Saturday, May 31, 2014

8 Steps to Add Value to your School

Values are defined as ideals and customs of an organization toward which the members have an affective regard. They are long standing traditions that are passed down from generation to generation, and they are shaped little by little through the decisions and actions of influential individuals. If we pause to analyze the complete definition of the word beyond its societal meaning, a value is defined as the relative worth, merit or importance of something.

The problem is not that schools lack values. The problem is that values in a school are all over the place. To get everyone on the same page, leaders make the fatal mistake by dictating what every staff member’s values must be to work at the school. When leaders take this approach, schools fail to capitalize on the abundance of values that already exist within the organization. By using the collaborative process to align values throughout the building, staff members can align individual values which can congeal into campus values that would by far supersede any expectation written by the best campus principal.

Campus values are commitments that staff members make to ensure that every student reaches academic success daily. They reflect the behaviors that all staff members must exhibit instructionally as well as systemically. Values are specific details that help flesh out the mission and vision. They help teams clarify how they will work together.

How you behave is based on what you value. Throughout the year at every campus in the world, problems arise that either conflict with campus values or haven't been addressed in the value statements. As teams dig deeper into the source of the problems, teams will find that sometimes the pressures of the day dictate how they solve problems rather than pulling back and looking at the MVVG (Mission, Vision, Values and Goals) for guidance. When leaders allow the pressure of the day to guide them to a solution, campuses stand a chance of getting off of the path of actualizing their moral imperative, and sometimes it causes teams to go backwards and never reach their goals. When personal emotions guide teams in resolving problems, rather than commitment to campus values, the team will develop fractures in its culture that will take much time to heal. If the problem becomes extremely personal, the culture can be broken, and once the culture is broken, the campus can no longer focus on kids.

8 Steps

Last August, my former campus took a closer look at the campus values which were written 3 years ago and truly exemplify what the campus must exhibit in actions and words. Rather than reviewing them and moving on, I asked the staff to do the following activity. 

1.  In groups, take one value and analyze it. 
2.  In your own words, write the definition of the value.
3.  Individually write what the value looks like if someone could see the value in action but could not hear it. 
4.  Individually write what the value sounds like if someone could hear the value in action but could not see it. 
5.  Write down behaviors that do not represent the value. In other words, tell us what the value is not. 
6. Once individuals have completed writing their thoughts, they need to have a discussion about which descriptors best define the value. 
7. Using the frayer model (See Picture Below), write down what the value looks like, sounds like, what it is, and what it is not. 
8. The group shares its thoughts with the campus and asks for feedback. 

Once everyone has shared their thoughts with the campus, the value frayer models are turned into posters and posted throughout the school and shared with the community. An activity like this helps returning members deepen their understanding and hopefully commitment to values, and it gives new members an opportunity to contribute their ideas to make the values more meaningful. 

Values are nothing but words on a wall, but when campuses take time to review, reflect and revamp them, there is a strong chance that they will use them to align actions which in turn adds value to the organization. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Are You a Teacher Leader or a Teacher Impeder?

One of the most influential factors on the success of a team is the teacher leader. They have the ability to unite and the power to divide. What they say can pull colleagues together or drive a wedge between tight-knit peers. With every action and reaction, teacher leaders can either lead or impede their teammates.

And it's not that they impede their peers intentionally.  Most teacher leaders have the best of intentions to help their colleagues grow and achieve.  Most teacher leaders want their teams to be cohesive and work together toward a common goal, but the cold-hard truth comes down to how teacher leaders view the concept of leadership.

So What Makes a Leader An Impeder?

Teacher Impeders...

Fail to build a culture of mutual trust and respect that is focused on every student.
Align actions to beliefs that maintain the comfort of the status quo
 ntimidate (intentionally or unintentionally) teammates who take initiative or show creativity or leadership. 
Lead by expecting followers to do things their way. 

What Makes a Teacher Leader?

Teacher Leaders...

Garner support from peers to foster mutual trust appreciation
Understand that their role is to convert followers into leaders
 Inspire creativity and risk-taking by modeling it for the team. 
Delegate leadership responsibilities to all members of the team
Engage and empower all members, especially those who are often neglected. 

So do You Lead or Impede?

Impeders are not necessarily negative people. They typically want what's best for the school. The problem is that they think their job is to have the plan and make all others follow the plan, but here's the problem with that. That's not leadership; that's management. 

Leaders do not need to possess all the right answers, but they must have all the right questions. Service and support always generates better results than mandates and directives. Teacher leaders know that they must always guide teams to stay focused on what the job requires, not how it must be done. Leading or impeding, the difference between the two is the same as believing in or belittling followers. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

It's Mirror Time

May is about wrapping up the year, but without looking back on what you did, loose ends are left unaddressed.  Loose ends unresolved lead to changes unsustained and improvements overlooked.  That's why May is "Mirror Time".

Reflection is the most important yet most overlooked stage of change.  Think of it this way.  When the power is out when you begin getting ready for work, there is no light; thus, no opportunity to look in the mirror before leaving for work.  Without the opportunity to 'reflect' on the work you have done getting ready to look presentable, you stand a strong chance of showing up to work with one brown shoe and one black shoe.  Your hair could be sticking up in the back.  Your collar could have one side buttoned and one unbuttoned (sadly that happens to me even when the power is on.)

Where is your Organizational Mirror?

In progressive organizations, systems exist where reflection happens frequently.  The more frequent the organization and the staff within the organization examine their products and the processes that create them, the more progress can be made.  Reflection offers opportunity to tweak, revamp and even replace the blemishes we call ineffective actions.  When we reflect, efficiency expands as effectiveness becomes exponential.

The organizational mirror is not found in the leader's office but in every employee's work space and mindset.  At the end of each day, the question should focus on this thought, "How can we get better at doing this?"  Organizational mirrors can't function until the culture is grounded in trust, mutual accountability and positive presuppositions.  From there, everyone can have the confidence to look at the man in the mirror.

Mirrors work Best with Light.

Mirrors are pretty useless when used in the dark.  Organizations must have the light switch on.  Light is created when the school vision and mission work simultaneously together.  If organizations have a working light, they can look more closely in the mirror.  The more commitment to the mission and vision, the brighter the light will shine and the more people will feel compelled to find their blemishes.  Once blemishes and glaring errors are discovered, reflection can commence.  Solutions can surface to remove causal factors that contributed to overwhelming obstacles. 

CLICK HERE for a Google Doc to guide your reflection.

Mirrors + Light = Current Reality

Once you clarify the organization you desire to create, and you design a process to reflect on your progress toward achieving that goal, you are ready to grow.  Without reflection, organizations stagnate.  Without vision, organizations flounder, and without both, cultures crumble.  Take a look in the mirror.  You may not like what you see, but you will definitely see what you need to do to improve the way your organization looks and functions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

7 Steps to Conquer Twitterphobia

I get so tickled when I'm talking to someone who says, "I don't get Twitter."  They complain about the hashtag (for old folks, the pound sign) or why there has to be an @ symbol just to talk to someone. Their pontification of pensiveness is quite amusing.

After listening to them lament over their Twitter-phobia, I ask them one simple question.  "Do you use Facebook?"  Their answer is typically, "Well, yes", followed by, "but you don't understand.  I don't get all that # stuff."

So I'm tired of listening to all the excuses.  I want to tell all of you Twitter-phobes that there are 4 reasons you should be using Twitter. 

1. 140 characters is Facebook minimized
Think about it. No one reads your Facebook posts when you have more than 140 characters anyway, and let's face it. You don't read peoples' lengthy posts on Facebook either. Anything that you can post of FB can be tweeted on Twitter. 

2. Hashtags Connect
The great thing about Twitter is that you don't have to know everybody or be everybody's friend. The # connects people around topics of interest.  For example, #satchat (Definitely click here!!!) is one of the most popular chats on Twitter for educators. On Saturday mornings, you can find 100's if not 1000's of educators conversing in this forum about really interesting topics in education. 

3. Friends are overrated
Let's face it. When you are reading Facebook there are lots of people you tune out.  After they've said the same thing over and over for the last few weeks about politics, their family, or their personal problems, you really don't pay attention to anything they say.

Twitter is pretty transparent, and it's not that personal, which is a good thing if you're trying to learn from others. I have developed some pretty awesome contacts over my four years on Twitter, and that is because of the transparency and openness that you find by connecting with other educators who you would otherwise never meet. I don't know any of them personally, but I find my closest tweeps to be extremely powerful influences on my work. Friends influence you, but strangers stretch you. 

4. You're wanted on Twitter
There are lots of people out there that want to help people new to Twitter. Chats like #NT2T (New Teachers to Twitter) created by Joe Mazza (Click Here) and Twitter leaders such as Jerry Blumengarten (Click Here) are extremely powerful resources to all tweeps, especially those that are new to Twitter. 

Following bloggers such as Bill Ferriter, Dean Shareski, Eric Sheninger, and David Culberhouse keep me up-to-date with the latest things happening, and their cutting edge thoughts influence my life as a leader. 

Are you willing to try something for me?

I'd like for you to try these 7 steps to see if Twitter is for you.  If you still have Twitter- phobia after these 7 steps, I'll give you a complete refund. (That's a joke...)

Step 1
Set up an account. It's not that difficult. In fact, here is a quick video to help you get started. 

Step 2
Find some people to follow like the people that I just mentioned. Don't worry. They won't bite. 

Step 3
Look at the people that they follow.  Check out their bio and the tweets that they put out.  If they appeal to you, follow them. If not, don't. 

Step 4
Spend some time reading and analyzing how people tweet and use the # to communicate. 

Step 5
Find a regularly scheduled chat and participate in it either by tweeting or by just watching the hashtag. It can be a little overwhelming and intimidating, but watching how the conversation works will give you a good understanding of what Twitter is all about. See Jerry Blumengarten's Twitter Chat Schedule Page

Step 6
Find some of your friends that use Twitter, and talk to them about how they use it to learn. 

Step 7
Remember that everyone was new to Twitter at some point in their life. They were intimidated. They were nervous about sending out tweets, but they got over it, and you can too.

Conquer your Fear

Technology can be a challenge, but the more you use it, the more confident you will be with it. Twitter has changed my life as an educator. It has stretched me in ways that traditional PD never could. I have learned things that I would never have learned in any district that I worked in. I was once scared of Twitter, but after taking a chance and jumping in, I realized that there was nothing to fear but fear itself.   I hope you'll give it a go and conquer the senseless fear of Twitter.