Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Lesson On Gratitude

Tis the season of gratitude and thanksgiving, and the video below had me thinking about what it means to be grateful.

Have you ever heard the saying, "You started at third base but you thought you hit a home run?" The idea is that sure you are successful, you hit a home run, but it was due to the advantages you had as much as it was due to the way you hit the ball. After all, you started at third base.

The video below illustrates the idea of social and economic advantage and how these advantages can impact chances for future success. It's undeniable that certain starting points in life can create greater opportunities for success.

I think this video could be a great launching point for discussions with students. There is plenty to think about and even to critique. It's powerful, but there are plenty of opportunities for critical thinking.

So who should be grateful in this video? Some might say the kids with the most advantages. They have more to start with than the others after all. It's statistically true that people with those advantages tend to be more successful on average than those who do not.

But here's the thing about gratitude, it should not be dependent only on having more or even having enough. Gratitude is a state of mind that is available to all of us all of the time. 

After all, if you aren't grateful for what you have now, what makes you think you would be grateful if you had more? Unless you make a choice to be grateful in all things, how will it ever be enough?

It's very difficult to adopt this mindset in our consumer driven culture. Even in the video, the end goal is a $100 bill. We are constantly reminded of what we don't have. But life is not about racing past someone else to win. It's not about having the most money or toys.

Life has far more to offer than economic success. Some of the poorest people in the world live the most meaningful, happiest lives. They are finding joy in life in spite of having very little material wealth. Every day presents its blessings or burdens. We choose our focus.

Everyone has challenges in life and everyone has opportunities. Sure, some have more challenges and some have less, but everyone has the opportunity to choose two things: thoughts and actions. 

Will you choose to focus on your blessings or your burdens? Will you choose actions that lead to blessings or ones that lead to burdens?

Stephen Covey wrote, "I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions."

Ultimately, I believe this is true. We can rise above circumstances, eventually. It may not happen as fast as we'd like. There are many stories of people who have risen above, people who are overcomers. There are people who have overcome terrible hardships and horrific circumstances, even abuse and neglect. If it is true for some, why can't it be true for all?

For all the problems we have in this country, there are still incredible opportunities, even if the deck is stacked against some more than others. Are there inequities? Absolutely. Should we be satisfied with a system that works against some? Absolutely not. But there are also tremendous opportunities for those who choose to rise above.

We need to help all students learn to be grateful even in the midst of challenges. Why? The research is clear (Harvard Health)
Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Gratitude is an empowering state of mind. It helps us realize that we have blessings in our life. It also helps us offer blessings into the lives of others. 

There may be difficulties and disparities in our world. There always have been injustices and as long a human being are running this planet, that will probably continue to be true.

I would summarize my response to the video I shared with two questions:

1. Who will you lift up?
2. What will you rise above?

Who will you lift up? You have gifts to give. You can be hope and help to someone else. You can lift up someone who might need a helping hand.

What will you rise above? There will be challenges. There will be obstacles. But you have everything you need to be great. Just keep moving in the direction of your dreams.

What's on your mind? I'd like to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Facebook or Twitter

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Don't Let What's Urgent Keep You From What's Important

I bet you are a fantastic problem solver. Most educators have developed this ability because problems come at you all day long. And you make hundreds of decisions from dawn till dusk.

Our time is a precious resource that can be extremely scarce because of all the demands we face. If we're not careful, the tyranny of the urgent will consume us and may crowd out time for what's most important.

Can we agree that the things that are most urgent are often not the most important? Reflect on your day. There were things you felt had to be done. But at what cost?

When you spend all your time dealing with urgent matters, not considering what things would have the highest leverage for success, you are simply spinning your wheels. Lots of activity not going anywhere.

Benjamin Franklin dedicated 5 hours of his week to learning. His personal growth and learning was a priority. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Oprah Winfrey also share this personal commitment to learn at least one hour a day and probably more.

You will never reach your growth potential if you are captive to the urgent.

We did a strengths finder with our staff about a year ago. It was a survey instrument that gave us feedback on our strength areas. We shared these out in a meeting and enjoyed reflecting on how our differences make us collectively strong.

But we all got a chuckle when I asked for teachers to raise their hands if love of learning (one of the characteristics) made their top five strengths. Surprisingly, in this sizable group of educators, only 2-3 teachers had it in their top five.

Of course, I think our teachers love learning. But I also wonder how much of a priority we are giving to our own growth and learning. I challenge you to spend at least 5 hours a week learning and see how it impacts your effectiveness.

For me, my learning each week involves reading, blogging, connecting with other educators on Twitter, and thinking and reflecting. 

Make time to support your own growth and learning and watch how it influences the learning and growth of your students.

The most successful people in the world are extremely busy and they are still finding time to read and learn consistently. Don't let the urgent things rule over you. Take back what's important and invest in your own growth.

How are you growing and making time for the 5-hour rule? What are you reading? Leave a comment below or share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

11 Things You Might Unintentionally Be Communicating to Your Students

Some things we communicate intentionally. And sometimes when we fail to communicate intentionally, we send a message that we didn't mean to send.

Here are 11 things you might unintentionally be communicating to your students.

1. When you don't wait for all students to get quiet and give you their attention before you start talking, you might be communicating that it's not really important that they listen to you.

2. If you complain about the school, other teachers, or the way things are, your students will probably think it's okay to be negative about the school, other teachers, and probably your classroom too.

3. When you pass a student in the hall or they enter your room and you don't say hello or call them by name, they may think you don't really care about them.

4. If you give a grade for every assignment or activity and talk about how "this or that is going to be on the test," your students may think your class is more about grades than learning.

5. If the questions you ask have just one correct answer, there's a good chance your students will think your class is all about right answers, not about being better thinkers.

6. If you only recognize the 'A' students or celebrate the kids who have high test scores, that may communicate that only the 'smart' kids matter and that growth is not valued.

7. If you make mistakes in front of your students and then act defensive or embarrassed, you might be sending the message that only perfection is accepted and risk taking is not appreciated.

8. When you break a school policy or act like the rules are no big deal, you might send the message you don't really value a culture of respect and shared responsibility.

9. If you aren't intentional about making your classroom innovative and future driven, you may be sending the message to students that what their parents learned in school will be good enough for them too.

10. When you come in dragging, lack energy, or just don't give your best, you might be communicating to students that it's okay to try hard only when you feel like it.

11. If you don't give students choices in their learning or opportunities to pursue their passions, they may view learning as more about compliance than actually being about...well...learning.

We have to be very careful about what we are communicating. Kids are always watching. They want to see alignment between our words and actions. They are looking to see what we really think, what we really believe, and how much we really care about them.

What is being communicated in your school unintentionally? I think that's a good question to consider. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What If We Aimed for Collective Greatness?

This summer I heard Ron Clark speak and tell his story of how he became one of our nation's most celebrated teachers and ultimately founded the Ron Clark Academy. It's truly an inspiring story for educators. 

He came into education almost by accident. He was only going to teach temporarily until something better came along. But then he started to love it. And the kids loved him. And he was having unbelievable success, even with the most challenging students. He was setting very high expectations, and he was creating learning experiences that were irresistible.

And then the principal of the school came to him and said, "Why are you being so showy? You're making the other teachers very uncomfortable." 

He was getting fantastic results. He was bringing passion, enthusiasm, and energy to the classroom. Kids were learning. Kids were having fun learning. Test scores were skyrocketing. You would think everyone would want to replicate what Mr. Clark was doing, right? You would think they would want to learn from him, right?


Years ago, after I had given a suggestion to a teacher about a practice another teacher was using, I was surprised by the response.

"Oh, she runs circles around all of us."

The teacher said this with a measure of envy and a touch of self-defeat. It seemed like she was saying she could never do that. I hadn't intended there to be a comparison between the two teachers. I was just sharing that so-and-so tried this one practice and it seemed to work.

Average minds want other people to have average minds too. They feel threatened by the boldness and daring of those who want to do something great. How dare you try to be great? You're making us look bad. You're making me uncomfortable.

So what kind of dreams do you have? What kind of difference are you trying to make? If you want others to be comfortable and accepting of you, maybe you should keep those hopes and dreams just a little smaller.

When you dream big and want to do more, be prepared for opposition from mediocre minds. There will always be naysayers who want to protect the status quo. They want to retreat to average and aim for nothing greater.

But you are different. You have gifts that you want to use. Everyone has gifts if they are willing to take the risk of using them. You aren't going to waste them. Don't waste your gift! 

People may not always appreciate your gift, but don't let that stop you from using it. Don't let someone else keep you from pursuing excellence.

Find those people who will allow you to change, grow, develop, expand, and be great. Better yet, find those people who will challenge you and encourage you to be great. Be around people who lift you up and want to see you dream big. 

Keep dreaming big.

If you want to be a difference maker, you have to be a risk taker. Your students will reach their potential only if you are willing to unleash your own potential. It's never a competition to be better than the teacher down the hall. Everyone has greatness in them. 

They should want to be great too! We want them to be great too!

We should all be pursuing greatness together, cheering each other on, celebrating each other's successes, and learning from one another. 

That's what we are ultimately pursuing. We want collective greatness. We want to create a school where excellence is everywhere. Not just pockets of excellence. We want a school where kids are experiencing learning that will literally change the course of their lives.

What can you do to further your dreams and help your school find collective greatness? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. Be great!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

9 Ways to Shift the Energy in the Classroom

The current generation of students is dealing with more stress and anxiety than ever before. I'm sure there are many reasons for this, but regardless of the causes we must work to help address the reality.

Here are the stats as reported in an article from Time:
A study of national trends in depression among adolescents and young adults published in the journal Pediatrics on November 14, 2016 found that the prevalence of teens who reported an MDE in the previous 12 months jumped from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.5% in 2014. That’s a 37 percent increase. (An MDE is defined as a period of at least two weeks of low mood that is present in most situations. Symptoms include low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, and problems with sleep, energy and concentration.)
We hear the stories every day of kids fighting depression, feeling overwhelmed, struggling with problems with friends, parents, or both. There seem to be more kids than ever who are no longer living with parents at all.

And here's the thing, if you are depressed or filled with anxiety, how are you going to focus your energy on learning? You probably won't unless you shift your thinking. Or unless something in your environment helps you shift your thinking.

One of our teachers commented, "I want my class to be an oasis for students. For the time they are in my class, I want it to be so good they forget the problems on the outside."

So how do you do that? How can you help kids shift energy from a focus on problems to a focus on learning? 

Here's what won't work.

"Class, yesterday we worked on such and such and today we will do such and such. So let's get started."

Ready, set, go.

It's an abrupt attempt to start learning. That won't work because a bunch of kids in class are still thinking about how bad they feel, what was said to them that's hurtful, or how they are going to deal with that personal problem. They are distracted. They aren't emotionally in a good place to learn.

I believe every learner would benefit from more 'right-brain' directed starters in class. Lead with something that helps them access positive emotions, creativity, empathy, and connection.

It might take a few minutes to plan and execute these strategies, but it will be well worth it. In the end, there will be more learning by  helping students get the right focus. Start class by shifting the energy. Get kids in the right mindset first.

So here are 9 possibilities to make this happen. Find ways to open your class with one or more of these. And, look for ways to have these things show up throughout your class, too. It will help to inspire learning. 

1. Humor - Tell a joke, make fun of yourself, or do something zany and off the wall.

2. Music - Play upbeat music as students are coming into class. It's amazing how the right music can put us in a different mood. 

3. Relaxed Breathing - Slow, deep breathing and quiet relaxation can help students to calm body and mind.

4. Imagination - Have kids write or share with each other on topics that require imagination. What if you could time travel? What time would you visit? Why?

5. Drama - Create some fun drama in the class. Have a debate about something ridiculous. Launch an investigation. Make it absurd. Be over the top.

6. Play - Toss a ball around the class. Have a quick game. Nothing too competitive. Just bring some whimsy and playfulness to class. 

7. Movement - Stand up and stretch. Give a high five to someone. Or go for a quick walk outside of class.

8. Sharing Gratitude - Ask students to share something they're thankful for. Help them be grateful for the little things.

9. Stories - Share stories real and imagined. Find out what's going on in their lives. I always had some winning stories that I told just about every year. Kids were on the edge of their seats.

These techniques are not intended to treat anxiety or depression, but they can temporarily relieve the symptoms. Of course, students who have depressive disorders need professional help. But for the time they are in your classroom, maybe you can help them focus on learning by using these strategies.

What do you think? Do you have other ideas for shifting the energy in your classroom? I listed several general categories. I would love to hear your specific ideas. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Fewer Excuses, More Solutions

What stands in the way of a brighter future and better schools? 

Well, mostly people. 

People who tell others they can't or won't.

People who crush dreams and steal hope.

People who won't be parents to their kids.

People just showing up and going through the motions.

People who want higher test scores more than inspired learning.

People who cling to the past like it's a security blanket.

People who protect the status quo.

People making decisions for schools who are removed from the realities of what schools face.

People who spew hate and discord.

People who don't make kids a priority.

People who are selfish.

People who turn on each other, or a good leader, when something goes wrong instead of battening down the hatches.

People who make performance in sports or academics or anything more important in a kid's life than being a person of high character and respect.

People who make their own comfort their primary concern.

People who are petty.

People who complain about other people. I hate that!

People who are negative, pessimistic, or who go on rants. Rants are the worst!

Well, that felt good. But the problem is the more I think about the items on my rant list, I realize I'm probably guilty of many at some time or another. Like complaining or ranting. Ha! 

As they say, it takes one to know one. In fact, someone suggested the things we tend to like the least in ourselves, we often magnify in others. In other words, we're more likely to see faults in others in areas we too have struggles. 

And here's the other thing, it doesn't do any good to complain about what other people need to do. We need fewer excuses and more solutions. We need less focus on problems and more focus on actions. It starts with us. I cannot control another person, but I can control me. 

I can encourage.

I can reach out.

I can step out.

I can lead up.

I can lift up.

I can never give up.

I can be the change I want to see. 

I can set the example. 

I can keep growing and giving. 

I can dream of a better future.

I can work to be stronger myself, cause I have plenty of room to grow and learn. 

I'd like to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Are Innovative Teachers Happier?

I remember a post from George Couros about a teacher sharing how innovation had helped with improving classroom management. The educator reported that "the more innovative I have become, the less classroom management I have to deal with."

It was a great post, and I think the idea definitely has merit. Recently, I've noticed another thing. It seems like educators who have the inclination to take risks, innovate, and empower students, seem to have more energy and seem more satisfied in their jobs. 

It seems like innovative educators are happier. They seem more optimistic. They seem to have more hope. 

When they face problems, they see lots of possibilities to address the issue. They are willing to try different solutions. They aren't always expecting something outside of their control to change. They look to themselves first or partner with colleagues to find solutions instead of expecting a different structure, schedule, program, etc. to make the difference.

There are so many highly committed educators working extremely hard, putting in a ton of effort, who seem to be carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Sometimes they are trying to 'will' students to learn, but the methods they are using are the same ones they used last year or the year before that. They are just pushing harder with the same methods.

The innovative teacher will ask, "What might work with this group of students?" The innovative teacher is willing to try just about anything to reach these kids, all of them. These teachers are working hard too, but they are willing to change and be creative and step way out of their comfort zone to help kids learn.

They aren't just working harder. They are becoming more flexible in their thinking. There might be a better way to do this. They look for ways to make learning work better for kids instead of trying to force kids to adjust to how learning works in this class.

But why do they seem happier? More satisfied?

I think it's because they are hopeful for the future. They believe a better outcome is possible if they keep growing and learning. Other teachers are attached to their methods, their way of doing things, and when it keeps failing, well, that's quite disheartening.

The happiest teachers are the ones who are connecting, learning, trying new things and believing that even though things might be tough now, things can and will get better. 

So what do you think? Are innovative people happier? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook
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