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.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Great Leaders Move Forward with Pushback

One way communication leads the organization one way, the wrong way. Leaders who tell others what to do without asking for input set followers up for failure, and let's face it. Without input, leaders implement action steps that often lead to missteps and mistakes that ultimately result in missed opportunities.

Great Leaders gather Great Feedback 

The most uncomfortable yet most productive move a leader can make is asking followers for honest feedback about his or her leadership. With it he can make great gains. Without it he'll continue down his path of unprogressive stability and complacent mediocrity. 

The Greatest Leaders Invite Pushback

Pushback is uncomfortable because it stretches leaders. It forces analysis of his action plan, and it demands deeper discussion and real reflection. It asks for clarity, and it elicits brutal honesty. 

The very best pushback challenges the trust that has already been established, for if it leads the organization to a better understanding, improved cohesiveness, and finer fellowship, the leader has successfully leveraged pushback to move the organization forward. 

Pushback is essential in order to make significant progress. The only question you really need to ask yourself is will you be vulnerable enough to invite your followers to give it to you, courageous enough to accept it, and wise enough to learn from it.

Pushback Pushes Organizations Forward.