Monday, October 16, 2017

The Facts and the Stories We Tell Ourselves Based on the Facts

I've been planning to write this post for the past two years. That's right. It's been that long. I'm not sure why I didn't write it sooner. But the events of this weekend swiftly and certainly moved these ideas off the sidelines.

Friday night we had home football. There is always some stress associated with each home game. Our admin team often jokes about how much easier the road games are. There are just so many things that can go wrong with large crowds. On top of that, I was at the end of a long week and physically tired. That's typical for Friday night, right?

So I noticed a Twitter post after halftime that tagged our school. I knew the individual who posted it and have a very good relationship with him, although we haven't interacted that often. 

But I quickly became offended by the post. How could this person publicly criticize the school? He should know better than that. He manages people and events and must understand the challenges that come with that. Social media is not the place to air your concerns, at least not initially. Come talk to me. Give me a chance to solve the problem.


I quickly fired off a text message to the individual expressing my frustration and disappointment.

Then came the reply, "Should I delete it?"

"Well, of course you should," I thought.

I responded in another message ramping up my indignation.

And then when his next reply came, I got it. He clarified and all of the sudden, it was clear. It hit me all at once. It almost took the air out of me. He didn't mean it that way! I took it wrong!

In my haste, I completely misunderstood the comment. I missed it completely.

I went back and read it again. Any other person reading the Tweet would NOT have taken it the way I did. I had started climbing the assumption ladder and had gone straight to the top rung.

Time to own my mistake. My very embarrassing mistake.

I sent my apologies. I tried to explain. I told him he did nothing wrong. I should know better. It's totally on me. I'm sorry. I felt terrible.

Fortunately, the person on the other end was gracious in accepting my apology. Looking back, I can't even believe I made this mistake. I practice these skills every day. Not assuming. Trying to understand the other person's perspective. Not jumping to conclusions.


So how does this happen?

A couple of years ago I read the book Crucial Conversations. It is the best thing I've ever read about effective communication when the stakes are high, when there might be strong opposing thoughts or opinions.

One part in particular is so important for us in keeping conversations safe. We have to be careful about the stories we tell ourselves. Here are a few of the big ideas I took from the book.

Stories Cause Feelings

Someone else doesn't make you mad. You get angry because of the story you tell yourself. "I feel bad because of my story, not your actions." Emotions don't settle in like fog. Others don't make you mad. You make you mad. You tell yourself a story, and the story leads to the emotional response. Once these stories take hold, they have a life of their own.

Avoid Silence or Violence

To keep good dialogue, we have to keep safety in the conversation. If we lose safety, the conversation will turn to one or the other or both parties holding back and not being honest or lashing out and taking cheap shots. Neither silence nor violence is a healthy response. We want to develop shared meaning and be totally honest. We want to learn from the conversation, not be right or wrong.

Stories Are How We Explain Why, How, and What Is Happening To Us

So even when presented with exactly the same set of circumstances, we will determine if it is positive or negative based on the story we tell ourselves. Our story is how we attach significance to these events. We decide the level of significance based on the story we tell.

Many Possible Responses

For every set of circumstances, there is not just one way to respond. My emotions are NOT the only valid response. So just because such and such happens to me doesn't mean I have to respond in a certain way. There are many possible responses.

Slow Down

The thing that got me in trouble was how quickly I settled on the story in my mind based on the Tweet I was reading. I attached a certain meaning almost immediately. I didn't consider any other possibilities. Several things had happened earlier that primed me for this response, but no matter, I still wouldn't have failed in communicating if I would've slowed down or even consulted with someone else before drawing conclusions.

Three Stories

We tend to tell ourselves three types of stories to explain things we don't like. We also use these stories to justify our own bad behavior.

Victim Stories - "It's not my fault."
Villain Stories - "It's all your fault."
Helpless Stories - "There's nothing else I can do."

Stories Result in a Path to Action

1. See/hear (facts)
2. Tell a story (interpretation of facts)
3. Feel (emotions)
4. Act (choose a response)

Our path to action may seem reasonable and certain, but if it is based on a story and a feeling, we may act in ways that are not helpful. I saw the Tweet on Friday night and immediately told myself a story. Then I felt upset and even angry. And that led to the awkward text message conversation that ensued. Oh my...

So this is really practical stuff that we can apply daily. In fact, the entire book has great wisdom for educators. We deal with so many crucial conversations. It happens all day, every day. It's important to develop these skills.

It's so important to remember there are the facts and then there are the stories we tell ourselves based on the facts. To close, here are four questions to ask that can help to avoid the crazy dance of some of our stories.

1. Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
2. Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this? This one would have stopped me cold on Friday night.
3. What do I really want?
4. What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?

I encourage you to read Crucial Conversations. I still mess it up sometimes (obviously), but the book was really helpful for me in dealing with difficult situations. Have you noticed yourself telling stories and jumping to conclusions? Maybe with student behaviors? Or colleagues? Are you retreating to silence or resorting to violence in your conversations? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

21 Phrases to Use in Dealing With Difficult Behaviors

The first priority in creating a positive classroom environment and limiting problem behaviors is to develop positive relationships. That's absolutely essential.

The second priority is to clearly establish expectations, for students and teachers. And that's a necessity also. Both teachers and students should know what to expect.

Building relationships and communicating expectations must be tended to daily. Both are critically important. We have to constantly build relationships and communicate expectations.

But what happens when things go off the tracks a little? How do you address those moments when it's not working well? The following are phrases I use when meeting with a student to work on a behavior concern. I gave a brief description of how and why I might use the phrase.

Set a Positive Tone

1. "I will never intentionally disrespect you."

This is one of my favorite phrases. I want kids to know I intend to show them respect. The implied message is I also expect you to show me respect.

2. "I believe in you."

Kids can't here this enough. It's important to establish positive intentions.

3. "I won't give up on you."

If a child feels you don't accept him or her, you aren't going to get their trust. Sometimes I even say, "I don't approve of what you did, but I will always accept you and be here to help you."

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

All of the problem-solving in working through an issue shouldn't come from the teacher. It's not me vs. you. It's us vs. the problem.

Address the Issue

5. "I was puzzled when you..."

Approach the situation with a sense of curiosity instead of approaching it with judgment, frustration, or anger.

6. "What do we do here when...."

Remind the student of the expectations. "What do we do here when it's time for bell work?" Then work with the student to verbalize the expectations.

7. "What should you have done differently?"

How did your behavior not meet the expectation? Help the student think through what behavior would have been acceptable in the situation.

8. "How did you intend for that to make ______________ feel?"

This is another one of my favorite questions. I often will use this to hold kids accountable if they do something disrespectful to me or someone else. "When you roll your eyes at me when I'm talking with you, how do you intend for that to make me feel? I care about you, and I feel sad or disappointed when you do that."

9. "How did you feel at the time?"

I also want kids to know I care how they are feeling and that feelings can be strong and make us want to do things we shouldn't do. But we are still responsible for our actions.

10. "That seemed upsetting to you."

Paraphrasing is important. Again, validate how the student is feeling but help them know they are still responsible for their actions.

11. "I hear what you are saying. I'm listening."

If you want to help deescalate a situation, make sure the person is feeling heard. Not feeling heard is a sure way to keep the two side apart.

12. "Is it possible that...?"

Help introduce new possibilities to the situation. Kids, and adults for that matter, can get locked into seeing a situation from only one perspective.

Decide on a Path Forward

13. "What should you do when ___________________?"

This questions can be helpful to brainstorm how the student could respond to certain triggers.

14. "What will you do next time?"

It's very important to get a plan that is future-focused. Too often, behavior is handled by just giving consequences. Punishments focus on the past. We want to build toward better future decisions, too.

15. "When will you do it?"

It's just another question to be very intentional about planning for next time. Looking for things like, "I'll do it the first time I'm asked."

16. "What do you need to do now to make this right?"

This question is very important. There may need to be an apology. There may need to be some other action right now to address the problem.

17. "Would you like to _________________ or ____________________?"

Choices are really good for providing some agency while also limiting behavior to acceptable options.

18. "Can I count on you to do that?"

This question is very important. After I discuss with a student the path forward, I will follow up with this one. I want to make sure they are fully committed to our agreement.

19. "Okay, but in case you don't, what do you think are fair consequences?"

The student also needs to consider there will be consequences if the agreement is broken.

Reflect on the Conversation

20. "What's your understanding of what we decided together?"

This question requires students to provide a summary of what was decided.

21. "Do you feel that you've been treated fairly?"

Students may not always be happy when we are finished dealing with an issue, but I want them to feel they have been treated with fairness and respect. If they leave feeling disrespected, it is not going to help them be ready to make changes in their behaviors.

I hope these questions are good reflection for you as you work with students and solve problems. But I want to hear from you. What questions would you add to this list? What are some of your best tips for dealing with difficult situations? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, October 6, 2017

If You Want To Be A Difference Maker, You Have To Be A Risk Taker

I recently learned of the story of John Berry Meachum, a figure in Missouri history I previously knew nothing about.

He was born into slavery in Virginia, but at the age of 21 earned enough money as a carpenter to purchase his own freedom and a short time later the freedom of his father.

Throughout his life he had an entrepreneurial spirit. He would purchase the freedom of slaves and most would pay him back. He eventually came to live in St. Louis, where he founded the African Church. 

There he taught religious and secular classes to free and enslaved black students. The location for the classes was known as "The Candle Tallow School."

In 1847, the state of Missouri banned education for all black people. Clearly, one would expect this oppressive law to have a devastating impact Meachum's school.

But Meachum was not dissuaded. In response, he moved his classes to a steamboat in the middle of the Mississippi River, beyond the reach of Missouri law.

He provided the school with a library, desks, and chairs and called it the "Floating Freedom School."

John Berry Meachum showed the determination and innovation needed from all educators. We cannot let our circumstances stand in our way. We all face challenges every day. We have to be willing to think creatively and take risks to create a better future.

What if Meachum just threw up his hands and quit?

What if he felt sorry for himself because of this terrible injustice?

What if he retreated to something safe instead of taking a risk?

He had a dream to educate blacks in his community and nothing was going to stop him. I admire his passion and commitment.

One of my favorite illustrations is from best-selling author Austin Kleon. It communicates so well the risk that is required to pursue something better. 

Most people see the difference between what is and what could be, but not everyone is willing to make the leap. Not everyone takes action. But leaders do.

You can be a leader in your school when you step out and take a risk. If you want to be a difference maker, you have to be a risk taker. 

Don't be satisfied with the status quo. Be a future-driven risk taker.

Be focused on the future, not stuck in the past. Meachum would never have taken the bold risks he took if he were filtering his actions through the past. He was doing something that was largely unheard of because he wanted a brighter future for the people he served. His dream was bigger than yesterday.

Believe there is probably a better way to do just about everything. It may seem that things are just the way they are. Our circumstances are fixed. But there are so many ways to approach a problem. Even when things are bleak, think like Meachum. Find a way. Try something new.

Learn from your setbacks but don't be defined by them. When you take risks, sometimes you are going to get knocked down. But even your failures can lead to future greatness. Many of the greatest world-changers of all-time also experienced incredible hardships and disappointments.

Are you taking risks as an educator? Or, are you settling for the status quo? You are needed as a change maker.

How can we inspire educators to take more risks? How can we overcome the obstacles that stand in the way? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

17 Signs You're a Future Driven Educator

In writing my new book Future Driven, I shared many of the great things I see educators doing that are changing education for the better and helping to prepare students for the world they are facing. And we all know it's a challenging, complex world out there. 

In spite of the immense challenges, I remain very hopeful for the future. And I believe educators are making a huge difference every day to help kids be ready to thrive. But of course, there is plenty more work to be done. In this post, I share a list of things that are themes from my book. If you share these ideals, you're likely a future driven educator.

1. You are not satisfied with the status quo.

You want to take action now to help create a better future. You believe the choices you make today are helping to create a better tomorrow for you and your students. You want to make a difference and add value to others.

2. You believe in the power of building strong relationships.

You know everything rises and falls on the quality of relationships in your classroom in school. You seek to lift up others, bring people together, and connect in authentic, meaningful ways. And no matter how great you believe your relationships are, you are always striving to make them better.

3. Your methods are less important to you than your mission.

You are passionate about kids and learning. Your mission is bold and daring. You want to be a change maker. You want to make learning irresistible for kids. You don't hang on to practices because they work best for you. You explore new practices because they might work best for kids.

4. You want your students to learn more than content.

You don't just develop great lessons. You develop great experiences. You want students to think deeply and develop perseverance, empathy, creativity, and curiosity. You want learning to connect to students' lives in authentic, meaningful ways.

5. You want your students to love learning more than they fear mistakes.

You are willing to take risks and learn from mistakes and you encourage your students to do the same. You know learning is messy. Mistakes are part of the process, and perfectionism is often the enemy of progress. 

6. You are mindful of changes in the world.

We are in an era of accelerating change. The world in a complex, uncertain place. You know it's important for you to be aware of how these changes will impact your students' futures. You chart the course for learning with the new realities of the world in mind. 

7. Your students know you believe in them.

When your students know you believe in them, it brings out the best in them. Your encouragement makes all the difference. The person who influences you the most is the person who believes in you. They will rise to your expectations. You see them for who they are becoming and not just who they are right now. You see a bright future for your students.

8. You have a long term perspective.

You do what's best for your students in the long run. You see your work as an investment in a brighter future and a better tomorrow. Some people hold onto the past and the good ole days. Others are only concerned with the pressing matters of today. But you see out into what could be and want to help make it happen. 

9. You believe students should be more excited about learning tomorrow than they are today.

When students develop passion for learning, it doesn't just impact the here and now. A passionate, skilled learner is able to handle just about anything life throws at them. 

10. You believe learning is for life and not just the next grade level.

Being a student is temporary, but learning is for life. We are just getting students ready for a test, or college, or a career. We are preparing them for anything they might face. 

11. You are always striving to grow and learn.

You aren't waiting around for your school to 'develop' you. You take ownership for your own personal and professional growth. You want to keep getting better so your students can be better too. You know when teachers are growing, that's the best school improvement plan ever.

12. You want to inspire your students to create a brighter future and a better world.

Your students aren't just ready for the future, they are ready to make a difference in the future. Pursuing truth, justice, and equality are essentials for you. You are helping to create the future by inspiring your students to be world changers.

13. You believe your attitude sets the tone.

You model the attitude and mindset you want to see in others. You are positive even when things are tough. You give of yourself to others without expecting anything in return.

14. You want to connect with other educators.

We are each other's best resources. We must be collectively awesome. You want to partner with others and work together to create better schools and unstoppable learning. Nothing's more powerful than a group of committed educators who believe they can solve any problem together.

15. You see yourself as a leader.

When you see something that could be better or a need that could be met, you are willing to step forward and lead. You are the type of person others want to follow, not because you have a position or title, but because of the strength of your character.

16. You see yourself as a digital leader.

You know that our world is increasingly digital and that seismic shifts are happening as a result of technological innovation. You want your students to know how to leverage their skills using digital tools. You want to model digital learning.

17. You value better thinking, not just right answers.

You start with questions and look to push thinking deeper. You want your students to be adaptable learners and skilled critical thinkers. It's not just about getting a right answer. It's about learning to solve problems and create knowledge.

What else is important to you as a future driven educator? Your voice matters. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Is Fear Holding You Back?

We are only born into this world with two natural fears. 

Any guesses on what those might be?



Public speaking?


Nope. It's not any of those. Most people have some fear of each of those, except for maybe cheese. A friend of mine is a clinical psychologist, and he had a client who was actually terrified of cheese. A life without cheese? Is that really any kind of life to live? Fortunately, he was able to help this poor soul overcome this fear.

The two natural fears we are actually born with are the fear of heights and the fear of loud sounds. That's it. All of the other fears we experience are later developments and not hard-wired into our DNA. In other words, fear is a choice. It is a function of the thoughts we choose. Sometimes (rarely) it is a helpful choice. But more often, it is a crippling choice.

The last couple of weeks all of our teachers have been working on developing personal goals and growth plans for this year. At times, I sense some people are reluctant to really commit to their own growth. Others are more willing to go out on a limb and take a risk.

I have to wonder if fear is a factor in the reluctance to be bold and audacious about our own growth and goals. Who wants to be mediocre? I don't think anyone really wants that. So why settle for something safe and small. Fear perhaps?

What are some fears that might hold us back? Adam Smith lists 10 fears in his book, The Bravest You: 

Fear of inadequacy
Fear of failure
Fear of uncertainty
Fear of failure
Fear of rejection
Fear of missing out
Fear of change
Fear of losing control
Fear of being judged
Fear of something bad happening

Fear has no favorites. We all have to face it. However, we don't have to submit to its crippling influence. In the video below, the words from the late Steve Jobs really bring perspective to fear and making the most of the time we have. The following phrases really jumped out at me.

"If you knew you were going to die today."

"Avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."

"You are already naked."

"There is no reason not to follow your heart."

So consider this question, "If you had no fear what would you do?"

We all have the opportunity either run from our fears or to run toward our dreams. You have the opportunity for greatness. We all do. We are not intended to shrink away in this life and in the words of the poet Dylan Thomas "go gently into that good night."

Are you running from your fears? Or, are you running toward your dreams?

Be bold. Take risks.

You deserve it. And your kids deserve it too. 

At the end of the day, you will most likely regret the risks you didn't take and not the ones you did.

What risks are you taking this school year? How are you being bold in the pursuit of your dreams? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I want to hear from you.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Does Your Classroom Inform, Inspire, and Entertain?

Sketchnote by @woodard_julie

I recently had a conversation with someone who was preparing some remarks for an event where he was receiving an award. I was asking him about his speech, and he said he was aiming to inform, inspire, and entertain. I thought that was spot on. He laughed and said he heard that somewhere, and just thought it was really true about a good speech.

It made me think of school and learning. Teachers really must try to do those things also. In my first year in the classroom, I taught 7th grade social studies, but the next year I moved to the high school to teach English. When I was interviewing for the high school position, the principal asked me how my approach would be different working with older students. 

I said I didn't think I would have to entertain them as much. The principal objected. She said you need to be just as creative and engaging with the older students. It was really good advice.

Some teachers really hate the idea of entertaining. Not everyone feels like they are cut out for that. And some don't feel like they should have to do that. 

But I think all three are important, including an element of entertainment. It's probably more true today than ever. In fact, edutainment is actually a thing. Look at TED talks. They are extremely popular because they inform, inspire, and entertain. The most popular ones do this extraordinarily well.

Sometimes, I think we get in a pattern of only informing or delivering instruction but don't focus on how we are going to inspire or entertain. All three of these are needed to really make learning irresistible. 

We need to inform to increase understanding and make meaning.

We need to inspire to infuse learning with a sense of meaning and purpose.

We need to entertain to ignite the wonder, awe, and whimsy of learning.

I challenge you to think about your classroom. How are you seeking to not only inform, but to also inspire and entertain? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I want to hear your thoughts to take the conversation deeper.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Are Today's Kids Different?

Sometimes I hear people complain about kids nowadays. I can tell you it doesn't really set too well with me. Sure, there are examples of kids making poor choices. There are kids who are lazy. Some are selfish. We know they are into their devices. But hey, so are we. And there are some challenges they have now we probably didn't have when we were growing up.

But I can tell you I'm going to defend our kids. I'm going to challenge them, but I'm also going to defend them. I'm going to remind everyone of the amazing things our students are doing. I'm going to share the incredible work of the ones who are leading up and lifting up every day. They are making our school a better place. They are making our world a better place.

And even when they make mistakes or show up with all the baggage any of us can bring, I'm not going to stop believing in them. They are the future. Most kids want to do the right thing. But like all of us, they are still learning and finding their way. And some of them haven't had the best examples. 

They need someone to lift them up and believe in them. I can tell you with certainty, you'll have far more influence on kids by believing in them than by doubting them. If you want to make a difference, stop doubting kids. They're not going to rise above your low expectations. They need you to believe in them.

Today, we held our semi-annual academic banquet to celebrate the success of some of our students. I know some people on Twitter have written about not having award ceremonies and that type of thing because it can reinforce a fixed mindset and not acknowledge the growth of other learners who are achieving but may never get recognized. I get it. We need to notice the good work all students are doing.

But at the same time, I'm not going to apologize for recognizing kids who have achieved at a high level. They even had to miss part of the Kansas City Chiefs (Go Chiefs!) game to join us for lunch and a short program. It's a great opportunity to interact with parents and say thank you.

I asked a few students on short notice to talk about the Bolivar Way (see the visual below). It's become our mantra. It guides most everything we do.

I was blown away by the comments our students had about the importance of questions and curiosity.

About making excellence a personal mission and doing your best.

About lifting up others and being a great friend and teammate.

About leading and showing others the way. And to never give up even when it's tough. 

I was amazed by the comments and was totally pumped about this year and what's happening in our school. Our students are "making us better." I'm so proud of them.

So if you want to complain about kids these days, I'm probably not the person who is going to commiserate with you. But what I would like to talk about is how things are different today than when we were kids. Things seem increasingly complex and uncertain. Change is accelerating. The ability to adapt and learn is more important than ever.

So instead of talking about how kids these days need to change, let's talk about how schools need to change to meet the needs of today's kids. 

We owe it to them to teach the enduring principles that will help them succeed. And we need to teach them the skills that are going to be uniquely necessary for this generation. 

Let's challenge the status quo at every turn and build on the positives. Let's create schools that are relevant and passionate. Fill your school with laughter, hope, friendship, purpose, curiosity, creativity, and togetherness.

What kind of culture does your school have? Are you complaining about kids these days? Or, are you investing in kids these days? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. And keep being great!
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