Thursday, August 30, 2018

5 Alternatives to Asking New Teachers How They’re Doing

How are you?  How are you doing?  How’s it going?  How’s the job?  How are you liking the job?  These questions don’t help new teachers. The reason is simple. They don’t convey that you sincerely want to know how they’re doing, and they really don’t make teachers feel safe enough to tell you their cold, hard truth.  In short, we'll always be told, "I'm fine", and that's not what we need to hear.

The fact is this. Every new teacher in your building, even veterans in the profession, are struggling with something whether they want to admit it or not. The reason you don’t know what they’re struggling with is because they don’t know you well enough to tell you what holds them back, and perhaps, we may not really want to know the truth.

So what can leaders do that will identify our teachers' needs, and let them know they can trust us.

Instead, ask these 5 Questions.
  1. What is one thing that is really hard for you to get accomplished right now?
  2. What words, acronyms, or catch phrases do we use in our school that you need more information, clarification, or explanation?
  3. What is one thing that is elevating your stress level right now?
  4. What is one thing you wish we had prepared you for in our new teacher orientation?
  5. What is a support you had in your old school or that you’ve seen before that you wish we had here?
#DoubleDogDare Question 
What is one thing I do or say that is really confusing you or even frustrating to you?

New teachers aren’t always "doing good". They are struggling with something that returning teachers aren't necessarily struggling with. Our job as leaders is to close their gap as fast as possible and remember that superficial “how’s it going” questions just wont cut it. If our number one priority is to ensure that every teacher finds their excellence, then we must move transform the helplessness of “how are you” into the service of “how can I better help you”.

Drop a comment with a question that you ask your new teachers.

Friday, August 24, 2018

4 Questions to Reflect on the First Week of School

The first week of school is always so much fun and so exhausting at the same time. Think about it. So many names, so many needs, so much new, and so little time to get it all in. What do great teachers do to leverage the first week of school so the second week is set up for success.

4 Questions to Reflect on the First Week of School

  • RESOURCES FOR LEARNING - How effective did I introduce C4B4Me with my classes and most specifically for my most struggling students?  Where are they resourceful learners or were they more dependent on me?
  • ROUTINES & PROCEDURES - How consistent and independent were my routines and procedures?  Where will I need to tighten up next week?
  • RELATIONSHIPS FOR LEARNING - How well did I build relationships with all kids, and how well did I get them interested in my content, and interested in learning with and from their classmates?
  • ENGAGEMENT IN LEARNING - How engaged were my students?  Did they instantly chase learning through the activities I provided or did they wait for me to prompt them to participate in the lesson?

The first week of school provides a powerful foundation for success, but in order to solidify that foundation, reflection is critical. The best teachers reflect on their organization, their preparation, and their delivery, but the one thing that great teachers reflect on is their students’ response to all of their hard work. That reflection provides teachers the vital information that will help them make key adjustments to their plan for the next week, and in the end it will make the 2nd week of school 10 times more impactful than it would have been without reflection. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

What Breaks You?

Nick Saban spoke to his players in summer workouts on the ESPN special, “Training Camp” with the University of Alabama, and one of the most impactful parts of the show was the question he posed to his players about mental toughness.

What Breaks You?

As he persistently asked this question, he referenced everything that prevents players from making “The Play” or the obstacles that present themselves in the forms of disappointment,  mistakes, and failure. Those mental barriers to a football player’s excellence would include. 
  • Pain, 
  • Injury,
  • Frustration,
  • Missed Blocks,
  • Fumbled balls,
  • Missed steps,
  • Mistakes
His point was that mental toughness is the most critical component to excellent execution, and the best players have more mental toughness than their opponents. In fact he said that mental toughness is the ability to forget the past, focus on the present and aspire for growth in the future. Without mental toughness, you will always fall short because you’ll be mentally preoccupied by something that is already said and done. In short, you won’t move because you haven’t mentally moved on first. 

So let’s apply this concept to our role as educators. 

What breaks you from finding excellence in every student?  Some examples include:
  • Student misbehavior,
  • Preconceived beliefs about kids,
  • Learning labels on kids,
  • Challenging questions,
  • Unmotivated students,
  • Major gaps in student learning,
  • Difficult content,
  • Huge workloads,
  • Personal attacks.
What Breaks You?
If you want to find excellence in your craft and excellence in every student, you must first realize that the real barrier is found between your ears. It’s you and your mind, and you must first break what breaks you. Being unbreakable means never relenting when trials and tribulations attempt to detract you from your quest for continuous improvement. More specifically, it means ignoring yesterday’s failure, pushing through today’s pain of growth, and letting your work confront the negative naysayers and critics chirping in the background. All of these roadblocks exist for one reason and one reason only, to break your focus  away from your moral imperative, finding the pinnacle of your success. 

To ensure that you never break, let’s commit to the here and now. Reach out to your support system for help, for encouragement, and for the brutal truth. When you have people who care for you and your success, you can and must lean on them when you’re about to break. If you’re isolated, giving up is inevitable. 

The best never rest. The best never relent, and the best never break before the rest. In the end what breaks you is your choice, and if you want to discover your best, you will need to make the choice to never ever give up. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Invisible Backpacks in our Classrooms

On the first day of school there are lots of backpacks walking in the school. Some are full of the newest school supplies, while others have the basic essentials for learning. Some backpacks are brand new, while others are the same ones from last year. Students are bringing the best of what they have to your class.

But do you see their invisible backpacks?
Some kids walk in your classroom door and won’t have any backpack except for the backpack we don’t see. It’s not full of school supplies or even a pencil to write with. The backpacks I’m referring to are the ones that are full of the emotional baggage that they carry with them every single day. I’m talking about things like stress, anxiety, abuse, neglect, disappointment, frustration.  Some kids can fit a few of those unseen supplies in a small nap sack while others need a moving truck to carry the baggage that weighs on them every single day.

As we begin school, don’t forget that kids are bringing more with him then you will ever imagine. They will put on a brave face and hide that baggage from you all year long. Others will show you immediately how much baggage they have in their backpack with their behavior and raw emotion. In order to take kids from where they are to where they need to be, we must put on our eyeglasses of empathy, understanding, and respect because kids have no one to turn to but us. They are searching for hope. They are searching for belongingness, and we are the only ones that some of them can count on to help them unpack their suitcases of isolation and desperation.

The start of school is all about having a fresh start. It’s about believing that this year kids will be able to find their ultimate purpose of being on this earth. Never forget that kids need to know how much you care and how much you accept them, for those are the things that will inspire and invite kids to unpack their negativity and aspire for a new beginning.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The First Rule of Excellence in Every Classroom

Teaching is the most complex profession there is.  We have this massive goal, but there are 20 to 140 variables throughout the day that affect this goal.  They’re called kids in every class period or subject that we teach, and with all of these variables, there’s a smorgasbord of instructional strategies, resources, products, and nuances for teachers to choose from that could potentially have a positive impact on each and every situation that teachers encounter in the course of a day.  So it’s no surprise when educators become overwhelmed. There are simply so many things to address and just not enough time to address them all.
But that’s not all that teachers have to consider.  Teachers then couple their ideas with ideas that they get from their teams, and then teachers are presented with campus and district initiatives that are designed to make teachers’ lives more efficient and more effective.  And before students even darken the doors for the first day of school, our teachers' plates are overflowing to the point that they can’t even begin the arduous journey toward excellence in every student. Simply put, their proverbial wagons are overloaded with too many things to get done and not enough time to do them.
In order to end the insanity of “too much to do” we leaders should rethink how we can support teachers in reaching this goal of providing every student with the most effective instruction.  This new goal, bringing out the excellence in every student, can only be attained if we own the first rule of excellence:

    That means we will have to allow the theme song of Disney’s movie, “Frozen”, to permeate throughout our soul.  Yes, we must “Let it go”. We will need to let go of practices that we know are nothing more than going through the motions.  We will need to evaluate and identify practices and activities that do not lead to our goal, instruction working for all kids all the time, and we will have to redirect our focus on actions, practices, and behaviors that grow students.  If it doesn’t grow students, we will need question ourselves as to why we are using those ineffective practices in the first place.
     As you head into the beginning of the school year, ask yourself this question.  What am I doing to ensure that teachers do less things more effectively?  After all doing less always leads to more productivity, and the better we do at fewer things, the more students will ultimately grow in the end.  Focus on less and watch more excellence come your way.