Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pumpkin Palooza Parent Involvement

This past Monday, we had a parent night around literacy called Pumpkin Palooza. The night featured literacy in every facet of our building. Each home room designed a pumpkin around text that they were using in instruction. Most of the literature was fiction, while the 4th grade designed their pumpkins around informational text through their social studies content. The link below highlights the awesome work that our teachers did. 


Outside each room, samples of quality student work showed parents their child's writing and how kids were connecting with the literature that they were reading. It was a great night to highlight our student's work and connect with our parents. 

In addition, our social studies, science, art and music specials teachers displayed their student work through writing and gave performances to show what they learned in the first 9 weeks of school. 

Literacy is our focus this year and we are making sure that our parent involvement reflects our focus. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Perfect Halloween Mask for Leaders

Halloween is here, and everyone is geared up to sport their best costume. After all, it's our yearly opportunity to transform into someone more interesting. We can replace our normal persona with a more unique and dynamic character who is nothing like us at all, so we are all in search of the perfect costume.

Leadership masks are similar to Halloween costumes but with deeper purpose. While we wear the masks of responsibility and vision, the masks that we choose to wear go far beyond covering our outward appearance.  The more we wear them, the more they actually consume our inner leadership DNA.  With every leader that has impacted our lives both positively and negatively, we have been slowly molded and shaped by the leadership mask that we identify with the most, and that is when the real masquerade begins.

So which mask is the perfect one for leaders?

Clark Kent has always been there to save the day.  The leader of strength uses his superhuman powers to improve the organization.  The downside to this mask is that Superman believes that no one else has the power to do anything. In essence the ability of the organization rises and falls on the shoulders of this superhero. 

Jack Sparrow
One of my favorite movies is "Pirates of the Caribbean" with the wiley Jack Sparrow. Every kid loves dressing up like him. He is such a unique character that is capable of escaping any jam. While he is a very charismatic and unique leader, Jack has a problem. He is very selfish and is always in it for himself. He will help others, but only if it benefits him also. In essence, he gauges success only by his own accolades. 

Duck Dynasty
The Robertson clan in my opinion is awesome. With their family values, massive beards, and entertaining show, who wouldn't enjoy watching them. Their family dynamic is fantastic, but this mask has nothing to do with them personally. The Duck Dynasty mask is that of the latest leadership fad. This leader buys into the latest and greatest leadership principle and thrusts it upon the organization without their input. Sadly, the organization won't have to worry for long because this leader will have a different mask next year when the next new idea comes to town. 

This is the one of the most popular costumes of all time and one of the most traditional leaders of all time. The Dracula leadership mask lures people in and then sucks the life out of an organization. With every last minute email sent in the middle of the night or every mandate or directive that controls rather than empowers, Dracula sucks the creative juices out of every member of the organization. His constant search for power kills the lifeblood of the community and drives the people away to safety in another place of employment. 

The Politician
The voice of reason is what every organization needs from its leader.  Speeches of a new day and opportunity invigorate enthusiasm. But when the organization never sees prosperity following the political talking points, the organization grows increasingly deaf toward the rhetoric. This mask uses words to start a fire, but it burns out faster than it began due to lack of substance, specificity, and most importantly follow-through. 

The Perfect Mask
The challenge for all leaders is to stop looking for a new mask and embrace the mask that they were born with. People don't follow unique masks for long. They follow character, confidence and commitment, and they continue to follow leaders who elicit meaningful action and positive results.  If you want to find the perfect leadership make, start by taking off the mask of insecure bravado. Quit following the fads or leadership fashions of others, and follow the most important leadership organ you have, your gut. Your staff will find that as the best Halloween treat of all. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Good and Bad of Competition

One of my favorite feeds is the Connected Principals site.  This site has lots of weekly ideas from prinicpals around North America.  The other day I came across a bit by Johnny Bevacqua, call Collaboration and Competition, and I was intrigued by Johnny's thoughts about the detriments of competition in a collaborative environment.

Competition without collaboration promotes closed systems.  It closes classroom doors and prevents innovation and new ideas.  A focus on competition can lead to an undermining of the common good, the narrowing a common vision and atrophy the growth within schools (and organizations).  Competition at all costs, can undermine the efforts between those who actually share a common purpose.

Leaders must be in tune to the emotions, confidence and needs of the people within the organization.  If trust is an issue on the campus, leaders must construct competition in a way that forces people to rely on one another rather than compete with one another.  If teams lack confidence, leaders can't create competitions where these same teams can be labeled losers at the end of the race.  When people are at different places in their knowledge and experience, results can't be the way to determine who wins.

Here are some thoughts that I have about competition.

Competition is BAD for the Organization when:

  • Being THE Best is the Focus of the Competition
  • The Result is the Gauge
  • Losers are Labeled
  • Bitterness and Resentment become the emotions of the competition
  • Players become more isolated as a result.

Competition is GOOD for the Organization when:

  • Being YOUR Best is the Focus of the Competition.
  • Growth is the gauge.
  • Everyone has the Opportunity to Win
  • Satisfaction and Pride are the prevalent emotions of the competition.
  • Players become closer and more supportive of one another.
Throughout my life, I have been one of the most competitive people that I know.  I always strived to be the best at what I do and as a result, winning built my confidence while losing fueled my passion to improve.  Here's the reality.  Not all people are motivated by losing.  In fact, they are turned off by being labeled a loser.  The agony of defeat drives people out the door.  Leaders can't assume that the mantra of friendly competition helps everyone grow.

As leaders reflect on their own motivation behind competition, they often overlook the discouragement that others find in it.  In their attempt to build people up, they unintentionally shut them off .  By taking time to know the emotional needs of the people within the organization, leaders can create competitive situations that bring people together and keep them focused on the ultimate goal, actualizing the mission of their work. 

In short, competition is good when everyone becomes better at what they do and closer to the organization.  Competition is bad when it alienates people for not being the best at getting better.

From "Great Job" to "Great Growth"

"Good job!"  "You did a great job!"  "Nice work!"  "Super effort!"  When's the last time you gave an employee one of these announcements of affirmation?  If you're a leader who likes to promote the positive, chances are you say this a lot.  Any why not?  After all, affirmation solidifies behavior, and recognition builds repetition.

But there is a downside to "Good Job!" Telling people that they did a good job loses its effect after a while. People come to expect it from leaders who say "Good Job" all the time.  Employees begin to wonder what makes the leader determine who does a good job and why they get a compliment. In time, they can end up focusing more on what the leader deems as the standard of high quality work. If certain people receive more kudos than others, resentment toward the leader will eventually develop over time.

 Here's the root of the problem.  Compliments are transactional responses. In other words, if I, the leader, think you do something pleasing to me, I need to pay you a compliment; thus a transaction has been completed.    However, if the employee works hard, and the leader doesn't see it or worse fails to compliment the effort, the employee will not be paid; and therefore, a transaction will not occur.  The employee will be led to believe that the leader doesn't value his work simply because he hasn't been paid a verbal compliment for his efforts.  The problem with this fixed mindset is that the focus from both parties is on recognizing effort and paying for it, rather than creating an environment where the focus is on continuous progress and growth through consistent efforts.

Transformational leadership is more about moving people forward than praising them for where they are. In other words, if leaders want to transform the workplace, they must stop employing the tactic of transactional compliments such as praising people solely based on singular, isolated actions. A mindset of continuous change requires leaders to exceed praise and utilize specific feedback that celebrates growth over time.  This happens when the leader acknowledges not only where someone currently is but how far they've come and where they will eventually be one day.  Hence, the leader focuses his feedback on growth instead of the job.

Here are 5 Ways Leaders can transform "Great Job" into "Great Growth"

Growth Feedback

Commenting on a person's performance over a period of time by showing specific areas of growth helps employees transform their behavior into more efficient and focused behavior. Nothing transforms mindsets better than showing people how far they have come in their work. They will focus their efforts on continuing the growth that they are making.

Reflective Questioning

Asking reflective questions gives the employee a chance to evaluate their own performance. This also gives the leader an opportunity to gauge if the employee has a false sense of confidence or expectations that are too high. Reflective questions also help the employee see their own strengths and find ways to fix their own problems. The purpose of reflective questioning is to guide people to rate their work and effectiveness.

Examples of Exceptional Work

Highlighting and giving specific feedback on examples of the employee's exceptional work builds tremendous confidence. Nothing builds a sense of efficacy better than the leader showing an employee a piece of their own excellent work and then highlighting why their work is tremendous.  This tells the employee specifically what quality of work you want them to continue.

Affirmation Connected to Areas of Weakness

Some people do some things really great and other things not so well. Find opportunities to connect strategies within  the employee's strengths to their areas of weakness. For example, "if you had done this weakness in the same way that you did the strength, you could possibly get better results".  This feedback affirms the employee's strengths while defining how the employee can improve their deficits. 

Thoughts to Think About (yes, the redundancy is necessary)

Another great way to transform people into a mindset of constant transformation is to affirm excellent work by giving them a question that challenges their great work to become even bigger and better. Asking people how they would make changes to their work when they do it again affirms quality while challenging growth.  This challenge by affirmation also tells the employee that you have a lot of confidence in their abilities and the growth they are making . 

Good, Better, Best

The word good affirms the present. Better is a step up from good, but by comparing yesterday to today, it solidifies the status quo for tomorrow. Best is the only goal of a transformational mindset.  If we want every member of the organization to be their best, each member must constantly know their performance every day without the leader's input and strive to improve. This will happen when leaders create the conditions for employees and leaders to work interdependently to evaluate one another's progress over time.  From there they must seek out new ways to more effectively and efficiently give their very best performance each and every day. Good is never good enough and never will be good enough, so let's create a mindset where we collectively evaluate our work in this way: 

Good, Better, Best
Never let it rest,
Until our good is better 
And better is the best. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Confronting our Can'ts

Very few words can terminate one's ability. All too often in education when we fail to achieve our intended result, we rush to believe that the task is impossible. We jump to rash diagnoses such as:

  • He can't read. 
  • She can't sit still and focus. 
  • They can't multiply. 
  • These kids can't write. 

Even worse, when we allow thoughts like these to enter our minds, we automatically disable the belief in ourselves to close the gap. We say things like:

  • I can't teach him.
  • I can't reach her.
  • We can't truly help all kids. 

And when these statements enter our minds and leave our lips, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Now, let's analyze the statements above for a second and synthesize the word, can't. Do we really believe so little in our own abilities to educate kids that we honestly embrace the thought that these kids can't learn to read, write, sit still and multiply?  Even worse, do we allow these statements to condemn these kids to the lower bar of expectations? 

Can't is such a crippling word. It halts progress. It preserves the status quo. It allows opportunities to never actualize because not only have our beliefs disabled our own abilities. We have crippled all hope for kids who in reality presently struggle with learning.

So here is what I recommend.

 If Can't is such a powerful word, let's use it to our advantage. How about we all rise up and use these 4 strategies to cripple the naysayers and hope-killers. 

1. Cancel Can't from your Language all Together
Our thoughts become our words. Our words become our actions.  Our actions become our habit, and our habits become our character. If we refuse to allow can't to enter our thoughts, it will never be allowed into our responses to difficult situations. 

2.  Analyze the Can't 
People say can't when they don't know what to do. In most cases, what they really mean is the following: this kid struggles with something, and I don't know what to do for him. Leaders, who believe in the power of can, help Can'ters identify the point at which they don't know how to respond.  Then, they help them develop a plan to address the problem. 

3. Nullify Can't with a Can't of your Own
Negative people drive me crazy. Can't seems to roll out of their mouth at every difficult turn. Leaders must step up and tell them that Can't will not be a part of our system. Can'ters can not be allowed to use their disabling attitudes to hold us back, impede our efforts and stifle progress any longer. 

Can We Do This?

Yes we can.  Of course, kids are behind. Sure, they lack behavioral controls, and yes, they don't know how to do things. That's why they come to school. They come because they can't, and they are counting on you and me to turn their Can't into a resounding Can. It won't happen until we transform their Disabler of Can't into an Enabler of Can

Can't never could and never will help a kid. So what can you do about it?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Leadership Lessons from a Parked Car

Today, I am sitting in my wife's nice car. It has all the bells and whistles. It is sleek and comfortable just like the commercial promised it would be. But here's the deal. No matter how elegant my car is, it alone can't get me from point A to B. 

Here is my Point
The latest and greatest tools don't achieve results. The newest resource will not improve your current reality. The latest gadget can give you a greater sense of confidence or status, but it won't get the job done. At the end of the day, there is only one way that tools make substantial change. You have to take your tool out of park and put it into drive

So how can we put our tools in gear?

Dedicate Time 
If you want a tool to help your organization, you have to engage others in meaningful study about the tool and understand how it must be used to improve results.

Realize that People Matter
It's people not products that get results. If you have weak people and strong tools, you will always get weak results. In the end your people matter.

Inspect for Fidelity
Tools that are not implemented appropriately will not work.  If you want your tools to work properly, you might want to read the directions on the box and ensure that they are followed.  

Value Effort
In order for a tool to work, it needs someone to use it correctly. If you've spent all this money on a new tool, you might want to invest your time in sincerely recognizing the efforts of the very people who devote their time in becoming proficient operators of the tool. 

Embrace Failure
Anytime you implement a new resource, people will make mistakes trying it out. Leaders must create a culture that embraces mistakes during the implementation of a new resource.  Failure is a natural part of experimentation and creativity.  Leaders who fail to embrace failure will ensure the tool's failure all together. 

My car is great, and I like it. At the end of the day it is a completely useless tool until I crank it up and put the transmission in drive. Resources and tools are no different. Absent of a proficient and productive driver, a resource is just another car sitting in the parking lot. It may look attractive, but it is completely unproductive.  Resources that work have competent people that jump into the driver's seat and steer the tool down the road of hard work. 

Drivers Make the Difference 
 There are whole lot of organizations with a whole lot less resources but still get better results.  The difference isn't the number of cars in the garage, but the number of committed people in the house. 
How well do you drive the resources in your organization?