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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Finding your Raditude

In an earlier post I shared my 2018 New Year’s One Word Resolution, RADICAL. In that post I talked about the need to get to the root of who we are as individuals and how we can accomplish that by removing unproductive actions from our daily lives. I coined that work the +1 Principle.

The 2nd step to accomplishing a Radical Life is to adopt an attitude of gratitude.  To possess a Radical Attitude, we aren't positive.  We must move beyond trying to have a positive attitude because in the end it focuses our minds, actions and interactions on us, and to be honest that's pretty shallow.  An attitude of gratitude capitalizes on that positive attitude and is focused on appreciating others, not pleasing ourselves.  Furthermore, research shows us that we are most happy when we dedicate our thoughts to appreciating others. 

Think about it. Having a positive attitude takes a lot of thinking, and there’s not much action that

accompanies that thought, but an attitude of gratitude turns positive thoughts in positive action. Think about it.  You can have gratitude by being thankful, but you can have RADITUDE by expressing your appreciation to others. A positive attitude gets you facing the right direction while gratitude gets you and others around you moving in the right direction. 

Do you have an attitude or a Raditude?  The answer to that questions be better revealed based on this question.  Is your trajectory of your day based on how you feel or how fill others?  

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Are You a Sail or an Anchor?

Every place that I've ever worked, there have been people who have molded me into the leader that I am today. There are also people who have stifled me and my ability to influence others.  Some served as  anchors who held me back or sails who have pushed me forward.  As I ponder these metaphors, I have to remind myself that sometimes I have held people back while other times I have pushed them forward.

In other words, I have been an anchor for some and a sail for others.

Anchors are not necessarily negative or bad people. They are just complacent and hold you back from your potential. They prevent you from making change and feel finding potential growth that is deep inside you. They view mistakes as fatal flaws, and thus make you afraid of what you might become if you did something different. 

Conversely anchors can be good things in your life. They can ground you because you aren’t ready to be pushed forward. They care about you enough to hold you in place so you can prepare yourself to be pushed forward.

Sails are people who challenge you to move forward. They tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. They challenge, motivate, and inspire you.  They see you not for where you are but for where you could go, and they embrace you and your effort when you make mistakes. They challenge you to get better, and they use their power of persuasion to make you want to be better. 

Just like the anchor, there is a different side to being a sail. Some sails push you forward without even knowing if you’re ready to move forward. They don’t take time to assess your ability well enough because pushing is the goal not growing the person they’re pushing.  

Are You an Anchor or Sail?
Do you hold others down or do you push them to reach their potential?  Do you take time to whethercthe person you’re helping needs to be pushed or grounded?  If you're the wrong kind of anchor or sail, it's really easy to change. All you have to do is realize that every person wants to improve, and if you will embrace that fact, you'll instantly figure how you can be the right kind of anchor or sail that will help them harness their winds of change to move them to the place that they want to be in the manner that they need to get there. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

5 Steps to End Email Overload

In my district there is only one email sent out to the district from the entire central office staff for the entire week. 

Yes one!  Not one from each person. One email that has all the information from everyone for the entire week.

Why it that?

The reason is simple. No one reads every email that is sent. In fact the more emails that are sent the greater the chance that someone will not read those emails. That’s the law of communication. Less is alsways more. 

Let’s go a step further. Not every blanket email is necessary. Nothing is more annoying than getting a blanket email that only applies to 50% of the organization, and you’re not one of the 50%. In fact blanket email overload actually leads to less communication and sadly less staff engagement. 

The more communication sent leads to less communication received. Conversely the less communication sent ultimately leads to more communication received.


I mean let’s get real. Who likes getting tons of email anymore? In fact, email consumes my day for at least 2 hours per day if not more. If I feel this way about email, I have to assume that surely others do as well.  We, leaders, owe it to our followers to have great communication skills, and there is one way to optimize your organization’s communication.

5 Steps to End Email Overload for your Organization

Step 1 - Create a Google Doc and share it with the leaders and administrative assistants who send emails every week. Give them editing rights to the document. 

Step 2 - Set a deadline for everyone to enter their announcements on the document at least 2 days before you intend to send the one organizational blanket email from everyone for the week. 

Step 3 - Review the Google Doc with the team to ensure that everything is entered and compose your email on a blog, s’more, or newsletter of your choice. 

Step 4 - Email it out and communicate to your followers that they can expect to receive only one email per week with everything that applies to everyone. 
(special note - send it out at the same time every week) 

Step 5 - Ensure that emergency (or oops, I forgot) emails are rarely sent. 

Our folks are drowning in EMAIL.
Don’t let email be another brick that brings them further under the water. Create less emails that serve as the one stop shop of weekly information, and it will serve as a life preserver to keep them afloat.  It may perhaps lead them to less stress and more workplace success. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Are You Limited by the Labels?

What do you see when you look at a student?  Are you influenced by their clothes, their hair, or their appearance?  Do you judge them by the attitudes or the language they use to address you?  Whether we like it or not, a first impression is always formed by what we immediately see, but great educators possess the innate ability to look beyond the first impression to dig deeper into that child.

Here is a great video by Dwayne Johnson that illustrates what an educator can do for tough kids when they look far beyond rough edges to help students find their purpose in life.

But What about the Labels We See?
When you see a list of students, are you influenced by the labels on the list?  
  • When you are told that a student is LOW, do your beliefs about their potential instinctively drop?
  • Do you think students with a G/T label have very few difficulties in learning and should be able to do most things quickly and with fewer tries?
  • Do your learning targets change for students with a special education label compared to students who don't possess a special education label? 
  • Do your expectations lower for a student when you see that he failed the state test in your content area for the last 3 years?  
  • For students in an ESL program, do you make assumptions about their ability to learn based on their language proficiency?
Do Labels Lead You or Limit You?
If we're honest with ourselves, we are prone to make assumptions based on the labels assigned to students.  Furthermore, those labels influence our planning to lead them to excellence.  But the question we shouldn't ask ourselves is not if we look at kids differently.  The fact is that we do, and honestly we must.

What we must guard ourselves from is allowing labels to change our belief about the potential of our students.  We should continuously ask ourselves if labels lead us or limit us?  If they lead us, we are able to better personalize learning in such a way that addresses student deficients by leveraging their strengths.  If they limit us, we only see limitations shown by the label.  

Great educators are led by labels not inhibited by them.  They see potential not impossibilities, and they use labels to find innovative and creative ways to help every student discover their real label, EXCELLENT!!! 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ending Random Acts of School Improvement (Bonus Podcast)

The other day I had the opportunity to lead the #divergEd chat on Twitter.  The conversation centered around this thought. 

Random Acts of School Improvement 
Will Never Help ALL Teachers 
Learn, Grow, and Excel

The reason for this statement is simple.  Random acts are not goal driven.  They're feeling driven.  In order to help educators grow in their craft, we must first have a system that identifies where educators are in their proficiency, a structure to help each teacher set targeted and specific goals for growth, and a support system of professional learning to help them attain their goals.   Without this foundation, school improvement initiatives will be haphazard, based on the latest craze, or which ever way the educational winds blow. 

Here's the reality.  
We would never be random or unpredictable in our approach to helping kids grow in their learning. We would have a roadmap (curriculum) to guide us toward our goal.  We would create instruction that is aligned to that curriculum which would include best practices to move our students down the road we call student success, and we would systematically design formative assessments to gauge our progress towards reaching our goal of all students learning at high levels.  Furthermore, we would create support systems when students "break down" on their journey, so that we can provide those students targeted instructional supports to get them back on the road to their destination.

So Shouldn't We Do This for Educators?
Well absolutely we should, but in many cases we don't.  The reason is simple.  As leaders, we are so focused on students, that we often overlook the people that actually impact kids, teachers; therefore we throw professional development at them rather than taking an intentional and focused approach to ensure that every teacher learns based on their needs, not our random whims.  We make assumptions that they aren't learners because their teachers, and therefore don't need the same targeted instruction, and prescriptive supports to address their areas for growth that we would provide for students.   The fact is this.  Educators are learners too, and the deserve learning that is intentional, purposeful, and ultimately effective in helping them grow by leaps and bounds.

How Can We End Random Acts of Improvement?
In my podcast with Dr. Chris Weber, I explain the reason why schools must create instruction,  intervention and support systems for teachers in the exact same way that create them for students and I outline why we leaders need a guide to ensure that Excellence in Every Classroom isn't a hope.  It's a plan.  Hope you'll give it a listen.