Monday, May 21, 2018

Let's Turn the Last Week of School into Student Appreciation Week

The last week of school has always been about wrapping up the year. Final exams, class parties, end of year assemblies, and don’t forget the piles of stuff for kids to take home. Yes, the last week of school is our last chance to finish the year with a bang.

When I think about my end of year tasks, appreciating students was always one of those “fitting it in” tasks.   I always appreciated my kids, and thanked them for being a part of my year, but it was always my second priority.

But what if it was our first priority?
  • Students could hear words of true adulation and praise as they head off for summer. 
  • Students would transition from one building to the next knowing that they mattered in their last building. 
  • Students who are moving to new town would have the confidence needed to make new friends or put on a brave face when making new friends. 
  • Struggling students would know that their effort was good enough to have a strong start next year. 
  • Students with poor discipline would know that they have a chance for a new start next year. 

Think of it this way. 
The last week of school is our last chance to fill every student with love, appreciation, and praise that will serve as a springboard for next school year. It will give some kids the hope to endure the difficulties they will face during the summer. It’ll remind kids of just how awesome they are, and most importantly it will make you remember why you chose this profession, to save lives. Make the last week of school the most powerful week of the year for every student. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Funny Thing about Expectations

Expectations are everywhere in a school.  Some are high, and some are ridiculously high.  Some are low and some are even nonexistent.  Yes expectations are everywhere in a school, but I often ask myself what makes kids commit to them and what make them resent and actually run away from them.

The interesting thing about expectations is that they can actually cancel one another out.  Think about it.  If Teacher A has a set of expectations that Teacher B doesn't believe in or doesn't have those same expectations, then kids will resent Teacher A for expecting too much.  Conversely, parents could resent Teacher B for not having the same high expectations as Teacher A, thus parents aren't as supportive of what Teacher B is trying to accomplish.

Furthermore, let's think about our kids and where they come from.  Some kids come from inconsistent homes where expectations very from day to day or from parent to parent.  Therefore, those same kids come to school with inconsistent expectations and then we become frustrated when kids don't want to follow 8 more and different sets of expectations from 8 different teachers.


If we want kids to reach the highest levels of achievement and therefore excellence, it's not the kids who need to get on the same page with us.  It's us educators who are not on the same page with one another.  We must remember this; expectations that are high, tight and ultimately consistent are the expectations that have the greatest chance of being followed by the kids for one reason and one reason only.

Kids learn best and grow the most in consistent learning environments, and we have complete control and choice on just how consistent that environment can be.

The funny thing about expectations is this.  Kids will reach them if we educators will commit to working interdependently to achieve a common goal by creating common learning spaces with common expectations for learning.  That is essentially the secret to excellence.  Expectations created in isolation will leave you isolated and overwhelmed, but expectations created through collaboration and calibrated with ongoing collaboration will yield far greater results.

As you finish the school year, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Do I have the same expectations as my colleagues with whom I share kids?  
  • Do our expectations support our learning goals?
  • Do we work together to stay consistent with one another on a regular basis?  
  • Do we work together to address students or groups of students who fail to meet those expectations?  
  • Do we work together to enrich and empower students when they meet our expectations?  

The answers to these questions may uncover the next step to pushing your team or even your school to the pinnacle of excellence in student learning.  Expectations are all over the place, but the best schools make sure their expectations are unified and uniting educators around one thing, supporting all kids.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Underneath the Excellence

I am often inspired by excellent results. When teams win championships, organizations attain major accolades, and individuals reach the mountaintop, I can’t help but be motivated to push myself to aspire for greater personal results. While I am often inspired by excellent achievements, there’s one thing that piques my curiosity even more.

The Story behind the Excellence

We never see the unnoticed hours of painstaking work. We never hear about the setbacks that transformed into comebacks. We never felt the failure and rejection that fueled the hard work and perseverance. All we ever see and therefore know is the product, not the process.

Everyone wants excellence but not everyone wants invest time in writing the story that reaches it. Mediocrity and comfort often creep into those stories as the antagonists, while sacrifice and resolve are unable to save the day as protagonists. The fact is this. 

We glorify the product but demonize the process. 

As leaders what stories are we telling to inspire excellence?  Are we illuminating the all-stars while ignoring the stories in the making?  Are we setting lofty goals while failing to show examples of how the work is the excellence? The answer to these questions will tell you if you’re superficially scratching the surface of excellence or digging deep to discover what it takes to achieve it. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

6 Actions to Convert Followers into Leaders

Leaders are everywhere and so is their impact. Some make tremendous gains for those they lead while others see their role as maintaining the status quo.  And of course there are always some who appear born to do nothing but destroy their organization minute by minute.  Yes, leaders are everywhere, but what does it take to stand out as an excellent leader?

Bass defined the highest level of leadership as transformational leadership which is the leader's ability to convert followers into leaders and perhaps moral agents. Well that’s a pretty lofty goal for all leaders to aspire for, but what do great leaders do to get everyone to become a leader, let alone moral agent?

They get everyone following first with these 6 critical leadership skills. 

6 Attributes of an Excellent Leader
In order to get everyone following, ( aka - the first step of leadership), great leaders exhibit these 6 traits. 
Listening - Leaders learn the most when they listen more than they speak.
Empathic - Leaders can't become excellent unless they walk in their followers' steps.
Approachable - Excellent leaders create an environment where everyone feels comfortable enough to approach the leader with any concern, suggestion or even complaint.
Disciplined - Great leaders don't do everything.  They are disciplined, and they do the most essential things.
Energizing - Excellent leaders are like phone chargers to their followers, and they find unique ways to revitalize those they lead.
Reflective  - Leaders can't find excellence without looking in the mirror frequently.

Excellent leaders basically inspire everyone to run a marathon of organizational improvement.  Improvement can't be mandated, dictated or even scripted.  It requires everyone to play a critical role.  If we want everyone to run, we have to create the conditions to inspire everyone to start by crawling first, then learning to walk (i.e. lead), then learning how to run, and finally learning how to improve their running form, endurance, and speed. 

Running is hard work, and not everyone wants to do it.  The same can be said of leading.  Not everyone thinks they are a leader, but excellent leaders know that their mission is not improvement.  It's to create a system where everyone is working interdependently to achieve a common goal, and that system isn't comprised of just one leader, but of everyone leading in their area of expertise to make the entire organization and the people within it better.

Monday, April 23, 2018

3 Ways to turn Why in to Why Not

Why, what a powerful word. It can push thinking to even greater heights, but it can also stop progress dead in its tracks. Have you ever wanted to do something big only to have your leader kill it with a question that started with Why?  Sure we have.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. 
Why can become the beginning of the end of your idea, but you have a secret weapon to defeat the Why makers in your life. It’s called a Why Not. 

3 Ways to Turn a Why into a Why Not. 
Negate Excuses by anticipating them
Offer evidence that supports your Why not. 
Tell your Story of possibilities behind your Why Not

The reason we do anything starts either with a Why or a Why Not. Our approach to each why can lead to our failure to make meaningful change or it can inspire us to take a chance that could lead to amazing possibilities. Why and why not. The difference between the two is your desire to make this world a better place. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Is your Instruction SMART?

Carol Dweck’s work on mindset focused my thoughts on the instruction we create for kids. The question that raced through my mind was this. Does our instruction facilitate a growth mindset or perpetuate a fixed mindset?  When it comes down to it, instruction either embraces failure or convinces kids to avoid it at all costs.

Is your Instruction SMART or DUMB?
At the end of the day, the lessons we put before kids can lead them to higher levels of achievement if it integrates the content with components of a growth mindset. Here’s what I mean. 

Struggle is essential to growth, and every SMART lesson gives time for kids to grapple with the uncertainty of a concept for this will move them closer to conceptual understanding. 
Mistakes are not only expected. They are embraced and then overcome. Mistakes are critical components of a SMART learning process. 
Acceptance is required if kids are going to pursue learning at deep levels.  Kids must feel accepted by the teacher for who they are but also taught to embrace themselves and their fellow peers for the strengths and areas for growth they possess. 
Resilience is reinforced because failure can only be overcome by having faith in the learning process.  Resilience is the ability to make comeback from every setback.
Tenacity is tingle in learning. SMART learning accelerates when a passion for learning and a zest for life are present. The greatest learners possess tenacity and the greatest teachers instill it in every kid.

If We’re not SMART, Our Lessons will be DUMB.
Without SMART lessons, instruction is basically DUMB. For some kids instruction will be demoralizing drudgery, uniform instead of personalized, meaningless, and based on proficiency not progress. As educators we must always strive to create learning opportunities that allow kids to embrace their room for growth. This room for growth can be discovered when we create learning spaces that offer multiple opportunities and a wide variety of formats for all kids to grow in their way.  Essentially SMART instruction is the ability of moving away from the misguided dichotomy of labeling winners and losers based on the quickness of learning or processing of information. 

Dumb instruction disengages. SMART instruction stimulates students to love learning. Got SMART instruction?

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Right Mistakes are Excellence Makers

How do you view mistakes?  Do they make you feel inferior or do they stimulate your commitment to personal growth?  If viewed through the lens of growth, mistakes can enhance your experience.  The more mistakes you make, the more experience you acquire.   As I ponder the connection between mistakes and experience, I truly believe that mistakes have a secret power to build our excellence and the fortitude necessary to attain it.  

Think about it.
  • Excellence can't occur without overcoming a lot of mistakes.
  • You can't overcome a lot of mistakes unless you view mistakes positively.
  • You only view mistakes positively when you're unafraid to make them.
  • You're unafraid to make mistakes when you're passionate about learning.
  • Passion for learning happens when mistakes lead to exploration not labels.

Fear of mistakes prevents students and adults from discovering their purpose, and leaders can either create a culture that either embraces mistakes or forces people to avoid them at all costs. 

We've seen both sides of the reaction to mistakes.  Teachers and coaches can use them to kill the passion for learning forever or embolden students to overcome amazing obstacles.  How we respond when students make mistakes makes the difference.   And we all know that the same can be said of leaders and how they use mistakes to lead their followers to new heights or down the path of destruction.

Are people making the right mistakes in your organization?  If they are, they're exhilarated by the power of learning through mistakes.  And when people become more passionate about new learning because of their positive response to right mistakes, excellence will be within your grasp.