Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Aiming for Excellence: Whatever You Do, Do It to the Best of Your Ability


We recently held commencement for the graduates of the Bolivar High School Class of 2018. I always like to provide a few words of encouragement for the graduates. The overall theme of my message this year was Aiming for Excellence.

__________________

Class of 2018, you’ve answered lots of questions in high school. But today I want to present you with a couple of different questions. These questions don’t have right or wrong answers, and you won’t be getting a grade. But how you answer these questions will impact the rest of your life: 

1. What’s your purpose? What is your purpose? Or another way of saying it, what is your dream? I believe every person has a specific purpose. There’s a dream in your heart to do something great. Find out what that is. You have a gift. Your voice matters. You were born to make an impact. Find your purpose. Think deeply about this. 

And here's another thing. Every day ask yourself this question:

2. What will I do today to move in the direction of my dreams? How will I carry out my purpose? Dreams without actions will always just be dreams, but if you put your dreams in motion and pursue them with passion, there’s nothing you can’t do. And you’ll leave the world a little better than you found it.

Aiming for Excellence

A couple of years ago, I stopped at Walmart to pick up a few things. I was eager to get home after a long day, and the checkouts were backed up. You all can probably relate to that quick trip into Walmart. Never happens. I randomly picked a line since they were all busy. But this time I picked the right one. Before I knew it I was on my way home. That line moved so fast. It was clear the person working this checkout was doing a great job, not just putting in her time.

When it was almost my turn to checkout, I said to the customer in front of me, "Wow, she really knows how to make that line disappear." The other customer smiled and agreed. I turned to the clerk, "How did you do that? Literally, it was almost like magic.”

She looked up and said, "I love my job." 

I love my job. I...Love...My...Job!!!

That’s what she said. And I thought to myself that’s pretty cool, maybe I need to try for a job at Walmart.

But seriously, it’s not every day you hear someone say that. Lots of places I go people seem miserable in their jobs. You probably see these people too, dragging themselves along with a frown on their face. But not this Walmart cashier. She was going above and beyond. 

She went on to double bag all my cold items, rushed around to help load groceries into the cart, and even made a suggestion about a type of potato chips our family might like similar to the ones I bought. She wasn’t just doing her job. She was aiming for excellence.

What’s your purpose? What will you do today to move in the direction of your dreams? In everything you do, give it your very best. Do more than expected. Be generous in how you treat others. Be faithful in the small things, and you’ll have opportunities to do greater things. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart. Be the best version of you.

More than your talent, your education, or what’s happened in your life to this point, the thing that will determine your success and your future more than anything else is your attitude. Most people tend to see the negative. But did you know that in a study of the best characteristics of leaders, the number one thing people want in a leader is a positive attitude?

Not everything that happens to you will be positive. Life will knock you down. There’ll be obstacles, failures, and disappointments that come your way. When these things happen, get back up. You’ll be a stronger person. When (BHS cross country athlete) Kelie Henderson fell to the ground with the state championship right in front of her (she had a sizable lead at the time), just steps from the finish line, she didn’t quit. In the end, she didn’t win the race, but she showed she’s a winner. Her body shut down on her. But her spirit pushed through, and she crawled the last hundred yards to the finish line. And she inspired us all.

I know many of your stories. Some I do not, regretfully. But I know all of you have faced challenges. Sometimes getting out of bed in the morning felt like a challenge. But you are overcomers. There will be difficulties. But in difficulties there are also opportunities. View your challenges as beneficial. I’ve learned nothing in my life from the easy days. The easy stuff teaches me nothing. But the difficulties, the hardships, and even the pain has taught me so much.

So I leave you with these final thoughts:

#1 Start With Questions - What is your purpose? What will you do today to move in the direction of your dreams?

#2 Aim for Excellence - Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability.

#3 Lead Up - Your positive attitude, more than your talent or expertise, will determine your success.

#4. Lift Up - Be generous with people. Give encouragement and understanding.

#5 Never Give Up - Your struggle will make you stronger. Everything that happens is an opportunity to learn and grow. Never give up. It’s the Bolivar Way.

Class of 2018, I am very proud of you and your accomplishments and it’s been truly an honor to know you and be a part of your high school years. I wish you the best. I believe in you. God bless you all!


Thursday, May 10, 2018

5 Ways to Build Capacity for Solving Problems


In Future Driven, I wrote about how educators often want something that can be implemented quickly. We want something we can learn on Tuesday and use on Wednesday.
We want the strategy that can be used tomorrow. We want the handout, the cheat sheet, the quick fix. The hack. We want solutions that can be tossed in the microwave and heated up when we need them. Even if they taste like crap.
But the best solutions aren't microwave friendly. They come through deliberate practice. They come through deeper thinking. They come by shifting perspective. So kick the quick fix to the curb. Do the hard work of challenging the status quo. Ponder the deeper questions and look at the world in new and interesting ways.
Question everything.
Getting better results doesn't happen by having a magic bullet. There are no magic bullets. Better results come from having a long term perspective and working diligently to make things better now and in the future. We need to have a process for growth we can rely on, not just a quick fix.

Quick fixes usually make things better just for a moment. But looking good is not the same as being good. Looking good is on the surface. It's superficial. We want to actually be good and continue getting better. Ultimately, we want to help students succeed for the long term, not just for today.

Lots of educators are working tirelessly every day to try to make sure students succeed. They are trying to be as productive as they possibly can. They're putting out fires left and right. They're dealing with urgent problems. They're attending workshops to learn new ideas. And trying to implement new ideas.

But many feel like they're spinning their wheels. And it's no wonder.

In the busyness of everything that's urgent, it's really easy to neglect the importance of growing. Are you really examining your own growth? Are you looking inward? Are you developing greater self-awareness? Are you reflecting? And most importantly, are you really investing in building your own capacity?

Schools need to create environments to support educators in the process of growth. We must make sure professionals are given time, encouragement, and opportunity to build their own capacity. Leadership needs to support growth, not just demand productivity.

We focus lots of energy on problems. But how much time are we focusing on how we can become better problem solvers? Too much professional learning seems to try to "teacher-proof" the instructional process. It turns educators into implementers instead of initiators. And that's clearly not professional learning. I believe professional learning should actually help people grow as people and professionals.

One of the best strategies for solving problems is building capacity for solving problems. Everything about your school can be improved as the people in your school grow and learn together, all of them—students, teachers, everyone. The best way to improve a school is for the people in the school to be focused on improving themselves. The entire school becomes a dynamic learning environment.

Here are 5 ways you can be more dynamic in your learning and build your capacity for solving problems:

1. Listen Before You Act

As we get input from our colleagues, mentors and PLN, we can grow into problem-solving before we rush into problem-solving. We become more like the people we spend the most time with. Spend more time with people who are growing and who are capable problem-solvers. Soon, you'll be stronger too. 

2. Think, Don't React

Better schools are built on better thinking. Take the limits off and look at issues from all sides and as objectively as possible. Emotions may say one thing, but careful thought may lead you in a different direction.

3. Test Ideas and Solutions

We can become better problem solvers when we are open to trying creative solutions. Generate lots of ideas and test them. We can't keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Try a slightly different approach. Try a radically different approach. And see what works. Sometimes a massive change is needed.

4. Make Time for Learning

The most successful people make time for learning, not just doing. Benjamin Franklin, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates all follow the 5-hour rule. At least five hours a week should be dedicated to learning something new. Always be learning.

5. Look Within, Reflect

Self-awareness allows us to examine our own thought process. When we take time to reflect, we learn more from our experiences and the experiences of others. Without reflection, we are constrained by our bias, blind spots, and habits. We won't grow as problem-solvers unless we acknowledge the areas where we need to continue to learn and grow.

So what's your reflection on these thoughts? Are you making time to learn and grow? Are you only focused on being productive (checking off your list each day)? Or, are you also focused on building your capacity? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I would love to hear from you.






Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Culture of Compliance or Culture of Character?


Someone with many years in education was visiting our building recently and commented, "I don't think I've ever seen a high school lunch period this quiet." 

I think they caught us on a good day. But it was a nice compliment.

I know our lunches aren't perfect. In fact, there were a few grapes flying around recently too. Kids will be kids, right? But I was a proud principal after hearing the visitor's perspective, because I think it is a small indicator of our culture.

I was speaking with another educator who shared, "At my previous school, we had to have supervision all across the lunch room to keep everyone's behavior in line." It sounded like they had a bunch of people on guard to make sure there weren't any problems.

It's possible to achieve good behaviors by "running a tight ship" or by being "heavy handed." There are lots of ways to influence behavior. And forcing compliance is one way to change behavior. Fear is a way to change behavior. Sticks and carrots are a way to change behavior. 

So don't mistake a culture of compliance for a culture of character. There's a difference in doing the rights things, and doing the right things for the right reasons.

What happens when the adults aren't watching? How will the students act in those situations? That's when character is revealed. We can keep our thumb on them to get what we want, but are we really helping them develop the decision-making and responsibility they need?

I want students to learn why character matters. 

I want them to show empathy.

I want them to be upstanders and not bystanders.

I want students to understand how they treat all people makes a difference. 

I want students to know it's important to be honest, with themselves and with others.

I want students to learn to admit mistakes and move past them in a positive way.

I want to see students take full responsibility.

Ultimately, my goal is to create an environment that brings out the best in our students. I want them to feel supported and valued. And I want them to know I have very high expectations for them, not because of what they do but because of who they are. I believe in you, want the best for you, and I'm here to support you. That's the message I want to send.

I think the traditional model of education has been very focused on compliance. In fact, compliance is often celebrated. I've had parents and teachers talk with admiration about teachers and administrators who ran classrooms and schools with an iron fist. They applaud the strict adherence to commands and rules. I have to admit that used to impress me too. 

But not anymore. I've come to realize that schools can be extremely orderly and run with precision and under the surface have a character deficit. I'm all for discipline, but I want to see that students are taking ownership for their behavior and can self-manage in positive ways. I want to see students empowered to do good and make a difference in the world. That won't happen in a culture of compliance. It will only happen in a culture of character.

Is any of this making sense? I want to hear from you. I'm convinced that teaching character and developing it in our schools is as important as ever. What do you think? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Simple Advice: Enjoy the Kids


A substitute teacher in our building recently approached me about some problems she was having with student behavior. She detailed how she told the kids exactly what she expected and tried to enforce the rules, but they didn't respond well at all.

I got the impression she was trying the stern teacher approach.

She told me about one student in particular. And as she shared, I could see her demeanor immediately shift.

She was really upset. Her body language and facial expression showed she was really frustrated. I would go so far to say she was having a miserable experience.

And so I felt really bad for her in that. I don't want visitors to our building to ever have a bad experience. And being a substitute is not easy on a good day.

So I asked her a question, "Are you trying to enjoy the kids?"

She looked at me with a puzzled expression. I'm sure she was thinking how could I enjoy these kids when they're acting out and being uncooperative?

"What do you mean?" she said.

"Well, I've just found that I get a much better result in working with students when I make it a point to enjoy being with them. They don't always act just like I want, but I try to enjoy them anyway."

"But I'm trying to get them to follow the rules and do the work," she said.

"And that's a good thing. We expect students to follow rules and be productive and use time wisely. They do need accountability for that. But how you hold them accountable can make a big difference."

I encouraged her to leave some notes for the classroom teacher about the behavior problems, and asked her to give my advice a try the next time she had a chance.

A couple of weeks later she was back in the building, and she came rushing up to me. Her demeanor was completely different. She was smiling and full of energy.

"I tried what you said, and it worked so much better. It's like I'm not putting as much pressure on myself and the students are doing better too. I feel so relieved," she said.

I told her I was so happy to hear that, and I appreciated her giving my advice a try. I thanked her for sharing with me and for giving me an update.

The quickest way to change another person's behavior is to change your behavior towards them. Kids are going to make mistakes. But if you make it a point to enjoy being with them, and treat them with great respect and care, there is almost no mistake you can't correct. They'll be far more open to your feedback when they feel that you like them and enjoy them.

What are your thoughts on this advice? Are you enjoying the kids? How can you show delight in them and keep the classroom energy positive and productive? I want to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, March 26, 2018

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


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

Who wants a teacher for their child who doesn't have passion for what they're doing? Anyone?

There are so many benefits to being passionate. Passion overcomes and eliminates apathy. It makes us stronger and more willing to take on challenges. Passion is caring deeply about work that matters and doing something about it.

When we are feeling passionate, we have more energy and enthusiasm. We are energized and not victimized. We believe we can overcome obstacles. We are able to translate that passion into commitment and do hard things, really hard things to get the most out of our abilities. 

When you listen to someone who is burned out, they often point to circumstances as the reason for their malaise. There is lack of support, lack of resources, problems with students, parents, administrators, other teachers, lawmakers, the department of education, society, you name it. And all of those things might be true.

But others faced with exactly the same circumstances seem to tell themselves a different story. They view the challenges as something to learn from and overcome. They seem to think differently. They focus on solutions instead of problems. They don't deny the problems or the barriers, but they are determined to focus on things they can control and not on the things they can't.

So why are they able to stay positive and passionate in spite of the challenges while others burn out?

People who avoid burnout and develop more passion do the following:

1. They believe they are growing.

People need to feel like they are making progress. We are wired to make progress. So if we feel we are stuck and not getting stronger or more capable, it can make us feel hopeless. People who are growing always have hope that things can get better. 

2. They feel like they are making a difference.

People need to feel like what they do matters. They want to feel like they are creating and contributing. Some people are making a difference but all they see are the problems and the ways they aren't having success. And that's when they burnout. We need to celebrate the little successes we have and know we are making things better.

3. They have a strong sense of purpose.


People need to feel like their work is connected to an important cause. We need to feel like we're part of something bigger than ourselves. Passion flows from a strong sense of purpose. Burn out happens when we focus on problems instead of purpose.

4. They have a strong sense of autonomy.

Passionate people need to feel like they have some control over their destiny. We burn out when we feel we can't make the decisions or take the action needed to create change. But regardless of how much autonomy you actually have, you need to feel empowered by the autonomy you do have. There are certain things you always have autonomy over, like your attitude for instance.

5. They share and connect with other passionate educators.


The people you share with and connect with most will have a big influence on your outlook. If you are around passionate educators and connect with them, you will likely feel your passion growing stronger also. On the other hand, if you are consistently around people who are negative and who lack energy, you will start to feel that way too.

6. They know when to set aside the work to rest, renew, and recharge.

Passionate educators don't have to be martyrs. It's great to have a high level of commitment, but you also have to know when it's time to be content with what you've done and take some time to set aside the work. Constantly worrying about your kids or your classroom won't help you in the long run. Create some white space just for you to find peace and rest.

For the most part, our choices determine our level of passion more than our circumstances. You can't control the environment of your school or the kids who are placed in your class, but you can control so much. Most importantly, you can control your mindset.

What else would you add to these thoughts? What are your thoughts? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Power of Choosing 'Must' Instead of 'Rather'


Last night I watched the film, Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis as the 16th U.S. President. It was great to finally see it. I'm kind of a history nerd, but for some reason I had never watched it before. It's an incredible film covering the final four months of Lincoln's life. Daniel Day Lewis is outstanding in his portrayal of the president.

As I watched, I noticed several times how Lincoln used the word must as he considered the decisions and actions he would take as the leader of a bitterly divided nation. He was a courageous leader who stood firmly on principles in the face of incredible opposition and obstacles.

I reflected on the difficult decisions he made. I'm sure there were times he would rather have taken an easier path. He faced hardships and failure throughout his life, and he could've veered off course, retreated, or just settled for the status quo. He probably didn't want to carry all of the heavy burdens of a Civil War, the bloodiest war in U.S. history. 

But he did carry those burdens and remained a steadfast leader. He stood firm. Because he felt a moral imperative. He felt he must

We are all faced with challenges as educators. We are often faced with choices about what we would rather do versus what we must do.

And while our decisions may not be described in history books, our work has great significance in the life of a child. We might be the best hope for some. We don't always know what might hang in the balance. We don't always know what difference we might make for this one child.

We usually have the opportunity to make the greatest difference when we choose must over rather.

I would rather not have that difficult conversation, but I must.

I would rather not have to learn something new, but I must.

I would rather not be creative today, but I must.

I would rather not call that parent, but I must.

I would rather not give that extra effort, but I must.

I would rather not be enthusiastic today, but I must.

I would rather not have to repair that relationship, but I must.

I would rather not consider another idea or perspective, but I must.

I would rather not give that kid a fresh start today, but I must.

I would rather not change my lesson, but I must.

I would rather not deal with new technology, but I must.

I would rather not overlook that offense, but I must.

Every day I see educators choosing must over rather. But we should always, always, always be asking, "What is best for kids?" 

In this situation, "Am I choosing must or rather?"

Do you ever struggle to choose must instead of rather? I think we all face that. Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

15 Ways to Increase Focused Energy in Your Classroom


You have a choice when it comes to your attention. You give it to things you value, the things you find interesting or rewarding or helpful. And you withhold your attention from things that seem less valuable to you. We are constantly making decisions about our attention, where to focus it, and how to spend it.

And your students are no different. They also make choices about where to focus their attention. And that's why it's so important to provide a classroom experience that students will find meaningful (this is important to me) and rewarding (I can be successful here).

What if we treated students like volunteers? What if we acted as if they had no obligation to learn the things we must teach? What if we made it our mission to cause them to want to learn more?

Wouldn't it be great if students saw learning as something they get to do instead of something they have to do?

What if we decided it was up to us to create a force that pulls them in? After all, students make decisions with their attention just like the rest of us. Let's make learning so great it becomes irresistible. 

How strong is your lesson's gravitational pull? Be a force field of energy. Bring so much passion, enthusiasm, and creativity to your lesson that students think, "There is no way this teacher is gonna settle for less than my best!"

Bring that type of energy. Are your students pulled into your lesson? How is the energy in your classroom? How is your culture of learning?

When I visit classrooms, every single one feels a little different. But when things are working right there is a kind of energy that makes learning go. It's focused energy. It's energy that's driving learning forward.

It's kids really connecting to learning. There's a kind of positive tension, a push forward that comes with growth. 

And none of this is necessarily about specific teaching methods. There are lots of different methods that can work. But where is the attention flowing? Are you pulling them in? The teacher may be sage on the stage, or guide by the side. Lots of methods can work.

But the method doesn't matter most. Whatever the method, the room is focused. It might be noisy or quiet but there is intentionality. It might be teacher-centered or student-centered, but ultimately it's learning-centered.

So be intentional about how energy is flowing in your space. And don't settle for mediocrity. Aim for excellence. Is attention flowing toward learning? Does the energy pull them toward success?

Here are 15 ways to get attention focused and get energy flowing toward learning. I've divided them into three different categories.

Connect. Students will focus energy on learning when the relationship with the teacher is stronger. 
1. Greet students.
2. Call them by name.
3. Smile.
4. Make eye contact.
5. Learn something new about each student.

Communicate. Effective classroom communication helps focus energy in desirable ways. 
6. Clarify expectations.
7. Start with why. Explain context and relevance.
8. Tell stories to illustrate concepts. Stories capture attention.
9. Increase student voice and choice.
10. Redirect unfocused energy. Call out energy drifters.

Inspire. When learning is meaningful and authentic, students will give more. Don't play the game of school. Do stuff that matters and makes a difference.
11. Connect learning to student interests.
12. Challenge students to design, think, and problem-solve.
13. Make surprises routine. Mix it up.
14. Be the Chief Energy Officer. Lead the fun.
15. Incorporate curiosity and creativity consistently.

What else would you add to this list? How would you take these ideas deeper? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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