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.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Are You Reaching Your Full Capacity?


Last Christmas, we decided to add a new Boston Terrier puppy to our family. His name is Rudy. There have been many times over the past months that Rudy has tested our patience. And he's tested the patience of our older Boston Terrier, Max, too.

He's chewed up the house. He's been slow to house train. He's been quick to disobey. He's a little too affectionate. He's in your face affectionate. It's cute and annoying at the same time.

But a few months ago we noticed something was wrong with Rudy. He was having problems with one of his back legs. It would happen occasionally, and he would limp around on three legs for a while, and then he was back to his old self.

But the problem became even more frequent. A trip to the vet revealed Rudy's leg problem was Patellar Luxation, a knee cap that was dislocating. The leg would not get better on its own and needed to be addressed surgically.

So Rudy was scheduled for his operation.

After Rudy had his surgery, the vet said we needed to keep him from using the repaired knee. "No using that leg," he said. 

Just how are you supposed to keep a dog from using a leg? Hey Rudy, no using that leg, okay? 

But turns out that wasn't a problem. Rudy didn't want to use the leg. I guess it was pretty sore, and he quit using it entirely after the surgery. 

Even weeks later, after several visits to the vet, Rudy was still not using the repaired leg. The vet suggested several ideas for getting him to start using the leg again, including swim therapy in our bath tub. Seriously.

But Rudy still refused to use his fourth leg. He was a three-legged dog, it seemed, forever.

However, it was clear from our trips to the veterinarian, Rudy's leg had healed properly. He was simply choosing not to use the leg. He had created a limitation in his canine brain that he was a three-legged dog. He had created a new identity that kept him from reaching his full capacity.

Would Rudy ever walk on four legs again?

And then, in a matter of a couple of weeks, Rudy started testing the fourth leg a little more. He pushed out of his comfort zone and into his growth zone. The video clips below were shot on the same day in the span of about an hour. You'll see his three legged routine and then what's possible when he pushes past the limits. Rudy was very capable it seems.



When Rudy got past his limits, he was running around like any puppy should. He was back to annoying all of us again, in his regular way. He was starting to utilize his fourth leg to its full capacity.

But here's the thing, how many of us are choosing, perhaps unintentionally, to be three-legged dogs? Could it be that most of us are only using a fraction of our true capacity? What might be possible if we would only test our limits and continue to learn and grow?

I think most people are only operating at a small percentage of full capacity. And I think most schools are only operating at a small percentage of full capacity. We're probably capable of so much more. Our schools are probably capable of so much more.

Sure, we're trying to make progress, but we're walking on three legs. We're trying to make things better, but we need to make ourselves better. Change you first.

What we really need is to cut loose and run on all four legs. And we need to create conditions where other people are able to reach their capacity, too. 

So how can you reach your capacity? You have to get started on a path of growth. Break through your limits with the following...

1. The BELIEF that you need to get better.

If you think you're doing just fine on three legs, you'll never find your true capacity. You'll just keep limping along. You need a vision of what's possible. Moreover, you also need the belief that things CAN get better. Don't allow your past performance to limit your future possibilities.

2. The DESIRE to want to get better.

Growth is the more difficult choice. It's easier just to be satisfied, either intentionally or unintentionally, with how things are. We have to crush apathy and reject mediocrity. We have to desire excellence. You have to commit. You have to really want it.

3. The WILLINGNESS to take action to get better.

You have to test your limits. You have to see what that fourth leg is capable of doing. Sometimes it feels really risky to step out in faith. It might hurt. But you must take action. Destiny is about decisions. It might be hard, but it's worth it. 

4. The WISDOM to learn how to get better.

There is a certain wisdom and humility needed to recognize that we're not currently all we could be. We're probably capable of more, if we're honest about it. We must therefore seek out opportunities to learn from others. We must apply the things we learn. We have to pursue growth intentionally. 

5. The DISCIPLINE to follow through and be GREAT.

Living a no limits life requires discipline. A new direction requires discipline. Full capacity requires discipline. You have to eliminate the choices that aren't leading you toward your capacity. You have to be relentless to achieve the results.

What are some ways you want to test your limits? What are some ways you need to test your limits? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Friday, November 9, 2018

7 Unexpected Benefits of Curiosity


Curiosity might be good for you, and good for your students too, in ways you haven't considered. One of our core values in our school is "start with questions." We want our students to be more curious tomorrow than they are today. We want to design learning that develops curiosity. We believe in the benefits of curiosity. In fact, curiosity has been shown to contribute to academic success as much as hard work or intelligence. 

But curiosity has many benefits beyond academic success. When we are curious in a whole variety of situations, we can better come to terms with who we are, how we fit into the world, and how we can make an impact on the world around us.

So here are 7 ways curiosity can be beneficial beyond academic success...

1.  Curiosity About Feelings

We are seeing unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression among young people. But mindfulness principles are effective in addressing thoughts and feelings by leveraging curiosity, instead of angst or avoidance. Be curious about feelings in a nonjudgmental way. Recognize that feelings come and go and are neither inherently good or bad. Approach feelings with a sense of wonder, "I'm curious about why I'm feeling this way." Be curious, not furious.

2. Curiosity About Relationships

Relationships grow stronger when we show empathy. And it's necessary to be curious to develop empathy. You have to be curious about what the other person is experiencing. You have to put yourself in their shoes. When we are curious about others, it also makes them feel valued, listened to, and understood. Curiosity says, "I want to know more about you. You matter. You're interesting to me."

3. Curiosity About Perspectives

Our perspective shapes our mindset. We can view failure as something negative, or we can view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Everything that happens to me can be useful to me and for my benefit. But that requires me to be curious to consider how I might reframe in a positive way things that on the surface seem to be hardships or difficulties.

4. Curiosity About Habits

After reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, I became far more curious about my habits and the habits that are common in our school. We want to create an extraordinary greeting for our students, every morning and each class period of the day. We want to make that a habit. I also want to examine my personal habits with curiosity, "Is this habit taking me where I want to go? Is this habit consistent with the path I want to be on?" Let's be curious about the habits we have in the classroom and how they impact learning.

5. Curiosity About Risk Taking

What would you do if you had no fear? What do you fear? And why do you fear these things? What is holding you back? We need to be curious about these questions and why we aren't willing to embrace positive risk taking. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We cannot know what we are truly capable of accomplishing if we aren't willing to push outside our comfort zone and take risks.

6. Curiosity About How Things Work

Have you ever wondered how electricity works? Or magnets? Or gravity? Science can explain these phenomenon, at least to an extent. But they also maintain a mysterious quality. They make me curious. But as a leader, I'm also curious about what makes our school culture work the way it does. I'm curious about how student's motivation works. And I'm curious about how to facilitate positive change. There are so many examples of being curious about how things work. And sometimes, this curiosity leads to innovations and breakthroughs that make life better for everyone.

7. Curiosity About the Future

I'm curious about the future. I'm curious about what life will be like for my own kids and for my students. And, I'm curious about what educators need to be doing today to prepare students for their futures. When we are curious about the future, it helps us be more diligent in our decisions today. The choices we make today will shape the future. But we have to be curious and consider how today's decisions might lead to future challenges or opportunities. Acting today with little thought for tomorrow is unlikely to end well. A long term perspective is needed to prepare for an uncertain future. Be curious about the future.

Can you think of any other unexpected benefits of curiosity? Is you school consistently making efforts to bring out curiosity in students? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, November 2, 2018

5 Questions for Deeper Reflection


Reflection is important for growth. But we have to be intentional about it. Our reflection is meaningless unless we do something with it. It has to change us. Or, it has to help us change directions. Effective people are reflective people.

Many years ago I read Dale Carnegie's incredible book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Just this last week, I decided to start reading it again. Carnegie tells the story of a bank president who for many years made it a practice to reflect at the end of each week on every appointment he had in the previous week. He would ask himself the following questions:

"What mistakes did I make that time?"

"What did I do that was right--and in what way could I have improved my performance?"

"What lessons can I learn from that experience?"

The banker attributed his great success in large part to his system:
I often found that this weekly review made me very unhappy. I was frequently astonished at my own blunders. Of course, as the years passed, these blunders became less frequent. Sometimes I was inclined to pat myself on the back a little after one of these sessions. This system of self-analysis, self-education, that continued year after year, did more for me than any other one thing I have ever attempted.
It helped me improve my ability to make decisions--and it aided me enormously in all my contacts with people. I cannot recommend it too highly. 
I also try to make it a point to consistently reflect on how things are going in my work. However, I don't have a process as systematic as what's described by the banker. Maybe that's something I should consider.

This week as I'm reflecting, I thought of a few more questions to consider...

1. How is the reluctant learner experiencing our school (or your classroom if you're a teacher)?

We may think about how our students are doing overall, but I think we need to be especially attentive to how the reluctant learner is doing. If we create an experience that engages some of our most challenging students, that same experience will also probably benefit our other students too. We're aiming to create a place where even kids who "hate school" love to learn.

2. Am I measuring with a yardstick of my own years?

When I get frustrated with some of the behaviors I see in students, I need to be reminded that they are often acting exactly like 15-year-olds are inclined to act. That doesn't mean that I don't try to influence them to rise up, but I can't get frustrated when they don't think, or act, like me. That sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But I think we all tend to get frustrated if people don't act just like we think they should.

3. Do I have a healthy level of dissatisfaction with my own performance?

At the end of the day, it's important to be content with doing my best but to also be dissatisfied with how things are. I don't want to become complacent. And I don't want to beat myself up when I make a mistake. So be content, but never be satisfied. 

4. Are there ways I'm falling into binary thinking?

Binary thinking creates false dichotomies. It's either/or. Effective leadership almost always requires a more nuanced position. We can have fun AND have high expectations. We can use technology AND develop social skills and teamwork. We can encourage student agency/inquiry AND improve achievement. It's not all or nothing.

5. What specific strategies am I using to motivate students (and teachers)?

I'm thinking about the ways I influence student and teacher motivation. Am I doing it by connecting and building relationships? Am I doing it by clearing barriers and showing support? Am I motivating students by creating a positive environment? Just what are the specific strategies I'm using to motivate? Food for thought.

So how are you developing a reflection routine? Would you benefit from having intentional reflection each week? Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Passion Flows from Purpose


When I was fresh out of college, it was time to start my career as an educator. I was very passionate about the game of basketball, and that was part of the reason I wanted to teach and coach. I had passion for the game. I still love it today and look forward to the start of college basketball season.

But while I had passion, I didn't necessarily have a strong or clear purpose. I was just finding my way.

Although passion is great, we can be passionate about things that lack significance. We can be passionate about a game. We can be passionate about cars, or coffee, or even Netflix. Certainly, there's nothing wrong with passion and enthusiasm for these things. But it's not something with inherently larger meaning or significance.

Purpose, on the other hand, is about having a mission. It's about living a life of meaning and significance in a very intentional way. I'm defining purpose here as something that transcends what we do and becomes more about who we are.

It's not what you do, it's why you do it.

Your true purpose isn't limited to one role in particular. I can carry out my purpose through my role as a principal, or as a dad, or as a writer through blogging or writing books. I can carry out my purpose in whole variety of ways. I can also carry it out in casual conversations with just about anyone I meet. 

While I am passionate about being a principal, who I am is much bigger than my profession. My overarching purpose is much bigger than my title. Don't get me wrong, being a principal is one of the most rewarding ways I get to share my purpose. I love it. 

But my why is still much bigger.

My why is to help others grow their own capacity and find their personal path of purpose. A purpose that has power adds value to people. It focuses on making things better for others.

My passions may change over time, but for the most part, I believe my purpose will only grow stronger.

There are so many reasons to live out your purpose...
1. No one can take away your purpose. Some things we are passionate about might be taken from us. Don't build your foundation on something you might lose.
2. Your purpose is usually developed, not discovered. We grow into our purpose. It doesn't just arrive like the mail is delivered. It's grown like the largest tree in your back yard. 
3. You won't be fulfilled if you aren't fulfilling your purpose. You'll be restless and uneasy and searching for meaning. So many people are searching for happiness and what they really desire is purpose.
4. Apathy is no match for true purpose. The key to motivation is to know your why.
5. When you connect with people who share your purpose, it's electrifying. You feel understood and energized. It's like doubling the voltage.
6. When you have a strong sense of purpose, obstacles are no match for your persistence and perseverance.
7. Your purpose will give you a sense of peace. You'll know you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing when you're living out your purpose.

What are your thoughts on living with a sense of purpose? How can we help our students find meaning and significance? How can we help them find a path of purpose? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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