Friday, August 3, 2018

Aiming for a Breakthrough


Most people get to a certain level of effectiveness in life, work, relationships, etc. and then just hit cruise control. It's normal to just get comfortable and then go with the status quo. The current level of success becomes a sort of boundary they don't cross. They grow content with how things are. After all, things are pretty good.

It feels safe.

But that's not the way to create continual and extraordinary growth or develop amazing classrooms or schools. For me, I want to be relentless in pursuing a breakthrough or tipping point, where we go from good to great.

I want to remove the limits. I believe most people (teachers, students, principals, etc.) have incredible reserves of untapped talent and possibility that goes unrealized. How can we create an environment that brings out greatness?

It means taking risks.

Most schools have tremendous capacity that isn't being realized. The school is the people. And when the people in the school aren't pushing the limits, we settle for much less than is possible. And that's not to devalue the work anyone is doing. It's just saying, I believe in you. And I believe each of us has capacity to do so much more. I want more for you.

Our work matters too much to settle for less. Kids are counting on us. There is a future at stake. We can be the difference.

Mediocrity isn't being bad at something. Some people get caught up in mediocrity and they're actually pretty good at what they do. They just become content with being pretty good at what they do. 

Mediocrity is being satisfied with the status quo. It embraces apathy. It’s choosing, either intentionally or unintentionally, to stay the same. 

Excellence, on the other hand, is not necessarily being good at something. A first year teacher may not be a great teacher yet. They may really struggle. But they can have a relentless pursuit of improvement. They are excellent, not because of their current level of performance, but because they seek growth at every turn. They are pushing their limits.

Excellence is always striving to change, learn, and grow. It’s making the choice to get better every day.

So don't aim for just good enough. Don't even aim for a little better. Aim for a breakthrough. Set out to be a game changer.

Unfortunately, there are far more examples of mediocrity than excellence. Mediocrity is easy. Excellence is hard. When you notice someone who is doing something with excellence, take note. Learn from them. 

What will you do this year to aim for excellence and be a game changer in your school? Don't be satisfied with just a little better. Let's push the boundaries and unleash greatness. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, July 27, 2018

What Story Are You Telling Yourself?


When you think about your students, what stories are you telling yourself about them? I've been guilty of buying into limiting stories about who they are, where they come from, or what they're capable of.

Of course, I care about all of our kids and strive to treat them all with dignity and respect. But it's easy to see them a certain way if I'm not careful. It's easy to make judgments. There are subtle thoughts and feelings. I might believe a story that casts some as most likely to succeed and others as at-risk or some other label.

It's almost effortless to impose our stories on them or accept the limiting stories others believe about them without a question.

They don't have a chance.

They're victims of their environment.

They don't have the right parents, the right influences, the right resources. 

They have an IEP. 

They're low functioning.

They're a behavior problem.

They're lazy.

They don't care about school.

They'll never make it in college.

We can easily make all kinds of assumptions even without thinking. 

I've seen on Twitter recently the idea that we shouldn't judge a student by the chapter of their story we walk in on. That is a powerful thought. So true! We all know people who've had difficult back stories who were probably judged as incapable or unlikely to succeed.

And yet, they made it.

Some famous examples include Albert Einstein, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln and many others. Not only did they make, they became world changers.

I'm gonna try harder to never tell myself a story about a kid that says they can't because of where they live, what kind of home they come from, the trauma they've experienced, or anything else that limits their possibilities.

Things that have been true in the past don't have to be true for the future. Alan Cohen writes "our history is not our destiny."

As educators, we cannot buy into the idea that because a kid comes from the wrong side of the tracks, lacks resources, or has a difficult home environment they have limited capacity.

As I wrote in Future Driven
Treat all of your students like future world changers. I know there are some who are difficult, disrespectful, and disengaged. But don't let that place limits on what they might accomplish someday. Believe in their possibilities and build on their strengths.
Kids can overcome any obstacle placed in their way. Don't believe it? How can you know what might be possible with effort, enthusiasm, and continuous learning? 

And when no one else in the world is seeing a kid for the genius of what's inside them, it's time for educators to step up and be the ones who find that spark. 

No limits. No excuses.

What story are you telling yourself? What story are you believing about yourself? What story are you believing about your students?

The culture on the inside of your school must be stronger than the culture on the outside. There are so many outside voices telling kids what they can't do, and it's no wonder that kids start to believe it.

Every school needs every adult who works there to believe in the possibilities of their students, who will push them to greatness every day, who show them how to reach higher and go further. They may have limits crashing down on them from the external realities they live with, but we can help unleash the greatness they have within them. We can help them overcome and break through the limits.

What are specific ways we can help students realize they have greatness within? How can we unleash the potential they have to pursue their unlimited capacity? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, July 20, 2018

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. 

What if everyone in your school tried to get a little better at these five things every day? Wow! That would be an amazing school culture.

1. Connect with your students.

Learn your students' names...on the first day. Greet them at the door. Make eye contact. Smile. Ask them questions. Ask them their opinion about a movie or type of music or your teaching. Joke with them. Offer fist bumps and high fives. Know at least two things about each student that have nothing to do with school. 

2. Invest in your students.

Believe in your students. Look for opportunities to affirm their strengths. Build them up. Show your approval. You will have far more influence if they know you're in their corner. Plant seeds in their mind of the great things they will do in their future. Treat them like future world changers. "You're going places. You're going to do great things." Then point out how their incredible strengths will take them far.

3. Personalize learning for your students.

Meet students where they are. Get to know their passions and look for opportunities to connect learning to those interests. Provide experiences that allow individual strengths and personality to shine. Place responsibility on your students and let them know you trust them. Never teach down to your students. Teach them in ways that empower them as learners. 
  • How often do your students have input on how they will learn?
  • How often do your students have input on what they will learn?
  • Are your students given opportunities to lead conversations?
  • Are your classroom goals developed by the teacher alone or in partnership with students?
  • Do your students have some time to pursue their own goals?
  • How often do you ask your students for feedback on their experience in your classroom?

4. Give time and attention to your students.

Notice when a student is having a bad day. Offer encouragement. Make eye contact. Stop and really listen. There are so many people and things clamoring for your attention. To give your attention to something is an amazing gift. Too often we make our plans a higher priority than our purpose. Our purpose might be to connect with our students, but what about our plans for today? Can we let go of those for a couple of minutes?

You can also give time and attention by making that positive phone call home, writing that note of encouragement, or attending that ballgame or concert after school.

5. Forgive your students.

Every kid deserves a fresh start in your classroom every day. Time spent holding onto yesterday means less time moving forward today. Forgiveness protects the relationship. It allows you to set aside those frustrating moments with a kid and believe today can be better. It's part of being able to enjoy your students...all of them. They're kids and they're not always going to show up well in your classroom. If you enjoy them and take delight in them, even with their imperfections, you'll feel better about yourself and enjoy teaching far more.

I think we can all continue to grow in our ability to build stronger relationships. What ideas do you have for building relationships in your classroom or school? How will you grow stronger in this area? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, July 9, 2018

7 Characteristics of People with a Strong Sense of Purpose


Daniel Pink wrote about purpose in his best-seller, Drive. He said there are three things that motivate creative peopleautonomy, mastery, and purpose. If we want to create a highly motivating environment in our schools, that also values creativity, it won't happen by control and compliance or rewards and punishments. 

It will only happen when we provide opportunities for meaningful work, both for teachers and students. We should always be concerned with cultivating meaningful work.

A sense of purpose gives the work relevance. I wonder what most kids think about the purpose for coming to school. It's mandatory. It's required. It's how I can get into college and get a good job someday. My parents make me. It's important to my parents. At least I see my friends there. The purpose is to get good grades, perhaps? It's something to be endured. Yikes!

I wonder what would happen if we really focused on helping students find deeper meaning and purpose in their school experience? What if we intentionally helped students find purpose and meaning in learning? Why isn't that a class we offer? Actually it should be part of every class. Sometimes I think the most important things are completely overlooked.

If school elicited a stronger sense of purpose, what benefits would we see? Here are 7 characteristics of people with purpose. I'm sure there are high-purpose people in your school. I just think we need more of them for sure.

1. High purpose people are willing to take more risks.

They will step out of their comfort zone to move forward because they have a reason to be bold. They know their why. They see the importance of what they're doing and want to make a difference. Ultimately, risk takers learn more because they don't retreat from challenges.

2. They're open to new possibilities.

Most people see problems. And they want conventional solutions. But people with purpose see possibilities. They don't let problems hold them back. When some people see challenges and obstacles, people with purpose look for opportunities to move forward and learn and grow. 

3. They have more energy and emotion about what they're doing.

People with high purpose have passion for what they're doing. They are deeply committed. They are intellectually connected to what they're doing, but they're also emotionally connected. They also feel it. They feel passion for their purpose.

4. They have no time for petty disputes or social drama.

Ever wonder how people can get distracted by petty disputes or social drama? It's lack of purpose. People who are mission focused won't allow themselves to drift from what's most important. 

5. They're intentional.

High purpose people aren't just going through the motions. Every day is valuable. The wake up determined and go to bed satisfied. They have important work to do. They want to grow and see progress.

6. They don't allow limits and naysayers to hold them back.

People who lack purpose get very uncomfortable around people with strong purpose. They may even mock their efforts and say it can't be done or point out the obstacles standing in the way. But people with purpose don't let these people bring them down. They just try to bring them along. 

7. They're willing to make repeated efforts.

People who lack purpose may try for a moment or a day. But they quickly get discouraged. They want results, but they don't want to grind. They aren't committed enough to the purpose to apply effort consistently until the mission is accomplished. The goal is too important to give up just because it's hard.

What's your purpose? You might consider writing a personal mission statement to clarify what drives you to do great work. What gives your life direction? Let me know your thoughts on creating a stronger sense of purpose for educators and students. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Don't Ask For More Until You're Willing to Risk More


Strong leaders have strong visions for their schools. They feel a constant tension between how things are and how they could be. And leaders want to see progress toward the vision. And progress toward the vision is great, but it comes at a cost if leaders aren't careful.

People must never feel diminished at the expense of the vision.

I would challenge leaders to consider this question. Why do you provide learning opportunities for your teachers? I'm guessing the most common answer would be it's for the kids and their learning. 

That's a noble goal, right?

It's to help teachers be better so kids can learn more too. It's to move the school forward toward the vision. We have important work to do to be the best we can be, so the kids can be the best they can be.

But here's the translation for many teachers: My current work is not appreciated here. It's never good enough. You're always trying to squeeze more out of me. I'm doing all I can and now you're adding to my plate. My work is not valued here. I feel like I'm being pushed in directions I don't even know if I want to go.

But what if we approached professional learning from a different perspective? What if school leadership focused more on serving teachers and meeting their needs? What if professional learning was more about growing the teacher and not about better test scores or some other outcome?

Let's create a culture of professional learning that values teachers. Let's start with this idea. We want to provide experiences that help teachers get the most out of their work. We want to provide experiences that help you achieve your greatest fulfillment as a teacher. 

We want to provide experiences that offer the highest return on your investment as an educator. 

That's servant leadership. Helping others make a greater impact and find more fulfillment in what they are doing. It's not about squeezing more out of the individual for the sake of the school, the test scores, or even for the kids. It's not about winning at the SMART goals game.

But those things will probably improve too as teachers feel more appreciated, find more fulfillment, and sense they are getting a higher return on their investment as an educator.

There's nothing wrong with leaders asking more of the people they lead. That's what good leaders do. They challenge people to grow their capacity and to use their capacity to the fullest.

But start with why. Reflect on your own motives. Why are you asking more? It has to be to care for your team. Love your team. It has to be for the benefit of each individual first. Help them reach their goals. Help them feel a greater sense of accomplishment. Give them a sense of their own talent, progress, and strengths.

The best leaders are constantly affirming the work that is being done. They are recognizing the strengths and contributions of each team member. The vision is realized as a result of valuing people, encouraging them, and supporting them all along the way.

Leaders: When we ask teachers to risk more and to give more, are we also giving more and risking more for teachers?

The vision for your school is important, but the vision is meaningless if performance is more important than people.

What are some ways you are risking more for you colleagues, caring for them, and increasing the return on investment for others? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, June 22, 2018

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. 

These are all based on important themes from my book, Future Driven. These factors help prepare students for a modern world where continuous learning and adaptability are paramount.

I don't think I would expect any educator to be pursuing all of these indicators at once. And this list should never be used to think in terms of judging a good teacher vs. a bad teacher. So don't look at it like that. The purpose of the list is for reflection and growth.

It might give you an idea of where you want to focus your learning for next school year. You could pick one or two and consider how you might develop the practice in your classroom. It might help you consider your next steps in your growth as an educator.

20 Ways to be Future Driven in Your Classroom

1. I provide opportunities for project-based and inquiry-based learning.

2. I give students choices about learning (time, place, path, or pace).

3. I am learning new things about technology and sharing my learning with students and teachers.

4. My students have opportunities to connect with real-world experts.

5. My classroom learning space provides flexibility for student-centered grouping and learning tasks.

6. My students regularly have opportunities to use digital tools to leverage their skills for learning tasks.

7. I utilize Genius Hour or 20 percent time to provide opportunities for students to pursue their passions and interests.

8. I model risk-taking, grit, and perseverance for students and regularly discuss the importance of these characteristics in class.

9. I build strong relationships by greeting students, calling them by name, and getting to know them as individuals.

10. My students assume considerable responsibility for class discussions. Conversations become student-led, instead of teacher-directed.

11. My students take on projects that make a difference in the community or in the world (service-learning).

12. My students have many opportunities to create work that will be visible to authentic audiences.

13. I am intentional about cultivating curiosity in my students by having them develop their own questions, by allowing exploration, or by creating mystery or intrigue.

14. I ask my students for feedback on my teaching and the relevance of my lessons.

15. Empathy is just as important as responsibility in my classroom.

16. I am focused more on what a child can do and not what he/she cannot do.

17. I think about how the future will be different for my students and strive to teach with that in mind.

18. My students have opportunities to experiment with different approaches, rather than just practicing a predetermined method.

19. Character is more important than compliance in my classroom.

20. My students have many chances to take initiative, not just follow directions.

What other practices do you think are important for relevant, future ready learning? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Is Positivity an Excuse for Silencing Opposing Viewpoints?



There's been some push back recently on Twitter against the whole idea of positive attitude as a good thing. It gave me some things to think about, because in general, I've found a positive mindset to be a source of strength in my life. I've even written several posts about positive thinking, including this one:

10 Thoughts On Positive Attitude to Share With Your Team

A positive school is built on positive moments. It doesn't just happen by accident. Every interaction counts. It takes a concerted effort on the part of everyone to create an environment that is awesome. So what are some things everyone should know to be more positive in their own mindset and help contribute to that positive environment we all want?
How could someone not be in favor of having a positive outlook? I was curious and a little puzzled by some of the responses I've seen to the idea of having a positive attitude. I wanted to know more.

So here are some of the arguments I've seen. Keep in mind I'm doing my best to synthesize, so if you're in the anti-positive thinking camp, let me know if I'm missing the point.

1. Calls for a positive attitude are one way the dominant culture silences critics and those with opposing viewpoints. By asking me to have a positive attitude, you are refusing to acknowledge my experience and my suffering. I'm not allowed to speak my mind or share my experience without being labeled a negative person.

2. Positive thinking is not the solution to mental health issues. To the contrary, it's part of the mental health crisis. It's no longer okay to feel negative emotions like sadness, fear, isolation, hopelessness, or anger. If you feel those emotions, you're not being positive, and that's not okay.  The pressure to feel positive all the time is too much, and so when I don't, I feel further devalued and unable to measure up.

3. Sharing positive thoughts is empty of meaning. It's not doing the real work of challenging injustice or working to understand those who are oppressed or those who are suffering. Instead of sharing something "positive," share something that demands justice or calls out oppressive forces. In other words, raise some hell to demand change. That's doing something positive.

I think those are some really good reasons to push back against positive thinking, if you define and understand being positive in a certain way. I think there are some nuances to the idea of being positive that are important for the idea to work, otherwise it's just a thought that we should all be happy all the time, and that's just not helpful.

Here's how I would respond to the three concerns about positive thinking.

1. Being positive doesn't mean everyone has to be agreeable and have the same opinions. But it does mean we express our opinions in ways that are productive and helpful. In a school, leaders need to encourage productive conflict and invite critical dialogue. I want people around me to push my thinking and challenge my ideas. That's how we get better. 

But I'm guessing...in some cases, leaders are silencing voices who are simply expressing a different viewpoint and using positive attitude as the reason. Either you agree with me or you obviously don't have a positive attitude? It's one or the other. That type of thinking is not effective.

2. Being positive doesn't mean you're happy all the time. I think believing you should be happy all the time does result in complications to mental health. We need to feel all our feelings, the positive and negative ones. The truth is none of our feeling are truly negative. They're not bad. They're just feelings. They come and go. And as humans, all of them are legitimate. Being positive is the ability to experience the array of human emotions and respond to them in ways that are helpful. 

In response to every emotion, we have the choice in what we do with it. How do we hold that emotion in our mind and how do we think about it? Do we listen to what our emotions tell us and let them take us down whatever path they choose? Or, do we choose the path for our emotions? Do we point them in a direction we want them to go? We're not repressing them or denying them. It's important to fully acknowledge how we feel, but then choose to use that emotion as fuel to go in some positive direction in life. I'm going to use this pain or sorrow for good in this certain way.

Of course, this is always a process. There are times I do not handle my emotions in productive ways. And that results in strain on my relationships or sticky situations as a leader. I've often had to apologize for times I allowed my emotions to choose the path.

3. Sharing positive thoughts are empty of meaning if they are empty of meaning. But they don't have to be. In fact, the person who can communicate difficult, hard truths in a positive way is a wise person. There is wisdom and strength in communicating a difficult message in a way that doesn't offend or alienate. That's making an effort to have dialogue and not a shouting match. I see no benefit to a shouting match. Neither side is really listening. Nothing productive is resulting from this exchange.

And yet, that is how most people seem to be handling conversations these days in regard to our most pressing issues. It's evident all over social media. There is no dialogue. There is no civility. Each side hurls insults, snide remarks, insulting labels, and believes they have the moral high ground. Our way is the right way!!!

It makes me sad when I see educators fall into this same type of behavior. Unfortunately, I've noticed more destructive posts like this recently from educators. We have an obligation to set a good example for our students every day in our classrooms, and also on social media. We have an obligation to do our very best, all the time, to be respectful and positive with our words and actions.

At the same time, it's never okay to silence an opposing viewpoint on the grounds that the person needs to be positive. It's okay to ask someone to communicate respectfully. But it's not okay to silence someone who disagrees.

Let me know your thoughts on all of this. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I always enjoy hearing from you.
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