Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Does Your Classroom Inform, Inspire, and Entertain?

Sketchnote by @woodard_julie

I recently had a conversation with someone who was preparing some remarks for an event where he was receiving an award. I was asking him about his speech, and he said he was aiming to inform, inspire, and entertain. I thought that was spot on. He laughed and said he heard that somewhere, and just thought it was really true about a good speech.

It made me think of school and learning. Teachers really must try to do those things also. In my first year in the classroom, I taught 7th grade social studies, but the next year I moved to the high school to teach English. When I was interviewing for the high school position, the principal asked me how my approach would be different working with older students. 

I said I didn't think I would have to entertain them as much. The principal objected. She said you need to be just as creative and engaging with the older students. It was really good advice.

Some teachers really hate the idea of entertaining. Not everyone feels like they are cut out for that. And some don't feel like they should have to do that. 

But I think all three are important, including an element of entertainment. It's probably more true today than ever. In fact, edutainment is actually a thing. Look at TED talks. They are extremely popular because they inform, inspire, and entertain. The most popular ones do this extraordinarily well.

Sometimes, I think we get in a pattern of only informing or delivering instruction but don't focus on how we are going to inspire or entertain. All three of these are needed to really make learning irresistible. 

We need to inform to increase understanding and make meaning.

We need to inspire to infuse learning with a sense of meaning and purpose.

We need to entertain to ignite the wonder, awe, and whimsy of learning.

I challenge you to think about your classroom. How are you seeking to not only inform, but to also inspire and entertain? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I want to hear your thoughts to take the conversation deeper.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Are Today's Kids Different?

Sometimes I hear people complain about kids nowadays. I can tell you it doesn't really set too well with me. Sure, there are examples of kids making poor choices. There are kids who are lazy. Some are selfish. We know they are into their devices. But hey, so are we. And there are some challenges they have now we probably didn't have when we were growing up.

But I can tell you I'm going to defend our kids. I'm going to challenge them, but I'm also going to defend them. I'm going to remind everyone of the amazing things our students are doing. I'm going to share the incredible work of the ones who are leading up and lifting up every day. They are making our school a better place. They are making our world a better place.

And even when they make mistakes or show up with all the baggage any of us can bring, I'm not going to stop believing in them. They are the future. Most kids want to do the right thing. But like all of us, they are still learning and finding their way. And some of them haven't had the best examples. 

They need someone to lift them up and believe in them. I can tell you with certainty, you'll have far more influence on kids by believing in them than by doubting them. If you want to make a difference, stop doubting kids. They're not going to rise above your low expectations. They need you to believe in them.

Today, we held our semi-annual academic banquet to celebrate the success of some of our students. I know some people on Twitter have written about not having award ceremonies and that type of thing because it can reinforce a fixed mindset and not acknowledge the growth of other learners who are achieving but may never get recognized. I get it. We need to notice the good work all students are doing.

But at the same time, I'm not going to apologize for recognizing kids who have achieved at a high level. They even had to miss part of the Kansas City Chiefs (Go Chiefs!) game to join us for lunch and a short program. It's a great opportunity to interact with parents and say thank you.

I asked a few students on short notice to talk about the Bolivar Way (see the visual below). It's become our mantra. It guides most everything we do.

I was blown away by the comments our students had about the importance of questions and curiosity.

About making excellence a personal mission and doing your best.

About lifting up others and being a great friend and teammate.

About leading and showing others the way. And to never give up even when it's tough. 

I was amazed by the comments and was totally pumped about this year and what's happening in our school. Our students are "making us better." I'm so proud of them.

So if you want to complain about kids these days, I'm probably not the person who is going to commiserate with you. But what I would like to talk about is how things are different today than when we were kids. Things seem increasingly complex and uncertain. Change is accelerating. The ability to adapt and learn is more important than ever.

So instead of talking about how kids these days need to change, let's talk about how schools need to change to meet the needs of today's kids. 

We owe it to them to teach the enduring principles that will help them succeed. And we need to teach them the skills that are going to be uniquely necessary for this generation. 

Let's challenge the status quo at every turn and build on the positives. Let's create schools that are relevant and passionate. Fill your school with laughter, hope, friendship, purpose, curiosity, creativity, and togetherness.

What kind of culture does your school have? Are you complaining about kids these days? Or, are you investing in kids these days? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. And keep being great!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Creating Stronger Learners, Stronger Leaders

As I think about what I really want for our students, it always comes back to learning and leading. I want our students to be stronger learners and stronger leaders. I want them to develop habits and mindsets that cause them to continue to grow as learners and leaders even when they leave school.

In my new book Future Driven, I shared what Google senior vice president of people operations, Lazlo Bock, had to say about leading and learning at Google:

For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability. It's the ability to process on the fly. It's the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they're predictive.
And the second is leadership—in particular, emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don't care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you're a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what's critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.

So does content matter? Sure it does. However, the content will change over time, but the ability to learn and the desire to lead will endure even as shifts occur in the world around us. As educators, we only have so much time to work with these studentsthe current groupbut if we can inspire them as learners and leaders, that will carry forward with them. Our impact can endure and continue to pay dividends beyond our time with them.

But we need to help our students have the most authentic learning experience possible. Students need opportunities to practice leading and learning. They need to do things that make a difference beyond just getting a grade or completing an assignment.

You cannot develop as a leader by only reading about it in a book. You can learn leadership principles, but you will only build your capacity as a leader by applying what you learn. You could memorize all sorts of leadership ideas and be a terrible and completely incompetent leader. Growing as a leader happens with the opportunity to practice leadership skills and to get feedback and reflect.

Similarly, you cannot develop fully as a learner if you are only accepting new information. You can memorize stuff. You might get right answers. But that's not enough. Students need opportunities to apply learning, to make choices as a learner, and to refine their personal learning interests. 

The traditional model of school has not served students well in developing adaptable learners or leaders, in my view. Sure, there have been some opportunities to develop in these areas, but we need to consistently provide opportunities for students to develop their capacity as learners and leaders.

What about in your classroom? I certainly hope students are learning content. But are they also having opportunities to develop more deeply as learners and leaders? Are they learning HOW to learning? Are they learning HOW to lead? Leave me a comment. I want to hear from you. You can also share out on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Is It Ever Okay For Teachers To Get Angry With Students?

I wanted to get some feedback from my PLN on whether or not they felt it was okay for educators to get angry with students. So I posted the Twitter poll I included below. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion. Your comments helped to inform my thoughts on the issue. I share some of my thinking below.

1. There are no good or bad emotions. Anger is a normal emotion that every person experiences. Teachers are no exception. To expect a person to never become angry in their professional role is to expect them to become a robot. We don't want robots teaching kids. It's also not healthy to repress anger. Repressed emotions end up manifesting themselves in all sorts of unhealthy ways.

2. Anger can be a force for good. I believe educators who are passionate are more likely to become angry because they don't accept mediocrity or actions that aren't in the best interest of learning and kids. Let's get angry about stuff that matters. Some of our frustrations really don't matter. Let that stuff go. Get angry because you care. Get angry because you want the best for your students. And use that anger as positive energy to create change and make things better in the world around you.

3. It's important to be slow to anger. Being quick-tempered is not a helpful quality. Although I am advocating for some of the benefits of anger here, I think it should usually be more of a slow-simmer rather than a explosive response. When we act too quickly in anger, we will likely do more harm than good. 

4. As I mentioned before, emotions are neither inherently good or bad. They are just emotions. And our emotions are an important part of who we are. Every person is entitled to every one of their feelings. Often we cannot control how we feel, but we CAN control how we respond to what we feel. 

Part of being a mature person is learning how to handle emotions and direct them in positive ways. Teachers need to model this for students. They need to use words to talk about how they are feeling. For example, it's good to say, "When I see a student treat another student disrespectfully, I feel angry." People who can talk about what they are feeling are almost always more skilled at handling emotions. 

So it's always a good idea to describe HOW we are feeling rather than acting out on how we are feeling and expecting others to create their own interpretation. Students need to see teachers modeling this type of awareness for all emotions, including ones like anger, sadness, fear, or embarrassment that might sometimes be frowned upon.

5. If you are finding yourself stuck in anger, that is not a healthy place to be. Emotions should come and go. Anger should subside. Getting stuck in anger or sadness can lead to depression. It can harm your relationships. We want to have balanced emotions.

We held a workshop for our staff several years ago called 8 to Great. We learned the following:

If we think of angry people as "mean," we'll cut ourselves off from our anger and get stuck in depression.
If we think of sad people as "weak," we'll cut ourselves off from our sadness and get stuck in rage. 

7. Is it ever okay to yell at students in anger? Well of course not, you might be thinking. How could an educator ever yell at students and feel like we are acting in a professionally appropriate manner?

One year during our Homecoming week, there was a rumor that our seniors would have silly string and air horns at the assembly. So before the assembly started I talked with the group and explained what I'd heard, and asked them to please not use the air horns or the silly string and of course I explained why. I asked if I could count on them to cooperate on that. They said they would.

Well, when it was time for class yells, the seniors did their thing but there were also a bunch of air horns going off and silly string was going everywhere. It really touched a nerve with me because it seemed so blatantly disrespectful. I had specifically asked them not to do this.

So I made the entire senior class stay after the assembly, and I gave them a highly spirited talk. Was I yelling? Yes, I'd say I was. I explained how disappointed I was in them. I told them how much I cared about them. I told them I would never intentionally disrespect them. I told them how much I wanted them to have a great year. I let them know I knew everyone wasn't responsible, but that what happened wasn't acceptable for Bolivar Liberators. It was a brief, but very intense few moments.

I have very rarely yelled at students over the years. Was this worth yelling about? Is anything worth yelling about in anger? I don't know. Respect is very important to me. It was interesting how many students came up to me and apologized afterwards and even said they completely agreed with everything I said. Were they the same ones with the air horns and the silly string? Probably not. But I think they appreciated that their principal took a stand for what they knew was right.

What do you think? Did I go too far in yelling at the kids? In general, I would say it's never appropriate to yell. How else could I have handled this situation? What are your thoughts on dealing with your anger as an educator? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Focus On Who Students Are Becoming, Not Just Who They Are Right Now

I'm thankful I don't always get what I deserve. Sometimes maybe I've gotten worse, but far more often I've been blessed far beyond what I merited. It's because people believed in me even when I didn't have a clue. And the people who believed in me had a great influence on me.

As educators, we are working with immature human beings. They are kids. Of course, there are plenty of adults who still haven't matured, but that's what we're trying to avoid. We want to help students develop into mature, responsible grownups.

But it can be very challenging. As a teacher, you know you will be mistreated. It's just part of working in a school with kids who bring all their junk with them each day. We should also remember we're bringing our fair share of junk too.

Students are going to challenge your kindness. They aren't always going to appreciate your offers of help. They don't always respond the way we would like them to. And that's why it's important to keep a long-term perspective. Today may have been a really bad day. But let's make sure we have a fresh start tomorrow.

Let's focus on who students are becoming, not just who they are right now. The temptation is to treat students as they deserve. 

I'll treat them with dignity when they act with dignity. I'll show respect when they earn it. I'll show them kindness and help them when they live up to my expectations.

But what if we tried a different approach? What if we extend grace and treat them better than they deserve? What if we focused on showing them we believe in them? Why not try something different?

Today, as I was greeting kids coming into school, I got a good morning high five from a student who has been less than respectful to me this year. I was shocked. More than once, I've thought about directly addressing some of the passive-aggressive behaviors I've felt from the student. 

And that would've been a perfectly appropriate response. In fact, I think some teachers probably need to be more assertive in setting boundaries and communicating expectations. I never want to condone bad behavior. Accountability is important, but the most important thing is growth. Sometimes growth comes from giving someone space to grow.

So in this case, I decided to just continue being nice. I decided to keep smiling, saying hello, and brushing off the subtle offenses. I decided to treat the student with the most care and concern I could muster. And maybe it's working? The high five this morning was a good sign. But only time will tell.

When you extend grace, it can turn a heart around. Instead of allowing a student to create an adversarial relationship, refuse to be part of that. Continue with kindness.

How will you interact with your students? Will you treat them as they deserve? Or will you treat them like they might just change the world someday? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

An Encouraging Word Can Last a Lifetime

As a high school principal in a small town, even getting fast food can be a unique experience. Of course, many of our students are the ones working at these restaurants. Sometimes, when I place an order at the drive through, the voice on the other end will say, "Hello Dr. G!"

This past week a student asked if I'd been to Sonic a day earlier. I replied that I had, and the student said, "Yeah I thought I recognized your voice."

We all have a voice. Every educator speaks hundreds of words every day. Sometimes at school and sometimes outside of school. How we use our voice is so important. It's important to use it in ways that make an impact.

Your words matter and might make a lasting difference far beyond what you expect.

I remember two instances of encouragement I received as a student that had a profound impact on me. Both were during times of transition in my life. The words of support were significant. They were at the right time and in the right moment. And as a result, I have never forgotten those words.

The first instance was shortly after my family moved to a new town, and I was in a new school. Not only was I in a new school, I was also entering high school as a freshmen. I went out for the basketball team, wanting badly to make the team. But in pre-season conditioning I was far behind the other boys. They blew me away, and quite frankly I was embarrassed and wanted to quit. But the head varsity coach approached me and said these words, "Don't give up. You can do it. Just keep working at it each day. I want to see you make this team."

I have never forgotten those words. Later that school year my family moved again. A couple of years after that, I played in a game against my old school and scored 18 points in a varsity game against Coach Radford, the same coach who encouraged me as a struggling freshmen. He created a monster.

The second instance was as a freshmen in college. My first semester didn't go so well because I was not focused academically. I knew I let my parents down, and I wasn't happy with myself either. But in my second semester, I was fully committed to getting good grades. I was studying and staying on top of everything. Psychology was a fun class but the professor was known for really tough tests. I had made a huge stack of note cards to study. I remember I was sitting near the front, and he noticed my stack of note cards. He looked at them and said, "You're working really hard at this aren't you."

It almost seems silly to me now that I still remember that comment so vividly. But it made a big impression on me. I looked up to the professor, and I was proud he noticed my effort.

Both of these examples were not extraordinary circumstances. They were caring educators who probably made a habit of lifting up students and encouraging them to do their best. But for me, the words were extraordinary. Your efforts to encourage can last a lifetime. You never know how your words may create a lasting influence.

What will students remember when they think of your voice?

Can you think of a time you were encouraged by someone in your life? How can you bring that to your work as an educator now? Who will you lift up? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Future Driven: Looking Forward, Giving Back

I'm happy to announce the release of Future Driven: Will Your Students Thrive In An Unpredictable World! Back at the start of summer I made a public commitment that I would have this passion project finished before the start of the new school year (See: Do Something Today to Move In the Direction of Your Dreams).

Well, we've been in school for a couple of weeks now. So I didn't exactly meet my own deadline. But hey, there are still many schools who haven't returned from summer break yet, so technically maybe I did!

The book is now available on Amazon. And for a very limited time, the Kindle version of Future Driven will only be $2.99. I encourage you to download it now. 

Plus, through the end of September, I'm donating all of the proceeds from Future Driven to Care to Learn, an organization in our community that provides for the health, hunger, and hygiene needs of disadvantaged school-age children. It is important to me to give back to our students. It's always about students first. I want to be part of creating a better future through better schools. It starts with us.

Care to Learn was started in Springfield, MO by philanthropist Doug Pitt. You might have heard of his brother, Brad. Yes, the same Hollywood Brad Pitt you see regularly in the grocery checkout line. The organization now has many chapters in our area, including here in Bolivar. 

Image may contain: one or more people, text and closeup

About half of our students are from low income households and qualify for free/reduced lunches. With Care to Learn, we are able to instantly meet the emergent health, hunger, and hygiene needs of our students. 

If a kid needs shoes, clothes, eyeglasses, groceries, etc., our counselors take him or her shopping and meet the need right away. We know it's impossible for students to learn their best if they have unmet needs. We are so thankful for Care to Learn.

I certainly hope you find Future Driven inspiring and helpful. Your work matters. You are needed as a change maker. Just know that if you get your copy now, you'll also be helping kids have what they need to learn. Your support of Care to Learn will make an impact too.

Let me know if you have any questions about Future Driven or my process of being an independent author. It has been an unbelievable adventure and so many have helped me along the way. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Be sure to the use the hashtag #FutureDriven as you share your passion for being a future-driven educator.

Future Driven: Will Your Students Thrive In An Unpredictable World?

In Future Driven, David Geurin describes how to conquer the status quo, create authentic learning, and help your students thrive in an unpredictable world. He shares how to simultaneously be more committed to your mission while being more flexible with your methods. You'll discover strategies to ...

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Always Reflect, Always Learn: Be Content, but Never Be Satisfied

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sub for one of our classrooms from start to finish. The regular teacher was called away with a sick child. It's not that unusual for me to cover a class temporarily but to teach the whole block doesn't happen that often.

Let me tell you it's tough to be a substitute teacher even when you are the principal in the building. You are coming into a classroom with an established routine and culture that you're not familiar with. You don't know all of the students and their needs. And the subject matter is brand new in that context even if you have some background in that area.

I had the advantage of the kids knowing me, and I knew most of them too. And the teacher left me incredibly detailed plans. He teaches dual credit biology so many of the students are getting high school credit and college credit for this class. They are a sharp group of kids.

I showed up with all the energy and enthusiasm I would want for my own kids. I let them know from the start I would need their help in making this successful. I told them my background is not in biology, but we will work through any challenges and make sure that we do everything possible to accomplish the goals for the day.

We had a successful 83 minutes together. There were some excellent conversations. We explored the questions and topics with active participation. I'm sure my insights and feedback were not to the level of the regular teacher, but we gave it our everything.

As the students were leaving, one of them commented, "Thank you. You did a good job." Of course, that made me feel like a million bucks.

But last night, I was reflecting on the class period and what I wish I would've done differently. I kept thinking of things that I would improve if given the chance.

  1. I didn't learn every student's name. I called students by name when I could. That's something we emphasize. And I think I learned a couple of more. But I missed a great opportunity to learn everyone's name.
  2. Every student was supposed to share the Google doc for the activity with the regular teacher. I reminded them several times, but I did not go to each table and confirm that they did this. As I reflected, I was concerned that some may not have completed that step. I could've made sure that happened instead of just hoping it happened.
  3. They had a jigsaw activity near the end of the class. I wish I would've gotten a better sense about how well they summarized their reading. I don't think I provided very good feedback on that part.
But overall, it was a successful class. We had some really good conversations and lots of participation. The teacher had established that type of learning culture already. That made it easy for me.

The opportunity to teach this class was a fantastic experience. I felt like I was seeing through the eyes of a teacher. I thought about how important reflection is. It's easy to get in the routine and always be thinking only of what's next, but we have to circle around and think about how we can improve. I think that's an essential for growth. It's important to always be thinking, "How could that have been better? What could I do next time to improve?"

We never want to be entirely satisfied with what we've accomplished. But we also don't want to be too hard on ourselves. We want to be content, but not satisfied. I've known teachers who sweated every detail and beat themselves up over every mistake. That's not being content. Do the best you can and be okay with it for today. But never be satisfied. Always try to be better tomorrow than you are today. The only way that will happen is when you honestly reflect and push yourself to improve.

The next time I get a chance to sub, I will try to be better than I was this time. It's important to always keep aiming for excellence.

Question: How do you make reflection part of your routine? Are you able to keep a healthy balance of not being satisfied, while remaining content? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

11 Ways to Build Capacity and Never Stop Growing

I am passionate about growth. So when Julie Woodard (@woodard_julie) asked me about collaborating on the visual featured in this post, I was all in. She's the amazing artist, folks. I'm just glad to think about a topic that matters to me. So here goes. 

It's so important to always continue to grow and build capacity, both in yourself and in others. Of course, as educators, we want our students to always be growing. I'll be curious to know your thoughts. I rattled off this list in a very short time. Ask Julie. So it probably could use some further thinking. Your thinking is one thing that makes me stronger and keeps me growing. So thanks!

Here's the list: 11 Ways to Build Capacity and Never Stop Growing

1. Take Risks

You can only grow if you step forward into the unknown. It requires a leap of faith. Sure, you must establish a secure foundation, but you must be willing to go out on a limb to be able to truly grow. Okay, so maybe I just mixed my metaphors terribly. That's a risk I'm willing to take.

2. Ask Questions

Questions are essential to learning and growth. Physicist and Laureate Richard Feynman said, "There is no learning without having to pose a question." We must constantly ask questions if we want to learn. We must question ourselves and question others. We should strive to consistently have the perspective of a curious learner. 

3. Help Others

When you help others, you will grow. If there are two things that go together like peanut butter and jelly, it's giving and growing. When you give, you grow. And when you are growing, you are better able to give. Helping others is a wonderful reason to never stop growing.

4. Learn From Mistakes

You should never be afraid to make a mistake. We learn by making mistakes. You should just strive to not repeat them. You should always strive to learn from them. Everything worthwhile is challenging. There will be mistakes. There will be difficulties. There will be impossible situations. But these are incredible opportunities to grow.

5. Embrace Change

To grow, you have to willing to grow. You have to be willing to change. You have to want to be better tomorrow than you are today. You have to be willing to challenge your assumptions and be open to another way. 

6. Be Future Driven

We cannot grow by clinging to the past. In fact, many people are stuck where they are because of things that happened yesterday. The choices you make today will shape your future. Being future driven is having a vision for a better tomorrow and then growing into that vision. Of course, this one is also a nod to my soon-to-be-released book, Future Driven.

7. Generate Positive Energy

Growth can be difficult. There will be obstacles and doubters. There are people who will try to bring you down. The only way to press forward is to choose a positive attitude. It gives you the energy to never give up.

8. Practice Reflective Thinking

Reflective thinking is how we learn from the experiences of our life. We test our thinking. We consider what went well and what didn't go well. The ability to honestly and accurately reflect is critical to your growth. We need feedback to grow. But we will only learn from the feedback if we reflect on it and act on it. Feedback is dust in the wind without reflection.

9. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you want to grow, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. This week in meetings with students I showed the video below. I let them know we are going to push them. We are going to have very high expectations. Sometimes, it might make them uncomfortable. But know we are doing it because we care. We want you to grow. You will only grow with some discomfort. Sometimes it feels hard. Sometimes it feels a little frightening. Watch the video and you'll see what I mean. But in the end, when we push through the discomfort, we will accomplish great things.

10. Feel Affirmed and Supported

These last two are related to how you feel about growing. It's great to have someone in your life who is speaking words of affirmation and support into your efforts to grow. But even if you don't have those positive voices from the outside, you can be your own source of encouragement. You choose the conversation going on in your head. You choose your thoughts. If you discipline yourself to choose the words that build you up and keep you moving forward, you can overcome even the negative voices in your environment. What are you going to listen to?

11. Be Challenged to Grow

Again, it's great if you have someone in your life who is challenging you to grow. It's great to have someone who believes in you, pushing you, leading you, and helping you along the way. So try to bring those people into your life. But even if you don't, you can challenge yourself. You can choose thoughts that are challenging. You can push yourself. Just keep in mind, you won't be great by small thinking. You will only be great when you go after the big challenges. Be bold. 

So what are your thoughts? How could this list be improved? How are you challenging yourself and others to grow? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

9 Elements of Effective Communication

Communication is one of the toughest things about leading. You work constantly to improve your verbal, written, and interpersonal skills. You strive to communicate strategically, systematically, and with empathy. You recognize the importance of effective communication with your team, your parents, your community. And yet, the effectiveness of your communication falls flat. It happens to everyone.

One thing that can always be better in just about every organization is communication. I know I need to continue to grow in this area. Clear communication is essential in personal relationships, in classroom settings, and across the entire school community. 

Regardless of whether you are a principal, a teacher, or have another leadership role in your school. You can become a better communicator. It's something we should always strive to improve. When we are clear with our message and more understanding as listeners, it builds positive culture and improves the learning environment.

One of the most important things for effective communication is situational awareness. Our message is really not about us. It's about meeting the needs and expectations of others. We have to communicate with the audience in mind, if it's 1 or 100. It's important to adapt to the situation and communicate in a way that will meet others in a productive and positive manner.

Let's be clear, our communication is one way we influence others. Our communication should seek to lift up others, help them be stronger, and ultimately help them exhibit leadership qualities that are helpful to the mission. Sometimes this involves delivering hard truths, setting boundaries, and standing firm. 

As I write this post, I am reminded how much I need to review these principles. I often fall short in communicating effectively and want to continuously strive to improve these skills.

1. Listen more, talk less

Effective communication is not just broadcasting a message. It's not saying more and saying it louder. Great communicators are great listeners. They really try to understand the perspective of others. They initiate dialogue. Dialogue involves sharing meaning in the conversation. It doesn't necessarily mean there is full agreement. It just means that both parties are listening with empathy and really trying to understand each other and find areas of common ground.

2. Reach out.

Even though I try to be visible throughout our school, sometimes I find I'm talking to the same people over and over. I need to make sure that I'm communicating regularly with everyone. The same thing can happen in the classroom. It's easy to engage outgoing students or teachers who are talkative. But it's important to connect with as many people as possible. 

3. Never miss a chance to share the message

Look for opportunities to share your key message. What is the vision of your classroom or school? What is the focus? Too often we only focus on the 'why' behind our work at the start of the school year. We emphasize the mission and the vision. But if we don't revisit that on a regular basis, the mission will veer off course. One of my #1 goals for next year is to fine-tune our vision, communicate our vision, rinse and repeat. Whatever you think is the right amount of communication to get your message across, triple it.

4. Invite two way communication

Don't just wait for feedback to come to you. Ask for it. Check in with your students, your parents, your colleagues, everyone. Be curious about how people are experiencing your classroom or school. Ask interesting questions. What's running smoothly? What could be improved? What skills are you improving? What skills would you like to improve? What have you achieved that makes you proud? What do you need from me to reach your goals? How can I help you?

5. Show acceptance and encouragement

Make your communications more personal. Invite people in. Make them feel like they belong. When people feel accepted, they are more willing to listen. Empathy establishes trust. It says "I accept you." And empathy provides the foundation for encouragement. Encouragement leads to growth. Encouragement says, "I believe in you." Encouraging leaders help people take next steps to grow and contribute in more powerful ways. 

6. Activate others to spread the message

Who else can help clarify or repeat the message? If you are the only one sharing a message, you are greatly limiting your reach. As you build your team, give them a nudge about the things that need to be communicated. Model for them the type of communication that is needed. I always encourage our teachers to never miss a chance to say something good about our school. When we activate others to help share the message, it builds bridges between our school and community.

7. Evoke emotion

The most powerful communication is tied to emotion. It's personal. We feel something. Great leaders don't just communicate a clear message, they offer a compelling message. They speak not only to the mind, but to the heart. We can have all the information in the world that we should do something, and yet we won't take action. We are only moved to action when we are moved. We need inspiration. Leaders evoke emotion when they show how much they care, when they reveal their own emotions, and when they help others feel they are part of something important that is making a difference. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

8. Read Between the Lines

Leaders must have awareness of what's being communicated even if it's not being said. The communication through body language, tone of voice, and behavior is telling. Leaders should always work at building awareness and seeking to bring forward meaning that might be hidden or unknown. There are too many times I picked up on signals but brushed them aside, only to find out later that the problem was much bigger than I realized. I want to improve my ability to pick up on underlying concerns before they become serious issues. It's always best to be proactive rather than reactive.

9. Stay calm and be positive

Anyone who aspires to be a leader will face challenges and be expected to rise to the occasion. Strong leaders are able to face difficult circumstances while remaining calm and positive. No matter what happens, we have a choice how we will respond. We can respond with fear, anxiety, and anger. Or, we can respond with diligence, duty, and action. It doesn't help to fret the problem. It helps when we rally together to overcome the problem. 

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Question: What aspects of communication are most challenging for you? What frustrates you about communication? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Schools Should Be Places Where the Present and Future Collide

Educators should be futurists. Now you're probably thinking, "What the heck, one more thing I have to be. It always feels like teachers are being asked to do more and more, with less and less. One more thing!" But hang on, I'm not asking you to do more. I'm asking you to shift your perspective.

Futurists are scientists or social scientists who look ahead to the future of what might be possible. They don't necessarily try to predict the future. No one can do that. But they do explore the possibilities of how current realities might lead to future developments in any and all areas of life.

Futurists believe in progress. They believe there is more to be done, that we can expand our capacity, that we can solve some of the most pressing problems of today. Of course, they also warn of what might happen if we don't address some of the potential problems of the future.

Years ago, Harvard Professor Edward Banfield described a study in his book Unheavenly Cities related to factors that best predicted individual's upward social mobility and economic prosperity. He expected factors like family background, intelligence, connections, race, or some other fixed characteristic to be most influential.

But what he found surprised him. The greatest factor related to future productivity and success was what he termed "long-term perspective." Writer Brian Tracy describes Banfield's findings:
He said that men and women who were the most successful in life and the most likely to move up economically were those who took the future into consideration with every decision they made in the present. He found that the longer the period of time a person took into consideration while planning and acting, the more likely it was that he would achieve greatly during his career.
The importance of long-term thinking makes sense to me. We are faced on a daily basis with decisions to do what is easiest in the short-term or do what's best in the long-term. Wisdom is knowing the right thing to do and having the courage to do it.

But it's more than delayed gratification and self-discipline. It is also having a vision for what the future will demand. It's thinking like a futurist. It's being forward-thinking and reflecting on how a changing world will impact my world, the way I live, and work, and interact.

It's also important for educators and schools to have a long-term perspective. In my upcoming book, Future Driven: Will Your Students Thrive In An Unpredictable World? I challenge educators to reflect on their own perspective. 

Schools should be less like time capsules and more like time machines. The time capsule approach only protects the status quo. It assumes the way we have taught in the past is good enough for today's students too. The time capsule teacher wants to remind us of everything in the past and wants to filter everything in the future through that. To be blunt, the time capsule teacher is stuck in the past.

But the time machine teacher wants to transcend the current reality. When you think about stories involving time machines, they typically involve using time travel to solve a problem or impact a destiny. They involve a hero's journey. 

In this case, I am suggesting that time machine teachers want to create a better future. They have a long term perspective. Even though they can't literally visit the future, they are future driven. They are pushing forward and living in the emerging future.

We are living in a rapidly changing, complex world. Our students will need a future driven education to be ready for the challenges they will face.

Educators make the biggest impact in a place where the future and the present collide. A future focus, combined with action today, has the greatest potential to produce positive change. We need to have a long-term perspective and so do our students. We have to model that for them and cause them to think in those terms. 

The place where today meets tomorrow is where you can make the greatest difference as an educator. Your impact will depend on your perspective and your actions.

I expect Future Driven to be released in a matter of weeks. It will challenge your perspective. It will help you increase your capacity for positive change. It describes how to become a time machine teacher and how to create a future driven school.

I don't want to jump through hoops. I don't want to go through the motions. I never want to waste precious time. I want to do my part to create a brighter future. I believe most educators want the same. You are building futures every day. 

Question: What are ways our schools are time capsules, stuck in the past? What are you doing to move forward and have a long-term perspective? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

7 Resources for Designing Innovative Learning Spaces

Retrieved from

With back to school right around the corner, I know many educators are thinking about how to make upgrades to their learning spaces for the new school year. The design of our classrooms can have a significant impact on learning. 

The choices you make in setting up your classroom will send a message to your students from the first day of school. Students will instantly draw conclusions: Is this a welcoming place? Will I work with others? Am I valued? What kind of learning will I be doing here? 

I believe it's important to create an environment that values students, gives them in a voice in the classroom, and creates a space that is forward-thinking and modern. 

Although your school may not be able to purchase expensive furnishings, there are things you can do to design on a dime. I know several teachers in our building found ways to do inexpensive upgrades to their classrooms. 

Here are seven articles that I found helpful in thinking about design upgrades for our school.

6 Must-Have Classroom Spaces for Project-Based Learning

By: Danish Kurani. These six spaces facilitate learning that goes beyond the realm of the traditional classroom and can be created in almost any type of building. Whether you're planning a new building or updating the one you're in, these are possible for you.

Designing Learner-Centered Spaces -- THE Journal

Learning Spaces Learning spaces must become learner-centered. Editor's note: The following is excerpted from a chapter of the book, " Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow's Schools," published by ASCD in June. The authors and publisher have given their permission to republish portions of chapter 4, "Designing Learner-Centered Spaces."

Tips for Creating Wow-Worthy Learning Spaces

"Look at your learning space with 21st-century eyes: Does it work for what we know about learning today, or just for what we knew about learning in the past?" -The Third Teacher Does your classroom mirror the rectilinear seating arrangement popular in Sumerian classrooms, circa 2000 BCE?

6 ways to personalize learning with flexible seating

Putting students at the center of learning takes a double commitment. One to ensure that instruction and learning address distinct student needs, interests and aspirations, and one to provide spaces that support a student-centered program. It also requires educators to consider the various teaching formats they use and creating learning environments to support them.

Flexible Seating and Student-Centered Classroom Redesign

I'm a firm believer in keeping the focus on what's really important: the students. If student motivation and higher engagement is truly the desired end game, then we as teachers must adapt right along with our students in our classrooms.

Three Ways to Design Better Classrooms and Learning Spaces

The problems that plague education around the world aren't the result of a lack of attention or care. Parents, business leaders, political leaders and educators in countries everywhere are dedicated to improving how they educate their people. Every year, billions of dollars are spent on education initiatives in curriculum and teaching practices.

6 Ideas for Classroom Design

As the new school year nears or begins for you, consider how the design of your classroom can have a huge impact on you and your students. Try these ideas to design your classroom this year. To learn more, check out one of our previous posts: Purposeful Learning Spaces.

What are you plans for upgrading your classroom for back to school? How will you use your space to inspire learning? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

How To Have Killer Meetings That Get Results

I recently read Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. This book is a must read for any leader who wants to improve the quality of meetings in his or her organization. Every team could benefit from the insights shared in this leadership fable. 

The problem with meetings is that they are often boring, and they don't usually get the desired results. There are a couple of reasons this happens. I'd like to share some of what I learned from Lencioni's book and encourage you to read it if you would like to have killer meetings instead of death by meetings.

Two Problems With Meetings

Major Problem #1 is Lack of Conflict. But not the bad kind of conflict. NOT personal conflict. It’s the kind we have in the plot of a movie or novel. There is a problem to be solved. It drives the meeting forward in a narrative fashion. There is a story. There will be conflict between the ‘characters’ in the meeting, but we want it to be constructive conflict around important issues directly related to the problem. Conflict will result in better decisions. There will be ideological differences. Leaders have to help to create some of the urgency needed for a plot to be interesting. If meetings lack conflict, they are boring. And they basically result in people ‘hanging out’ together instead of solving problems together. Lencioni suggests three ideas leaders can use to help get meaningful dialogue started.

Hook Example - “We have a real problem with apathy. 50% of our students failed at least one class last year. We are all dealing with bored, disengaged students. We don’t want to see students coast through school and pay the price later. We aim for excellence here, and we aren’t getting excellence out of all our students.”

Mining for Conflict - Confront issues that need to be addressed. Don’t avoid them.

Real-time Permission - Let others know the conflict is good. “I’m glad we are having this discussion, even though it may be a little uncomfortable and force us to rethink our work.”

Major Problem #2 is Lack of Contextual Structure. When different types/purposes for the meeting are all lumped together in “meeting stew” with no distinction, the meeting goes all over the place. People talk to fill up the time but not toward a goal or purpose. The dialogue isn’t leading to a decision.

Lencioni presents several types of meetings, but I found two of these to be particularly useful in our school setting.

Type #1 Tactical Meetings - Issues of immediate concern. Most routine meetings should be tactical. They are very structured and includes the following elements:

Lightning Round - A quick, around-the-table reporting session in which everyone indicates two or three priorities for the week. It should take each team member no more than one minute to quickly describe what is on their respective plates. It sets the tone for the meeting.

Progress Review - Reporting of critical information or metrics. What are the key areas of progress either ongoing or established at the previous meeting? Limit metrics to just 2 or 3. Limit discussion of underlying issues here.

Real-time agenda - Once the lightning round and progress review are complete, the agenda is set by what everyone is working on and how the group is performing against its goals, not based on the leader’s best guess 48 hours before the meeting. There must be disciplined spontaneity here. What are the next steps? “Should we develop a more effective question for the common assessment?” “What are we going to do this week about the increasing Ds and Fs in our classes?” Stay focused on tactical issues that must be addressed to ensure short-term objectives are not jeopardized. Any obstacles to tactical issues must be removed.
Possible Obstacles: 1. Temptation to set an agenda. 2. Spending too much time on the lightning round. 3. Discussion about long-term strategic issues. Team member will raise strategic issues that will take the focus off the short-term topics (aka - doing real work together). There is a different meeting for the strategic issues. Any strategic issues brought up are added to the list of topics for the next type of meeting.
Type #2 The Monthly Strategic - The most important and most fun type of meeting. The team debates, analyzes, and decides critical issues that will affect the school/team in fundamental ways. The hardest thing will be having enough time. Issues will have to be limited to only the most important. In this type of meeting, members need to know in advance what will be discussed. Members must come prepared. Decisions must be made with good information, data, research, etc. Decisions are not made on anecdotal information alone. This meeting decides the team’s larger strategic plan and where the team is headed next. Again, fear of conflict can cause these meetings to be ineffective.


Meetings don’t have to be a waste of time. They can actually save time, because our results are better when our meetings are better. We can be proactive. Alignment saves time because we pull together instead of pulling in a multitude of directions.

A few other notes…

The meeting should always focus on the people in the room. What are we (these people) going to do about the problem? If there is a need to partner with others in addressing the problem, invite them to the next meeting.

Meetings generate energy when…

1. Teams brag about wins
2. Relationships are strengthened
3. The path forward is clear
4. Accountability focuses on the people around the table

Question: What other ideas would you share to have killer meetings? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Schools Aren't Businesses, and Students Aren't Customers

I've been guilty of looking at business as a metaphor for education many times. I think there are some ways it works okay. We can learn from the business community and certainly need to work closely with business partners. We have some shared interests in good education outcomes. I enjoy reading books from business and a whole variety of areas and applying principles I learn to my work as an educator, where appropriate.

But we have to be very careful with comparing education to the business model. Our mission should be to advance the human condition. Our measure of success as educators is changing lives and creating opportunities. And making our democracy stronger. In business, the bottom line is ultimately measured in dollars and cents. But you can't reduce a child's education to increased profits.

The business metaphor is especially dangerous considering the current political and policy landscape. There are many who would like to privatize education. Better schools, goes the thinking, would result from competition and the marketplace. Capitalism would do it's thing and education would be stronger for it. But that model has proven failed over and again. Learning is not a commodity.

I've also been guilty of referring to students as customers. When I've done this, it is making the point that we should provide good customer service. Our students are the end users of what we do, and we should carefully consider their experience and how school is working for them. 

But this comparison only works to a degree. The relationship between a business and a customer is transactional. The customer doesn't own much responsibility in the relationship. The customer pays for goods or services and expects the business to do the rest. 

But schools need to go beyond treating students like customers. We must make students partners in learning. We are not just delivering learning to students like a product. We must co-create learning with students if it is to be most effective. It requires a degree of pulling together and helping students to contribute to their own learning. 

Metaphors are generally helpful to try to understand the world in deeper and more meaningful ways. But as educators, we have to be careful about comparing what we do to what businesses do. Can we learn from business? Yes! But should schools entirely operate as a business model? I think not.

Question: What are your thoughts on schools as businesses? And students as customers? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

3 Classroom Tips for Stronger Digital Learning

More and more classrooms are gaining access to digital technology. And that’s a good thing. In a world that is increasingly reliant on digital tools, students need to have opportunities to learn with access to technology. Schools are adding Chromebooks, iPads, and other devices more than ever. Some are simply inviting students to bring their own devices (BYOD). But either way, access to devices is only growing in schools.

But the availability to devices doesn’t automatically result in more learning or better experiences for students or teachers. In fact, the addition of devices presents new challenges for educators to consider. When our school added Chromebooks for every student, we quickly learned we would need to address some new challenges. These obstacles can derail learning in classrooms where the potential pitfalls aren’t addressed or avoided.

If you are an educator who is fortunate enough to have access to digital devices for all your students to use, be ready to take steps to teach the procedures and routines that will help create success for using these tools in learning. It’s important to establish and maintain boundaries. And it’s also important to never make assumptions about what your students may or may not know about using the devices.

1. You can’t assume students are tech savvy just because they are digital natives.

It’s true that students in today’s classrooms are digital natives. They’ve grown up around technology and tend to have some skills that are helpful in navigating the digital world. However, it’s a mistake to think they are proficient in using any tool you might throw at them. For the most part, kids have used technology for social media or entertainment. Using technology for learning, productivity, or creativity might be new to them. So, when you plan for using a new tool in class, plan to spend some time orienting students to how it works.

Or, if you prefer for students learn the tool on their own, provide time for them to experiment with the tool and share out their learning to others in the class. It can be a good idea for students to “teach themselves” a digital tool. New tools and apps are being developed all the time. It’s great practice for students to be able to adapt to new tools and work on the intuitive thinking and problem solving required for “clicking around” and figuring it out. You might want to provide them with a list of tasks they should be able to do with the new tool. And it’s great for the teacher to model what to do when getting stuck. The ability to research solutions via Google or YouTube search can be very helpful.

2. Don’t just teach digital citizenship, embed digital citizenship.
It’s never a good idea to hand students devices without also supporting safe, responsible use. Many schools create their own digital citizenship curriculum or buy one to use with their students. There are also some excellent digital citizenship resources available for free online, from Google or from Common Sense Media for instance. Try to anticipate the problems your students might encounter in using the digital devices in your classroom. Be proactive and have discussions up front with your students about what is appropriate to share, how to judge validity of resources, how to respect content ownership and fair use, and how to report something that is threatening.

While it is important to teach digital citizenship up front, it’s also very important for teachers to monitor student use of technology and use teachable moments to address situations that may arise as students utilize tech. Often the most valuable lessons occur as opportunities arise to discuss relevant issues in authentic context. Digital citizenship should not just be a scheduled lesson. It should be part of everything we do related to the use of technology in the classroom. It’s something educators must model and discuss regularly. Moreover, it’s part of the bigger issue of developing good citizenship in the broadest sense. How are we helping students contribute as positive, productive members of communities online and in physical space?

3. Plan to manage distractions.

One of the most common challenges of implementing devices in the classroom is dealing with the potential distraction technology can present. While technology open up a whole new world of possibilities for learning, it also opens a world of possibilities for diversion away from classroom learning priorities. This prospect is very frightening for many teachers. How will I make sure my students aren’t wasting class time? How can I make sure students are watching content that is not appropriate for school? Will the presence of a screen take away from learning instead of accelerating learning?

Keep in mind distractions are nothing new in the classroom. Keeping students attention has always been a chief concern for teachers. Even in a class without devices, students can find a plethora of things to occupy their attention besides learning. The key to alleviate boredom is to stimulate curiosity and plan engaging lessons. Device distractions are no match for an amazing lesson! At least I think it pays to think like that.

Some schools also choose to purchase classroom monitoring software that allows teachers to view and even take control of student devices. This type of system typically allows teachers to monitor an entire classroom from the teacher’s computer. You may not have this type of software available, and I actually prefer not to utilize it. It’s better for the teacher to be able to move around the room and interact with students rather than being tethered to a computer monitoring students like Big Brother.

Here are some solid tips for managing distractions with no software required.

-Clearly communicate times when students should and should not be on devices.

-Clarify when it is okay to use earbuds and when earbuds should not be used.

-Set up the classroom so you can easily move around and behind students using devices. You need to be able to easily view student screens.

-Require students to only have one browser tab open at a time. This prevents switching tabs when the teacher is not watching to games or media that might be distracting.

-When transitioning from devices to whole group instruction or another activity, wait until you have everyone’s attention before you move on.

-Give specific instructions about which apps or sites should be used during a particular activity. Hold students accountable to use these tools only unless they ask permission to access another site.

These considerations are an essential part of establishing a strong culture of learning in the digital classroom. Other issues will also arise like caring for devices, dealing with tech questions, managing battery life, etc. The most important thing is to work with students to establish classroom expectations and revisit them consistently. It works best when teachers can develop a shared responsibility with students for using devices responsibly and productively. Just like any other classroom behavior, it’s not enough to proclaim a rule and never discuss it again. Students will need reminders and guidance to be successful.

Ultimately, the opportunity to develop digital learning skills is invaluable to students. Students will need to be able to successfully use devices for learning and productivity for the rest of their lives. Although there are challenges with implementing technology in the classroom, with the right approach, teachers can help students become strong digital learners.

Question: What other tips would you share about creating a safe, positive, and productive culture for digital learning? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I can't wait to see what you've got to add. Together we are stronger!
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