Wednesday, February 27, 2013

iMovie Motivation

The iMovie has been my most favorite app for motivating students. The app creates the opportunity to make great videos, but what I like most about it is the trailer feature. There are 16 trailers to choose from where you can make a personalized, 1 minute, Hollywood caliber clip to motivate every kid in your building.

Last month, we worked to motivate our students to exhibit the best work ethic in class each week. Each Monday, teachers agreed on the targeted learning behavior that they would like to see in all of their kids. They communicated to the students what behaviors they are looking for in class all week long, and the kids knew that on Friday, someone would be selected as the most improved or best in the class.

On Thursday, I created the storyboard for each grade's video. This took me about 5 minutes because I just had to think of less than 20 words to describe the essence of the student behavior of focus on the video. Since I'm on Twitter frequently, this task was rather quick.

On Friday, I took 45 minutes to go to each class to video each kid who was selected by the teacher. The short video clips of each child showed them beside an important anchor chart, in the hall holding their awesome work or making a funny pose. The kids got a big kick out of being pulled from the class by the principal for something as cool as a commercial about learning.

After I completed the video, I saved it to my camera roll and imported it into my Dropbox so I could email the teacher the video link to their school account. On Monday, the teachers showed the video to their class and used it as motivation to work hard so they could make next week's video.

Motivate your kids using a 1-minute iMovie Trailer

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why Can't We Have a Great Day?

This morning I told my daughter to have a great day. After I made this statement, I wondered how many times I have told people to have a great day. Typically when people are in a bad mood or unhappy we tell them this all-too-familiar statement as if it will actually make their day better.

To have means to be in possession of something. It means that a great day already exists and that this person is already entitled to a fantastic day without any effort whatsoever. In my opinion this statement is very self-serving. Are we so special that we are entitled to possess or own an epic day? Are we worthy of deserving an excellent day with putting forth any effort?

Let's Change this Phrase
Seeing as how we do not deserve anything special, let's begin to say "Make a Great Day". We should realize that in order to have a tremendous day, it is our responsibility to make the day stupendous, not someone else's. It starts not with someone serving us but us serving others.

The Challenge
When we see someone in a bad mood, let's not tell them to have a great day. Let's send the message that a marvelous day is not something to be had, but something to be manufactured. The best way to send this message is to model it with our conscious choices and efforts to make the day truly superb.

BTW - I hope you MAKE today a great one.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

4 Signs of Progressive Organizations

Signs inform. They guide. They even persuade.

Signs limit. They protect. They even prevent.

When you see a sign, what opinions form in your mind? Do you see the sign as an enabler or disabler? A deeper question to ask is when people enter your organization do they see signs that invite them in or ask them to leave? Do members within the organization see signs that inhibit growth or facilitate creativity?  Even better, are members within your organization signs that encourage or discourage progress toward your vision.

Courtesy of Martin Davis

Here are 4 signs that your organization is progressive

Signs of Location

In every town in the world, there is a sign that announces its name and location. Progressive organizations go beyond emphasizing the school name and the school motto and know that every person in the building serves as a sign that describes the location of the organization and what it stands for. The work displayed and the commitment that each person possesses tells whether the organization is or is not who and where they say they are.

When you enter you building, it is easy to tell if people are focused on serving others or themselves. These signs are clear and understandable by everyone inside and outside of the organization. More importantly, the current location of the organization is not determined by the leader but by the each individual within the organization, and it is defined and redefined through daily interactions.

Signs of Direction

On every street there are arrows directing people where to go to find their destination. Organizations on the move must have signs, both structural and cultural, that announce where the organization is headed on its journey of success. In addition, every member of the organization carries their proverbial sign that directs the campus to or from its intended destination. So often there is a disconnect between where the signs of structure say the organization is headed and where the culture of the organization is actually going. Transformational leaders avoid temptations to paint a rosy picture that all is great and take specific steps to remove signs that are in conflict with the vision of where the organization expects to head.

Signs of Caution

Signs warn of danger ahead. Organizations have communication systems that warn one another if there's a problem that is about to begin. In traditional systems of hierarchy, the leadership mandates what to be cautious of and what not to do, but the reasons often lack clarity and justification. The more transformational the organization is, the more involved all staff are in identifying the potential hazards for others, and the more compelled each member is in warning others.  Progress will move at a faster pace if more people are watching for potential pitfalls and sharing them throughout the building.

Signs of Persuasion and Motivation

There isn't a highway in America without a billboard enticing us to buy something. Transformational organizations have billboards of celebration to spotlight amazing work from staff and students in an effort to illustrate the desired work needed from everyone. This type of sign serves to persuade resistant members to turn around and head in the right direction, and they remind all members that each individual's journey is vital to the success of the group as a whole.

Here's your Sign

At your organization, everyone wears a sign that defines who they are and how their role affects the organization. Some people's signs detract from the focus of the mission by making it all about the importance of the individual. Some signs serve beyond their potential by consistently serving others and promoting the mission of why the organization exists in the first place.

What does your sign say?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Ultimate Compliment

Last week, I was blessed to watch my son perform in the Texas All State Choir. It was a privilege to watch him perform with the top 1% of all the singers in the state of Texas. My proud papa moment was watching my son follow in my footsteps with his much better musical talents.


While I was waiting in line to enter the concert, I saw a familiar face, Jimmy. He was a former choir student of mine who was also waiting in line for the concert. He was a freshman when I left the choir room forever for a position in administration. As we caught up, he told me that he became a choir director.  That is always neat when you come across a former student that teaches in the field that you taught him.  You always hope that some of your students will one day teach the subject that you taught.

Later in the evening I received a friend request from Jimmy on Facebook. I accepted him quickly and saw his post on his perception of our meeting from earlier. What came next blew me away.

Words cannot describe the feeling that I have about this post. We all want to know that we have done a good job, even a great job, but there is no better compliment than to be told that the work you have done inspired someone to follow  in your footsteps.

Let me be clear.  This isn't about complimenting a person or blowing up their ego, rather it is much deeper.  The ultimate compliment validates a lifetime of work, commitment and service.  It affirms that all of your effort was worth it and that someone wants to give to others what you gave to them.  That beats any award, plaque or banner that I have ever seen.

As I think back, I can quickly think of 3 people that inspired me to be just like them. I strive to follow in their footsteps and inspire others in the way that they inspired me.  Now, I need to conclude this post so I can pay them the ultimate compliment.

Who do you need to give an ultimate compliment to?

2 Ways PLCs Battle through the Storm

Teams struggle.  Ideas conflict.  Beliefs sway.  Feelings get hurt.  Without accountability, teams slowly fracture to a point where kids are no longer the focus.  When teams battle and can't find their way, they must have something that brings them back together.

Leaders miss the point when they see their role as the referee during conflict.  No one is right and no one is wrong because the problem is the team and its interactions.  Each person on the team plays a part in the frustration.  With each action and reaction, every member of the team is wrong.  For the members that said nothing and did nothing, they, too, are responsible.

Here are 2 Tools that Great Teams use to hold themselves accountable.

1.  Mission

Our mission was defined by every member of the campus, and we described why our school exists.  When teams aren't performing, it is because they have forgotten why the campus exists and what part they play in fulfilling that moral purpose.  Our campus mission is simple:  One Exceptional Team + One Exceptional Goal = One's Exceptional Future.  There is no better way for teams to redirect their own behaviors than to ask the following questions:
  • Am I being exceptional in my efforts to make our team exceptional?
  • Am I focused on our team's exceptional goal or my own personal interests?
  • Is our teamwork exceptional to the point that it leads all kids to their exceptional future?


2. Vision

The vision was written by the campus because we committed to where we want our campus to be in the future.  In that we designed specific components that must be visibly present on the campus when our vision becomes a reality.  When teams battle, they must compare their current reality to their desired outcome.  If a gap exists between where they are and where they want to be, teams must recommit to the vision.  Here are some questions that teams can ask as they resolve differences.
  • Where can we improve to be a more disciplined team?
  • What issues are preventing us from working together as a team?
  • How can we embrace the uncertainty of natural inquiry so that we can promote a safe learning environment for all team members?
  • What steps must we take to ensure that every member feels essential?


Battling through the Storm

Teams are like sailors on a ship in a vicious storm.  The only way that they can survive is that they must depend on their vessel and on one another.  The vessel is their mission, and the vision is their voyage.  Sailors can weather the storm if and only if they rely daily on the vessel and commit to their moral obligation to direct the ship to its destination.

What ways does your team battle through the storm?

Friday, February 8, 2013

4 Reasons and Ways to Keep It Simple

"Keep It Simple, Stupid" has been running through my brain lately. This little acronym, better known as K.I.S.S., seems quaint but precisely on the money. If you think about the last big initiative you pushed, why did people reject the idea? I doubt it was because they perceived it as something that would make their lives easier, more productive or more successful.

Imagine, if you will, a Hershey's kiss.  There is utter simplicity in a piece of chocolate shaped in the form of a raindrop, wrapped in a piece of foil with a strip of paper sticking out.  Very few people can avoid this delicious delight.  I mean, what's the harm in eating 1, 2 or 10?  It's not very fancy, yet it draws people in every time their eyes make contact.  Few are vehemently against this morsel. 

This Hershey's kiss is today's metaphor for keeping it simple.

Here are 4 Reasons that leaders must simplify:


New ideas require new knowledge and new ways of thinking about an idea.  Complex ideas can cause overload if the leader doesn't find simple ways to build foundational knowledge for the idea to succeed.  Also, ideas can cause cognitive conflict.  When this happens, rejection is certain.


New and complex ideas intimidate most people.  Leaders can get so enthralled in their idea that they present new concepts in a way that scares the mess out of the employee.  In addition, people can see an idea as a threat to their job or as an indicator that their performance is poor.


People are under a tremendous amount of stress with both personal and professional demands.  Under stress, new ideas can cause additional stress, and the brain will automatically reject the idea even if the person knows that it will help them.  People are easily overwhelmed when they are under high levels of stress.  New ideas can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back.


People get lost in the presentation of a new idea simply because the language is new and different, or people attach different meanings to terminology.  Everyone attaches meaning to a word based on their experiences and prior understanding; hence, without laying the groundwork, there can become 25 different meanings of the same word.

Here are 4 ways that leaders can simplify for their teams:

Knot Ideas to Current Practices

Nothing is more annoying to an employee than to be presented an idea that makes them believe that they must drop everything and start doing something different.  Leaders must tie new ideas to their organization's current work.  People will be more interested in a new idea if they can see how it applies to and improves upon what they are currently doing.  Ideas that can be seen as an improvement stand a better chance of gaining systemic approval.

Invigorate Interest

Leaders must stimulate interest if an idea is going to take root.  Just like the foil and paper on a Hershey's kiss, leaders must present the idea along with the following:  why the idea is necessary, how it benefits employees, how it will generate systemic improvement and where it will take the organization.  Leaders who fail to inspire others by explaining why the idea is necessary will find fewer people taking off with it.  People must know the Why before the What.

Simplify Language & Concepts

Knowing the language of the organization is critical before moving forward.  Taking time to define new terminology and procedures is vital before taking off.  If there is a good understanding of the vocabulary within the idea, the knowledge base of the organization will be aligned.  As a result, teams can move together in the same direction with a common language and ultimately higher acceptance of the idea.

Seek Input

Errors are made when advice is not sought.  Take steps to present the idea to others so you can troubleshoot the problems within the idea before you roll it out.  Many times others can identify ambiguous terms, complications due to format or even redundant tasks if you ask the right people.  The leader can't see everything because the leader is not the one who will implement the idea.  Seek advice from other leaders who will eventually be needed to implement the idea.  By seeking input, you also build capacity for the idea to gain momentum.

Don't be Stupid

Hershey could have sold chocolate by the pound, but they knew it wouldn't sell unless they minimized the  girth of the concept.  Breaking down chocolate into bite-sized chunks was genius and became the standard for every chocolate company in America.  Hershey knew that many people wouldn't buy a bar of chocolate, but everyone would eat a bite.  Their simple idea was presented in a way that was non-threatening to the consumer's pocketbook as well as his waistline.

Leadership is a difficult task.  Progress requires new ideas, new ways of thinking and lots of risk taking.  Leaders must be smart about making progess and communicate frequently with those that they lead.  Presenting ideas in bite-size morsels is what gets people moving in the right direction.  When things get complex and frustrating, chances are that leaders threw out a piece too big to swallow.  It is then that the leader must step back, analyze the difficulties of the problem, eat a Hershey's kiss and simplify...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

9 Requirements for Future All-Star Athletes

Over the last 10 years, I have seen lots of students beginning their involvement in select athletic teams and competitive cheer and dance teams. I think that's great that parents want their children to excel in an area that they have talent. After all, being in these organizations teaches strong work ethic and perseverance in the quest to excel.

Where pushing kids to develop their talents goes awry is when students are conditioned to believe that their athletic talent is their only future. These phenoms are conditioned to place all of their emphasis and all their effort into developing their physical talent without putting the same level of effort into developing their mind. 

As a high school principal and teacher, I can't tell you how many talented students I knew whose talent took them no further than graduation day. Some of them were Division I athletes absent of Division I academic abilities. Because they failed to develop their academic prowess in school, their athletic talent took them nowhere. Sadly they believed that their life was set because of their athletic talents alone.

Below is a chart that tells the real story about athletic potential.  The chances of capitalizing on our athletic talents pales in comparison to the potential found in our intellectual potential.  Not many employers want to know our success as a player.  They want to know our skills as a producer.

College is the Best Plan A.

We have to teach kids that...

1.  The strongest muscle in the body is the brain.  After athletic talent has exceeded its potential, the only way that kids will be successful as adults is completely dependent on what is inside their brain. 

2.  The greatest skill that all athletes must master is the ability to read and think critically. 

3.  The greatest attribute that all athletes must possess is sportsmanship. Being a good sport is a life-long skill that will benefit athletes long after the game is over. 

4.  Winning isn't everything, but the will to win is. Life is not about winning but responding to loss. How you handle a loss will make you or break you. 

5.  Colleges look at your academic ability before your athletic ability. Talented athletes are a dime a dozen. Colleges recruit talented AND intelligent athletes. 

6.  Your character is your most important commodity. The way kids learn to treat people will take them a long way in life or cut their career short. 

7.  Being a good teammate is not just important for winning games.  Employers are looking for collaborative employees. If you are a bad teammate, you will probably not be very collaborative and will not be very employable.  

8.  Your body will eventually give out. What you possess after that is called your future. 

9.  Your Plan B is more important than your plan A. Your plans after your reach your athletic plateau or your knees give out is called your Plan B. Make sure that your Plan B is better than your Plan A.

The Ultimate Team

All of us aspire to be the next LeBron James, Russell Wilson or Leonel Messi in our area of talent.  These icons are unbelievable athletes who consistently deliver championships.  There's nothing wrong with striving to achieve that level of excellence on the field of battle, but we must let our athletes know that the deck is stacked against them.  While there is a chance to become a professional athlete, it is a small one.  Their lives can't be completely dependent on becoming a world-class athlete because there are so many variables and so few spots on the roster.  We must also push our athletes to aim for a spot on the ultimate team by becoming world-class workers with all-star intellects and championship character.  That is the real team we want all of our children to make, and we (parents & educators) hold the key to ensuring that they make that team.


12 Ways to Avoid The Flattery Trap

Proverbs 29:5. To flatter people is to lay a trap for their feet.

As we begin the school year, everyone wants to make a great first impression. Employees strive to make the leader happy, and leaders try to encourage followers to follow. Let's face it. We all are eager to impress one another, and if we're new or there's a new leader in charge, this desire to impress grows even more. 

Leadership is difficult, and there are so many traps that can kill a leader, but the deadliest one of all is called the Flattery Trap.   There's good reason for that because flattery turns the leader's attention inward instead of outward.  It stifles the ability to lead.  It paralyzes progress, and it drags down development. 

Flattery in and of itself is manipulation. Followers employ flattery to disguise anger, ambition, insecurity, or any other unhealthy motives that undermine the leader-employee relationship. Flattery in its purest form is deception, and leaders must be cautious of people who continuously make flattering remarks and gestures.  How many leaders have we seen that were flattered into an inappropriate affair, immoral actions or the inability to correct flatterers?  What began as a harmless compliment compounded day by day, comment by comment, and act by act into a career-ending trap.

So How Can Leaders avoid the Flattery Trap?

1. Put up your Hedges
Establish boundaries for how people can engage you. 

2. Accept Compliments and Move On
When people compliment you, thank them politely but don't dwell on the compliment too long. 

3. Leverage Relationships to Achieve Outcomes
Building relationships is important but there's more to it. Build relationships with people that will help you reach organizational goals. 

4. Stay Focused on Results 
A lot of times, leaders get lost in the minutia of relationship building. It's important not to lose sight of relationships, but it's even more important not to lose sight of monitoring results. 

5. Commit to Consistency
Be consistent in how you treat every employee. Everyone is watching you and they are looking for preferential treatment. Consistency is critical. 

6. Monitor All
If the organization is to improve, then every employee must be monitored. 

7. Confront Equitably
Effective leaders confront behaviors not people, and they confront everyone in the same manner. 

8. Avoid Schmoosers
Shmoosers suck up for personal benefit and advantage. Find these people and keep your distance. 

9. Value Honesty
Engage people who are honest in all situations, not just those who know when to play the Honest Abe card. 

10. Engage in Intellectual Stimulation
Great leaders facilitate professional conflict and discourse. Flattery doesn't have a chance when the goal is getting better. 

11. Argue Frequently
By debating with people often about the course of the organization, leaders can quickly determine if a person is a flatterer or not. 

12. Value the Organization over People
People come and go but the organization should last forever. Effective leaders protect the future of the organization. 

What strategies do you use to avoid the flattery trap? Drop a comment and let us know.  

The Action of Anticipation

In Jackie Chan's Karate Kid, there was a particular scene in which Chan is training young Dre. Chan is on one side of a bed sheet serving as a curtain and Dre is on the other side. Chan begins to punch at Dre with a boxing glove on a stick through the curtain and Dre can't see the punches coming. Seeing the unfairness in the training, Dre begins to complain. Chan's response was simple, yet profound. "You must anticipate (the punch)".
Process that for a minute.
  • Do we wait until we see the punch coming at us to act?
  • Do we respond after we have been socked in the nose, or
  • Do we act after we pick ourselves up from being knocked out?

Level 5 leaders are so focused that they see the punch coming before the punch even begins to form.
So how do great leaders build anticipation into their leadership skill set?

History Lessons

Those who fail to learn from history are bound to repeat it.  Leaders must reference prior experiences so that they can predict what will happen in the future.  Knowing behavioral tendancies and how situations typically play out are powerful skills that leaders must acquire to defend themselves and the organization from damaging blows.

Intense Planning

The more intense our planning is, the better prepared we are for anything that comes our way. The Karate Kid was prepared for every punch because his constant conditioning in multiple scenarios built amazing anticipation that yielded his eventual success.  Leaders must continuously plan for what comes next. Based the information gathered through constant  and deep interactions with each staff member and stakeholder, leaders use the undercurrents of the organization to plan for next steps and actions.  This is Marzano's definition of Situational Awareness, one of the most powerful leadership responsibilties.

Team Preparation

Anticipation is an often overlooked skill. Leaders have no choice but to deal with problems, but the best leaders know when problems are coming down the pipe. They can't anticipate 100% of the problems that they will face, but they can be ready for 90% of the typical issues that arise.  Being aware of culture issues and team dynamics, leaders must anticipate problems that will surface and model for team leaders and teams how to respond without causing damaging setbacks.  If the leader can model for the campus how to handle 90% of the problems before they arise, he will teach other leaders how to anticipate and respond to the 10% that he cannot anticipate, which in turn builds collective efficacy into the organization.
The Difference between Good and Great Leaders is Anticipation.
Good leaders deal with problems effectively when they hit the organization, but great leaders respond and guide the organization to avoid the punch before it comes barreling toward the team. The real result of this difference is time. Great leaders bank more time for the himself and the organization to focus on kids and serve others, while good leaders divert time away from kids to effectively deal with problems.  In essence, anticipation is the difference between good and great organizations.