Friday, November 9, 2018

7 Unexpected Benefits of Curiosity


Curiosity might be good for you, and good for your students too, in ways you haven't considered. One of our core values in our school is "start with questions." We want our students to be more curious tomorrow than they are today. We want to design learning that develops curiosity. We believe in the benefits of curiosity. In fact, curiosity has been shown to contribute to academic success as much as hard work or intelligence. 

But curiosity has many benefits beyond academic success. When we are curious in a whole variety of situations, we can better come to terms with who we are, how we fit into the world, and how we can make an impact on the world around us.

So here are 7 ways curiosity can be beneficial beyond academic success...

1.  Curiosity About Feelings

We are seeing unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression among young people. But mindfulness principles are effective in addressing thoughts and feelings by leveraging curiosity, instead of angst or avoidance. Be curious about feelings in a nonjudgmental way. Recognize that feelings come and go and are neither inherently good or bad. Approach feelings with a sense of wonder, "I'm curious about why I'm feeling this way." Be curious, not furious.

2. Curiosity About Relationships

Relationships grow stronger when we show empathy. And it's necessary to be curious to develop empathy. You have to be curious about what the other person is experiencing. You have to put yourself in their shoes. When we are curious about others, it also makes them feel valued, listened to, and understood. Curiosity says, "I want to know more about you. You matter. You're interesting to me."

3. Curiosity About Perspectives

Our perspective shapes our mindset. We can view failure as something negative, or we can view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Everything that happens to me can be useful to me and for my benefit. But that requires me to be curious to consider how I might reframe in a positive way things that on the surface seem to be hardships or difficulties.

4. Curiosity About Habits

After reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, I became far more curious about my habits and the habits that are common in our school. We want to create an extraordinary greeting for our students, every morning and each class period of the day. We want to make that a habit. I also want to examine my personal habits with curiosity, "Is this habit taking me where I want to go? Is this habit consistent with the path I want to be on?" Let's be curious about the habits we have in the classroom and how they impact learning.

5. Curiosity About Risk Taking

What would you do if you had no fear? What do you fear? And why do you fear these things? What is holding you back? We need to be curious about these questions and why we aren't willing to embrace positive risk taking. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We cannot know what we are truly capable of accomplishing if we aren't willing to push outside our comfort zone and take risks.

6. Curiosity About How Things Work

Have you ever wondered how electricity works? Or magnets? Or gravity? Science can explain these phenomenon, at least to an extent. But they also maintain a mysterious quality. They make me curious. But as a leader, I'm also curious about what makes our school culture work the way it does. I'm curious about how student's motivation works. And I'm curious about how to facilitate positive change. There are so many examples of being curious about how things work. And sometimes, this curiosity leads to innovations and breakthroughs that make life better for everyone.

7. Curiosity About the Future

I'm curious about the future. I'm curious about what life will be like for my own kids and for my students. And, I'm curious about what educators need to be doing today to prepare students for their futures. When we are curious about the future, it helps us be more diligent in our decisions today. The choices we make today will shape the future. But we have to be curious and consider how today's decisions might lead to future challenges or opportunities. Acting today with little thought for tomorrow is unlikely to end well. A long term perspective is needed to prepare for an uncertain future. Be curious about the future.

Can you think of any other unexpected benefits of curiosity? Is you school consistently making efforts to bring out curiosity in students? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, November 2, 2018

5 Questions for Deeper Reflection


Reflection is important for growth. But we have to be intentional about it. Our reflection is meaningless unless we do something with it. It has to change us. Or, it has to help us change directions. Effective people are reflective people.

Many years ago I read Dale Carnegie's incredible book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Just this last week, I decided to start reading it again. Carnegie tells the story of a bank president who for many years made it a practice to reflect at the end of each week on every appointment he had in the previous week. He would ask himself the following questions:

"What mistakes did I make that time?"

"What did I do that was right--and in what way could I have improved my performance?"

"What lessons can I learn from that experience?"

The banker attributed his great success in large part to his system:
I often found that this weekly review made me very unhappy. I was frequently astonished at my own blunders. Of course, as the years passed, these blunders became less frequent. Sometimes I was inclined to pat myself on the back a little after one of these sessions. This system of self-analysis, self-education, that continued year after year, did more for me than any other one thing I have ever attempted.
It helped me improve my ability to make decisions--and it aided me enormously in all my contacts with people. I cannot recommend it too highly. 
I also try to make it a point to consistently reflect on how things are going in my work. However, I don't have a process as systematic as what's described by the banker. Maybe that's something I should consider.

This week as I'm reflecting, I thought of a few more questions to consider...

1. How is the reluctant learner experiencing our school (or your classroom if you're a teacher)?

We may think about how our students are doing overall, but I think we need to be especially attentive to how the reluctant learner is doing. If we create an experience that engages some of our most challenging students, that same experience will also probably benefit our other students too. We're aiming to create a place where even kids who "hate school" love to learn.

2. Am I measuring with a yardstick of my own years?

When I get frustrated with some of the behaviors I see in students, I need to be reminded that they are often acting exactly like 15-year-olds are inclined to act. That doesn't mean that I don't try to influence them to rise up, but I can't get frustrated when they don't think, or act, like me. That sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But I think we all tend to get frustrated if people don't act just like we think they should.

3. Do I have a healthy level of dissatisfaction with my own performance?

At the end of the day, it's important to be content with doing my best but to also be dissatisfied with how things are. I don't want to become complacent. And I don't want to beat myself up when I make a mistake. So be content, but never be satisfied. 

4. Are there ways I'm falling into binary thinking?

Binary thinking creates false dichotomies. It's either/or. Effective leadership almost always requires a more nuanced position. We can have fun AND have high expectations. We can use technology AND develop social skills and teamwork. We can encourage student agency/inquiry AND improve achievement. It's not all or nothing.

5. What specific strategies am I using to motivate students (and teachers)?

I'm thinking about the ways I influence student and teacher motivation. Am I doing it by connecting and building relationships? Am I doing it by clearing barriers and showing support? Am I motivating students by creating a positive environment? Just what are the specific strategies I'm using to motivate? Food for thought.

So how are you developing a reflection routine? Would you benefit from having intentional reflection each week? Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Passion Flows from Purpose


When I was fresh out of college, it was time to start my career as an educator. I was very passionate about the game of basketball, and that was part of the reason I wanted to teach and coach. I had passion for the game. I still love it today and look forward to the start of college basketball season.

But while I had passion, I didn't necessarily have a strong or clear purpose. I was just finding my way.

Although passion is great, we can be passionate about things that lack significance. We can be passionate about a game. We can be passionate about cars, or coffee, or even Netflix. Certainly, there's nothing wrong with passion and enthusiasm for these things. But it's not something with inherently larger meaning or significance.

Purpose, on the other hand, is about having a mission. It's about living a life of meaning and significance in a very intentional way. I'm defining purpose here as something that transcends what we do and becomes more about who we are.

It's not what you do, it's why you do it.

Your true purpose isn't limited to one role in particular. I can carry out my purpose through my role as a principal, or as a dad, or as a writer through blogging or writing books. I can carry out my purpose in whole variety of ways. I can also carry it out in casual conversations with just about anyone I meet. 

While I am passionate about being a principal, who I am is much bigger than my profession. My overarching purpose is much bigger than my title. Don't get me wrong, being a principal is one of the most rewarding ways I get to share my purpose. I love it. 

But my why is still much bigger.

My why is to help others grow their own capacity and find their personal path of purpose. A purpose that has power adds value to people. It focuses on making things better for others.

My passions may change over time, but for the most part, I believe my purpose will only grow stronger.

There are so many reasons to live out your purpose...
1. No one can take away your purpose. Some things we are passionate about might be taken from us. Don't build your foundation on something you might lose.
2. Your purpose is usually developed, not discovered. We grow into our purpose. It doesn't just arrive like the mail is delivered. It's grown like the largest tree in your back yard. 
3. You won't be fulfilled if you aren't fulfilling your purpose. You'll be restless and uneasy and searching for meaning. So many people are searching for happiness and what they really desire is purpose.
4. Apathy is no match for true purpose. The key to motivation is to know your why.
5. When you connect with people who share your purpose, it's electrifying. You feel understood and energized. It's like doubling the voltage.
6. When you have a strong sense of purpose, obstacles are no match for your persistence and perseverance.
7. Your purpose will give you a sense of peace. You'll know you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing when you're living out your purpose.

What are your thoughts on living with a sense of purpose? How can we help our students find meaning and significance? How can we help them find a path of purpose? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 19, 2018

What's Most Valuable? Creativity, Empathy, or Technology


In a world that is more complex and uncertain than ever before, what is most valuable? Creativity, Empathy, or Technology.

You might argue it's technology. After all, everything that can be digitized is being digitized. Over the last 20 years, we've seen changes that are unprecedented. The Internet has changed how we live, work, play, and interact. Social media has exploded. Nearly every person on the planet, it seems, has an Internet connected mobile phone. We can literally stay connected every minute of every day. Self-driving cars are a reality. We have the Internet of things, big data, robotics, artificial intelligence. Digital is how the world is changing.

Fewer people are creating a larger portion of global wealth today. It takes fewer and fewer people to produce more and more. The innovation economy is already here, but it's accelerating. Digital is going to continue to drive change. 

And change will happen even faster.

And yet, the things that are becoming more valuable for the future are the things that cannot be digitized or automated. Traits that are human-only will become more and more valuable. Traits like creativity and empathy.

Creativity is thinking in novel ways. It's solving problems. It's developing new ideas, finding better opportunities, and combining old things to create new possibilities. 

Empathy is the ability to understand, connect, and see the world through other people's eyes. It's moving closer to people. It's having social skills to communicate, accept differences, and find common ground.

In order to adapt in this rapidly changing world, we must embrace technology. It's important. 

But more importantly, our students will need to develop creativity and empathy. It's not about what you know. It's about what you can do with what you know. Can you work with people? Can you add value to people? Can you create something new and interesting?

These disruptive trends show no signs of slowing. But are schools keeping up? I don't think so. Things are moving so fast, it's hard to keep up, even for the schools that embrace change. 

Creativity and empathy are not considered the core work in most schools. They are extras, add-ons, and enrichment programs. But I think we have it flipped. Start with creativity and empathy and use those to propel learning of content and academic skills. 

It's very different than the type of learning I had when I was in school. We plowed through content and curriculum and produced right answers year after year. We jumped through all the hoops as instructed but probably didn't learn how to take much initiative. 

And that worked okay in a world where a high school diploma could get you a job, maybe even a career. And a college degree almost assured you a privileged place in society. Those days are gone.

We cannot afford to prepare students for the world we grew up in. We must prepare them for the world they'll live in.

How do you see the role of creativity, empathy, and technology in the future? What will our students need to thrive? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Every Interaction Is an Opportunity for Relationship Building


I met John Norlin this summer at the National Principals Conference and knew right away I wanted to learn more about his story and his work as co-founder of CharacterStrong. One thing led to another and luckily we were able to have him present to our staff earlier this week.

It was awesome. Many of the ideas he shared are reminders. He pointed this out more than once. These aren't new ideas. 

"I'm not here to inform you today as much as I'm here to remind you," he said.

We all know how important relationships are. We know how important it is to develop character. We all know academic skills won't take you very far unless you can also work effectively with people. We know kindness counts. 

But even when we know these things, we can get better at doing these things. We can become better people. And we can help our students become better people too. But we have to be intentional. We have to work at it. We have to develop our own habits. And it's hard work. 

It doesn't even necessarily take more time. But it does require us to use the time we have in very intentional ways. 

The reminders John shared are very important reminders. He shared the message in a way that inspired us and helped our staff build even stronger connections. I think we left more excited about our work and more committed to our students. I think we left more committed to each other too.

Here are a few reminders that stood out to me...

-Everyone NEEDS character development. All of us.

-We are built to be relational. Stronger relationships help build a stronger school and better learning.

-We need purpose more than we need happiness. Most are trying to be happy, but deeply fulfilled people know their purpose. 

-Students need a deeper why. So many don't know their purpose and how school fits with that purpose.

-Many of our students need hope. In truth, we all need hope and we need to be hope for each other.

-Our school culture is built on behaviors. Character is revealed by behaviors. We make thousands of choices daily. How are your choices contributing to the culture of your school?

-Such an important question: What have you done for others today?

In Future Driven, I wrote about my efforts to greet students each morning. I had always tried to be visible and friendly as students arrived to school in the morning. But then I decided to be more intentional. I made sure I was at the door to welcome as many students as possible, to learn as many names as possible, to make the greeting as extraordinary as possible. 

When I became more intentional, I noticed all sorts of cool things started happening. Like this...

One day I had some help with my greeting routine. One of our students, Nathaniel, was already at the bus drop off door. He was holding it open. I didn’t think too much of it, but then he started showing up every day. He’s always there now ready to help, even before I arrive. He’s quiet, so he doesn’t say much to the other kids as they come in, but many of the other students will tell him thank you as they walk by.

And I’ve gotten to know Nathaniel a little. He is passionate about professional wrestling. He looks forward to watching it on TV each week, and he asks me if I watched it too. I asked him if he knew about Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, wrestling heroes from when I was a kid. He just grinned and said he heard of them. I also learned a little about his family, where he lives, and some of his favorite things. I even learned we have 22 buses that drop off students in the morning because Nathaniel counted them for me.

Isn’t it amazing the impact our small actions can make? Just showing up in the morning to greet kids inspired Nathaniel to do the same. Our investment in people has a way of multiplying. Nathaniel wanted to help out. I think he feels good about holding the door open in the morning. I know I feel better each day I get to see Nathaniel and hang out with him for a few minutes. We never know when a simple conversation with a student might spark something lasting and worthwhile. Every interaction is an opportunity for relationship building.
Nathaniel was part of the Class of 2018. As graduation approached this past May, he asked me over and over, "Who are you going to get to replace me when I graduate?

He had faithfully met me at the door each morning and now as he was about to leave our school, he was concerned about who was going to do his job. He had purpose. He was selfless. He was kind.

I told Nathaniel he would be really hard to replace. I asked if he had any suggestions for who could took his place. We talked about a couple of kids he thought might work out. 

And then a few days later he walked across the stage and was awarded his diploma. When I shook his hand, he smiled and said, "Who are you going to find to replace me?"

I was proud of him.

A few weeks ago, one of our teachers came into my office and shared that Nathaniel was very sick and in the hospital. A couple days later I went to the hospital but couldn't see him because of the limited visiting hours in intensive care.

And then on Friday morning, September 28th we got the news that Nathaniel had passed away. It was crushing news. It still hurts as I'm writing this post.

But I'm so grateful that my story intersects with Nathaniel's story. I'm thankful I can share about our time together. I'm thankful I can share about a student who had purpose, who was selfless, and who was kind to others.

He wasn't worried about being popular, or cool, or a big deal. He just wanted to make a difference. 

I can't even imagine the kind of greeting Nathaniel received in heaven. He certainly deserves the best. He might even get a job holding a door open for others arriving on the scene. 

For those of us still doing our best here on planet earth, we need reminders. Let's not forget every interaction is an opportunity for relationship building.

Friday, October 5, 2018

When Student Behavior Is Like Looking in the Mirror



I've been thinking quite a bit lately about negative student behaviors and how we respond effectively. 

Here are five ideas that have been on my mind...

1. Judge behaviors, not intentions.

It can be really easy to become judgmental about negative student behavior, especially when it's repetitive. It's always appropriate to be corrective about non-learning behaviors, but it isn't right to place ourselves in a position of greater worth than the student. We might think, I would never do that. It's like we think we're superior in some way. And then we make generalizations about their motives based on the behavior. We act as if we know what's going on in the student's heart. 

That's the type of judgment that causes resentment and steals dignity. Judgement isn't always a bad thing. We actually know having good judgement is a good thing. That's how we know when something is right or wrong. But relationships get crazy when we start to judge motives. That's not ours to judge. Judge behaviors. They are observable and there are standards that must be held. Don't judge intentions. We can never know another person's heart.

2. We make mistakes too, just like our students.

Every negative behavior a student exhibits is probably closely resembling a negative behavior I've exhibited in my own life at one time or another. If I'm really honest with myself, it's probably like I'm looking in the mirror. I may not have done that exact thing to the degree that it was done, but I've struggled with that issue at some point and acted in a similar manner. There are only so many categories of mistakes, and I'm pretty sure I've covered them all at one time or another.

3. Correct the issue and preserve the relationship.

Number two is really important because it reminds me to have empathy, to be understanding, and to work with a student through the issue instead of towering over them and being iron-fisted about the issue. We want to correct the issue and preserve the relationship. We need to walk through this with the student.

4. Are there certain student behaviors that really push my buttons more than others?

The things that push my buttons the most might be the things that I actually struggle with the most. It's ironic, but often we are less forgiving and less patient with the behaviors that are most like the ones we struggle with. Think about an issue that is a struggle for you. Are you especially hard on students when they make a mistake in this area? Maybe not if they make the mistake in the same way you do. But if they make it in a different way or to a greater degree, look out. It might push all your buttons.

5. Change the environment to help the child change his or her own behavior.

When students show up poorly and have behaviors that are destructive, I need to also look at the environmental factors at play. If I was in the same environment as the student, might I also act in this way? What can be changed about the environment to help the student make different choices? That does not relieve the student of responsibility or accountability for bad decisions, but I don't want to just enforce accountability. I want to help create conditions so the student will succeed next time.

I think we could all stand to be a little more patient with our students. Heck, sometimes we need to be a little more patient with ourselves too. Mistakes are opportunities to learn more about who we are and to reflect and become stronger, more caring people overall.

I would love to hear your thoughts as always. What's on your mind after reading this post? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

7 Tips for Difficult Conversations with Students



These tips are actually true for conversations with just about anyone, not only students. Too often I think we avoid having a difficult conversation about a topic because we aren't sure how it will go. We aren't sure if it will be productive, so we just remain silent.

Or, on the other hand, we know the topic might evoke some strong emotions, so we come at the conversation forcefully, from a position of dominance. It's the "my way or the highway" approach. That might get compliance from students, but it won't build trust or stronger relationships. Underneath it all, there will be a kid who resents you.

Neither of these approaches is successful. It's not good to be silent and avoid the topic. And it's not good to be aggressive and overbearing either. A healthy relationship is build on mutual trust that comes through respectful dialogue.

Here are five tips for having difficult conversations that create shared meaning and understanding.

1. Keep Dialogue Open

Let the student know that you are willing to listen and work together to solve the problem. Ask if they are willing to listen to your thoughts too. Keep the focus on the issue and not on sweeping generalizations like "You always..." or "You never..." statements. You might even ask the student, "How can we have this conversation in a way that is positive and helpful?"

2. Make Respect a Top Priority

Let the student know you believe it's possible to solve any problem if both parties are respectful of one another. Let the student know you will never intentionally disrespect him or her. Let them know you want to hear what they think about the issue. The words we use are powerful and communicate our level of respect. Your body language and tone of voice are equally important.

3. Describe Your Intentions

You might say, "I'm willing to discuss this as long as it takes until we both feel good about how it's resolved." Let the student know you're wanting a solution he or she can feel good about too. We're aiming for a WIN/WIN outcome, not my way or the highway. As the teacher, you don't have to prove you're in charge. You ARE in charge. You don't have to prove it. Work cooperatively with students to seek WIN/WIN solutions.

4. Be Curious, Not Furious

Ask questions to understand the student's perspective. Be curious about what they are experiencing. Say, "Tell me more" or "Go on" to show you are interested in hearing the details. Paraphrase what they say to you to show you're listening. My biggest mistake is talking too much. When I'm "telling" a student what I think should happen, I'm missing the opportunity to listen and better understand the student's perspective.

5. Avoid Countering

Countering results in arguments. We start debating the facts. We build our case. We prove our points. It's about "being right." Try to avoid this trap. Try to stay curious and avoid countering. Spend more time listening. The goal is to get to a place where both parties let their guard down and work together cooperatively.

6. Timing is Everything

In my first few years as a principal, I would sometimes choose horrible timing to try to address an issue. I thought it had to be resolved immediately. Usually, that's not true. Most of the time it can wait until cooler heads prevail. If I sense there is no way to have safe dialogue in the moment, I'll step away temporarily. And then I'll resume the conversation in a different location in a different time. This works much better than allowing a situation to escalate.

7. Focus on the Future

Every kid needs a fresh start every day. Time spent holding onto yesterday means less time moving forward today. Take inventory of the current situation, but then focus on the future. Where do we want our relationship to go from here? How can we work together to make the future brighter in this situation? What are we trying to accomplish? What will it look like if we are successful in resolving this problem?

Some people might view these tips as "going easy, or "being soft" or "having low expectations." I would completely disagree. We must have firm boundaries. What's easy is avoiding the conversation entirely. What's easy is being silent. What's easy is also using threats or power to get your way. What's hard is listening to a student, understanding their perspective, and guiding them in a way that is cooperative and respectful. We MUST have boundaries, and we MUST challenge behavior that is harmful to learning. But the way we do it can either build trust or destroy it. 

What are some of your strategies for having difficult conversations with students? I know you have some great tips to share. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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