pacing guides with important details, the path of student performance will be left to chance, and leaders will be left with unreliable results on whether students are learning or not.

Once We have our Socks on Correctly...

Players are ready to grow and perform by receiving feedback that is concise and precise, positive and constructive, direct and affirming.  Leaders can help players capitalize on mistakes by turning them into coaching points. Coaches must avoid being critical and punitive in their tone and actions because the player will never be receptive to future ideas of how they can improve. Players are conditioned  by the coach's daily interactions, and it is important to make sure the coach doesn't condition players to never reveal mistakes and even worse present a false facade that all is well.  Failure on the leader's part to establish this critical line of trusting communication could result in many kids failing, and this would be due to the leader creating conditions for the player  to fear having their mistakes used against them.  In short the relationship between the coach and the player keeps the socks on correctly.

Buzzer Beater

There is nothing more exciting than watching a buzzer beating shot in a closely contested basketball game.  The reason that John Wooden is the most prolific coach in NCAA basketball history is because his teams were consistently victorious. He was a masterful motivator, but even more important, he became a legend because never neglected details that seemed insignificant.

Minimizing your Moron Factor

Leaders can be morons. Now this is not always the case, but it happens from time to time. Sometimes, when I'm sitting in a meeting, I get really involved in the discussion, and suddenly, something begins to change.  I sense this awkward and uncomfortable feeling and notice that my moron factor is starting to increase.

What just happened?  I heard that there was a problem, so I started talking about what we needed to do to resolve the issue. Within about three seconds, the facial expressions of the people in the room signaled that my moron factor was increasing.  The conversation segued from deep discussion into deafening silence as the focused engagement disintegrated before my very eyes, and that's when I realized. John, you're such a moron.

Leaders are morons when they:

1Monopolize conversations.
2. Omit others' ideas.
3. Respond before fully understanding.
4. Overlook the expertise of others.
5. Neglect opportunities to build collaborative capacity.

How can we decrease our Moron Factor?

1.  Less Talking, More Listening
When a problem is afoot, I tend to stick my foot in my mouth the more I talk. Great leaders talk only after they really understand the situation. That can't happen without listening. When listening leaders use their words, they are restating and clarifying what the problem is rather than telling people what their problem is. You can't really clarify unless you really listen. 

2.  Less Telling, More Asking
Managers tell people what to do to fix their problem. Leaders ask more questions to help people solve their own problems. The answer is always in the room because everybody has their mind wrapped around the question.  Solutions can be created, but they need questions to help them evolve. Telling takes people backwards, while asking moves them forward. 

3.  Less Solutions, More Choices
Leaders forget that their role is global; therefore, they tend to offer global solutions to specific problems. Specific problems can only be remedied with specific and detailed solutions from the specific person that is directly impacted by the problem. Leaders must avoid the temptation to give solutions and instead guide teams and individuals to devise their own solution by offering multiple choices or even better, solution pathways.

The Bottom Line

If you want to lessen your moron factor, there is one simple solution.  Emphasize your empowerment factor. Tell less and guide more. The more you guide, serve and support, the more your staff will rely on your expertise, and the less they will think you're a moron. If you don't believe me, tell me what you think about your boss when he or she tells you what to do when he doesn't understand your problem.

What do you do that increases your moron factor?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Art of Self-Contol

Self-control is an extremely valuable skill, especially if you're a leader. If you have it, you can lead ordinary teams to amazing results. If you don't have it, amazing teams will quickly disintegrate. Do you have self-control? Lets take a look at the definition and 3 components of self-control.

Definition - n. the restraint of one's feelings and actions.

Component 1 - Controlled Anger
Anger is not a bad thing. It is a natural human emotion, but if we allow it to take over our bodies, minds and soul, it will ruin us and our career. Uncontrolled anger is the result of being unable to handle the results of a bad situation. Being slow to anger is the most important aspect of controlling anger. You can't change the result of what has happened to this point, so don't let your anger focus you on the past. Last, failure to control your anger will tear down the trust in your organization like a tornado tears down a house that took months to build.

Component 2 - Controlled Ambition
Wanting to succeed professionally is not a bad thing. Like anger, it is a very natural human quality. Where it goes wrong is when leaders focus on making themselves successful rather than making others successful. Lets be honest. No one wants to follow a leader that touts all that he has done. In order to control your ambition, focus on promoting and celebrating the work of others. They deserve it. By helping others to grow in their work, your leadership will also grow. Be patient, your professional aspirations will be realized in due time.

Component 3 - Controlled Selfishness
Being selfish means to do things for yourself with no regard for others. How can you lead when you have no regard for others? The time that you invest in a behavior is borrowed from something else. Do you invest time in things that satisfy yourself or satisfy others? Do you deny others' needs for your selfish ambition? Are you unwilling to ask difficult questions because the answers may reveal weaknesses in your leadership? If you fail to control you selfishness, you hurt others and yourself by limiting or controlling your own potential.

No leader is perfect at self control, but I have seen some excellent strategies that leaders have used to control themselves. The main trait that I have seen in these leaders is the art of patience and calmness in the storm. In difficult times, they are calm and composed, and as a result, they can move the problem to solutions quickly. They know what they can control and what they cannot control. They can't control people, but they can influence them positively with their calm demeanor. Ultimately, they understand that in order to positively impact an organization, they must control their actions, words and emotions with self-discipline, self-actualization and most importantly self-humility.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Race to Educate

Running an endurance race for the first time is quite exhilarating. The anticipation mounts with the gathering of the runners.  The anxiety builds and finally the race begins. As the runner takes off, he finds it hard to gauge his initial progress. Is the pace too fast? Is he running too slow? The runner's brain pulses with every runner passing him by. There is little else that can describe the first mile of a race. Everyone is jockeying for position, trying to gain the edge.

As I synthesize the start of a race, I can't help but think how teachers in isolated systems feel. Without a team to collaborate with or a set of values to give them guidance or a vision to serve as a beacon of light, what emotions will run through their mind at the start of the race? In this race to educate every child, some will start off too fast and fall apart before they get halfway through it. Some will take off too slow and the race will end before they do. Some will finish the race, but they will have no one to share the sense of accomplishment with.

So what does every teacher need this Christmas to make it through the most important race in educational history?


In order to be the best runner, you need the best gear, training and coaching to compete.  In education, it's no different.  Educators need access to all of the resources, but more importantly, the training on how to effectively use the resources.  Many schools provide adequate or even superb resources, but no training about them.  This leads me to the most important resource that teachers need and that is TIME!!!  Without proper time to plan, ineffective lessons and poor use of resources occur.  This will lead to teacher fatigue and in time falling out of the race all together.  Coaches and leaders must be present to help, listen and guide educators so they, themselves, can be a valuable resource to the educator.


Affirmation is confirming that something is true.  To me, we all need to know that the path we are on is true or at least headed in the right direction.  This is where feedback is critical.  The more frequent the feedback we receive, the more we are fed intellectually.  All educators need feedback from their supervisors, from members on their team and from those that they lead.  Not all feedback must be positive to be helpful, but it must be TRUE.  If a runner's pace is too slow, the runner must be affirmed that what they are doing is not enough.  Feedback or affirmation is the nourishment that you need to continue running.


Just like every runner sees more improvement by working with a team, teachers benefit more by working regularly with a team of teachers focused on the same aspects of educating children. Teams that collaborate together, stay together, and they do so, because the focus is not on individual improvement but collective improvement. The purpose of a team is to get everyone across the finish line, and that occurs when all members are committed to making everyone successful.  Collaboration builds the stamina that every runner needs to finish the race successfully.


We all perform better when others cheer for us. Encouragement and celebration along the way help educators stay mentally focused on the importance of finishing the race.  Encouragement is different than affirmation because affirmation requires the runner to acknowledge his current reality.  Encouragement is what every runner needs after they accept their current reality.  Whether you are behind or ahead, every educator must feel appreciation from supervisors, teammates, students and parents.  The leader's job is to make sure that everyone comes out and cheers the teachers on to the finish line throughout the race.  Encouragement is the 2nd wind every runner needs to run even faster.

Half Way Point

It's almost Christmas and teachers across the country have finished their first mile or two in this race to educate every child. As their coach, we must ascertain where they are in the race. At this point they need support from their leader of the good job that they are doing. They have reached the water station and they need to quench their thirst. This month, I challenge you to join me in being the best Resource you can be to Affirm, build Collaboration and Encourage your fellow educators.  They are running their tails off to educate every child.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Collaborative Teacher Appraisal Systems

In Texas, our evaluation instrument is called PDAS, Professional Development Appraisal System. The emphasis should be on professional development but with the lack of time (due to endless tasks) to get to all of the components of the system, administrators usually resort to completing only the appraisal part of the system. Sadly, the result usually finds the principal coming in with little knowledge of the teacher, instruction and the class' progress up to that point. He bases the evaluation on his interpretation of instruction and gives the teacher feedback on what he saw in 45 minutes. The end.

There's a giant disconnect here. The principal is giving feedback on his or her perception of each of the indicators in the appraisal system with little knowledge of all the work that the teacher has done. For the teacher, he or she is hoping that what he or she is doing will meet the virtually unknown perceptions of the administrator.

What's an even bigger problem is that the administrator is doing this to several teachers at one time, and the teachers often wonder what is expected from the administrator in the evaluation. And even bigger than that the administrator has no baseline, other than the evaluation instrument, to base his subjective ratings.

To ensure appraisal alignment between both parties, administrators meet with teachers before they have the formal evaluation. The administrator clarifies his or her expectations for what they would like to see in the classroom, and the teacher plays a role in the discussion by sharing what they are going to deliver in the instruction. This will help things, but here's the problem with this from a global perspective.

Time constraints
If an administrator is evaluating 20 employees, how much time will he or she spend pre-conferencing with every single person that they are going to evaluate? A good pre-conference last about 30 minutes, so for 20 employees the administrator would need to take 600 minutes or 10 hours to do pre-conferencing alone. Will every pre-conference get the same level of dialogue from these 10 isolated hours?

Limited ideas
If the preconference is at its very best, how many ideas can be gained from one 30 minute conversation between one teacher and one administrator, even if the setting has the ultimate level of trust? If the administrator is interrupted mentally or physically (which is certain to occur), the think tank is reduced to 1 person.

Instead of one administrator spending 30 minutes meeting with one teacher at a time, why not get all of the employees together with the administrator and meet in 3 or 4 meetings of 30 minutes each to discuss the evaluation together. The administrator would cut the pre-conferencing from 10 hours down to 2 hours. That's efficiency!

Safety in Numbers
When there are several teachers in the room with one administrator, teachers feel more comfortable in sharing their ideas about the evaluation criteria. They will also be more willing to ask questions about what the administrator's thoughts are on the criteria.

Exponential Ideas
If the administrator will spend time guiding discussion about each indicator with the group, teachers can be truly collaborative about what those indicators look like and sound like in action. In this setting, teachers will feel more comfortable asking questions about the criteria to the administrator and to different teachers that share ideas in the meeting. The focus of the meeting moves from the teacher and the administrator agreeing on the conditions of the appraisal to creating high quality instruction in action. That's a think tank on steroids!

Pre-Observation Walk-Throughs
Administrators should spend some time in each teacher's classroom giving them feedback before the formal evaluation. I plan to use the Evernote app and take specific notes and then share them with the teacher. The notes will be scripted in a way that are not judgmental but rather factual things that are seen in the classroom based on the collaborative discussion from all the teachers. My hope is to have dialogue with the teacher and encourage the teacher to visit with other teachers to gather suggestions and new ideas. The purpose of the informal walk-throughs is to ensure alignment on the criteria between the teacher and the administrator.

Instructional Rounds
After my first meeting with all the teachers that I plan to evaluate last week, two teachers stayed after the meeting. They asked me if it was okay to observe another teacher from the meeting that had great ideas that they wanted to know more about. My response was an emphatic yes followed by a question of how I could help them get into the classroom to watch the teacher teach. This, after all, is the ultimate form of professional development.

Teacher Retention
Now imagine! What teacher wouldn't want to be in a system like this:
  • A system where the expectations are that the teachers co-labor with the administrator and one another to come up with the criteria for each indicator in the evaluation,
    A system where teachers commit to support one another to make sure that all of them are successful,
    A system where teachers are wanting to be in each other's rooms to learn from one another,
    A system where professionalism & improvement are the centerpieces of the appraisal system.

Putting the PD in PDAS
A strong collaborative team has an immense amount of power to build capacity in every single employee. Teachers want a great evaluation, and they want to know that they are doing a great job. Administrators must provide the supports and the avenues for teachers to work together to ensure that every teacher succeeds instructionally first and earns an excellent evaluation second. Through this system every teacher who commits to this collaborative appraisal system should earn an excellent evaluation because the teachers and the administrators are working in tandem to ensure that instruction is at the highest levels of quality, and shouldn't that be the intended outcome of an appraisal system?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pruning your Leadership

This past week I have been meeting with different leaders on my leadership team. In our second year of building our campus leadership team and a campus PLC philosophy, we have noticed that we are experiencing much faster growth in a positive direction. Rapid individual growth coupled by extending abilities into new directions have led each leader to new and unique places in their leadership. They are identifying innovative ways of doing things that are benefiting kids and teachers, and this is extremely exciting to watch.

The problem that we currently face is that each leader is encountering different challenges, and there's not enough time to get to all of the recently implemented improvements as well as the old and productive tasks. The best analogy that I can make is that each leader represents a plant that has too many limbs as a result of their initial amazing growth. If this plant is able to grow stronger and taller, the gardener (leader) must be willing to prune unnecessary foliage so that the plant will continue to grow and thrive. Take a look at this YouTube video about how this gardener makes decisions when pruning bushes and plants.

Pruning your Plants

Before the gardener begins to prune the plant, he must know what the plant will look like if it is going to develop in its second year. In other words he must visualize what the tree or plant will look like next year as a result of purposeful pruning. Once he has a vision for what he wants the plant to look like, he then can make important decisions on which limbs will help the plant reach its maximum potential and which limbs are inhibiting growth. Branches that are close to structures or are overlapping one another must be eliminated. Cutting away the "sucker" branches is critical.

The same goes with leadership. Each leader must know which skills or which tasks are overlapping one another and thus are no longer useful. Old ways of doing things that were once successful may no longer be needed to help the leader lead his team. Those actions, too, must be eliminated. Tasks that were once meant to help teachers and students have become ingrained in the organization and no longer need you. Removing these actions and simplifying behaviors helps make the leader a stronger, more productive and more fruitful plant. In pruning the unnecessary branches from the plant of leadership, the leader is able to guide their leadership toward future growth which makes the leader a much healthier leader.

The last consideration to make before pruning a leadership task is can the team or organization sustain this action without leadership? If the answer is yes, remove it. If the answer is no, the leader must take purposeful steps to make the action sustainable by the team and then make plans to remove himself from the task once the team is capable of taking ownership.

Which actions, behaviors or processes do you need to prune from your leadership and what ideas do you have about pruning them?