Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Power of Keystone Habits

I'm currently reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. I couldn't put it down. These ideas are immediately relevant in trying to help myself and others (teachers and students) build capacity to do more and be more.

One profound takeaway for me is how small changes can lead to bigger changes and superior results. Habits are powerful, even ones that may not seem directly related to a particular outcome. 


When Paul O'Neil was named CEO of metals producer Alcoa, the company had been underperforming for years. Many questioned his selection for the top position, but after he spoke to shareholders the first time, he was especially under the microscope. You see, he didn't talk about raising profits. He spoke of creating the safest company possible.

He created an intense focus on worker safety, something he felt everyone in the company could get behind. The company had problems with quality and efficiency, but he didn't focus on on that. He made worker safety the driving concern.

But as his safety measures were implemented, quality and efficiency improved across the board, and soon Alcoa was turning profits that were extraordinary. Even though the company's energy wasn't focused squarely on profit-driving levers, those levers were subsequently effected by the focus on safety.

Impact of Exercise

Researchers have found over the decades that people who introduce consistent exercise routines into their lifestyle, also seem to improve other patterns in their life, often unknowingly.

They also improve their eating habits, smoke less, show more patience with others, and even use their credit cards less. It's almost like the consistent, positive change spills over into other parts of life. As exercise improved, so did other aspects of life, and it even happened unknowingly for participants. They weren't aware of the improvements they were making.

These types of habits, that tend to have the spill over effect, are referred to as keystone habits. They are the key to improving in a whole variety of ways.

Weight Loss

The conventional advice for weight loss was to join a gym, exercise more, follow restrictive low-calorie diets, and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Of course, those actions are helpful if you stick with them but most weight loss patients would not. They would follow them for a few weeks but slip back into old patters.

But when researchers asked 1600 obesity patients to make one simple change and keep a journal of what they ate for an entire day at least one day a week, the results were extraordinary. The people who kept the journal lost twice as much weight as those that did not and other behaviors changed, like exercise and diet, even though the researchers didn't make any suggestions to the patients about exercise or diet. They simply asked them to log what they were eating. It seems the journal was a keystone habit.

Other Keystone Habits

Families who eat together on average have children who make better grades, have more emotional stability, and demonstrate more confidence. 

Making your bed every morning has been shown to correlate to increased productivity, sticking to a budget, and better overall sense of well-being.

These keystone habits establish small wins in a person's (or organization's) life that can translate to bigger wins.
"Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage," one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. "Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win." Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

Implications for Educators

Are we taking advantage of small wins? Are we leveraging keystone habits in schools? 

Often when thinking about improving student achievement, we simply double down on math or reading. We implement more interventions. We increase the rigor, give more homework, or take away electives in favor of core instruction. And maybe we do increase performance just a little.

But at what cost? Is it worth it if we are sacrificing the joy of learning?

And, are we overlooking other levers that might yield better results and produce stronger learners?

What if we looked at other factors that might produce small wins and set some goals around these areas? I was part of a conversation with some local school leaders who were discussing goals for the year. 

One of the schools was focusing on getting more kids involved in school activities. Involvement in sports, clubs, fine arts, etc. has shown correlation to student achievement in studies. If we can get a small win in this area, it's good for kids regardless, and perhaps it will spill over to classroom learning.

What if you worked on having extraordinary greetings and made that an important habit in your school?

What if everyone made it a point to call students by name, make eye contact, and smile more? 

What if you focused on proximity in the classroom? Moving from the front of the room, sitting by students, being with students instead of in front of them.

I'm going to continue to reflect on how we can leverage the power of small wins in our school. What do you think about your classroom or school? 

Have you seen examples of the power of small wins? What do you see as possible keystone habits educators could develop in students? 

Leave a comment or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I'm curious what's on your mind.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Lesson On Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

11 Things You Might Unintentionally Be Communicating to Your Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What If We Aimed for Collective Greatness?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep dreaming big.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

9 Ways to Shift the Energy in the Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what won't work.

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

Ready, set, go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Fewer Excuses, More Solutions

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

Well, mostly people. 

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

People who crush dreams and steal hope.

People who won't be parents to their kids.

People just showing up and going through the motions.

People who want higher test scores more than inspired learning.

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

People who protect the status quo.

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

People who spew hate and discord.

People who don't make kids a priority.

People who are selfish.

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

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

People who make their own comfort their primary concern.

People who are petty.

People who complain about other people. I hate that!

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

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

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

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

I can encourage.

I can reach out.

I can step out.

I can lead up.

I can lift up.

I can never give up.

I can be the change I want to see. 

I can set the example. 

I can keep growing and giving. 

I can dream of a better future.

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

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Are Innovative Teachers Happier?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But why do they seem happier? More satisfied?

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

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

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Isn't It Your Job To Teach Me?

The teacher asked her students to make some decisions about the direction of the learning. The lesson required independent thought and initiative.

But one student resisted, "Isn't it your job to teach me?"

Have you ever heard a question like that from one of your students? It's a question that was asked by a student in our school. And to me it illustrates the way many students have come to believe that learning is a product of their compliance with a teacher. 

Just tell me what I need to know. Tell me what to do, what to learn. Teach me. Isn't that YOUR job?

Another student said to me, "I just want to take notes and then have a test." This comment came from a student in a classroom where students are expected to own a considerable amount of the learning and develop original thoughts. Learning in this class is demonstrated through projects and authentic activities.

I don't blame these students for thinking this way. I think, at least in part, they are simply a product of a system that has conditioned them to be passive learners. 

So who owns the learning? The student? The teacher? Both?

How would you respond if you heard these words from your students? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 27, 2017

9 Mistakes That Sabotage Your Classroom Management

If you've followed my blog, you might know I really like to refer to classroom management as classroom leadership. But that's not how we typically think of it.

Regardless of what we call it, it's challenging. It's one of the toughest things for early career teachers to get a handle on. And even seasoned teachers will have their fair share of challenges and not know how to respond in every situation.

It really has to be an ongoing process of learning and growth. No one ever has it all figured out.

So if you're struggling with student behaviors, give yourself a break. Keep working at it. Learn from others. Study different methods. And reflect on your own failures and successes.

In this post, I'm looking at some of the BIG mistakes that can happen when a teacher is frustrated or has a lapse in judgement. It's important to think about these in advance to plan for these NEVER to happen. When they do, it undermines the development of a positive classroom and healthy culture of learning.

These behaviors are harmful to kids and can harm your ability to develop a respectful, orderly classroom environment.

9 Mistakes That Will Sabotage Your Classroom Management

1. Painting a child into a corner.

Your most challenging students will often try to engage the teacher in power struggles. A skilled teacher can avoid these high stakes moments. The goal is to stop a disruptive behavior while also keeping the student in class. It's important to avoid a showdown between student and teacher. These situations end up with everyone losing. The teacher doesn't have to win in the moment. The situation needs to be addressed in the moment, but fully resolving a problem can happen at a later time. After some time passes, the results are often much better than escalating the situation when emotions are hot. 

2. Handling private matters publicly.

Students don't want to lose face in front of their peers. You can always delay and say, "Let's talk about this later." Just be sure to follow up as you promised. If a student feels disrespected or belittled in front of others, it will not end well. Try to keep tough conversations private. The tone will often be much different when there is not an audience.

3. Failing to give a kid a fresh start.

We all want to have an opportunity for a fresh start. We don't want to be judged by our worst moments. Our students need forgiveness too. So after an issue is resolved, let the student know they have a clean slate. Today is a new day. Let them know you believe in them and expect them to do great.

4. Using cutting sarcasm.

Sarcasm can be very dangerous. I've seen it used in a way that is not threatening and is just playful, but sarcasm can be degrading and manipulating. The best advice is to not use sarcasm at all. 

5. Speaking poorly of someone's friends or family.

Never criticize a student's friends or family members. You can certainly stand up for what's right, but don't pass judgments on people. It's also very important to never talk badly about a student when they are not present. If you wouldn't make a comment in front of that student's mother or grandmother, you probably shouldn't say it to a group of students or another teacher. If your harsh comment gets back to the student, it will be difficult to ever repair the relationship.

6. Speaking poorly of another staff member.

Never criticize another staff member in front of students as this creates a toxic environment. And, always defend a colleague if students are being critical. Even fair criticism isn't fair when it's shared at the wrong time and location. Tell your students if they have a concern with another teacher they should go talk to that person directly. If you have a concern with another teacher, you too should speak to them directly about it and not complain about them behind their back.

7. Losing control of your own behavior.

Always remember you're the adult and a professional. You have to stay in control of yourself and your actions. If you act badly, it will make it much more difficult to address the student's misbehavior. The student and the parents will be focused on what you did instead of focusing the responsibility on the student's own actions. I can't tell you how many times I've worked to help a student reflect on their own bad behavior, but they are focused on what the teacher did instead. Sometimes that happens when the teacher was completely upright. But sometimes it's because the teacher showed up poorly in the situation.

8. Comparing a student to a sibling or another student. 

Avoid comparing students to one another or to a brother or sister. These types of judgments chip away at dignity. You wouldn't want to be subjected to public comparisons with another teacher. Students don't like this either. Even comments like "Your sister was so smart or funny" that seem positive may chip away at a student's dignity. People want to be noticed for who they are and not compared to someone else.

9. Rushing to judgment without listening.

This one encompasses so much. It's easy to jump to conclusions or make assumptions in the course of a day working with students. Teachers make so many decisions. I shared recently about a situation where I really embarrassed myself by making a quick judgment in a situation. The key is slow down and approach problems with a sense of curiosity. Work to understand what is going on with the child, what needs they are trying to meet, or why they are not successful even when expectations are clear and consistent. In a recent post, I shared 21 phrases that can help with these conversations.

Of course, there are many other factors involved in building a positive classroom culture. What are some of your thoughts? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

10 Thoughts On Positive Attitude to Share With Your Team

A positive school is built on positive moments. It doesn't just happen by accident. Every interaction counts. It takes a concerted effort on the part of everyone to create an environment that is awesome. So what are some things everyone should know to be more positive in their own mindset and help contribute to that positive environment we all want? 

Here are ten thoughts to consider:

1. Your positive attitude, more than your talent or expertise, will determine your impact.

Positive people inspire and influence others. If you want to help others be great, you have to demonstrate a positive attitude. Your ability to be joyful, hopeful, and resilient will inspire others like nothing else.

2. Positive attitude is not believing everything is okay; it's believing everything is going to be okay.

Positive people find the silver lining in the most difficult of circumstances. They learn from difficulties. They don't pretend everything is okay. That's not positive thinking. That's denial. Positive people just believe that things can get better. They expect things to get better. And they believe they might just learn something from the difficulty along the way.

3. Positive attitude is not feeling happy all the time.

Even people who are positive feel negative emotions like sadness, disappointment, and regret. But these feelings do not overwhelm them, partly because they are able to also feel positive emotions simultaneously. For example, perhaps at the same moment they grieve for a loss, they are also thankful for the blessing they had for a time. Even when things are at their worst, positive people view negative feelings as temporary and expect their emotional well-being to improve.

4. When you bring positive energy to a space, negativity leaves.

Negative energy can create a toxic culture and spread throughout your school. It's so important to create and nurture a positive environment to keep the negativity out. Scientists have found that people's brain patterns actually start to align as they spend time together. Attitudes are literally contagious it seems. 

5. It takes at least 4 positive experiences to overcome a negative one.

I'm not sure this number is actually correct. But I do know we need to relish the positive moments and use them to overcome the setbacks and difficulties we face. It you do 20 things right today but make one mistake, you will be tempted to ignore all of those positives and focus only on your mistake. It takes deliberate celebration of the positives to help overcome the negatives. Relish those positive moments.

6. Sharing gratitude grows your positive reserves.

When you focus on the positive experiences in your day and share those with others, it makes you stronger and helps others too. We often start our meetings just by sharing the good things that are happening. What are three things you're thankful for in the last 24 hours? Who are you thankful for? If you want more energy and enthusiasm, focus on showing appreciation. Lift up others, and you'll be lifted up too.

7. Positive people are problem solvers. 

They don't make excuses. They find solutions. When you are negative, you see only problems. In fact, negative people seem to find a problem for every solution. But positive people can open their minds more possibilities. They can see possible solutions that others might miss.

8. Positive people are playful.

"Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying." I remember these words from my childhood. My mom would say it after making fun of some unfortunate circumstance. It was a way of coping, and I'm thankful we had permission to see the humor in little misfortunes. Positive people don't take themselves too seriously, and they are eager to have fun while getting the job done.

9. Resilience is built on positive thinking.

Positive thoughts give you power over your circumstances. Don't let negative thinking give your circumstances power over you. Reality does not shape you. The lens through which you view reality is what actually shapes you. Make that a positive lens. Some of the happiest people in the world have very little of what this world has to offer. But they view the world through a positive lens and make the most of whatever they have.

10. Positive people are happier, more creative, more productive, and have more energy.

We often think hard work leads to success. We just need to work harder, try harder, be more committed, sacrifice more and then we'll be happy. But that's never enough. Turns out, it's better to start with being happy and then let that drive your productivity, creativity, and success. This amazing TED Talk makes the case much better than I can.

What is your best tip for keeping a positive attitude? Share it with us all so we can learn from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Are You a Historian, Reporter, or Futurist?

One of the books I recently finished reading was No Limits: Blow the CAP off your capacity by John Maxwell. Maxwell shares the perspective of his friend Paul Martinelli and how he has pursued continual improvement:
We have three options in life. We can be historians, reporters, or futurists. The historian wants to remind us of everything in the past and wants to filter everything in the future through that. The reporter is really attached to the conditions and circumstances of today, and that's just the way it is. The futurist focuses on what hasn't yet been done. He says, "There is more for us to do. We can do more. We can broaden our capacity. There is more of our potential we can take advantage of."
Although this idea is aimed at growing oneself and reaching your personal potential, I thought it could be applied to education as well. In school life, where do you see yourself? How does this analogy work for educators?

The historian probably complains about kids these day, remembers fondly the past as if everything in the good ole days was problem free. The historian holds onto yesterday and doesn't see much potential in tomorrow. He sees anything new as something "we already do" or that "we tried and it didn't work." There are few new possibilities worth considering. If only we could return to a time when life was good. In my experience, the historian will blame students, parents, policymakers, or just about anyone else for the problems of today. He will overestimate the accomplishments of the previous generation while underestimating the potential in the next generation.

The reporter is working tirelessly to respond to the mandates and initiatives of today. They have their heads down with their noses to the grindstone. Sometimes they forget their larger purpose or mission, but they are busy collecting data, chasing test scores, and responding to whatever urgent needs arise. They are expending tremendous energy, but there is no long term perspective. The reporter will often burn out, feeling like they are on a hamster wheel going nowhere. It's hard not to feel bitter when you play by the rules and do what you're told, but the rules keep changing or your work is never considered good enough. The reporter doesn't dare dream of a better way or a brighter tomorrow. They are just trying to cope with the realities and do what they can to survive.

The futurist always has the long term perspective. There is a great sense of mission and purpose in how amazing school could be and how important this work is for students. There is a desire to create positive change. To be a difference maker. To prepare kids for their future and not our past. They want to push forward into new territory, take risks, and do whatever it takes to create a better learning experience for students. They see what could be possible, and they work to make it reality. They invest their energy not only in the routine work of today but also in changing the trajectory of tomorrow. 

If you are a historian, you might need to find a different profession. Sorry if that offends you, but I think it's true. If you're a reporter, I invite you to become not only a doer but also a dreamer. And if you're a futurist, keep being a positive change maker. Share your passion and your vision and take steps each day to make education stronger for students.

What are your thoughts on this analogy? How would you add to it? How would you critique it? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Facts and the Stories We Tell Ourselves Based on the Facts

I've been planning to write this post for the past two years. That's right. It's been that long. I'm not sure why I didn't write it sooner. But the events of this weekend swiftly and certainly moved these ideas off the sidelines.

Friday night we had home football. There is always some stress associated with each home game. Our admin team often jokes about how much easier the road games are. There are just so many things that can go wrong with large crowds. On top of that, I was at the end of a long week and physically tired. That's typical for Friday night, right?

So I noticed a Twitter post after halftime that tagged our school. I knew the individual who posted it and have a very good relationship with him, although we haven't interacted that often. 

But I quickly became offended by the post. How could this person publicly criticize the school? He should know better than that. He manages people and events and must understand the challenges that come with that. Social media is not the place to air your concerns, at least not initially. Come talk to me. Give me a chance to solve the problem.


I quickly fired off a text message to the individual expressing my frustration and disappointment.

Then came the reply, "Should I delete it?"

"Well, of course you should," I thought.

I responded in another message ramping up my indignation.

And then when his next reply came, I got it. He clarified and all of the sudden, it was clear. It hit me all at once. It almost took the air out of me. He didn't mean it that way! I took it wrong!

In my haste, I completely misunderstood the comment. I missed it completely.

I went back and read it again. Any other person reading the Tweet would NOT have taken it the way I did. I had started climbing the assumption ladder and had gone straight to the top rung.

Time to own my mistake. My very embarrassing mistake.

I sent my apologies. I tried to explain. I told him he did nothing wrong. I should know better. It's totally on me. I'm sorry. I felt terrible.

Fortunately, the person on the other end was gracious in accepting my apology. Looking back, I can't even believe I made this mistake. I practice these skills every day. Not assuming. Trying to understand the other person's perspective. Not jumping to conclusions.


So how does this happen?

A couple of years ago I read the book Crucial Conversations. It is the best thing I've ever read about effective communication when the stakes are high, when there might be strong opposing thoughts or opinions.

One part in particular is so important for us in keeping conversations safe. We have to be careful about the stories we tell ourselves. Here are a few of the big ideas I took from the book.

Stories Cause Feelings

Someone else doesn't make you mad. You get angry because of the story you tell yourself. "I feel bad because of my story, not your actions." Emotions don't settle in like fog. Others don't make you mad. You make you mad. You tell yourself a story, and the story leads to the emotional response. Once these stories take hold, they have a life of their own.

Avoid Silence or Violence

To keep good dialogue, we have to keep safety in the conversation. If we lose safety, the conversation will turn to one or the other or both parties holding back and not being honest or lashing out and taking cheap shots. Neither silence nor violence is a healthy response. We want to develop shared meaning and be totally honest. We want to learn from the conversation, not be right or wrong.

Stories Are How We Explain Why, How, and What Is Happening To Us

So even when presented with exactly the same set of circumstances, we will determine if it is positive or negative based on the story we tell ourselves. Our story is how we attach significance to these events. We decide the level of significance based on the story we tell.

Many Possible Responses

For every set of circumstances, there is not just one way to respond. My emotions are NOT the only valid response. So just because such and such happens to me doesn't mean I have to respond in a certain way. There are many possible responses.

Slow Down

The thing that got me in trouble was how quickly I settled on the story in my mind based on the Tweet I was reading. I attached a certain meaning almost immediately. I didn't consider any other possibilities. Several things had happened earlier that primed me for this response, but no matter, I still wouldn't have failed in communicating if I would've slowed down or even consulted with someone else before drawing conclusions.

Three Stories

We tend to tell ourselves three types of stories to explain things we don't like. We also use these stories to justify our own bad behavior.

Victim Stories - "It's not my fault."
Villain Stories - "It's all your fault."
Helpless Stories - "There's nothing else I can do."

Stories Result in a Path to Action

1. See/hear (facts)
2. Tell a story (interpretation of facts)
3. Feel (emotions)
4. Act (choose a response)

Our path to action may seem reasonable and certain, but if it is based on a story and a feeling, we may act in ways that are not helpful. I saw the Tweet on Friday night and immediately told myself a story. Then I felt upset and even angry. And that led to the awkward text message conversation that ensued. Oh my...

So this is really practical stuff that we can apply daily. In fact, the entire book has great wisdom for educators. We deal with so many crucial conversations. It happens all day, every day. It's important to develop these skills.

It's so important to remember there are the facts and then there are the stories we tell ourselves based on the facts. To close, here are four questions to ask that can help to avoid the crazy dance of some of our stories.

1. Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem?
2. Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this? This one would have stopped me cold on Friday night.
3. What do I really want?
4. What would I do right now if I really wanted these results?

I encourage you to read Crucial Conversations. I still mess it up sometimes (obviously), but the book was really helpful for me in dealing with difficult situations. Have you noticed yourself telling stories and jumping to conclusions? Maybe with student behaviors? Or colleagues? Are you retreating to silence or resorting to violence in your conversations? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

21 Phrases to Use in Dealing With Difficult Behaviors

The first priority in creating a positive classroom environment and limiting problem behaviors is to develop positive relationships. That's absolutely essential.

The second priority is to clearly establish expectations, for students and teachers. And that's a necessity also. Both teachers and students should know what to expect.

Building relationships and communicating expectations must be tended to daily. Both are critically important. We have to constantly build relationships and communicate expectations.

But what happens when things go off the tracks a little? How do you address those moments when it's not working well? The following are phrases I use when meeting with a student to work on a behavior concern. I gave a brief description of how and why I might use the phrase.

Set a Positive Tone

1. "I will never intentionally disrespect you."

This is one of my favorite phrases. I want kids to know I intend to show them respect. The implied message is I also expect you to show me respect.

2. "I believe in you."

Kids can't here this enough. It's important to establish positive intentions.

3. "I won't give up on you."

If a child feels you don't accept him or her, you aren't going to get their trust. Sometimes I even say, "I don't approve of what you did, but I will always accept you and be here to help you."

4. "Let's work together to solve this."

All of the problem-solving in working through an issue shouldn't come from the teacher. It's not me vs. you. It's us vs. the problem.

Address the Issue

5. "I was puzzled when you..."

Approach the situation with a sense of curiosity instead of approaching it with judgment, frustration, or anger.

6. "What do we do here when...."

Remind the student of the expectations. "What do we do here when it's time for bell work?" Then work with the student to verbalize the expectations.

7. "What should you have done differently?"

How did your behavior not meet the expectation? Help the student think through what behavior would have been acceptable in the situation.

8. "How did you intend for that to make ______________ feel?"

This is another one of my favorite questions. I often will use this to hold kids accountable if they do something disrespectful to me or someone else. "When you roll your eyes at me when I'm talking with you, how do you intend for that to make me feel? I care about you, and I feel sad or disappointed when you do that."

9. "How did you feel at the time?"

I also want kids to know I care how they are feeling and that feelings can be strong and make us want to do things we shouldn't do. But we are still responsible for our actions.

10. "That seemed upsetting to you."

Paraphrasing is important. Again, validate how the student is feeling but help them know they are still responsible for their actions.

11. "I hear what you are saying. I'm listening."

If you want to help deescalate a situation, make sure the person is feeling heard. Not feeling heard is a sure way to keep the two side apart.

12. "Is it possible that...?"

Help introduce new possibilities to the situation. Kids, and adults for that matter, can get locked into seeing a situation from only one perspective.

Decide on a Path Forward

13. "What should you do when ___________________?"

This questions can be helpful to brainstorm how the student could respond to certain triggers.

14. "What will you do next time?"

It's very important to get a plan that is future-focused. Too often, behavior is handled by just giving consequences. Punishments focus on the past. We want to build toward better future decisions, too.

15. "When will you do it?"

It's just another question to be very intentional about planning for next time. Looking for things like, "I'll do it the first time I'm asked."

16. "What do you need to do now to make this right?"

This question is very important. There may need to be an apology. There may need to be some other action right now to address the problem.

17. "Would you like to _________________ or ____________________?"

Choices are really good for providing some agency while also limiting behavior to acceptable options.

18. "Can I count on you to do that?"

This question is very important. After I discuss with a student the path forward, I will follow up with this one. I want to make sure they are fully committed to our agreement.

19. "Okay, but in case you don't, what do you think are fair consequences?"

The student also needs to consider there will be consequences if the agreement is broken.

Reflect on the Conversation

20. "What's your understanding of what we decided together?"

This question requires students to provide a summary of what was decided.

21. "Do you feel that you've been treated fairly?"

Students may not always be happy when we are finished dealing with an issue, but I want them to feel they have been treated with fairness and respect. If they leave feeling disrespected, it is not going to help them be ready to make changes in their behaviors.

I hope these questions are good reflection for you as you work with students and solve problems. But I want to hear from you. What questions would you add to this list? What are some of your best tips for dealing with difficult situations? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, October 6, 2017

If You Want To Be A Difference Maker, You Have To Be A Risk Taker

I recently learned of the story of John Berry Meachum, a figure in Missouri history I previously knew nothing about.

He was born into slavery in Virginia, but at the age of 21 earned enough money as a carpenter to purchase his own freedom and a short time later the freedom of his father.

Throughout his life he had an entrepreneurial spirit. He would purchase the freedom of slaves and most would pay him back. He eventually came to live in St. Louis, where he founded the African Church. 

There he taught religious and secular classes to free and enslaved black students. The location for the classes was known as "The Candle Tallow School."

In 1847, the state of Missouri banned education for all black people. Clearly, one would expect this oppressive law to have a devastating impact Meachum's school.

But Meachum was not dissuaded. In response, he moved his classes to a steamboat in the middle of the Mississippi River, beyond the reach of Missouri law.

He provided the school with a library, desks, and chairs and called it the "Floating Freedom School."

John Berry Meachum showed the determination and innovation needed from all educators. We cannot let our circumstances stand in our way. We all face challenges every day. We have to be willing to think creatively and take risks to create a better future.

What if Meachum just threw up his hands and quit?

What if he felt sorry for himself because of this terrible injustice?

What if he retreated to something safe instead of taking a risk?

He had a dream to educate blacks in his community and nothing was going to stop him. I admire his passion and commitment.

One of my favorite illustrations is from best-selling author Austin Kleon. It communicates so well the risk that is required to pursue something better. 

Most people see the difference between what is and what could be, but not everyone is willing to make the leap. Not everyone takes action. But leaders do.

You can be a leader in your school when you step out and take a risk. If you want to be a difference maker, you have to be a risk taker. 

Don't be satisfied with the status quo. Be a future-driven risk taker.

Be focused on the future, not stuck in the past. Meachum would never have taken the bold risks he took if he were filtering his actions through the past. He was doing something that was largely unheard of because he wanted a brighter future for the people he served. His dream was bigger than yesterday.

Believe there is probably a better way to do just about everything. It may seem that things are just the way they are. Our circumstances are fixed. But there are so many ways to approach a problem. Even when things are bleak, think like Meachum. Find a way. Try something new.

Learn from your setbacks but don't be defined by them. When you take risks, sometimes you are going to get knocked down. But even your failures can lead to future greatness. Many of the greatest world-changers of all-time also experienced incredible hardships and disappointments.

Are you taking risks as an educator? Or, are you settling for the status quo? You are needed as a change maker.

How can we inspire educators to take more risks? How can we overcome the obstacles that stand in the way? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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