Friday, May 12, 2017

The Biggest Barrier to School Improvement

In all my years in education, one of the most confusing concepts is something that is disguised to serve as the great clarifier of learning. When progress needs to be defined, you go to it. When decisions are made about kids, you depend on in it. And when determining the best and worst, it is your number one go-to source. 

Yes, I'm talking about GRADING

Here's the problem that I have with grading. Every time a new idea about improving instruction is levied, the first question that pops up is this.  "How are we going to grade that?" A suggestion to move to project based learning gets a visit from "How will that affect our grading policy?"  When a kid who normally makes As is making a C in a rigorous class, grading once again shows up to be the catalyst for lowering standards. If a kid makes a 68 in a class for the grading period, it prompts a challenge to the grading system as a whole 

Ever Experienced One of These Issues?

Of course, you have.  The fact is that we have been institutionalized by the 20th century grading scale. To prove my point, can you identify the instrument in this picture below?


Everyone knows what this is and everyone knows that it is the basis for how we have determined proficiency for almost 100 years.  

Are Schools about Grading or Learning?

If we truly want to improve school, we have to make a decision if we are driven more by grading or more by learning.  This is the question that we all must answer when trying to do what's best for kids. The reality is that numbers don't tell the story of learning, and an "averaging" mindset simply will not tell me or other parents what their child is actually learning in school. 

As educators and ambassadors of Future Ready schools, we must be vigilant in creating learning spaces that are actually driven by learning instead of grading.  Sure grading is necessary to communicate progress, but it shouldn't inhibit schools from becoming progressive.   We must recondition ourselves and our students that we don't do work for a grade. Learning as an active pursuit of knowledge and mastery not so that we can figure out how to get the highest number we can in the gradebook. Finally, our moral imperative must end the idea that the smartest, best and brightest students are not identified by the average of an infinite set of numbers that are generated by mastery of an undefined set of skills which are to be judged by an arbitrary and partial grading system. 

We are better than that, and our kids deserve schools that are focused on learning first and how to rate or grade learning second. 

DROP ME A COMMENT BELOW TO LEAVE YOUR THOUGHTS...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

6 Keys to a Successful STARTegy

The difference between a dream and a vision is action. Dreams fail to materialize simply because of the inability to act, or more specifically the inability to start.  Too many great ideas ended with a dream. 

So how do We turn Dreams into Reality?

So many strategies never materialize or they fall well short of the grandeur in its descriptive language.  Action in a strategy begins when the first step or STARTegy takes place.  Simply put, a STARTegy is the beginning movement or the actual implementation of your strategy. Sure planning is great, but plans are worthless until you implement them. This decision to start a strategy is often stalled by indecision about rollout, disagreements about first steps, lack of clarity in roles, or simply by making the strategy so complex that it collapses under  the weight of its utter confusion.  Any and all of these reasons paralyzes others so that action can never begin. 


6 Keys to a Successful STARTegy

  1. The simpler the strategy, the easier the STARTegy.
  2. Selling the WHY is more important than telling the WHAT.
  3. Mistakes are expected in order for the STARTegy to work.
  4. STARTegies can't survive without questions, input and feedback.
  5. Teamwork enhances the STARTegy.
  6. Reflection throughout the strategy is critical to success.


Strategies rise and fall with leadership.  The best leaders know that a successful strategy begins with a successful STARTegy.  With STARTegy, confidence in the organization grows.  Individual efficacy improves, and the overall culture excels.  The best organizations don't succeed by planning.  They excel by doing, and they start with STARTegy.


Monday, April 17, 2017

The Hours for Excellence

Excellence isn't found during business hours. If it was, everyone would find it.  But to be more precise, excellence isn't really found.  It's made and it's only made after hours, before hours, when no one's watching hours, while no one's around hours, and where others won't go hours.



SO, ARE YOU WORKING DURING EXCELLENCE HOURS???

People believe that what you do from 8-5 will lead you to excellence, but the secret is this.  What you do, why 
you do it, and how much you learn from it separates excellence from the rest.  Excellence isn't awarded during business hours. Sure you may accomplish great feats during working hours, but the work that lead to your excellence is earned outside those hours. 

The temptation called mediocrity deceives us into believing that we're special and therefore entitled to be the given the rewards and titles of excellence because we show up.  But mediocrity won't accept the cold hard facts of what it takes to be the best.  To mediocrity, hard work and extra work are the obstacle.  To excellence they are the price to be paid every single day.



SO WHAT ARE EXCELLENCE HOURS???

Excellence hours aren't actually hours.  They are behaviors, beliefs and commitments to continuous improvement.  Here are just a few characteristics that the best people in their business exhibit during their excellence hours.

Humility - Excellence is about recognizing and accepting the fact that you are always growth in progress.  The constant goal is turning your weaknesses into strengths.
Obsession - Excellence hours accelerate growth when those hours are no longer about clocking in and out but being obsessed with your growth.
Unveiling - Excellence is about finding new things about yourself that you never thought you could do or would do.  
Research - Excellence hours are about searching for next steps, the latest research and the best practices that will make you better.
Slump - Good people work extra hours only when they are in a slump.  Excellence hours, however, are in place to prevent slumps from ever forming.

To become excellent at whatever endeavor you choose, it's never about time.  It's about focus, practice, reflection and practice some more. 

Good, better, best.  Never let it rest
Until your good is better and your better is best.


Bonus - 5 Tips to Succeed in your Hours of Excellence




  1. Find an area that you would like to improve in.
  2. Determine your plan of action to address this area with 3 tasks or less.
  3. Schedule a regular time in your day to work your plan.
  4. Set a deadline to check your progress.
  5. Check your progress 
  6. Repeat steps 1-5.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

#LoveMySchoolDay 2017: Year 4 of the Real 411 about Education

It is hard to believe that #LoveMySchoolDay is at its 4th year.  Every year that we have flood the Twittersphere has always been a complete inspiration to see the wonderful things happening in schools across the globe. As I think about this wonderful celebration, a thought comes to mind. 

This Story Can Never End. 

There is always someone calling for a complete change to education today. After all, the ills of our society have to be the fault of the someone, right? And it's a quick and easy fix to blame those who are actually working hard to prevent failure. Here's the thing.  What most people don't understand or even see is that schools are doing  great and amazing things for all kids. 

Here's What People Don't See
  • They won't see the work you do to close the learning gaps created by generational poverty. 
  • They won't see the collaboration your teachers do to learn how to better serve all kids. 
  • They won't see the beauty of makerspaces, fine arts, enrichment activities, or technology integration that advances and inspires a passion for learning. 
  • They won't hear the excitement kids have when a science experiment matches their initial hypothesis or the discovery of something new. 
  • They won't see the hard work of counselors and teachers who teach kids the lessons of conflict resolution. 
  • They won't see the fun you are having.

Do you see where I'm heading?

So Why Even Have #LoveMySchoolDay?
Reason #1 - Educators must give the world the 411 (thus April 11th every year) about the great things happening in schools across the country.  In this fast paced world, not everyone can come to the open house or parent event. Schools must realize that their social media accounts are their proverbial open house that is open 24/7/365.  #LoveMySchoolDay is a world-wide open house for the entire world to attend.

Reason #2  - Legislators are making policies and passing laws based on what they hear.   Many times legislators know little to nothing about the impact of their laws on education because they are only getting their information from lobbyists who many times are not concerned with yours or the kids' best interest.  If they aren't hearing from schools and the people inside them, chances are that future policies and laws will not be made in the best interest of your school. 

Reason 3 & THE COLD HARD TRUTH - If you want schools to get better, it starts with YOU telling YOUR story of the great things inside your school.  People must see and hear the growth that is occurring and listen to the people you work with who are making your school a success.   YOU must be your school's storyteller in chief.  If not, someone else will be.


4 Tips to Tell your #LoveMySchoolDay Story 
  1. Use the #LoveMySchoolDay hashtag in all of your posts. 
  2. Tag your legislators, school leaders, colleagues, and other influential people to your posts or images. 
  3. Use pictures and video as this increases your post engagement and interactions. 
  4. Share or Retweet great stories that you see on the hashtag. This keeps the story going. 

If you need ideas, here are some ideas:

Don't miss your chance to tell your story.  It's being written by the best authors in the world, you!!!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Eliminating The Excuse of Enough.

I had the pleasure of learning at the Future Ready Superintendent Leadership Network where a panel of 5 innovative superintendents reflected on their vision of public schools in the coming 20 years as well as the change that must be made to transform that vision into a reality. Steve Waddell and Jeff Turner reflected on their work and shared a powerful thought that leaders must always remember if they truly want to create schools that lead kids to the future they deserve.   

If we want to create the kinds of schools that truly prepare kids for the future, it is high time that we eliminate the excuse of "Enough".

If you think about it, they're right.   This barrier of scarcity is something that we too readily claim as the reason we can't move forward when in fact it is merely a figment of our imagination.  Here are just few "Enough" statements that prevent schools, leaders and educators from moving forward, and some of my thoughts on these obstacles to organizational improvement.




We don't have enough time.
The fact is you have the exact same amount of time as high performers. Identify where you are wasting time, and you'll find enough time. 

We don't have enough money.
There are countless examples of high performers who had less money and resources. How are you optimizing what you currently have?  Answer that question before making the decision to  spend more. 

We don't have enough personnel. 
This is the same as money. Schools with fewer personnel achieve high performance through synergy of professional growth through ongoing collaboration. Are you truly working as a professional learning community at work that is focused with laserlike precision on improving the adults in the building?   

We don't have enough parent support. 
Educators control 90% of the factors that impact student learning, so blaming parents means that you don't own the potential of your own impact. What are you doing to build the optimal relationships with your parents before you need to access them to help with their children?

We don't have enough information.
Lack of information is a real thing, but the stalwarts of the status quo use this as their main reason to say, "we can't abandon the comforts of today to create the classrooms of tomorrow because we need more information".

Enough is Enough!
The fact of the matter is that we have enough if not way too many excuses that stop us from reaching our goals for school improvement. The question is not if we're going to say enough is enough. The question is whether we will be so focused on guaranteeing that every kid learns that you won't even allow these excuses a seat at your table of continuous improvement. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Answer is Always in YOU!

Leadership is influence. It is guidance. It is empowerment.

The only way to determine if your leadership is truly transformational is by defining your YOU. How do you answer these simple questions:

1. What do YOU believe is essential to lead your organization to excellence?
2. What are YOUR expectations for making that happen?
3. How do YOU know if the expectation is being met?
4. How do YOU hold others accountable for not meeting those expectations?
5. How do YOU empower those who are meeting and even exceeding expectations?
6. How do YOU create a culture of continuous improvement?
7. How do YOU celebrate accomplishments along the way?

Do you see the opportunity in YOU?
Transactional leaders miss the opportunity to capitalize on YOU because they believe YOU means "I", and YOUR means "My".  Transformational leaders, on the other hand, see YOU as a powerful opportunity. To them YOU means "We" and YOUR means "Our".

YOU consists of everyone in the organization, as well as supporters who have a vested interest in seeing it grow. The question is never what will YOU do. The challenge before you is how will YOU specifically create a system where YOU all get the job done.  

The challenge is yours. Will you accept it?

Friday, March 3, 2017

4 Questions for Building an Excellence Support System

Who believes this statement?

No intervention can replace poor instruction.

Then if you agree that no intervention can replace poor instruction then raise your hand if you have an intervention system for students.

Now keep your hand up if you have an intervention system for your teachers that is as targeted and focused as it is for students.

This is what inspired me to write the book, A Leader's Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom.  We have focused on supporting kids, but we, leaders, haven't put the same laser-like focus on helping our teachers reach excellence.  The fact is this.  If we want to have successful students, it starts with making teachers successful first.

The 4 Questions for Building an Excellence Support System
Everyone is familiar with the 4 questions of a Professional Learning Community at Work.

  1. What do we expect all kids to learn?
  2. How will we know if they learned it?
  3. How will we respond if they haven't learned it?
  4. How will we enrich them when they do learn it?
I essentially took those 4 powerful guiding questions and applied it to the components of a teacher of excellence.

  1. What components of highly effective teaching do we expect from teachers to guarantee learning for all students?
  2. How will we know when teachers are successful in ensuring learning for all students?
  3. How will we respond when a teacher fails to meet the learning needs of all students?
  4. How will we embrace teachers who are successful in meeting the learning needs of all kids?

The 4 Questions that Strengthens "The 4 Questions"
I know one thing.  The 4 questions of a PLC at Work are powerful when and only when the focus is on adult learning and informing educators how they can improve at guaranteeing Learning for All.  The 4 questions of an Excellence Support System drives leaders to anticipate when and how teachers struggle at meeting the needs of all kids and then these questions guide them to respond in a systematic way that involves 3 steps:  
  • Step 1 - School-wide Excellence System (Professional Learning):  How can we provide on-going professional learning that is available to all educators at any time?
  • Step 2 - Teacher Team Excellence Supports (Collaboration):  How can we provide job-embedded collaboration for all teachers?
  • Step 3 - Individualized Excellence Plan (Differentiated Leadership):  How leaders develop meaningful relationships that are focused on helping teachers with their next steps in professional growth?
This systematic philosophy of teacher support is what teachers desire.  More time to learn, more time to collaborate, and more time to reflect with their peers, administrators and instructional coaches.  The Excellence in Every Classroom mindset is not about pushing every teacher to reach some utopian idea of instructional excellence.  It's about creating the conditions that foster a deep-rooted belief that chasing continuous improvement is what makes all educators excellent.