Friday, December 30, 2016

4 Steps to Make your New Year's Resolution STICK this Year

Another year is coming to an end, and now it's time to make that dreaded New Year's Resolution.  That means it's time to lose weight, be a better person, do something different that you haven't done before. You know.  Make a promise that chances are you probably won't keep.


The reason that New Year's Resolutions rarely work is because they lack structure, and they are rarely SMART.

  • Strategic, 
  • Measureable, 
  • Attainable, 
  • Results-Oriented and 
  • Timebound

Furthermore, they don't consider your hierarchy of real priorities.

  1. Spiritual or Emotional Health
  2. Physical Health
  3. Family Unit Health
  4. Professional Health
At the end of the day, you must be healthy mentality and emotionally before you can tackle your health, your family unit, or even your professional growth.

When you fail to plan, you make a plan to fail, so this year, let's make a plan, but let's make it comprehensive.  After all, if you want to succeed in your growth, you've got to make a plan to make it happen.

4 Steps to Make your New Year's Resolution STICK this Year

1.  Spiritual or Emotional Health
  • What kind of growth would you like to see in yourself emotionally?
  • What specifically will you do to strengthen your faith or spiritual health? (Bible study, books, podcasts, church, seeking counsel from a friend, mentor or advisor)
  • How many times per week will you do that and for how long each time?
  • How will you know if you have reached your goal?
  • Who will be your accountability partner to ensure that you do it?
  • Make a calendar appointment or set alarms NOW to remind yourself to do it.

2. Physical Health
  • What do you want to change about your health?
  • What type of exercise do you want to engage in to accomplish it?
  • How many times per week will you work out and for how long each time?
  • Who will be your accountability partner to ensure that you do it?
  • Make a calendar appointment or set alarms NOW to remind yourself to do it.

3. Family Unit Health
  • What is the goal that you want to have for your family unit?
  • How will you accomplish that goal?  Date nights, family picnics or excursions, family dinner, etc).
  • Where will you schedule this into your calendar?
  • How will members of your family ensure that you do it?
  • Make a calendar appointment or set alarms NOW to remind yourself to do it.

4. Professional Health
  • List the 5 - 10 things that you want to get better at in your work?
  • Out of the list, name ONLY the top 2 things that will benefit your professional growth most.
  • Make a plan to dedicate your time to improve in those 2 target areas?
  • Who will be your accountability partner to ensure that you do it?
  • How will you know when you've reached your goal.
  • Make a calendar appointment or set alarms NOW to remind yourself to do it.

Resolutions Start with Structure and Sustain with Decluttering
If you want your resolution to succeed, you have to start, and then you must remember to give yourself permission to say NO to anything that doesn't fit into your top 4 priorities.  In this world of perpetual busyness, we lose sight of our real business which is self-improvement and making a small dent in the universe.  SMART and structured resolutions work when we ensure their success by accompanying them with accountability.  

Don't make this New Year's Resolution become another one that you add to the list of failures from years before.  Make 2017 a year that you and those around you will never forget.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The 8 Accelerators of Change

Change is the driving force in progressive organizations, but in the hands of the wrong leader, it's more of a wedge than a force. That is the funny thing about change. It is successful only if the leader remembers that his job is not to make the change but to create a culture that instinctively and continuously changes each and every day.

Great leaders become great only after they understand that their first job is to create a culture that thrives on purposeful change.  In fact they embrace the fact that culture is the accelerator of change.  Toxic cultures avoid change by taking their foot off of the pedal and slamming the brakes, but excited and engaged cultures not only push the gas.  They put the pedal to the metal.

The 8 Accelerators of Change
The bottom line is this.  Great leaders understand that change can only be made by people, not the leader, and when more people are making change, the organization is accelerating change.   There are 8 accelerators that leaders must consider if they want to make change and make it rapidly.  The better leaders get at employing these accelerators, the more change and the more sustained change they will see.

Here are 8 strategies that great leaders employ to get substantial change.
  1. How you treat people,
  2. How you listen to people,
  3. How you create a system of continuous improvement,
  4. How you confront change decelerators (negative people, confusion, frustration),
  5. How you invite people and new ideas to the table of change,
  6. How you empower others to lead change with you,
  7. How you communicate the positive growth along the way,
  8. How you reflect, refine and revise change along the way.
Change is hard, but it's really hard in a negative culture.  Change is implemented easiest when leaders remember that they're not there to change an organization.  They're called to change people.  They're called to change minds and the paradigms inside them.  If leaders will always remember that leadership is about influence, empowerment and instilling confidence in followers, change will not only happen.  It will happen at a rapid rate.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The LeadLearner Top 10 of 2016

For me, 2016 has been a fantastic year.  In 12 rapidly short months, I had some awesome experiences.

  • I moved into my first superintendent role at Blue Ridge ISD, and I couldn't have asked for a better school district to work for.  
  • I wrote my first book, "A Leader's Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom", and 
  • I wrote a whole lot of thoughts to share with you.
As we finish up 2016, I'd like to share my Top 10 List of 2016 to give you some ideas that resonated with a lot of people.  I hope you enjoy the remainder of 2016 and gear your mind ready to make your New Year's Resolution for 2017

The LeadLearner Top 10 of 2016

What was your favorite post that I shared with you this year?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Greatest Enemy Against Public Education

Like most states, Texas is about to enter a very dynamic legislative session. There will be lots of people advocating for a variety of things that they believe will be in the best interest of 5.2 million kids. Some are against public education and want to see it greatly restructured if not eradicated, while others will be advocating strongly for strengthening public education.  Whether you like it or not, something is going to change in the public education system for our children.

But Here is the Scary Part 

In this session there is a great enemy lurking in the midst.  There is something out there that is silently killing public education. It is not the Democrats, and no, it's not the Republicans either. 

The greatest enemy against public education is Apathy.

Our government is established on this very principle. It should be of the people, by the people, and for the people, but the only thing that can kill that great philosophy of our democratic process is constituent apathy. Once voters cast their vote, their work is not done. In fact it has only just begun.  The problem is that many feel that their voice really doesn't matter since there's 
nothing they can do now that the politicians have taken office, and what we must realize is that there is nothing more incorrect about that kind of thinking. 

There is an awful lot that you can do to influence this legislative session for public education.

  1. The very first thing you can do is educate yourself about the bills and proposals that are being made for and against public education. Now this takes a little bit of work, but it is essential that you educate yourself about the things that people want to do to public education.
  2. Once you have educated yourself, pick up the phone, and call your representative. (CLICK HERE). I placed seven phone calls today to representatives and left messages, and received callbacks from two of them. Representatives do you want to hear what your thoughts are.
  3. If you believe strongly in your position about saving public education, then educate your neighbors and fellow constituents. Tell them about what is happening to public education and encourage them to pick up the phone and call their representatives as well. 
  4. Repeat steps one through three ad nauseum

The state of our public education system is very strong, but it is under tremendous pressure to be dissolved under the guise of improvement. There are people who want to privatize it for some kids, instead of adequately subsidizing it for all kids. If we care deeply about the future of our kids, then we must all advocate for all of them. 

The Challenge
To learn more about how public education will be impacted in the Texas Legislature this January, you can go to, Raise Your Hand or Friends of Texas Public Schools. You can also contact your school district's superintendent to get more information.

Once you educate yourself with the information from the session, I challenge you to call your state senator and representative to ask their position and encourage them to vote for public education. Finally, I challenge you to contact three people and inform them of what you've learned and encourage them to get active and reach out to three additional people. The only way that change will ever be made for Texas public education is when public education advocates take an active part in the legislative process.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Are You Making the Right Choice about Choices?

Choice is essential to connect with those that you lead, and in schools providing choice makes sense.  More choice equals more freedom, and more freedom leads to more ownership.  Let's face it.  When people have more choice, they will be more engaged and even more empowered, but here is the reality about choice.

Choice is in the mind of the beholder.

If you don't believe me, watch The Art of Choosing.

Choice requires people to see a meaningful difference, and just because you offer it doesn't mean that you're helping people.  Just because you offer choices, doesn't mean you are empowering freedom.  According to research, too many choices can actually lead to higher stress, depression and perhaps psychological paralysis.

Too much choice
When was the last time you walked down the cereal aisle?  There are just too many choices.  If you don't know what you want, you could be there all day long.   The same goes for our schools.  If you offer people to many unfamiliar choices, they will become overwhelmed because they don't which choice is the best for them.

Too little choice
Ever been to a concession stand when all that was left was the one soda that you didn't want?  It is downright frustrating.  The same applies to choice in school.  If you don't provide enough choices to those that you lead, you will create an organization filled with resentment of the tasks they are asked to do.

Finding the Right Balance
If you believe in offering your people the right amount of choice, you must remember this.  If you don't know those that you lead, then you won't know the right kinds of choices or appropriate amounts of choice your people need to be more empowered.  Choice only works when leaders include followers in the development of the menu of options, and when leaders provide the right balance of choice, followers will always select the best choice that makes them more efficient, effective and ultimately successful.

Monday, November 21, 2016

26 Things You Should be Thankful for, but Probably Aren't

Thanksgiving is here, and that means it's time to give thanks for all the blessings bestowed upon us.  But to truly have the right heart for appreciation, one must be able to give thanks in all things. That means giving thanks for the good as well as the bad, but nobody wants to give thanks for bad stuff.  After all, it's bad, and it has hurt us and it has made our lives difficult.

So to help you truly give thanks for the most difficult things in our lives, I wanted to share 26 things that you should give thanks for but probably aren't. 

26 Things to Give Thanks for that You Probably Aren't. 

Aggravation and Annoyances
Betrayal and Bewilderment
Conflict and Confrontation 
Disappointment and Dismay
Embarrassing Events
Failure and Friction
Growing Pains and Gray Hairs
Injustice, Impatience, and Insecurity 
Jerks and Jams
Knives in the back and Knotheads
Loss  and Long Meetings
Mistakes and Misfortune
No's and Not Yets
Overwhelming Days
Painful Moments and Pettiness
Quirky People
Rejection and Retaliation
Setbacks, Scars, and Stress
Turmoil and Tyrants
Volatile People
Wounds and Weariness
Youthful Inexperience

If you made it through the list, how many of these bad things have found their way into your life?  If you said all of them, consider yourself lucky because that means you are living your life to its fullest. You have been stretched by these items, and they have brought you to where you are today. Give thanks in these things for they are responsible for making you the excellent person you are today.

Happy Thanksgiving

Monday, November 7, 2016

Let's Get United Behind the Vote

Beside this being the most annoying election season I have ever experienced in my life, I must tell you that I have never been more determined on who I am voting for. I have never been more excited to go to the booth and cast my ballot. In fact, every four years my desire to vote grows stronger because of my love for this country, and my hope for what our country could become for my own personal kids. 


I am not voting for Hillary, and I'm not voting for Trump. Nope, I'm not voting for Johnson or even Stein. I am not even voting against corruption or bigotry. I'm voting for something bigger and a whole lot more important than that. 

I am voting for my children and for this amazing country. I am voting in hopes that in 2017 we will have elected officials that will drop the partisan brinksmanship and actually put the "United" back into the United States of America. I am tired of hacks killing the future of our children with their divisive bias, rhetoric and slander. I am sick of our children's future being squandered by mountains of debt accompanied by no plans to protect our country for the future. 


Will it change anything?  I don't know, but I do know one thing. If I don't vote or choose to believe that my vote is worthless, then nothing will change. We live in the greatest land on the planet, and I know one thing. "We, the people" still own this country and until our God-given right to vote is taken away, we will continue to be "We, the people". 


If we want to be a united country again, there are 2 things every American must do. First on Election Day, go vote, and let your voice be heard. Second, remember that on the day after Election Day, our mission is simple. Unite as a nation around our new president even if you can't stand him or her, and let's work together as a nation to fight the trend of becoming the Divided People of America. 

We are better than that, and our children deserve to inherit one nation under God that is truly indivisible with liberty and justice for all. That will only happen if we remember that we're not republicans, democrats, or whatever party you associate with. We are Amercans plain and simple, and when we embrace our nationality, we will truly realize the reason that we must vote. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Let's Teach Kids Tenacity in #NoExcuseNovember

October is over, and November is here.  For men, No Shave November is here, and for school No Excuse November is here.

The purpose for No Excuse November is to challenge students, parents, and teachers to crush all the excuses that prevent us from growing in our work and in our learning.  For example the biggest excuses made by most people are "I don't have time" or "I can't do that".  That's simply not true.  We have the time if we make it, and we can do anything we commit our minds to.

Let's face it.  Excuses do nothing more than allow us to remain in our current state.  They keep us in our present state and serve as a barrier to finding our inner excellence. As parents and educators, we must challenge kids to stop making the following excuses when it comes to learning:

  • I'm not a good reader.
  • Math is not my thing.
  • I can't write.
  • I don't have time to study.
None of these excuses are true.  Students can be good readers, excellent mathematicians, fantastic writers, and studious learners if we teach them to avoid the trap of making excuses.  When excuses are no longer allowed, learning increases, students learn the value of hard work and perseverance, and No Excuse November will be a powerful tool that leads kids to success.  I hope you will challenge your student to adopt the No Excuse November movement.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Do You have a Fixer Upper Mindset?

This is a guest post by Blue Ridge Elementary Principal, Matthew Todd. If you're not following this guy, you should. 

Anyone else out there addicted to the show, Fixer Upper?

For those of you who are not, each show follows a similar routine...

1) A person or couple want to purchase a home in central Texas to fix up.
2) They choose one house from three options presented by Chip and Joanna Gaines.
3) Joanna gets plans together, has them approved by the person or couple, then Chip gets the crew together and starts the remodel.
4) There is usually one phone call made when a big problem emerges and more money needs to be spent.
5) Chip finishes the remodel, Joanna decorates the house.
6) There's a big reveal where the person or couple is shown the finished product (which they love).

Why am I bringing this up?

I was watching the show this weekend, and began thinking about how it compares to what we do.

1) Parents or guardians drop off their most prized possession that needs to be "fixed up" before moving on to the next grade.
2) We get together as a campus, develop a plan, then the grade level teams get together and being the process.
3) There's usually something that goes wrong during the course of the year, which requires a phone call home.

Seems surprisingly similar up to this point...

So, what do we need to do to ensure we get this type of response:

You're probably thinking of several things right now.  I'm going to keep it simple:

1) Stick to the plan.

2) Consistently communicate the good and bad.

We have a plan in place.  Stay with it...and try not to get frustrated.  Those of you who watch the show know that whenever Chip and Jo come across a problem with the blueprints, they make an adjustment and move on.  They don't scrap the whole project and start over.

They also talk to the homeowners during the process...even when it becomes apparent that to do the job right, more money is required.  You can't be afraid to have that tough conversation.  It pays off in the end.

What reaction are you building toward this school year?  

What is that one adjustment you may need to make in order to have that reaction be positive?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Equipping Kids with Toolboxes of Excellence

Special Note - I am honored to share this post by Rene Sawatsky, Assistant Principal at Blue Ridge Elementary School, Blue Ridge ISD, Blue Ridge, Texas.  When it comes to excellence, I am always excited to see how others create a culture of excellence and this post gives another lens through which leaders and educators can view the process of developing excellence in all learners.


Do you have a toolbox of excellence at your disposal?  How are you using that toolbox?  In Ron Berger's book, An Ethic of Excellence, he describes 3 toolboxes of excellence.  The first toolbox of excellence is creating a culture of excellence in your classroom, and the second toolbox has to do with the creating and expecting the work of excellence.  The third tool box is self-esteem

"Self-esteem comes from accomplishments not compliments."

Below are a few suggestions to help teachers begin to work with students to create their own excellence:

1.  Incorporate Powerful Project Learning - As Berger puts it, "there's only so much care and concern that students can put into fill-in-the-blank work."  When students see purpose in their work, the self-accomplishment rating goes through the roof.  Celebrate their high-quality projects, publish the results so parents can see, align your projects with real community needs, connect globally with others to show off what's being done, but whenever possible show how their work is of service to others outside the school walls.  This is highly motivating for the 21st century student!

2.  Show good models so students know the difference.  Collect work samples from some of the best and show them off, telling why they make outstanding examples of work being done.  If this is the first year or you don't have models, use images.  Challenge them to strive to create work that is at the level or more excellent than the model.  Have students critique the models of various levels of excellence, so they can make determinations about what constitutes and excellent work before turning them loose on their own projects.

3.  Utilize peer critique and multiple drafts of work, keeping the drafts as a paper trail for the level of improvement and growth.  Make a clear distinction between what's rough and what's polished.  Create an atmosphere where the first is always a draft, where mistakes are common and need to be revised to make it better.  Utilize peers to encourage students that they're on the right track with their ideas.  Build a camaraderie in your classroom so students don't feel threatened but welcome input to make their projects even better.  

Be Kind, Be Specific, and Be Helpful - 3 tenets of peer critique that the author feels are important for students to develop this skill with each other.

Put your Tools to Work
When we work with an attitude of excellence, seek excellence in all things, and make the ownership of the excellence belong to the student (instead of seeming like punishment from the teacher), the self-accomplishment quotient will rise to the top and give rise to even more excellent work in the future.

It's what Berger calls working on the work!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Secret to Helping Kids find their Excellence

The greatest examples of excellence are not found in accomplishments or even accolades. They are revealed in silent, unnoticed events when we quietly demolish barriers and overcome obstacles. When it comes to our students, we must teach them that they are not defined by their results. They are actually refined by the process that produces those results. To create a culture that supports this mindset, a student must learn in an environment where he knows and hears often that his worth is never based on a numerical or letter grade. It is however derived from the effort and sweat he or she expends to achieve the result.  

In its truest form, excellence is not a result.  It is mindset, and this mindset is best reinforced by this Vince Lombardi quote. 
Source - What It Takes to be Number One by Vince Lombardi and Vince Lombardi Jr. 

Some of the best ways to condition students to find their excellence is by acknowledging and reinforcing work ethic, attributes of high quality work, persistence, and sheer determination.  These intangibles are some of the most powerful tools that kids will need to discover the excellence that is already deep inside them.

As educators and parents, we must encourage our children to define their value through their character, perseverance, hard work and sheer determination, for these are the skills that will take them  the furthest in life.  When we find personalized ways to help each individual kid see his value without being influenced by letter and numerical grades, we inspire kids to identify their strengths through their learning styles and abilities, and eventually motivate them seek exponential growth.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Great Leaders Move Forward with Pushback

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

Great Leaders gather Great Feedback 

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

The Greatest Leaders Invite Pushback

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

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

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

Pushback Pushes Organizations Forward.  

Thursday, September 29, 2016

In 1 Word, Define your PLC of Excellence

Excellence is a goal that all schools aspire to achieve, and when schools approach their quest for excellence by operating as a PLC at Work, excellence can be attained.  So what does it take to be a high-functioning professional learning community that works and learns interdependently to achieve this common yet illusive goal we refer to as "Excellence for All"?

Well, it depends on 1-word.  In one word, define what a PLC of Excellence look like.  What does it sound like? Feel like? Work like? Think like?

Go to my Menti to give your Input.
A PLC at Work is a group of people working interdependently to achieve a common goal for which they hold one another mutually accountable.  The team of excellence demands that its members work differently, think deeply, respond with precision, and demand excellence from themselves, as well as from their colleagues.  Excellence will only become a reality when every member of a team identifies their one word and then treats that word as the missing piece of the puzzle that will lead the team and ultimately every teacher to excellence.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Best Growth is Within

Source:  Simon Sinek's Instragram post
Growth is a personal endeavor, and it happens differently for every person.  Some people start physically growing before others do, while others don't grow at all and then overnight, they grow 5 inches.  There is one inevitable truth about growth, and it is this.


That is why it is important that we remind our students that it is not always best to compare ourselves to others through the lens of standardization especially when it comes to their current state or proficiency in learning.  It is, however, very healthy for students to analyze their unique progress over time and determine if they are making the necessary growth that pushes them toward mastery in learning.

One thought that we must always remember about growth is that it's not a race.  It is, however, a journey.  Some will grow faster while others will grow slower.  Furthermore, we must convince our students to believe that growth shouldn't be based on speed, but on their commitment to owning their growth and personal development, for that is how we ensure that we convince kids to set their sights on making lasting growth instead of growth that is fast and more likely unnecessary or even unsustainable.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Are you Finding the Fix or the Fault?

Today's world conditions us to find something wrong with virtually everything, and finding fault is easy. Point out the problem; blame someone for it, and you're done. Status quo solidified.

Organizations on the grow, however, fix their eyes beyond the problem and even the people responsible for it. They go one step further and find the fix. Now this one step is much bigger than you might think. It requires analysis, and it demands reserved patience in order to discover a solution that resolves the issue permanently.

What are Fault Finders?
  • Fault finders point out problems without finding a solution. 
  • They are quick to place blame on others. 
  • They pride themselves on being the first to illuminate problems and the people who may create them. 
  • They create a culture of fear and inhibit risk-taking. 

What are Fix Finders?
  • Fix finders identify the problem and its causal factors. 
  • They identify supports that need to be in place to prevent the problem from reoccurring again. 
  • They take ownership of the problem and engage others in order to learn from the problem so that it can be eradicated. 
  • They protect and reassure people who may have caused or are associated with the problem. 
  • They nurture a culture of experimentation and exploration.

The Fix and the Fault: It's a Matter of Excellence
Mediocre leaders find faults because it justifies their role and gives them a sense relevance. Excellent leaders, however, quickly look past the fault to the fix simply because they know that an overemphasis on the problem stalls organizational momentum. Faults don't improve the organization. They stifle them. Only resolution can build organizational efficacy.  

Are you fixed on the problem or the solution?  The answer to that question possesses greater implications than you know. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Does your Attire Inspire?

There's nothing I like more than dressing comfortably. I'll take cargo shorts and flip flops any day over a suit and tie.  Yes, dressing up can appear to be a trivial or even an unimportant part of any job, but it is important to remember why the way you dress is essential to your performance and your influence.

Does your Attire Inspire?

When deciding what to wear, the decision shouldn't be about you or even your comfort.  It should be about the role that your attire plays in motivating kids to learn, inviting your parents to be a powerful partner, and inspiring your colleagues to strive for excellence.  Think of your dress as your secret weapon.  It is your tool of influence.  It matters to kids and parents, and it matters an awful lot.  If you don't believe me, ask those around you if an educator's attire can raise the bar for students.

Here is a little poll that I did the other night to prove my point, and out of 67 random responses, the answer was pretty clear.

Whether you like it or not, your attire can elevate the expectations for your students. It can inspire kids to aspire for more.  It can influence parents to be your partner in learning.  Impressions matter and for some kids they matter more than you know.  For your struggling students, the way you present yourself may just be the one thing that convinces kids to stay in the game, and isn't that worth it.

Your influence starts with your appearance.  The better you look, the better you feel.  And the better you feel, the better you can appeal to your clients.  And when we appeal to our clients, they will buy the learning that we are selling each and every day.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

6 Tricks to Build Confidence in your Kids before School Starts

School is almost here, and that means one thing.  Kids are excited and stressed all at the same time.  They're excited about the newness that school has to offer and anxious about making sure they find the place where they fit in.  For new students, the stress, many times, outweighs the excitement.  For struggling kids, stress evolves into apathy, so we mustn't overlook students who seem disinterested in our school.  It may be just a front.

If we want all kids to learn at high levels, then we must remember that a sense of belonging precedes a desire to learn.

Before kids can find relevance and eventually rigor, they must have the right relationships with their teachers as well as their peers.  In order to do that, we must create schools and learning environments where they can leave behind their baggage of insecurities.  The statistics of adolescent stress point to a sad reality that learning and growth will always inhibited by insecurity.

This SoulPancake video illustrates what I mean.

6 Tricks to Build Confidence in your Students before School Starts
In order to help your kids learn at high levels, we must know students as people first and learners second.  Here are 6 things you can research to help your kids find their sense of belonging before school begins.
  1. Find out what strengths they have.
  2. Identify their areas for growth. (Weaknesses are areas for growth)
  3. Discover strategies that helped kids learn or behave last year.
  4. Avoid triggers that shut individual students down.
  5. Engage parents to determine the level of home support students will have.
  6. Verify which adults have significant relationships with individual students

If you took time to truly research your students in this way, there is a strong chance that you would have the information you need to start their year off with a sense of belonging but more importantly a sense of hope about their future.  If we want kids to grow in their learning, they must know, see, hear and feel that they matter.  We are the catalyst for that to occur.  Let's make the extra effort to build confidence in every kid this year, and let's start this process before the kids return to school.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

8 Ideas to Bring Teacher Joy "Back to School"

If you haven't hear Dean Shareski speak, you are missing probably one of the most powerful experiences in your life. Not only is he hilarious, but he surpasses the educational warm fuzzies with a practical ideas and a meaningful challenge to all educators to bring Joy back to school.

Bringing joy to kids begins with bringing joy to the adults in the building. 

Here are a few questions to make you think about bringing joy to the adults in your school?

  • How important is joy to the learning process?
  • What are you doing to bring joy to your staff?  
  • What are you doing to model joy as an essential part of professional development and adult learning?  
  • Does your "back to school" message start with joy or even include it at all?

Joy Accelerates Learning! 
If we want students to grow, it starts with making learning a joyful process for our teachers first. If teachers don't view their learning as a fun, interactive and exhilarating experience, there is a strong chance that the kids won't either. It is important to remember that student growth will only come with teacher growth; thus student joy comes with teacher joy. Furthermore we must always remember the following.

No teacher joy = No student joy. 
No teacher learning = No student learning. 

Bring Joy back to your "Back to School"
Here are a few suggestions to bring fun back into your "back to school" routine. 

  • Spice up your staff development with goofy competitions
  • Roll out the Red Carpet at Registration and get lots of pictures of teachers interacting with parents and students. 
  • Make music a part of your school. Pick positive and uplifting music and play it in the classrooms and in the hallways. 
  • Make an effort to give every teacher several fist bumps every day. 
  • Tweet out pictures of your teachers working together. 
  • Periscope professional learning and collaboration. 
  • Celebrate teachers who have gone above and beyond in their learning this summer. 
  • Lift up educators who have overcome obstacles or difficult situations. 
If we want learning to be a joyful experience for our kids, then it starts by making learning and working together a joyful experience for our teachers and staff.  Let's do it for them and in turn we will do it for the kids when they come back in the following weeks.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The 2 Approaches to Failure

The most embarrassing events in my life have been those that involved failure. Failure to pass. Failure to win. Failure to achieve. Failure to "you name it".

Let's face it. Everyone fails, but how you mentally approach and process the idea of failure is the ultimate reason why excellent people overcome it and mediocre people succumb to it. Talent doesn't beat failure. Tenacity does.

To beat failure you don't need to be great. You must have grit. 

We Always Have 2 Choices:
in how we approach and ultimately respond to failure.

We Can
With a Fix Mindset
With a Growth Mindset
Use it to
Define Us
Refine Us
View failure as a
Permanent Result
Opportunity for Growth
From It
Through It

Failure is not about what happens now.  It's about what happens NEXT.  What happens next will determine if we let failure limit us or if we will allow it to lead us.  Ultimately it is our attitude and our passion for personal growth that will tell us whether or not we will grow through our failures.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Alignment of Competence

When you think about alignment in schools, what do you think of?  Most people think of curriculum. Now while curriculum alignment is important, I would strongly contend that it's not necessarily the most important. The reason why is quite simple.

Teachers deserve to work in schools where clarity is not only valued but developed with passion. And that makes sense. When teachers work in schools where clarity is defined and continuously refined, teachers thrive and students excel in learning.

How do We get Clarity?
The only pathway to clarity is alignment. In fact when leaders focus on systemic alignment of understanding from teacher to teacher and department to department, schools increase in effectiveness. Aligned understanding is the purest definition of clarity. 

What should Schools Align?
Schools must align everything that teachers have in common. To get started, here are just a few things that leaders should ask teams of teachers to align in order to create the most effective school for all kids. 

  • Knowledge in the Use of School Resources
  • Expectations for Learning and Behavior
  • Responses to Appropriate and Inappropriate Behavior
  • Common Language for Instruction and Expectations
  • Relationship Building Strategies
  • Engagement Strategies for Active Student Learning
  • Rigorous Questioning 
  • Response to Student Failure
  • Celebration of Success

If leaders provide teams of teachers the time and the structure to collaborate about the universal topics and actions essential to student success, there is a strong chance that all students and teachers will grow closer toward excellence. In the absence of a regular opportunity to collaborate around the actions that lead to systemic excellence, leader muddy the water with the ambiguous rhetoric of "high expectations" and ultimately frustrate teachers with inconsistent actions and structures.

Kids Deserve an Alignment of Excellence
Students deserve a classroom where competence is universal, and teachers deserve a school where clarity is valued and sought so that systemic competence is attained. Alignment and the time to align are the most powerful priorities for schools, and leaders will create a highly consistent as well as high performing school that will ultimately guarantee excellence for every child from every teacher in every classroom every day in every way. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence: It's not a Day. It's our Future

Happy Independence Day!  On July 4, 1776 we claimed our independence as a sovereign and independent nation and for the last 240 years this day has been one of national pride and celebration. In fact the 4th of July reminds us of the importance of living our lives free from the tyranny of dependence. But the question we must ask ourselves is this.

Do our Schools and Classrooms create Dependent Followers or Independent Learners?

The future of our independence is completely dependent on the generation sitting in our classrooms right now. If kids don't learn how to be independent learners right now, they will be conditioned to be dependent on someone to provide for them for the rest of their lives. If school leaders fail to create schools that teach students the value of independence, we are doing tremendous harm to our kids. But if we all create learning spaces that fail to transform the 20th century learning paradigm of dependent followership into the 21st century learning mindset of independence and interdependence, we may be doing permanent and irreparable damage to our nation.

The Greatest Threat
The greatest threat to our nation is not the economy, national security or even health care. It is creating a generation of dependent people who will have failed to learn the most important lesson of all time, that a nation of dependent people will ultimately relinquish the very freedom that we have treasured for over 240 years. Dependence on others was the very reason why our forefathers were fed up and fought to no longer be a dependent nation, and maintaining our independence is the only way that we will preserve our democracy. 

The Greatest Challenge
Educators, parents and community leaders must remember that our mission is to work together to create schools that create independent individuals, self-reliant students, and hard-working contributors. We must accept our moral imperative that we don't teach content. We teach kids, and we must teach them that in order to be successful, they must be ACTIVE learners:

  • Assertive
  • Creative
  • Tenacious
  • Independent
  • Valuable
  • Enthusiastic

Active learning is the only way that we can mold students into independent and contributing members of society, and the reason we must do this is for one simple reason. Active learners view independence as a benefit not a burden. The way we became an independent nation is by being active and taking action.  The way we will remain a free and independent society is by creating independent and active learners who take pride in themselves individually and pride in their country. Then and only then will we preserve and defend our free and independent way of life. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

It's a Matter of Time

Where did all time go?  

How much time do I have left?  

Time flies when you're having fun.  

I don't have enough time to get it all done.

These statements view time as an uncontrollable force. The fact is that time is an exhaustible resource.  Like money, you only have so much of it, and if you don't budget it, you won't have enough when you need it most.  When determining your effectiveness, a good starting question to ask yourself would be this.

"How am I spending my time?"

But before you go there, I'd encourage you to embrace the mindset of waste leads to haste.  In other words, if you don't watch the minutes you waste, you will be forced to rush through the minutes you have left, and ultimately, you will waste those minutes as well.

10 Ways to Stop Wasting Time
  1. Stop checking your phone, and set a time that you will check it.
  2. Turn off notifications on your phone.  These are big-time time-killers, and they do nothing but steal minutes from your day.
  3. Build a regular routine into your day for getting your job done, and follow it.
  4. Check email only at specific times and don't check in between.
  5. Analyze how much time is lost in between tasks.
  6. Reduce the number of minutes you lose in lengthy conversations.
  7. Set alarms and reminders on your phone for completing tasks and don't ignore them.
  8. Use the task feature on Google or Outlook calendars to ensure the completion of tasks.
  9. Schedule a block of time in your day just for you to get your job done and let no one interrupt you.
  10. Set daily deadlines to complete tasks and end your work day.  Deadlines accelerate productivity.

It's All a Matter of Time
Time is the constant, but how you use it is the variable.  To reach success, creativity is important, but productivity precedes creativity.  In fact without productivity, you'll never have the time to be creative.  If you can focus your efforts on optimizing your minutes, you will bank plenty of time to become more creative and ultimately more successful in your role.  

Friday, June 10, 2016

Zero is not a Number

I have been thinking about the number zero for a while, and what it actually represents. If you think about it, zero does not mean that 0% of something was learned. It means 0% tried,  0% was attempted, 0% was done. Zero means nothing to those that give it as well as those who achieve it.

Let's be frank.  Zero is not even a number. It actually is a letter which stands for Opting Out of Learning. It's not just that students opt out of learning, it also means that teachers opt out of guaranteeing learning opportunities for students. It means holding students accountable is optional. It means learning is also optional.

Can We Afford for Learning to be Optional?
I don't want my students to choose whether or not they want to learn. I want them to choose how deeply they will learn. I don't want them to avoid the task and say, "just give me a zero". I want them to decide how inspired they will become about learning and how committed and passionate to the learning they will be. I never met a zero that inspired learning and even a deeper commitment to it; therefore, shouldn't we have a grading system that doesn't allow learning to be optional?

Just a thought. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Expectations mean Nothing

Words mean little if they're not backed up with action. 

Threats of consequences without follow-through result in deafened ears the next time the threat is made. Failure to affirm expectations met leads to a "Doing Well Doesn't Matter" mindset. 

Expectations mean little to nothing at all until they are coupled with accountability. 

Accountability solidifies expectations when words don't. Accountability keeps the standard high because threats won't. Accountability adds value to a job well done. 

Talk is cheap. Actions matter. Leaders of excellence set the same high expectations as everyone else, but the expectations that mean the most to them are the expectations they set on themselves to hold everyone accountable for meeting the goal. 

Do your expectations matter to those you lead?  The answer is not in their adherence. It's in your leadership skill of accountability and your support to guarantee that expectations are actually met by all. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

The GEARs of Excellence

Every organization aspires for excellence. Some dream for it, but the best envision it. They believe in it. They see it and then they plan for it. The difference between the average and the excellent organizations is not their visions of excellence. The difference lies in the drive excellent leaders possess and the gears they build to get their organization to reach the highest levels of success.

The GEARS of Excellence

All schools have goals but many aren't truly focused on school improvement. Leaders of excellence
guide the school to establish 3-5 goals that address areas in need of improvement, and they are SMART: strategic, measureable, attainable, results-oriented, and time bound. Furthermore, these goals are monitored and followed with obsession and compulsion. 

Every organization is full of expectations, but what sets excellent organizations apart from average ones is the simple fact that expectations are 100% aligned with the behaviors needed to accomplish the goals listed above. If an expectation isn't aligned with the goal, it is revised or abandoned altogether.  Goals most always are followed with expectations. 

What gets measured gets done, and leaders of excellent organizations monitor their goals as well as their expectations. Think about it. What's the point of setting a goal or making an expectation if you're not going to ensure that it is accomplished?  Accountability is the only way leaders ensure that things get done and the only way they hold people responsible for following through. 

Average organization thrive on checklists, but excellent leaders search for quality in the work people do. To ensure progress is being made, great leaders find unique ways to gather data to best determine if actions and expectations are resulting in student growth. Without measureable results, people will go through the motions and miss the opportunity to become more effective and efficient. 

Greater GEARS = Greater Success 
The interesting thing about gears is that they work best when they work in concert with other gears. One bad gear can kill the entire machine, and the great leaders realize that their job is to create the conditions as well as support systems that inspire all people to create their own gears that will make the entire organization better. The greater the gears and the more synchronized they are, the more excellent the organzation will become. 

What would you add to this concept of GEARs?