Saturday, October 21, 2017

Closing the ASPIRATION Gap

There is a massive gap in student success that we know exists, but we never talk about it.  The reason is simple.   It's not slapping us in the face because so many other gaps exist.  Whether it's the poverty gap or the achievement gap, there are so many gaps out there that we don't even think of this gap, and the sad reality is this.  We have 100% control over this gap.

The Aspiration Gap
Research says that by the time kids are in middle school, 93% of them believe they will go to college.  But by the time those same students graduate from high school, only 44% actually enroll.

THAT IS SCARY.







Why do kids lose this belief between middle school and graduation? Better yet, what role do we educators play in this statistic.  Honestly, I can't tell you all of the factors that play a role in the aspiration gap, but I can tell you one big factor that could reverse it.

WHAT WE SAY and WHAT WE DO.

What we tell kids every day convinces them that they have or don't have what it takes to go to college.  How we communicate performance through our grading practices tells them they're a failure or a future college grad.  How we instill the value of hard work, grit, determination and perseverance shows them how to be a perpetual quitter or it shows them the pathway they must take daily to go to college or a career pathway of their choosing.  

Finally, what we believe about our own individual impact on students is probably the single biggest factor that could kill this trend.  Think about it.  If every educator believed that his primary role was to be every kid's college prep motivator, what would happen?  We would no longer see kids as students.  We would see them as scholars, future college graduates, and game changers.

WE are the Key to Closing the Aspiration Gap!  
Let's make it happen for all kids today. They deserve it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Most Powerful Question Leaders are Afraid to Ask

Questions are a every leader's best friend. How are things going? How can I help? What do you need?   Questions like these can take leaders to places they have never been and they can solve problems that have yet to be identified.  When followers are asked questions of support from the leader, it lets them know that the leader is interested, that he cares, or that she wants to support you. 

But there's one question many leaders are afraid to ask. 

It isn't a question about helping out. It's not a question of interest to learn from the follower. It's not even a question about the follower. It's this question.

Where am I stifling your ability and performance?

This is one of the most vulnerable questions a leader could ever ask. It's so hard for leaders to ask this question because the leader must invite the follower to critique the leader. The leader must ask this question; however, because failure to find the answer will continue to hold the follower back. It will keep one more straw on the camel's back, and it continue to add one more thing to that person's plate. 

If we leaders want to save those we have been entrusted to lead, we must elicit their feedback on our performance. We must ask questions that help us identify where our leadership is hurting the performance of others.  We will discover where we are overwhelming followers, how we are failing to support them, and where we are neglecting those who feel unsupported. This question will not only open the lines for future communication. It will create a culture of empowerment and reciprocity where the follower is the leader, and the leader is the follower. 

Even the leader must be led, right? 

This week, challenge yourself to ask questions that will lead you to a more powerful impact on those you have been called to lead.  It may be just the question that will empower you to lead all of your followers to discover their excellence. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

What's the Lead Limit???

Every time I'm in the car with my wife, she regularly reminds me of the speed limit. Yes I have a bit of a lead foot, and thankfully for her I haven't been pulled over in a long time (knock on wood). Speed limits are frustrating to me personally but on the flip side, I appreciate just how essential they are to have an orderly and safe society. 

Speed limits are annoying (especially in the city) when you're in a hurry that is faster than the speed you're allowed to go. There is an element of patience than you must adopt, for if you don't respect the speed limit, you'll get a ticket or worse cause an accident that could cause you even greater problems.  

So What's your Lead Limit???
Think about it. As a leader, there isn't a "Lead Limit sign" posted; therefore, we can lead as fast as we want to...  Or can we?  How many times have we been so excited about a new initiative that we led it as fast as we could only to find that we caused mayhem and destruction like that of a race car video game. 

Have you ever got off to a slow start and felt like you're going way too slow for the work that needs to be done? Have others been annoyed because they are waiting on you for next steps to get started?  Leading too slow causes aggravation, decreased ownership, and lower respect and appreciation for the leader. 

What determines your Lead Limit?
Here are a few issues that leaders should consider when determining their Lead Limit they should follow to successfully lead a particular initiative.

1. The number of people you lead. 
2. The speed at which people can adapt to change. 
3. The amount of stress currently in the organization. 
4. The current collective knowledge base in place prior to making the specific change. 
5. The cohesiveness of the people in the organization. 
6. The number of leaders in the leadership team. 
7. The number of people uncertain of the change or actively leading against change. 
8. The amount and frequency of the communication provided by the leader to facilitate dialogue among members of the organization. 
9. How much celebration is used to recognize people who are making growth or going above and beyond. 
10. The amount of reflection the leader does personally and leads with members of the organization. 

What should your Lead Limit Be?
The answer to this question is not based on what you need or your leadership style or even proficiency.  The Lead Limit is determined by the needs of your followers, and its enforced by their ability and confidence to make change.  Follow your Lead Limit and you'll find yourself successfully leading your organization to excellence.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The 2nd 20 Days of Excellence

The 1st 20 days of school are critical to starting your journey to excellence, and now they are coming to an end for many students.  So what does that mean and what is the next step?  That means that what kids have done everyday since the first day of school is now a habit, and the next step is to break bad habits and solidify habits of excellence.  

So What Habits have your Kids Formed?

Do your students have productive habits?  Have the built habits that will lead to excellence, or have they created habits of avoidance?  Do they instinctively jump into a new task with a groan once it is announced, or do their eyes light up because they are conditioned to embrace uncertainty?   The answers to these questions culminate into one question.  

How well did you do at establishing your vision for excellence in the 1st 20 days?

If your vision of excellence is not where you want it to be, that's ok.  In fact, that's great because acknowledging you're not where you want to be means that you want to make meaningful change to get back on the path to excellence.    

The next step to making the 2nd 20 days of school great for all kids is to see what kind of habits have formed with individual students especially those who struggle.   

  • Resources - Determine how competent kids are with your resources for learning.  If they don't like the resources or don't know how to use them, that reinforces habits of avoidance.
  • Routines - Assess your routines and procedures and determine where students need higher expectations or even accountability from you. 
  • Relationships - Identify which students have negative relationships with you, your content or with students in the room.  Relationships are critical to success in learning.
  • Engagement - Evaluate where your lesson planning fails to meet struggling students head-on.  The failure to engage specific students guarantees that habits of poor performance that become petrified and therefore unbreakable.
  • Rigor - Which content is too challenging for kids?  How can you make it more accessible and ultimately attainable to learn?
  • Differentiation - How many minutes of learning are students empowered to chase their learning through intervention and extension?  The answer to this question will lead you to create need learning experiences to reinforce positive learning habits.
  • Celebration - What are you celebrating?  Better yet, what are the kids celebrating?  If it's the end of class, it's time to build celebration into your instruction.

The 2nd 20 Days = 1st 20 Days + 1 Focus on Excellence
The 1st 20 Days of school establish the pathway to excellence, but the 2nd 20 days can either accelerate or stall your growth towards excellence.   If we want the next 20 days of school to accelerate growth, we must reflect.  We must brave enough, vulnerable enough and critical of ourselves and our work so that we can find our areas or opportunities for growth (aka weaknesses).  Then and only then will we discover how to make the 2nd 20 Days of School even better than the 1st 20.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Moving from Maximized to Optimized Leadership

Leaders always want to get more done, but does getting more done lead to optimum performance or even ultimate impact.  Seth Godin made a great point in his post "Optimum or Maximized".  Maximum speed is not the same as optimum speed.  So if you apply this idea to leadership, what is the difference between optimized leadership and maximized leadership?
  • Maximizedshort-term output level of high stress, where parts degrade but short-term performance is high.
  • Optimizedthe best or most effective use of a situation, opportunity, or resource.
  • Leadership - service, influence, the function of a leader, the action of leading a group of people.
Leadership is essentially a vehicle for systemic improvement.  Even the word has a vehicle in it (ship). You can go as fast as you like, but if you're chasing maximum output, your vehicle will overheat and eventually burn up.  Maximized leadership will go faster than optimum leadership, but it will eventually burn the leader out and destroy the organization.

Optimized leadership, on the other hand, can never burn out because this form of leadership optimizes every situation.  It gets the best out of all people.  It makes the most of all time available, and it doesn't waste resources, people or their time either.  If we want optimum organizational performance, leaders should shift their focus from maximum output to optimized performance.  The organization will thank you for it.





Friday, September 8, 2017

The Secret about "Good Data"

Everyone wants "good data", but so often it's rarely found.  The minute you receive low scores, you have "bad data", right?  If you receive high scores, skepticism creeps in, and you doubt if they really knew it at high levels.  Does your data leave you with doubt?

Here's the reality.  Good Data is Fool's Gold.  There's no such thing as "good data".


What we need is VALID DATA

The secret to getting valid data is to create valid assessments.  Think about it.  If you fail to spend time creating assessments that you believe in, you will discount the data it yields and therefore blame the assessment for giving you "bad data" or invalid data.  If you have little involvement creating the assessment and the data is "good", then you will wonder if the assessment truly met the depth and complexity of the standards you wished to assess.  In short the quality of the assessment leads to the validity of the data.  There's no other way around it.


The Secret to Valid Data
Bottom line is there are a few things to consider if you want to move from getting good data to generating valid and actionable data.

  1. Know your standards.
  2. Create assessment items that assess those standards at the basic, intermediate and advanced level.
  3. Provide students a variety of assessment items that require students to transfer their learning in predictable as well as unpredictable situations.
  4. Analyze the student data by student by standard by level of proficiency.

At the end of the day, you will never get data that will drive your work with laser-like precision until you create assessments that are intentional, meaningful, and most importantly reliable in driving your response to student learning.  Good data tells you how you did.  Valid data drives you to know what to do next.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Let's Create a Human-force Hurricane of Help

As I sat this weekend and into the week watching Hurricane Harvey, I was paralyzed by what I saw.  It was devastation like I have never seen before. I thought Katrina and Rita were bad in 2004, but this was unbelievable.  As I watched TV 4 hours from the eye of the storm, I thought to my self, what can I do to help literally millions of people who in many cases lost much if not everything.

As the magnitude of everything sank in, I got a message from Todd Nesloney asking me and others in
his PLN to send a welcome back message to his Webb Elementary staff.  Then I watched Eric Sheninger's Facebook posts directly from his house which was inches from flooding, and then I had numerous conversations with my friend and fellow superintendent, Brian Morris, about the devastation his district is experiencing.  So I decided to join what people around the world are doing, jumping in and getting involved to help our friends and neighbors in southeast Texas.

HURRICANE HELP
The only way to respond to the worst hurricane in history is with a human-force hurricane of even greater power.  Let's get give everything we can to help our fellow Americans and Texas brothers and sisters.  Here are just a few ways that together we can create human-force hurricane of help.

1. Jeff Mann - @mann4edu (Adopt a School)




2. Kasey Bell - @shakeuplearning

Texas Needs Your Help, Y’all! – Harvey Relief




3. TREA - Texas Rural Educators Association




4. Eric Sheninger - @E_Sheninger  - Will You Step Up



5. My District - @blueridgeisd

How BRISD will Help with Hurricane Harvey
Harvey If you have been watching the news, you are probably hurting for the people in southeast Texas.  The impact is beyond belief, and we know many people who have lost everything.  In talking with several people in our district, we all want to do something to help, so we have elected to teach our kids how to give a random act of kindness to someone even though we can't possibly help everyone.  

You are invited to join BRISD in supporting residents in Columbus ISD.  We elected to build a personal relationship and help one district in hopes that we encourage other districts to adopt other districts so that all districts get specific support.  We hope that this act will be one more example that inspires everyone to give what they can to help our Texas brothers and sisters.




6. Traditional ways that you can donate:

 Will you step up?  
Will you join the relief effort?  Millions of Texans need us, and we must do everything we can to help them.  Texas is waiting for Hurricane Help.  Will you be part of it? I will.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Economy of Excellence

Do you know someone that amazes you by how much they accomplish?  Is there someone who inspires to you do more because they do so much?  Who is the person that accomplishes excellence no matter where they are or no matter what circumstances they encounter?  Why do they exceed and how do they succeed?

The Economy of Excellence
Time is the constant. How we leverage it is the variable. The best get more done for one simple reason. They waste less time than the rest of us. They are more efficient in their use of time and more effective in optimizing their time in various tasks. 

So How Can We Improve the Economy? 

Not Right Now - Excellent people say yes to critical tasks and not right now to less than critical tasks. 

Automaticity - Excellent people work to increase their automaticity into their work. Their work fluency is how they accelerate their work and ultimately get more things done than others. 

Leadership Capacity - Excellent leaders improve their economy by building leadership capacity and by empowering decision making in followers so that they preserve their time and reserve their effort for decisions that can only be answered by them. 

Reflection - Excellent people reflect regularly and use reflection to improve their economy. They identify where they are wasting time, being over-involved, or under-involved in improving outcomes. 

How's your Economy?

Where are you wasting time?  Where do you need to increase in your automaticity?  Where do you need to let go and empower others.  The answers to these questions are the key to improve your economy, and the ability or inability to act. The only question we have to answer is will we have courage to change.  

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Create your Very Own Pineapple Club! (FREE RESOURCE)

The pineapple is the universal symbol of welcoming people into your home, and many teachers are seizing this symbol as an opportunity to open their classroom to other teachers.  And this makes sense.  Teachers learn more when they are open to having people visit their classrooms to help them get better.

Do you want to create your very own Pineapple Club?
Below I have created a Canva that you can print and post outside your door.  On this canva, teachers can post the excellence they would like to share with others.  Additionally, teachers can also use this tool to seek feedback and advice on areas that they would like to grow.

I am very excited that teachers in our district are creating their very own Pineapple Club because they are modeling a deep desire to learn, grow and excel.  The Pineapple Club is a fantastic way to help more kids grow in their learning because teachers are modeling their desire to learn, vulnerability, and confidence in who they are as excellence in progress.

Wouldn't it be awesome if as a profession we could create this initiative in every school?   We would learn a tremendous amount because we would knock down the walls of isolation and come together as a professional learning community with one explicit purpose, building shared knowledge around best practices that help all kids grow in their learning.

Isn't that what school is all about, helping all kids grow by seeking professional growth first?


Pineapple Club by Johnwink90

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Answer Questions ONCE and for ALL with C4B4Me

Questions are essential to an organization's success, and for good reason. They drive new learning and continuous growth.  The plain and simple truth is that good leaders and teachers embrace followers and students who ask questions because they know that their questions mean they're in it to win it. 

BUT DO WE ANSWER TOO MANY QUESTIONS???

There is one caveat to this thought. The same question asked over and over stifles leaders from making progress. Think about it. Do you ever get tired of answering the same question over and over?  
Of course we do.  Does the same question over and over stop you from moving forward?  Why yes it does.

So whose fault is it that you are asked the same questions repeatedly?

Great leaders understand that the same question asked over and over stifles leadership impact and solidifies learned helplessness. In other words, the want to answer questions one time to the person asking the question and a second time for every person after that.

3 TIPS TO ANSWER QUESTIONS ONCE AND FOR ALL

1. TELL - when a question is posed if you, assume others can benefit from your response. Recognize

and thank the person for asking the question in a group setting or even an email and list your response. That solidifies both that you embrace questions, but that you want others to learn from their questions.

2.  SHOW - many questions I receive are technical in nature and can best be answered not by telling, but by showing.  Show the person personally and then show the others through face to face or even better video or screencasts and procedural text with screenshots of your response.

3.  CURATE - Some questions are asked about tasks that are once a month, a quarter or even a year. Great leaders leverage wikis, GoogleSheets and webpages to create one central location to house every answer to every question. See example below. 








Answer Questions ONCE and for ALL!!!

I often am asked, "Isn't this more work on you?"  Actually this strategy is LESS work on me. If I can answer a question one time face to face, and one more time through a virtual format forever, I rarely have to worry about that question again.

My goal is to have a C4B4Me procedure in my leadership. 

  1. Check yourself, your personal resources and notes first. 
  2. Go to the organizational virtual resources next. 
  3. Go to your peers third. 
  4. Use your technology to find an answer. 
  5. If you can't find the answer, I will be glad to help you. 

If leaders would implement a C4B4Me strategy, they would bank hours back into their week.  They would also empower teachers to solve their own problems and collaborate with their peers. Sure leaders will still have to answer a lot of questions, but they would be the questions that can only be answered by the leader.

I challenge you to answer questions ONCE and for ALL. 

It may just be the thing that takes your classroom, your school, or your organization to the next level. 



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

#TxEd - You Have 2 Choices: March or March

The other day, I ran into a teacher friend of mine, and she said,

"John, you haven't said anything about the Texas special legislative session".

She's right. I have been under the radar so to speak this summer.

So today, I'm going to surprise you.  I'm NOT going to talk about vouchers, school finance or even A-F.  I'm NOT going to lament the decisions that the Texas Senate is making on public education, and I'm not even going to advocate for a bill, today.

I'm going to talk about YOU
and this is what I have to say.







March - Educators across Texas are inspiring me by going down to the courthouse and even the Capital to state their position on education.  The great thing about this kind of march is that it tells legislators what you are for and what you are against.  Marching is a very powerful action as it sends the message loud and clear that you don't like what's going on.

March -  This March makes all the difference in the world.  Here, you show up to the voting box at the March primaries and vote for candidates, who will legislate on behalf of the 5.3 million students in Texas.  This kind of March is  the only way to make substantial change because voters are selecting the people who can make the changes that education needs.


The Choice is Yours
So will you march or not?   I truly believe that educators can't say they care about education if they don't march.  If you want to move the needle for education, you can physically march, but if you don't show up to vote and (even more important) encourage others to vote in March, you will have wasted all of your energy.  March is the only choice we have to improve education.  Now the only question left becomes this.

Will the education profession show up and March?


Friday, July 14, 2017

Is Commitment Really Enough???

I've been reading H3 Leadership by Brad Lomenick, and in one of his chapters he talks about the need for conviction. For him conviction is the only thing that can conquer temptation. As I started pondering his thoughts, this question kept surfacing. 

Is Commitment Enough???

I realize that commitment and conviction are synonymous, but as I ponder the 2 words, it seems that commitments can be broken, but conviction can't be shaken. Just like a convicted criminal can't evade his sentence, those who are convicted can't evade their super-commitment to the mission that is tethered to them. 

When I think of commitment, I think of a promise held by your word. But when I think of conviction, I see a ball and chain that is with you wherever you go.  See where I'm headed???

So are You are Committed or Convicted?

 If you're committed, you own your passion.  But if you're convicted, you not only own your passion, you also carry the burden of the impact your passion has on those you lead. Commitment owns the result. Conviction owns the result and the consequences associated with the efforts to gain the result. 




I think it's high time we deem the word, commitment, as a cliche. 

Has the word, commitment, has lost its value in our world? Think about it. Everybody wants commitment.  Everyone expects it, but there's always a loophole to absolve yourself from it. You can always get out of a commitment, if the conditions aren't right for you. 

I'll choose conviction. It's commitment times 10. It's painful, and it's pleasurable. You can't shake it, and you certainly can't fake it.  Actually it's the difference between leadership and transformational leadership.  

Got conviction???





Friday, July 7, 2017

What Kind of Deal is your School Offering?

Hiring season is in full swing, and schools are competing for the best applicants.  When I think of recruiting and retaining the best, I think of the one of the best clothing stores, Old Navy.  Old Navy is probably one of the best retailers at bringing people in the door, enticing them to buy good nice attire, and bringing them back for more.  Their advertising, marketing and communication strategies convey one thing. 

We are you doing to make people think this about your school?

Source - Old Navy


Let's face it. A great deal will convince the biggest skeptic to bite the bullet and spend money. 


So If You're a Big Deal, Then What Kind of Deals are You Offering?
When it comes to teacher recruitment and retention, it comes down to one thing. 

What Kind of Deal are They Getting

If you want to increase your retention rate and entice the best to work in your school, you have to be able to answer a few important questions. 
  • How competitive are you with salaries, stipends, incentives, etc.?
  • How well does your school do at reducing the teacher load or amount of preps?
  • How much work is being taken off of your staff's proverbial plate next year?
  • What reductions are people getting on redundant work?
  • How much time are employees getting to do work that matters?
  • How well are you slashing bureaucratic nonsense? 
  • How successful are you at making teacher professional development less standardized and more personalized?

In other words, what is your school's 
Source - Old Navy


And What are You doing to make Teachers Say
Source - Old Navy


If you want to make the best deal with your staff, it starts with knowing your clientele, what they need and giving it to them in the best way possible. But it also means doing it WITHOUT lowering your standards, dropping your expectations, and sacrificing your bottom line, student success. 

Student success can only exist when teacher success is the constant not the variable. The key to teacher success is creating schools that teachers believe in, run to and commit to. That only happens when leaders know have to make deals that keep teachers coming back for more. 



Friday, June 23, 2017

Walkthroughs Don't Work!!!

This year, after 23 years in education, I will work in a school where we will not do walkthroughs. Why do you say? Well it's simple. 

Walkthroughs don't work. 

Think about it. What has a greater impact on student learning, instruction or assessment?  Obviously instruction is the variable on student learning and assessment is the gauge of learning. If we really believe in this idea about growing kids, then why are we only assessing our teachers when we walk in their classroom?

The research shows that walkthroughs don't improve teacher effectiveness.  Here's what I mean. Walkthroughs with no feedback negatively impact teaching.  Yes, they make teachers less effective. Observations with a form have no positive or negative impact on learning, so walkthrough forms have little impact on teacher effectiveness.  When observations are accompanied with coaching, teachers see gains in their effectiveness. In other words coaching is what helps teachers grow. 

So What Will We Do This Year?
If we want teachers to grow, we must admit that forms with checkboxes won't suffice. Ratings scales won't do either. To grow our teachers, we will replace walkthroughs with coaching visits. 

Yes, Coaching Visits!!!

Our teachers will receive coaching feedback that does 4 things.
1. Affirm positive practices in places
2. Identify missed opportunities. 
3. Pose questions for reflection and to open the discussion. 
4. Help the observer grow in their ability to help teachers grow. (MOST IMPORTANT)

The Goal is Simple. 
We will work to drop the imbalance of power that the term, walkthrough, brings forth. If we are truly instructional leaders, then we must realize that we must offer our teachers instruction on how they are doing and how they can improve, not just assess how they're doing. Furthermore we must provide a platform of reciprocity for teachers so that teachers can also instruct leaders on how they can improve at supporting teachers. 

Pure and simple, the purpose of a walkthroughs is to rate the teacher.   The purpose of a coaching visit is to improve both the teacher and the leader. Just as iron sharpens iron, so does one person sharpen another. If we truly want to make schools better, it starts by creating observation system that require feedback protocols for that is the most productive way to grow all educators. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What if Kids had Learning Streaks???

Snapchat is everywhere, and kids are seriously addicted to it.  Seriously, they are, and why not?  It has a relevant goal that all kids want to reach.

STREAKS

Kids essentially are gamifying their connections to other kids, and when a kid loses a streak, it is devastating.  When my kids lose their phone privileges, it is heartbreaking.  The streak ends and they have to start all over again.

So How Can We Tie STREAKS to Learning?

It's pretty simple.  Kids need connections with other kids to accelerate their growth in learning.  In other words, collaboration is not just important.  It downright ESSENTIAL.  Below are a few ideas that we could use to get our kids to create learning streaks.

  1. Use Snapchat to share their learning with other peers during classtime.
  2. If technology rules prevent the use of Snapchat, use Twitter or Instagram for kids to tag their learning to a class account.  The consecutive days of tagging classmates to learning could become the streak.
  3. If technology is a problem altogether, build collaboration into your instruction where students can share their work with other students and have peers give written feedback or suggestions for improvement along with the student's signature to signify the learning connection and to curate the streak.

Honestly, this is a random thought running through my head and not really formalized into a completely rational thought.  I do however think that educators must leverage the relevance that students find in STREAKS and let this fascination serve as a tool for engagement and a relevant entry point for learning.  

What ideas or thoughts would you add?



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ending the Institutionalization of Education

One of the most powerful if not the most powerful institutions in our country is the public school. If you look around you, you cannot see anything or find anything that was not influenced first by the institution we have come to love.  There are so many positive actions that the institution of education has done to impact our country, but there is one action that has a negative impact on the future of education.


One of my favorite movies of all time is Shawshank Redemption. At a powerful moment on the story, Morgan Freeman's character talks about how prisoners become institutionalized because the institution grows on them and eventually becomes something they can't live without. In other words, the institution doesn't just shape thinking, it limits creativity and opportunities for growth.  Now I'm not saying that schools are a punitive place that imprison us.  What I am saying is that we lose sight of our moral imperative when we become driven by the structures, language, and labels that at times inundate schools.  





INSTITUTIONALIZED LANGUAGE
Reflect on this section and ask yourself this.

Do the following words institutionalize your thinking?


Passing - This word sterilizes growth. For some, passing is too high a standard and for others it's way too low.  When passing is the goal, learning is not longer the priority.  We must make this term a step towards excellence rather than the standard.

Intervention - In the mind of the institutionalized, it is a location or a separate segment of time in the schedule. What it should be is a mindset about learning and when any students fails to learn, we immediately respond.

Redirection - When students are misbehaving, we have been expected to redirect them. Let's face it.  Redirection is reactive, not proactive. We must anticipate when kids are showing symptoms of misbehavior and intercept behaviors before we have to sacrifice instruction to redirect them.

Grade - This word has been one of the greatest paradigm builders in education. It sorts kids into ability groups. Sure it rates proficiency, but it also stifles progress in creating schools that are kid- centered.  The question is this.  Does the almighty grade inspire all kids to pursue learning?

Leadership - When you see this word, do you think of the person in charge or do you think of a function that everyone in the school must assume.  From the custodian to the principal and everyone in between, schools need leadership to become a collective function of the school, not the person in charge of the building.

Schedule - To the institutionalized, this is a static structure that can never be altered for any reason.  For the kid-centered school, it must change to meet the needs of all kids.  Time is a constant, but how we use it to help kids grow in learning is the variable.  Schedules are tools to help us better help kids, not a structure to shuffle them through the day.



What would you add?
If we want to end the institutionalization of education, it starts with eradicating words and the thinking behind them that shackle us to the schools of yesterday.  We must view schools not as they are but as they must become if we truly want to prepare kids for their future.  Drop a comment to add your thoughts of other words that inhibit growth in education.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Don't Forget to Excel

Note - This post is my commencement address to the Blue Ridge Senior Class of 2017.

Seniors, Parents and Guests,

On behalf of the Blue Ridge ISD Board of Trustees, I would like to welcome you to the 2017 Blue Ridge High School Graduation Ceremony.  I am truly honored to have this opportunity to celebrate the senior class of 2017 for successfully completing their journey through public education.  As a parent of one of these senior, I address you with both a tear in my eye and an excitement in my heart.  Hannah we love you and are very proud of you.  To the senior class of 2017, I know that right now you are thinking, "Hurry up! I'm ready to move on from Senior to See Ya", but I would like to have just a minute or two of your time.

In our district this year, we created a new motto, Learn...Grow...Excel...  This motto represents the next steps that we should all take in life. The next steps are hard ones to make, and sadly steps that some fail to make, so today I would like to share with you what they are and how your life will benefit from them.

The 1st Step is to Learn.
Those who succeed in life realize that learning doesn't end after high school; it actually begins.  The minute you stop learning is the minute you stop living.  My greatest hope for you is that you never view learning as a pain, but that you embrace it as an exciting and joyful part of life.  Always choose to learn more about your faith.  Learn from your experiences, but most importantly learn from your mistakes.  I challenge you to fail and fail a lot.  Because the more you fail, the more you can excel

The 2nd Step is to Grow.
Life is a metamorphosis.  You've grown physically into the adults you are today, but the very best people in life grow both mentally and spiritually.  They grow in their love for friends and family, and they grow in their passion and zest for life.  If you choose to take the 2nd step, you will experience life in the way it was meant to be lived.  You will never settle for life the way it is, and you will never make excuses for bad things that happen to you.  You will always find a better way, and you always make it a better day for yourself and those around you.

The 3rd and Final Step is to Excel.
When I think about what it means to excel, I look to the words of our founding fathers who wrote the Declaration of Independence over 240 years ago.


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, 
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, 
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Those who excel discover Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness when they realize that their purpose in life is not to take but to give.  If our country is to continue to be the greatest nation on the planet, we need less takers and more givers.  The bottom line is that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not handed to you.  It is earned and it has to be earned every single day. 

Excelling is not about being the best; it is about giving your best to make a strong family.  It's about volunteering in your church, little league, in your school, and in the community, and most importantly it's not about waiting for someone else to do it for you.  It's about being an active leader in making your community and our country a better place for everyone.  

Think about this.  Who has stood out in your life and in your time here in Blue Ridge?  It was the people who excelled.  They did more than they were asked to do.  They were the ones who always stepped up to help you, and they were the people who invested in you.  Well now it's your turn.  Wherever you go and whatever you do, I challenge you to remember that the purpose of life is to make life better for everyone you come in contact with.  Then and only then will you find true happiness.

My final words to  you can be found in this 8 ounce cup.  To some it's just a cup, but to the senior class of 2017, it was your opportunity to leave a lasting impression on Blue Ridge (see video here).  From now on, every time I look at this ordinary cup, I will remember the legacy you left behind for future classes to follow.  I will always see your awesome personalities and special moments throughout the year, but most importantly I will forever see the potential that you have to make this world a better place.   I wish each of you the best luck and  I think I speak for everyone when I say this.

We will all miss you when you're gone.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Teacher's Summer Excellence Checklist.

Note:  The contents of this post are based on my new book, A Leader's Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom. 

When summer is in full swing, that means one thing for teachers; they are 6-8 weeks away from the start of another school year. Kids will soon begin shopping for items on their school supply lists, and parents will anxiously await the announcement of their child's teachers while they get their children ready for the start of school. But what about teachers?  What do they need to start off the new school year on the right foot?



Just like principals need a Principal's Summer Excellence Checklist to prepare their school for the best year ever, every teacher needs an excellence checklist of their very own that will help them set the stage to empower every student to reach excellence this year. 

The Teacher's Summer Excellence Checklist

Here is a list of the the top 10 things every teacher needs to create the conditions that will inspire every student to have their best year ever.

 Resources

Obviously, every teacher needs the tools of the trade, but great teachers surpass possession of tools by also possessing the skillful use of those tools to help every kid learn. The more technical the resource, the more necessary it is to learn how to be proficient at using that tool in a way that will empower kids to own their learning.

✔ Routines & Procedures

Every good teacher develops routines and procedures for their classroom, but great teachers have a plan to intentionally transfer the responsibility and leadership for those routines and procedures over to the kids. If the goal is learning for all, students need to own the routines and procedures that are designed to help them learn.  For each routine, great teachers have a plan to empower students to take ownership of it.

 Relationships

Relationships are important, but alone they don't get the job done. (See The 'Right' Relationships Matter).  Relationships for learning, however, require teachers to develop the optimal relationship with each child in order to accelerate each child's learning. To prepare for these relationships with new students, great teachers research their students. They learn their strengths, areas for growth and strategies that are proven to help each student learn, but they go the extra mile by making a plan to build a meaningful relationship with each child in an effort to inspire him to learn. 

✔ Relevance

Nothing is more boring to a student than sitting in a class that has no relevance. To engage kids, excellent teachers plan their instruction with one purpose: connect kids to the learning target during every minute of the day. Sure, great activities help develop relevance, but how great teachers structure their instructional time to keep kids engaged through those activities is what maintains and even accelerates engagement and relevance. Great teachers are developing or refining their plans with the specific purpose of optimizing engagement.

✔ Rigor

Rigor is about 3 things: planning for it, delivering it, and responding to it. Great teachers realize that rigor can't occur unless they, themselves, have the content knowledge and expertise first. From content expertise, teachers of excellence focus their efforts on transferring that expertise to students through the intentional use of assessments, instructional strategies and questioning techniques that take kids from what they know to what they need to know, and they do that at high levels of complexity. Excellent teachers are busy locating and curating all kinds of strategies that will lead every student to rigorous learning. 

Intervention

Great teachers know that even the best lesson will leave some students behind; therefore, they don't wait for failure. They plan for it.  They anticipate possible mistakes or misunderstandings that students will have and have automatic responses when those mistakes reveal themselves. The best intervention is prevention, and great teachers do a whole lot of preventing in their instruction.  These teachers are making plans to identify students with a history of failure and creating prevention strategies that will help these students overcome failure beginning with the first day of instruction. 

✔ Extension

While some kids need extra attention, other kids need extra extension. When kids learn a concept in a great teacher's class, they don't get more of the same. They are provided choices to apply their learning through personalized activities that matter to the student. Great teachers offer students a menu of extension activities that are on display for students on the first day of school, and this menu serves as great motivator to remind kids to work hard at learning.

✔ Collaboration  

Great teachers grow, and they grow by learning with and from their peers inside and outside of the school. Whether it is a collaborative team, their campus leaders or their PLN, great teachers are connected to a wide variety of educators and collaborate with them frequently because they believe their own continuous improvement is essential to help all students learn. Great teachers are gathering ideas and thoughts all summer long so that when schools starts, they can help their peers grow and their students learn. 

✔ Tech Integration 

Technology is a tool that supports learning, and great teachers integrate technology with one specific purpose, support the learning goals of the lesson. It is also important to note that they don't jump onto every tech bandwagon that rolls into town. They ensure that technology will enhance student learning by seamlessly integrating technology into their lessons. To enhance student learning, excellent teachers brush up on their tech tools and ensure that they work out the kinks with each tool, so that kids will have a smooth start using these tools in the first week of school. 

✔ Parent Communication

Parents are a valuable resource to support student learning, and great teachers tap into that resource by initiating, building, and maintaining parent communication through both face to face and digital interactions with parents. By keeping the lines of communication open through weekly communication with parents, they build support systems that reinforce student learning. Great teachers will have their communication plan ready to disseminate to students and parents on the first day of school as well as a system to keep the communication system effectively running all year long. 

What Else Would You Add?
Teachers of excellence aren't waiting for school to start. They are putting their plans in place. What makes a great teacher is their performance, but what makes their performance great is their preparation. They pathway to excellence is not through talent alone but through diligent preparation. By putting together a powerful plan to guarantee that every student learns, great teachers create a classroom culture that inspires, challenges, and empowers every student to discover the excellence that is within them.