Friday, February 1, 2019

Are You Competent and Creative?


Shouldn't teaching be a creative profession? In my mind, most every profession should have opportunities for creativity. I think humans are made to be creative. And if we don't have the chance to use those abilities, we are mostly going through the motions. We're merely "doing" or "implementing" without much opportunity to use our unique gifts or strengths.

I'm referring to creativity here in the broadest sense. It's not just artistic creativity, although that's an important kind for sure. I'm talking about the ability to have ideas, initiate plans, and solve complex problems. Much creativity is needed for these types of activities.

So are you competent and creative? Having both. That's probably the best scenario. Being competent is knowing your stuff. It's being well-trained. It's having knowledge and expertise and maybe experience too.

But being creative is the ability to use what's available in novel and interesting ways. It's the ability to meet the demands of your current situation and add tremendous value because of your unique gifts and abilities. Being an expert is great, but it has its limitations. How are you leveraging your expertise to create the greatest impact? That's where creativity comes in.

I think we've valued competence to the extent in education that it's placed limits on what we're able to accomplish. When we simply double-down on past practices and past outcomes, we're not thinking in interesting ways. We push for more of the same and pile on greater accountability and less freedom for good measure. 

The world is changing and the skills needed to be successful are changing too. When we fail to adapt our practices to current and future contexts students will face, we are failing to help them adapt. We must adapt if we want students to also have the ability to adapt and meet challenges. We need creative schools. We need adaptable schools.

Recently, LinkedIn published a list of the top in-demand soft and hard skills of 2019. Creativity was at the top of the list for soft skills. That's right, creativity was number one. It's clear the global economy continues to shift from an industrial world to a world of innovation. Ideas are increasingly important. Creativity is increasingly important.

So back to the original question, are you competent and creative? Does your school encourage you to be both? Or, does it limit your ability to be creative? Do you feel boxed in? 

Every organization has some limits. But limits don't have to result in the end of creativity. It's sad when schools create structures and expectations that crush creativity. But it's equally sad when educators fail to use their creativity as best they can in the current situation, whatever it is. 

Even if you feel limited in your ability to use your creativity, use it to the fullest extent you can. You can still be creative. You may wish you had more freedom and flexibility in your work, but you can still create within your current situation.

Seek out others who are interested in finding ways to be creative too. You'll be a happier, more successful, and stronger overall as an educator if you're using your creative abilities as best you can.

How are you taking your creativity to new levels? When you're creative in your work, do you see better results and enjoy greater fulfillment? Leave a comment below. Or, share on Twitter or Facebook. I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Importance of Teaching the Behaviors You Want to See


How do you respond when students don't exhibit the behaviors you would like to see? Do you tell students they need to change? Do you lecture them about responsibility or respect? Do you complain to your colleagues about kids these days? Do you punish or reward?

How effective are those options? Telling doesn't work. Lectures create distance. Complaining doesn't empower anyone. And rewards and punishments mostly work only to get compliance and not to build better better behavioral skills.

But what would be an effective response to harmful behaviors? 

What can educators do to better address non-learning behaviors? 

Teaching behavior is better than just punishing behavior.

Teach the students the new behaviors you want to see.

If they aren't organized, teach them how to be organized.

If they aren't respectful, teach them about respect and how to show it.

If they aren't responsible, teach them new skills to show responsibility.

If they are distracted, teach them how to focus.

Break down any behavior into specific skills and teach your students the steps to successfully exhibit the behaviors.

How to Teach Behavior

1. Know your own expectations for your students. Have a vision for exactly what you expect. Know exactly what you want to see.

2. Communicate your expectations clearly. Be very specific. Over communicate. Explain why the behavior is important. Use stories and examples to make it clear.

3. Build relationships. Students will always learn behavior lessons better from someone that's trusted and connected.

4. Discuss unwanted behaviors with your students. Don't tell. Ask questions. Listen. Understand.

5. Give students feedback on how they're doing. Correct them. Direct them. But most of all, encourage them.

6. Facilitate reflection with your students. Ask them to think about their own behavior and how they are learning and growing. Track progress.

7. Offer a fresh start each day. Don't bring up previous mistakes except as a teaching opportunity but never to shame or gain the upper hand. Be patient.

8. Always protect the dignity of each child. Don't lose your cool and say something harmful. Don't use shame or guilt to motivate. 

How would you treat him/her if his/her grandmother were watching?

9. Review. It's always good to circle back around to important lessons about expectations and how things are going.

What if I don't have time to teach behavior?

Better question: What if you DON'T take the time to teach behavior? If you don't teach the behaviors you want to see, you'll spend much more time correcting issues that might have been prevented. Make sure your expectations are clear.

When you are intentional about teaching the behaviors you want to see, you are being proactive instead of reactive. You don't just wait until there is a problem. Try to see things from the student's perspective and anticipate what reminders they might need.

What do you do to be proactive about teaching behaviors in your classroom? Share your strategies by leaving a comment below or responding on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, January 4, 2019

What's More Professional?


Is it more professional to teach in a traditional manner, the way you remember your teachers teaching you? 

Or, is it more professional to teach in innovative ways that might be more relevant to today's world with today's students? 

Is being professional dressing a certain way, fulfilling your obligations consistently, or having a certain type of professional demeanor?

Maybe some of those things matter for professionalism. But what matters most?

What exactly does it mean to be professional?

It seems to me that being a professional is doing things in the best possible way to meet professional goals. If the ultimate goal is the best possible learning for students, then being professional isn't about doing it like it's always been done, or doing it the way you prefer, or doing it by some personal code that might communicate professionalism for the sake of professionalism.

What's most relevant for being a professional educator is taking actions and designing learning in a way that works best for the learners you are currently teaching, this group of kids, the ones you are working with right now.

Being a professional is understanding the needs of the students. It's seeing things from the perspective of the learner, and then seeking to meet their needs to create the strongest learning environment possible. It's being curious about how your students are experiencing learning. And it's having enough empathy to understand and adjust.

What's your professional identity?

It's only natural to teach in the way that's most comfortable for you. I think most people have a teaching identity that says, "I'm the type of person who teaches such and such way." I've even heard teachers make comments like, "That just doesn't work for me." 

They have a certain idea of their teaching identity. And then they build a story for why their students need the type of teacher they value, the type of teacher that fits their identity.

I'm the strict teacher. These kids need discipline.

I'm the lecturing teacher. These kids need to learn to take notes for college.

I'm the cool teacher. These kids need me to be their friend.

I'm the old school teacher. These kids need to value the things my generation valued.

I'm the dominion teacher. These kids need to fall into line and comply with authority.

But what if your teaching identity isn't really what your students need? Are you willing to reinvent yourself to do what's best for today's learners? All of them?

Being professional means doing beneficial things that aren't necessarily your natural inclination.

To me, that's being a professional. It's creating a classroom environment that will engage and ensure maximum learning even if that's not what's most comfortable for me. I'm going to step out of my comfort zone to make this better for my students.

The most professional educators (teachers, administrators, and other roles too) I know are the ones who are willing to do just about anything to make learning better for students. They are willing to adjust their practices to meet the needs of the students. 

In fact, they are actively seeking ways to adjust their practices to meet the legitimate learning needs of their students.

Well, I'm not here to entertain. I'm not doing a dog and pony show.

Is making learning come alive a dog and pony show? Is cultivating curiosity being an entertainer? 

The kids need to learn grit. They need to learn to do the work, even if they think it's boring. They need to learn perseverance.

Grit and perseverance are connected to things we find meaningful, relevant, and purposeful. Do students find your class meaningful, relevant, and purposeful?

I bet you apply effort to things you find meaningful. In fact, every action you're motivated to take is because you attach some meaning to it. You might even hate doing it. But you attach some meaning to it. Or you wouldn't do it.

What about your students? What are you doing to make learning more meaningful for your students? If they aren't motivated, it's because they don't see the meaning in what you're asking them to do. At least they don't see enough meaning in it, yet, because when they do, they will engage.

What adjustments are you making?

A professional educator is seeking to make learning irresistible. 

A professional educator is seeking to meet the legitimate learning needs of the students.

A professional educator is willing to set aside personal preferences for peak practices.

A professional educator is enthusiastic, excited, and energetic about learners and learning.

A professional educator isn't satisfied with going through the motions or arriving at good enough. There is a desire for continuous improvement that starts with the person in the mirror. What are the actions, attitudes, and approaches I need to take to succeed with these students?

What do you think about this riff on professionalism? Does it resonate with you? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I look forward to reading your comments.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Top 10 Most Popular Future Driven Posts from 2018


I continue to enjoy learning from you all and appreciate your connection with my blog throughout 2018. I'm inspired by the incredible community of educators who are so deeply committed to preparing students for the future.

That's really the message of my book, Future Driven. Today's schools can't afford to be time capsules, preparing students for a world that no longer exists. They must be time machines, preparing students for the future, preparing them to be adaptable, continuous learners.

Our world is changing faster than ever, and schools can't afford to stay the same.

This past year I continued to share thoughts here at the blog along those lines. Like you, I'm seeking ways to leverage my learning to help provide better learning for students. 

Here are a few of the ideas that seemed to resonate the strongest with readers. The top 10 for 2018...

1. 5 Tips for Building Great Relationships with Students

5 Tips for Building Great Relationships with Students

Relationships are essential to learning. Kids connect more to learning when they feel more connection to their teacher. A great classroom environment begins by building great relationships. So how do you build great relationships with your students? Here are 5 tips I promise will make your relationships stronger.

2. Why Do Some Educators Burn Out While Others Seem to Grow More Passionate

Why Do Some Educators Burn Out While Others Seem to Grow More Passionate?

I'm really interested in know where passion comes from. And that's because I can't think of a single passionate educator who doesn't make a greater impact for kids. And on the other hand, I can't think of a single educator who seems burned out who can still be their very best for kids.
3. 5 Questions Every Kid Is Trying to Answer

5 Questions Every Kid Is Trying to Answer

When we think about creating a stronger school culture, we know how important it is to focus on relationships. But why are relationships such an important part of an outstanding learning environment? It seems clear when you think about it. Everyone needs to feel connected. Everyone needs to feel like he or she matters.
4. What's Your Priority? Passion or Proficiency

What's Your Priority? Passion or Proficiency

Passion and proficiency. Both are important. But what's your priority? What comes first? Some teachers know their content, have great strategies, and work hard every day. And yet they aren't getting the results they hope for. In Future Driven , I wrote about the importance of rekindling passion in an accountability era where proficiency has been prioritized to the detriment of everything else.
5. 20 Ways to Be Future Driven in Your Classroom

20 Ways to Be Future Driven in Your Classroom

Reflection is so important for continued learning and growth. I developed the list below as a tool for educators to reflect on practices that help prepare students for a rapidly changing, complex world. Some of these practices are new. Some are not. Some of them involve technology. Some do not.

Top 10 Continued...

Friday, December 14, 2018

5 Thoughts to Improve Your Mental Approach as an Educator


Your lessons matter. Your strategies matter. Your relationships matter. Lots of other things matter too. Some of these things are in your control and some of them are not.

But in every decision you make, in every action you take, there is a common thread. What is your mental approach? Do you have a growth mindset? Are you an empowered educator? Do you believe in your ability to make a difference? Do you have a strong sense of self-efficacy? 

A person's mental approach to any situation has an incredible impact on outcomes. The choices we make determine our future. It is our choices more than any other factor that determine who we are and who we will become. I believe that's true for students, and I believe that's true for us as educators as well. 

1. Extraordinary results require you to expect big results.

Extraordinary results don't happen by accident. Just look at what successful people do, and you'll see what it takes. First, you have to believe great things can happen. Some people are hesitant to set the bar very high, because they might fall short. Others think about how much work it's going to take to get there, and wonder if it's going to be worth it? 

But if you're not willing to aim for extraordinary results, are you settling for less than what you're capable of doing? And if you're settling for less, are you giving your students an experience that is less than they deserve? You deserve to be your best too. Crave that which is not easily within your grasp. Dream big.

2. It's not lack of time, it's lack of direction.

We all have exactly the same number of hours in each day. We have the same number of days in each week. I've rarely heard anyone complain about lack of time who also wasn't wasting some amount of time every day and every week. The key is how we are using the time we have. Are you making the most of your time? Are you giving time to the things that will make the biggest impact? Do you know with clarity what's most important in your day? 

Choose to pour your energy into the things that will transform your effectiveness. You have to take risks. You'll miss 100% of the shots you don't take. What actions are your multipliers? They make everything better. They pay dividends into the future. Pour your energy into things that give the most returns. Find your true north and set your direction accordingly.

3. Be willing to let of go of something good for something great.

Most people reach a certain level of effectiveness, and then they just maintain the status quo. They get into a routine without continuing to stretch and push forward. Too often we are polishing the past, trying to improve on practices that are simply outdated or no longer effective. We're aiming to make things just a little better instead of opening our minds to new possibilities. 

Don't settle for good enough. Don't settle for teaching as you were taught. Our world is changing faster than ever before. So our schools should reflect those changes. We can't allow schools to become time capsules, when they could be time machines. We need to adapt and create learning that's relevant to the world our students will live in. 

4. See problems as they are, but not worse than they are.

I believe in the power of positive thinking. But positive thinking, in my mind, is not believing everything is okay. It's not pretending everything is great. But it is believing things can get better. It's focusing on solutions, not problems. We need to see problems for what they are, but not act like they are impossible to overcome. 

Some people focus their energy on blaming and complaining. They throw their hands up and quit. Their solution is for everything outside of them to change. But a different approach is to be focused on pursuing excellence. No obstacle is too big to stop trying. They believe that with hard work, determination, and the desire to continually learn and grow, there is no limit to what might be possible. 

5. One of the best ways to increase student effort and engagement is to increase your own energy and enthusiasm.

What type of energy are you bringing to your classroom or school? I notice some of our students dragging into school with very little energy. What's it going to take to shift that energy and get them going? Many of our students have developed habits that prevent them from getting the most out of their learning. Those habits won't change unless we as educators are intentional. We need to change. 

We need to bring so much determination and passion to what we do that students know, "This person is not going to accept less than my best." Lots of things can stand in the way of learning in a school, let's make sure it's not the attitude or enthusiasm of the adults who work there. 

What other ideas do you have for establishing a solid mental approach as an educator? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, December 7, 2018

What Would Happen If You Weren't Successful On This Thing?


Here's a reflective question to ask yourself when you're making decisions about your priorities:

What would happen if you weren't successful on this one thing?

What would be the ramifications? What would be the price to pay? What would be the cost if this thing did not happen? What would happen if success in this area isn't made a priority? What would we stand to lose? How would it impact the student, the community, or the world? 

Some things are absolutely essential and some things are nice to see happen and some things really aren't that important at all. Life's all about priorities. But how often do we just go with the priorities of what's been done in the past? 

How often do we accept the priorities of others without even considering if they are best for kids? How often do we push back against the priorities of the status quo because we know we can do better?

There isn't enough time, energy, or resources to make everything a priority. We have to make good choices about what's most important and how to apply our energy and effort. We have to establish the priorities that make the biggest difference.

Here are a few examples of my thinking as I work through this thought experiment...

1. What would happen if I didn't develop the strongest relationships possible with my students?

I would risk losing the learner entirely. They might just check out and not follow my lead on anything. There's greater chance of behavior problems, attitude problems, parent problems, and more. If the relationship is toxic, nothing I do will be good enough, interesting enough, or important enough. It's impossible to have extraordinary learning experiences with mediocre relationships.

2. What would happen if students dreaded coming to our school or my classroom every day?

If students hate school, we know they're going to be disengaged, distracted, and probably agitated. None of those are good conditions for learning. We can wish they would change and magically love school. Or we can change the school and find ways to reduce the friction. What if we made it harder for kids to hate school? What if we created a place where kids who hate (traditional) school love to learn?

3. What would happen if students didn't get chances to lead and make decisions in this school?

If they don't have chances to lead and make decisions now, they won't be ready to lead and make decisions later. They won't have opportunities to practice and they won't be primed for leadership and decision making beyond school. Kids need practice leading and making decisions about their learning. They need agency just as much, if not more, than they need achievement. If I simply learn, I will probably forget. But if I have a strong enough learning identity, there is nothing I can't learn eventually.

4. What would happen if students didn't master every standard in this school?

They might not score as well as others on standardized tests. They might have some gaps in their learning. They might have to learn some things down the road if they're faced with situations where they aren't fully prepared. But is that really the worst thing? Is standards mastery the key to future success? I don't think it is.

5. What would happen if students didn't learn soft skills or develop good character in this school?

I'll answer this question with another question. Would you prefer to have a neighbor that is a caring person or one who has outstanding academic skills? Of course, having both would be great. If you needed help with some complex math problems, they'd be able to help you and care enough about you to be willing to help you. But if you had to make a choice? I'm picking soft skills and character every time.

So what other questions might you ask to test your priorities and your school's priorities? If we didn't do this thing, what would happen? Pour your energy into the things that you know count the most. We get most of our results out of a small portion of our effort. We accomplish 80% of our results with just 20% of our effort. The rest of our effort is lost compared to that 20%. If we can learn to apply effort more efficiently, our overall capacity would greatly increase.

Let me know what you think about this thought experiment. Is what you're doing today moving your students closer to what you want for them tomorrow? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, November 30, 2018

11 Helpful Phrases for Disarming Conflict


It's inevitable. Sooner or later there will be conflict. People will have differences. Disagreements will erupt. Mistakes will be made. Stuff happens.

But we can sharpen our skills to be ready when unhealthy conflict begins to rise. And we can use our tools to keep dialogue open and productive. Disagreements don't have to turn destructive. 

A difference of opinion doesn't haven't to escalate into a damaged relationship. The phrases I share below have worked well for me, for the most part. Tone of voice and body language are critically important too.

It doesn't matter if the conflict is with a student, a colleague, or a parent, it's so important to listen carefully and let the other person know you are listening carefully. 

Listen carefully and practice empathy. Try to fully understand where the other person is coming from.

Here are 11 phrases that might be helpful...

1. "Let's work together to solve this."

All of the problem-solving to address an issue shouldn't come from one side or the other. It's not me vs. you. It's us vs. the problem.

2. "I may be wrong. I frequently am. Let's look at the facts."

Our natural tendency is to become defensive when someone challenges us. Take a tentative stance at the start. That shows you're open to listening.

3. "If I'm wrong I want to correct it and make it right. I may be in error."

If you start to defend your position right away you set yourself in opposition to the other side. When we set ourselves in opposition to another, it's their instinct to cling to their ideas and defend them whether there is truly any merit to them or not.

4. "Let me see if I got that."

Or "Let me see if I understand you correctly?" Listen actively. Acknowledge what the other person is saying. Instead of defending or explaining, start by paraphrasing. Repeat what they've said to ensure that you're getting the right meaning. Ask clarifying questions. It makes the other person feel heard. It shows you are listening.

5. "What's your biggest concern?"

Sometimes when people get upset they vent about all sorts of things that may be related and may not be related. This question helps focus on what the real issue is.

6. "How are you feeling about that?"

Again this question is acknowledging that there are strong feelings as a result of the situation. It's good to validate the feelings someone is having. It doesn't mean you agree with what needs to happen, but you are trying to understand how they feel. 

7. "What would you like to see happen? What would make you happy?"

Sometimes when I ask this question after I've listened carefully for a time, the person will say they don't really want anything to happen. They just wanted to express their frustration. And sometimes there are specific requests. This question get possible next steps out on the table. 

8. "Is it possible that we could...?"

Or "What if..." Help introduce new possibilities to the situation. In emotionally charged situations, people often get locked into seeing things from only one perspective. We're looking for a creative solution that is win/win.

9. "I'm willing to discuss this as long as needed until we're both satisfied how it's resolved."

I love to say this when I can tell things are really heated. It immediately says to the other person that I'm not going to be your opponent in this discussion. I'm not going to allow this to be an argument. It almost always diffuses the situation.

10. "Let me think about this some more. Let's try again later."

Sometimes, even when I've tried to maintain dialogue and approach the problem with as much diplomacy as possible, we still can't seem to either deescalate or find acceptable solutions. Then it's time to say let's both think about it some more and try again later.

11. "Do you feel like the situation's been handled fairly?"

It's very rewarding when a conversation that could be angry and awful ends up being successful. It actually builds a stronger relationship. Conflict can make us stronger. Sometimes I will even ask if the other person feels it's been handled fairly. If they can't say yes, then maybe we need to talk some more.

Don't allow yourself to become an opponent in the conversation. If people sense that you are defensive, they will set themselves in opposition to you. They will cling to their ideas and defend them no matter what. Even if there isn't merit to the concern, they will fight for their point of view. They won't care about what's right. They'll only care about being right. They'll defend the most ridiculous claims and blunders simply because they view you as an opponent.

And conversely, if you truly listen and avoid becoming an opponent, people are far more likely to admit errors of their own. If they are handled gently and respectfully, they will be more open to listening to your perspective too. But make sure they've had plenty of opportunities to be heard before you expect them to hear your point of view.

Do you have other ideas for disarming conflict? What's been your experience with handling conflict successfully? I'd like to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.
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