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. 

This post was also shared at

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.
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