Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Importance of Daily Renewal for Educators


Teaching is a challenging and exhausting profession. No one can understand what it's like until you've experienced it. You make untold numbers of decisions every day. You work with kids who have all sorts of unique and sometimes unrelenting needs. 

The pressure is real. Sometimes it feels like you're just treading water and then someone hands you a concrete block. So you better be a great swimmer! Ha.

I hear lots of ideas about educators dealing with stress. You need to make time for yourself. You need to recharge in the summer and on weekends. You need to have a healthy work/life balance. All of those things are probably true.

But for me, the biggest thing that helps me stay positive, productive, and energized is daily renewal. And that comes in the form of my morning routine and my mental approach throughout the day. I'm renewing in the morning and then I'm renewing by disciplining my thoughts throughout the day.

For the past couple of months, I've really focused on my making my mornings more effective. I've always tried to have a routine in the morning, but last school year at times I wasn't as diligent. And I could definitely tell a difference.

More recently, I'm making my mornings count, and everything I'm doing seems to be working better. I feel more effective. I have more energy. My relationships are stronger. I'm more patient. More productive. More focused. More determined. I feel stronger overall.

So here's what I'm doing differently. I don't do every single one of these things every morning, but I do several of them each day. Being able to pick and choose gives my routine some variety. The routine can take me an hour or more, but there have been mornings I needed to get to school early, and I've done an abbreviated version in 10 minutes.

1. Smile

Start the day by finding something to smile about. Choose to smile. Research has shown the physical act of smiling has benefits for stress recovery, improved mood, and creativity. (Time: 30 seconds)

2. Breathe

I'm using a meditation app to work on focused breathing and meditation. There are several smartphone apps available, and I've tried a couple of them. Practicing mindfulness is great for increased focus, reduced anxiety, and improved cognition. (Time: 3-5 minutes)

3. Be Grateful

Gratitude is powerful for feeling better, having more energy, and training your brain to look for good things. I follow the advice of author MK Mueller. Be grateful for three things that have happened in the last 24 hours with no repeats ever. It's great to share your gratitude with someone or journal about it. (Time: 3-5 minutes)

4. Move

This one I'm including every day in my routine. I do something to be physically active each morning. It might be running several miles. Or, it might be a two-minute plank and that's all. But I'm getting some type of exercise in my routine every morning. (Time: 2 minutes-1 hour)

5. Envision

Almost all great athletes use mental imagery to gain an edge. When you imagine exactly how you want a situation, interaction, event, or performance to go, it creates a mental model for success. It sets the stage for success. I spend a few moments each morning thinking about desired outcomes. I think about these things as if the outcome has already been established, as if they are already true. I think it until I feel it. (Time 2-5 minutes) 

6. Affirm

This practice is similar to envisioning except it is focused on self more than situation. So I'm thinking about characteristics I'm developing in myself as if they are already present at the desired level. I tell myself the things that I value and that I want to become. It helps clarify my values and focuses my growth. (Time 2-5 minutes)

7. Read

Like movement and exercise, I also make reading part of every morning. I keep a list of books to read and have several people in my life who share book suggestions with me. I also try to read blog posts and, of course, Twitter posts from my PLN. I can't imagine not making reading a habit in my life. The things I continually learn add so much value to who I am and what I am striving to accomplish in life. (Time 15-45 minutes)

8. Reflect

I often think back over recent events during my morning routine. I think about decisions or interactions and what I can learn from them. What's working? What's not working? I'm careful not to beat myself up if something didn't go well. I simply consider what I could do better next time and keep my focus on the future. If I can't do something to improve myself or the situation, then I'm not going to continue thinking about it. Worry and regret is disempowering. I want to spend my time thinking in empowered ways. (Time 2-5 minutes)

9. Pray

If you're not a person of faith, you may choose to skip right over this one. I don't want to push my faith on anyone. I realize a person's beliefs about God are...well, deeply personal. But I must share this part of my morning, because for me, spending time in prayer is the most valuable part of my daily routine. I have a list of things I pray about each morning. They are things that are very important to me. I must also share that my prayer life often intersects with each of the other parts of my routine. My whole morning routine is basically my focused time with God. So I'm often praying while I'm exercising or reflecting. I want to start my day by meeting with God, so I'm more effective as I meet with people throughout the day. (Time 5-10 minutes)

I realize this seems like a long list of things to do, especially if you don't like getting up early in the morning. Keep in mind I don't do all of these every day. And the amount of time I spend on each one varies also. 

If you want to reduce stress, have more energy, and increase your effectiveness, I highly recommend developing your morning routine. How you spend the first hour of your day will have a big impact on how the rest of your day goes. Make it count.

What are some of your morning routines? Are you intentional about daily renewal? What are your thoughts about reducing stress and increasing your effectiveness? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, September 3, 2018

What's the Key to Influencing Your Students?


Information and well-reasoned arguments are rarely of much benefit to cause pivotal change. In Switch, by Dan Heath and Chip Heath, the authors detail dozens of examples of two different approaches to influencing (organizational and individual) behavior.

Think/Analyze/Change

One approach is Think/Analyze/Change. In this approach you present the facts. If you do this, this will happen. You make reasoned arguments. You encourage people to think like the rational human beings you expect them to be.

But the problem is, most people don't make decisions based on carefully reasoned decisions. Of course, to the individual, every decision is reasonable. Our students believe they have a good reasons for their choices. It's always important to remember students, and people in general, do things for their reasons and not ours.

So when we use "telling" as a strategy to reason with students about why they should comply, follow rules, or try harder, it probably goes in one ear and out the other, except for the students who already agree with our reasoning, and they aren't the ones who need to hear it.

See/Feel/Change

So the second approach is See/Feel/Change. This approach has been shown time and again to be far more effective in creating behavioral change. This approach makes change more visible. It often relies on mental pictures and narratives that people can really connect with. It focuses on heart needs. It connects with the person emotionally. That is critically important. 


While we would all like to think we're rational beings, we've made some of the biggest decisions of our life based on emotion...where we went to college, who we married, deciding to have kids, buying a house or that new car. There were powerful emotions at play in all of those decisions.

To be a change agent, you have to use See/Feel/Change strategies. 


Here are five tips...
1. The energy you bring to your classroom communicates expectations more powerfully than your words. If you bring enough purpose, passion, and energy to the space, you communicate to students that this teacher is not going to accept less than my best. Keep in mind your rules are no match for student habits.

2. Give your students experiences. Use demonstrations. Use role playing. Make the principles you are trying to teach visible and interactive and don't rely on just "telling." Invite students to reflect on experiences and draw meaning from concrete examples.

3. Tell stories. People connect with stories. So if you have a story that illustrates a principle, use it. But also tie it to a higher purpose. So instead of telling a story of how your son or daughter was complemented in his/her job for showing up on time and keeping his cell phone put away, share how proud you are as a parent that your child is doing well in his adult life. Our kids want their parents to be proud of them. Or, talk about how he or she is taking such good care of their family. Our students may not care about a career at 15 years old. But they do care about the things all people care about (relationships, feeling significant, being good at something, family, connection, etc.).

4. Teach specific first steps to make the change a reality. If students experience some success in an area, they are more likely to continue down that path. So don't just say, remember to do your homework. Help them make plans for exactly what steps they will take to do their homework. Planning first steps is extremely important to creating change. Don't assume they know what to do.

5. Help students find a sense of purpose. People who lack purpose have no reason to change. They have no hope. Encourage students by believing in their possibilities and by giving them encouragement to grow. Students are more likely to invest themselves when they feel meaning and purpose. Learning must be more meaningful than a grade or a test score.

Final thoughts...

Students (all people actually) do things for their reasons, not ours.

Information without emotion is rarely retained. And information rarely changes behavior.

Be mindful of how you can add the greatest value to students who could benefit from changed habits. Be a change agent.

Let me here from you. What are strategies you've used to help student's make pivotal changes? I'm talking about real, lasting change. Share a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

7 Ways to Be a Stronger, More Productive Risk Taker


If you want to learn and grow and make a greater impact, it's essential to be a productive risk taker. Not all risks are productive of course, but most people actually make too few mistakes, not too many.

Former IBM President Thomas Watson boldly proclaimed, "If you want to succeed, double your rate of failure." It's through our mistakes that we learn. When we take risks, we either win or we learn. Not win or lose. Win or learn.

So how do you become a stronger risk taker? How do you find the courage to step out of your comfort zone and into your growth zone? Here are 7 ideas.

1. Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable

Risk taking involves the possibility of failure. Be content with doing your best even if the outcome isn't what you hoped for initially. 

2. Take Many, Smaller Risks to Start

If you want to grow as a risk taker, take more risks. But don't think they have to be gigantic risks at first. In fact, it's not wise to take larger risks to start. Taking lots of smaller risks helps you gain the confidence, practice, and good judgment to take larger risks eventually.

3. Hang Out with Risk Takers

If you spend your time with people who protect the status quo and simply try to stay comfortable, you'll be more likely to do the same. Bring people into your life who are taking risks and living their dreams. It's very difficult to rise above mediocrity if that's what you are surrounded by every day. Seek excellence. And know that when you take risks, it's going to make some people very uncomfortable.

4. Do Something a Little Wild and Crazy

There are lots of wild and crazy things you can do that might feel frightening but really aren't that risky at all. You might risk embarrassment if it doesn't work out, but that's about it. Later this year my daughter Maddie and I will be contestants in our community's Dancing with the Stars fundraiser. So although dancing in front of a big crowd is way out of my comfort zone, what's the worst that could happen right? It should actually be fun. And I know it's an opportunity to practice risk taking and just going for it.

5. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

It might feel safer to just be content with how things are. It might feel more comfortable to just go through the motions. But if you want to grow, you have to step out of your comfort zone. There is always that little voice telling you to play it safe. You have to push past that resistance. I've made it a habit to read and learn and spend time on personal growth at least 5-hours every week. At first, that was very difficult but eventually it became easier. What was uncomfortable as first became comfortable and increasingly valuable over time.

6. Be an Adaptable Learner.

Our world is changing faster than ever. The rate of change is accelerating. And since we're not teaching kids from 20 years ago, our classrooms and schools shouldn't look like 20 years ago either. Things are changing so quickly that even schools that are taking risks and making bold moves forward are likely still falling behind. Our students need to see us as adaptable learners. They need to see us model growth, change, and adaptability. 

7. Make No Excuses 

No one want to live an average, ordinary existence. Don't sacrifice your capacity for excellence by listening to the voice telling you to settle for less. You can live an extraordinary life and have extraordinary impact. You just have to do it. You have to push through your fears and stop making excuses.

What risks are you willing to take this year? How will you push yourself out of your own comfort zone? I'd love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

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
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