Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Power of Choosing 'Must' Instead of 'Rather'

Last night I watched the film, Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis as the 16th U.S. President. It was great to finally see it. I'm kind of a history nerd, but for some reason I had never watched it before. It's an incredible film covering the final four months of Lincoln's life. Daniel Day Lewis is outstanding in his portrayal of the president.

As I watched, I noticed several times how Lincoln used the word must as he considered the decisions and actions he would take as the leader of a bitterly divided nation. He was a courageous leader who stood firmly on principles in the face of incredible opposition and obstacles.

I reflected on the difficult decisions he made. I'm sure there were times he would rather have taken an easier path. He faced hardships and failure throughout his life, and he could've veered off course, retreated, or just settled for the status quo. He probably didn't want to carry all of the heavy burdens of a Civil War, the bloodiest war in U.S. history. 

But he did carry those burdens and remained a steadfast leader. He stood firm. Because he felt a moral imperative. He felt he must

We are all faced with challenges as educators. We are often faced with choices about what we would rather do versus what we must do.

And while our decisions may not be described in history books, our work has great significance in the life of a child. We might be the best hope for some. We don't always know what might hang in the balance. We don't always know what difference we might make for this one child.

We usually have the opportunity to make the greatest difference when we choose must over rather.

I would rather not have that difficult conversation, but I must.

I would rather not have to learn something new, but I must.

I would rather not be creative today, but I must.

I would rather not call that parent, but I must.

I would rather not give that extra effort, but I must.

I would rather not be enthusiastic today, but I must.

I would rather not have to repair that relationship, but I must.

I would rather not consider another idea or perspective, but I must.

I would rather not give that kid a fresh start today, but I must.

I would rather not change my lesson, but I must.

I would rather not deal with new technology, but I must.

I would rather not overlook that offense, but I must.

Every day I see educators choosing must over rather. But we should always, always, always be asking, "What is best for kids?" 

In this situation, "Am I choosing must or rather?"

Do you ever struggle to choose must instead of rather? I think we all face that. Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

15 Ways to Increase Focused Energy in Your Classroom

You have a choice when it comes to your attention. You give it to things you value, the things you find interesting or rewarding or helpful. And you withhold your attention from things that seem less valuable to you. We are constantly making decisions about our attention, where to focus it, and how to spend it.

And your students are no different. They also make choices about where to focus their attention. And that's why it's so important to provide a classroom experience that students will find meaningful (this is important to me) and rewarding (I can be successful here).

What if we treated students like volunteers? What if we acted as if they had no obligation to learn the things we must teach? What if we made it our mission to cause them to want to learn more?

Wouldn't it be great if students saw learning as something they get to do instead of something they have to do?

What if we decided it was up to us to create a force that pulls them in? After all, students make decisions with their attention just like the rest of us. Let's make learning so great it becomes irresistible. 

How strong is your lesson's gravitational pull? Be a force field of energy. Bring so much passion, enthusiasm, and creativity to your lesson that students think, "There is no way this teacher is gonna settle for less than my best!"

Bring that type of energy. Are your students pulled into your lesson? How is the energy in your classroom? How is your culture of learning?

When I visit classrooms, every single one feels a little different. But when things are working right there is a kind of energy that makes learning go. It's focused energy. It's energy that's driving learning forward.

It's kids really connecting to learning. There's a kind of positive tension, a push forward that comes with growth. 

And none of this is necessarily about specific teaching methods. There are lots of different methods that can work. But where is the attention flowing? Are you pulling them in? The teacher may be sage on the stage, or guide by the side. Lots of methods can work.

But the method doesn't matter most. Whatever the method, the room is focused. It might be noisy or quiet but there is intentionality. It might be teacher-centered or student-centered, but ultimately it's learning-centered.

So be intentional about how energy is flowing in your space. And don't settle for mediocrity. Aim for excellence. Is attention flowing toward learning? Does the energy pull them toward success?

Here are 15 ways to get attention focused and get energy flowing toward learning. I've divided them into three different categories.

Connect. Students will focus energy on learning when the relationship with the teacher is stronger. 
1. Greet students.
2. Call them by name.
3. Smile.
4. Make eye contact.
5. Learn something new about each student.

Communicate. Effective classroom communication helps focus energy in desirable ways. 
6. Clarify expectations.
7. Start with why. Explain context and relevance.
8. Tell stories to illustrate concepts. Stories capture attention.
9. Increase student voice and choice.
10. Redirect unfocused energy. Call out energy drifters.

Inspire. When learning is meaningful and authentic, students will give more. Don't play the game of school. Do stuff that matters and makes a difference.
11. Connect learning to student interests.
12. Challenge students to design, think, and problem-solve.
13. Make surprises routine. Mix it up.
14. Be the Chief Energy Officer. Lead the fun.
15. Incorporate curiosity and creativity consistently.

What else would you add to this list? How would you take these ideas deeper? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

What Is Empathy? And Why Is It So Important?

Someone else's experience is different from mine. 

It seems obvious doesn't it? But I think it's one of the most important things to come to terms with in developing empathy. It's important to recognize another person's experience is different than mine and then honor that experience and try to understand it.

That's empathy. It's the emotional skill of being able to recognize, understand, and honor the feelings of another person.

I have to admit, sometimes I struggle to understand another person's experience. It seems so obvious to me how they should respond or how they should feel in a given situation. If I'm not careful, I start feeling the need to convince them why they should feel more like I do about this thing. My sweet wife will confirm this I promise!

But that's not helpful. Every person has every right to every one of their feelings. They belong to that person. And that's okay. 

I've learned better how to respond when I have those thoughts, when I'm tempted to expect others to see it my way, right away. In the past, I felt frustrated and even angry if a student or colleague (or my wife or kids) was being unreasonable in my view, if they didn't see it my way, if they didn't feel the same as me. 

It's so important to keep healthy emotional boundaries. I'm not going to let your (emotional) stuff bump into my (emotional) stuff.

Instead of responding with anger or frustration, I've learned to try to respond with curiosity. Rather than being upset by someone else's feelings, I respond with curiosity and puzzlement. Hm? I wonder what this person is experiencing right now or what this person has experienced in the past that makes them feel this way? I'm curious. I want to understand.

And that creates the safety for dialogue. It keeps safety in the conversation. And it requires me to listen. When I'm curious, I want to know more. I want to understand how this person is experiencing this. I remind myself that my feelings are still mine. I can feel a certain way while honoring another person's feelings too. It helps me to show up well in the situation and work toward win-win solutions.

When we honor the other person's experience, it opens paths for shared understanding. Most of us want to be understood. In fact, one of the things that bumps into me more than just about anything else is feeling misunderstood. I'm sure many of you can relate to that.

Some people (mainly guys) might see all of this as soft or weak, but it's not. It's actually being a much stronger person. You are stronger when you have your emotional abilities in hand. Weak people fly off the handle and act like toddlers when they don't get their way. Strong people don't feel threatened easily by someone's differences. There is great strength in accepting differences.

But of course, it's still completely appropriate and beneficial to call out bad behavior. We must hold people accountable when they act badly. Empathy is not being tolerant of bad behavior. But it is being tolerant of another person's experiences and feelings. It's addressing the behavior in a way that tries to understand what the behavior is communicating, because all behavior is communication.

Empathy helps us think about the needs of others, and ultimately when we do this we are much more likely to have our needs met too. We're more likely to have authentic conversations that lead to better decisions. We're also more likely to feel heard when we are able to have honest conversations that keep empathy at the center. 

So clearly I value empathy. Why is it so important? Here are 9 reasons for educators.

1. Empathy leads to kindness. It fosters acceptance and understanding. Empathy lifts up others. It meets needs. It believes the best about others.

2. Empathy brings people together in community. It helps us to connect in spite of our differences, no matter what our differences.

3. Empathy results in better lesson plans. It seeks to understand how students learn this best, how they are experiencing learning. It values them as learners. 

4. Empathy results in better discipline plans. Empathy is not punitive, it's corrective and supportive. It seeks to understand and prevent the causes of poor behavior. It is essential to resolving conflict.

5. Empathy improves teamwork. Effective teams are build on trust and togetherness. Empathy allows for constructive conflict.

6. Empathy improves problem-solving. It opens us to new possibilities and it considers the end-user and how solutions will impact others.

7. Empathy improves performance. Performance is stronger when people value risk taking and accept failure as an opportunity to learn. Empathy provides the safety for that to flourish.

8. Empathy builds stronger relationships. Most people want to be liked, to have more friends, to have people we can really count on. Empathy is essential to developing stronger bonds between people.

9. Empathy can reduce anxiety and depression. When people feel heard, feel understood, and feel supported, it can help ease anxiety and depression. Depression for teens, especially has been on the rise. I wonder how a culture of empathy might ease this in our schools.

I want to hear from you. Why is empathy important to you and what are you doing to cultivate it in your classroom or school? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Note: Header Image Retrieved

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Build Relationships and Be Relentless

George Couros had a great post recently, Relationships Are the Foundation of Great Schools (But They Aren't Enough). He points out that it's essential to build great relationships in schools, but we can't stop there. It's also essential to leverage strong relationships into growth for self and others. We become stronger when we are connected and when we are committed to pushing for better outcomes.

This discussion reminded me of the study from Judith Kleinfeld (1975) where she coined the term Warm Demander to describe teachers who are both warm (relationship builders) and demanding (communicating high expectations). She found that students whose teachers combined these qualities were more successful academically. But I'm guessing they were also more successful in a whole variety of ways.

I've noticed over the years just how difficult it can be to balance warmth and expectations. Some people tend to be really relationship-oriented but struggle to communicate and insist on high expectations. Others have very high expectations and push students to succeed but don't make the personal connections that are needed to go next level.

I believe students will always do better with a teacher who cares about them, believes in them, and seeks to know them better. Strong relationships are extremely valuable in the classroom. The teacher who is demanding but fails to build relationships may get results in the short term, but it will probably only last as long as they are still pushing. 

The teacher who can build relationships while maintaining high expectations has the best chance to inspire learning. They can have a transformational impact. They help a student have a pivotal experience. They help them change directions. The student takes a new path entirely because of the influence of the teacher. 

From the beginning, warm-demanding teachers are communicating with students that they are going to push them. They let their students know they have very high expectations because they care about them. Let students know up front that you're going to expect more of them than they think they can give. Then it won't be a shock when you actually do expect more of them than they've been used to.

I noticed this tweet from Tobie Taylor Jones and thought it captured the essence of the warm-demanding teacher.

It's so important to bring this type of energy and attitude to the classroom. Life will be demanding, and kids can't develop the resilience and perseverance needed if they aren't pushed out of their comfort zones. We don't want to send kids out of our schools believing they are entitled. In life, you must work for everything you get.

Here are some other resources that provide more information about what it means to be a warm-demanding teacher. It's important to build relationships and be relentless to ensure students are meeting their growth potential.

Being a Warm Demander - Steve Barkley

How does a teacher communicate caring and expectational beliefs in a way that most positively impacts student achievement? Judith Kleinfeld coined the term warm demanders when describing teachers who most successfully supported student achievement. Creating four quadrants with a vertical scale running from low to high expectations and a horizontal scale running from low to ...

The Warm Demander: An Equity Approach | Edutopia

"Warm demander" teachers expect great things from their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them reach their potential in a disciplined, structured environment. Recently, I was talking with a high school student about his frustrations with a first-year teacher. The student said, "I like [the teacher] because he's understanding, but he doesn't require enough discipline.



Where are you on this continuum? Do you build relationships while also being relentless? I think it's true for teachers and for school leaders. It's important to be caring and to communicate expectations. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I want to hear from you!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Kindness Is the Most Important Indicator of Success

It was awesome to recently hold our first ever Jellybean Festival at our school. The Jellybean Festival brings together students of differing abilities to work with each other and perform for an audience. Think of it as Special Olympics meets the performing arts or even America's Got Talent.

It was great to see the celebration of ALL our students and the opportunity for our students with special needs to really shine in front of their peers. One student even commented after the event, "I feel like a star!"

Our school has an organization called Character Council that promotes acceptance, positive decisions, kindness, etc. They organized our event and served as coaches for the participants, helping them develop acts and performing alongside them.

We were thrilled to have Howard Martin, the founder of the Jellybean Conspiracy, in attendance at our program. He shared his story and some thoughts on kindness and acceptance. 

His comments were profound...
At the Jellybean Festival we celebrate two things. First, every life matters. Every life, every single life matters.The second thing is thisit is kindness that makes us most human and most divine.
I'm going to tell you something now I don't think you're going to believe. But I challenge you to put aside your doubts. The most important indicator of success in life is kindness. The most important thing you can learn in high school is to be kind.
You want a definition for kindness? Kindness is becoming important in the life of another human being, especially the one is most likely to be left out.
You want another definition of kindness? See what happens today at the Jellybean Festival.
 In my recent post, I presented 5 questions every person is trying to answer:

1. Am I important to someone here?
2. Do I belong here?
3. Am I good at something here?
4. Who will listen to me here?
5. Is my presence here making a difference?

We all have a responsibility to BE the answer to these questions for someone. We all must help others know they are valued and that they matter. It is so important to do this.

The Jellybean Festival was a way we could do that as an entire school. It was a way to show how we should value each other. We were able to celebrate differences and just have fun together. 

I think the Jellybean Creed really says it best.

I've included the video highlights from our festival. You can get an idea of what our event was like in case your school wants to do something like this too. If you want to bring a Jellybean Festival to your school, I am happy to share more about how to do that. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

What's Your Priority? Passion or Proficiency

Passion and proficiency. Both are important. But what's your priority? What comes first? Some teachers know their content, have great strategies, and work hard every day. And yet they aren't getting the results they hope for.

In Future Driven, I wrote about the importance of rekindling passion in an accountability era where proficiency has been prioritized to the detriment of everything else.
"More than proficiency, we need passion. We need people who are passionate about life, solving problems, helping others, and doing amazing work. Passionate people aren't just concerned what's in it for them. They don't want someone to take care of them, to create a job for them, or make it easy for them. They want to make a difference in the world. They want their life to count.
Proficiency is about cheap labor, following the rules, being an interchangeable part. It's following the map, taking orders, playing it safe. In school, it's being ready for the next grade level or for college. These aren't bad things. But it's not what allows us to use all of our gifts." 
If we are going to crush apathy in our schools and create learning that's irresistible, it won't happen by doubling down our efforts to reach proficiency. We have to start by developing environments where students can rekindle what it means to be a passionate learner.

After all, they came to us this way, right? When kids entered school for the first time, they were filled with curiosity, creativity, and hope. They came to us with these qualities so shouldn't they leave us with them also?

So what can you do to create that passionate learning culture in your classroom?

1. Model passionate learning yourself. Be curious yourself. Learn rights alongside your students. Your energy, enthusiasm, and excitement towards learning will make a huge difference for your students.

2. Focus more on developing interesting questions, engaging in deeper and better thinking, and making meaning with your students. Some things are more valuable than getting right answers. Intellectual curiosity is exciting if it isn't crushed by fear of getting the wrong answer. Let's start with questions.

3. Connect learning to making a difference. Give students ways to learn that will impact their family, their community, a global society. Help students make a difference now. We aren't just preparing leaders for the future. Kids need opportunities to lead and make a difference now.

4. Connect learning to creativity. Passionate learning involves creating something new, not just regurgitating established information. Creativity allow us to connect who we are to what we are learning. We are creative beings. We need opportunities to create.

5. Connect learning to emotion. Developing our cognitive abilities needs to go hand in hand with developing our emotional abilities. Let's work on developing conditions where learning connects to the heart and not just to the mind. I'm not sure where it originated but I love this quote, "Information without emotion is rarely retained."

Hugh Macleod (@hughcards) shared this bit on his Twitter feed. It captures so much truth in such a simple visual. The world is rapidly changing. The type of work and the value of different kinds of work is also rapidly changing.

Proficiency won't help you compete with robots or zombies. They know their stuff. They have the market cornered on proficiency. But they can't go deeper. They're soulless. If you want to be great, you have to be an artist. Not necessarily an artist who paints, or sculpts, or writes poetry. But you have to offer more from your humanity than a zombie is willing to give or a robot is able to give.

So here's the challenge. If your students are mostly doing robot work or zombie work in school, how are they going to be ready to do art work in a world that demands it? 

As our world becomes increasingly automated and technological, our students are going to gain the greatest advantage not just by their proficiency, but by their ability to leverage emotional labor to produce great work. 

Is proficiency still important? Absolutely. But if we keep pursuing proficiency to the exclusion of what's most important, we are doing our children a terrible disservice. 

What are your thoughts on passion vs. proficiency? If we generated more passionate learning, would proficiency take care of itself? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Twitter Is Like Going to the Grocery Store

A few months ago, I took a group of teachers to visit the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) in Atlanta. It was an amazing experience to see the school up close and learn along with educators from all across the country.

During the opening, Ron Clark shared that visiting the school is kind of like going to the grocery store. When you go, you don't take home everything that is on the shelves. You pick out the things you need, the things you like, or the things you want. But you have lots of options.

Everyone is not going to fill their shopping cart with the same items at the grocery store. Likewise, not everything that happens at RCA will work for every teacher, every classroom, or every school.

However, there are some amazing selections for you to consider. And if you are passionate, creative, and inspired, you will see all sorts of ways you can bring pieces of RCA to your work. 

And if you've lost a little of your passion, creativity, or inspiration, you might just rekindle that too!

I think the same can be said for building a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and connecting on Twitter. Not every idea you encounter on Twitter will go in your shopping cart. 

Some things might not work for you right now. You'll pass over those. 

Some things might seem too big to fit in your cart right now. You can consider those again in the future.

You might only go shopping once a week at first. Later, you may want to stop in daily to see what's new.

That's what's great about it. It's completely up to you. And customized for you. With a little skill, you can get out of it what you need, whenever you need it.

Twitter is actually more like Amazon than your neighborhood grocery. Part of Amazon's mission is to be a place where "people can find and discover anything they might want to buy online." 

Twitter is like that for educators. You can connect with people who are like-minded and get ideas and support for just about anything you want to accomplish as an educator.

And you can do it just about any time and any place that works for you.

It's a total game-changer. 

Jeff Nelson adapted the following list from my satirical post about Twitter PD. I admit I had fun with the satire, but he put a positive spin on it. There are just so many reasons for educators to use this tool. It's such a great way to grow and learn.

Who else thinks Twitter is a game-changer? How has it impacted your work as an educator? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Do You Want Your Child to Grow or Do You Want Him to Be Comfortable?

We have a basic speech class that we require just about every student in our school to take. It's not a graduation requirement, but our counselors include this semester class for all sophomores unless there is some compelling reason they just can't fit it into their schedule.

We expect all students to take it because we know how important it is to develop good oral communication skills. The class includes public speaking components, but it also provides practice with interpersonal skills and interviewing. It's essential stuff for life.

You've probably heard it stated that people fear public speaking more than death, in surveys at least. So inevitably, there are students who don't want to take this course. And from time to time, I will here from parents who don't want their child to take the course.

Jerry Seinfeld found the humor in just how much most people dread public speaking:

“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."
I get it. Public speaking can produce anxiety, dread, discomfort, apprehension, and more.

As a result, I always listen carefully to parent concerns and try to show empathy and understanding. It can be scary to stand in front of your peers and speak.

But I'm not easily persuaded to change our expectations about students taking this class. It's an excellent opportunity for students to grow and develop all sorts of valuable skills.

So, my dialogue with parents asks them to consider what's best for their child:

"I understand this class makes lots of students uncomfortable. But that can be a good thing because growth requires stepping out of comfort zones. We don't grow stronger by doing what's easy. When we face something hard and push through it, that makes us stronger. So I'm always asking myself as a parent, do I want my kids to be comfortable or do I want them to grow? And the answer, of course, is I want them to grow. Isn't that what all parents want for their kids?"

And of course, parents do want their kids to grow, but for some reason, we've developed a desire in our culture to protect our kids from anything that is uncomfortable or difficult. It's very common to see parents protecting their kids from anything that produces discomfort.

But we can't have it both ways.

Growth demands stretching the limits and trying something new. Growth demands risk of failure. It requires some discomfort. So we need to invite kids to embrace the discomfort. And we need to invite parents to encourage discomfort and not rescue kids from the struggle.

So I will continue to share with everyone in our school my belief that we have to get uncomfortable if we want to be all we can be. We have to push past our fear and go for it.

Do you have tips for helping parents understand that it's not a bad thing for their child to be uncomfortable? That productive struggle is a good thing? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Sunday, January 21, 2018

5 Questions Every Kid Is Trying to Answer

When we think about creating a stronger school culture, we know how important it is to focus on relationships. But why are relationships such an important part of an outstanding learning environment? It seems clear when you think about it. Everyone needs to feel connected. Everyone needs to feel like he or she matters. 

Everyone needs to matter!

All. Of. Us.

It's through relationships we create the supportive, inclusive, positive, and caring place we want to see. A place where people can thrive. A place to be great. A place to reach higher and do more.

Students are trying to answer these questions. And adults are trying to answer these questions too. The title of this post might be focused on the kids. But all of the adults in the building have these needs as well. These questions are essential to us all.

1. Am I important to someone here?

2. Do I belong here?

3. Am I good at something here?

4. Who will listen to me here?

5. Is my presence here making a difference?

As we work to improve the culture of learning in our schools, we should always keep these questions in mind. Can students and staff members answer these questions positively and confidently? What are we doing to build stronger connections and take care of each other?

This week every chance you get, look for ways to help others find the answers to these questions. You can show another person they matter to you. You can lift them up and make them feel like they are valued for who they are. You can show them they are heard. You can notice the unique talents and gifts they have to offer the world. You can show them how they are making a difference.

What are ways you are helping your students and your colleagues answer these questions? Who will you lift up this week? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. It's always a privilege to connect with you.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Difficulties Make Us Bitter or They Make Us Better

With less than a minute left in the game, we're up by one point and inbounding the ball from under our own basket.

The ref is counting, and it's getting close to a five-second violation.

You'd think a turnover might be the worst thing that could happen here. But you'd be wrong.

Our inbounder senses the need to avoid the 5-count. He throws the ball long, toward the other end of the court. It's a common play, almost a safety valve.

But when our player catches the ball almost without breaking stride he runs for the opponent's basket and lays the ball in the basket effortlessly.

That's right, he scored for the other team.

With less than a minute on the clock. Against one of our biggest rivals.

We went from up one to down one in a flash.

How could this happen?

The large and enthusiastic home crowd went suddenly quiet.

Our coach immediately called timeout. Within seconds, teammates were speaking encouragement to the shocked player. I can't imagine how he felt when he realized what he'd just done. You could see his disappointment.

In the huddle, our coach reminded his team, "Next play. Next play." We always move on to the next play. We don't dwell on our mistakes. We play through our mistakes. We don't blame, or point fingers, or pout, or feel sorry for ourselves.

We move on to the next play...together.

He stayed in the game. Coach didn't take him out.

With only seconds on the clock, we hit a three point shot to put us up by two. But then the opposing team came back and tied the game just before time expired. Unbelievable.

Two overtimes later, our Liberators pulled out the win. And the kid who scored for the other team hit a huge three point shot of his own, at our basket of course.

It's nice that we won. It makes me happy for our kids when we win. But I'm far more concerned that our kids learn to play like winners. And that's what I saw in the finish to this extraordinary game.

Over the years, I've also seen teams that haven't handled adversity well. It never ends well.

Instead of lifting each other up, they bring each other down.

Instead of being unselfish, they put ME before WE.

Instead of accepting their role, they feel sorry for themselves.

Instead of believing in each other, they believe they deserve more.

Instead of supporting the coach, they think they know better.

And it's not true just for sports. It can happen in your school, with your family, or at your church. 

Difficulties can pull us together, or they can tear us apart.

They can make us bitter or they can make us better.

The best people rally together in hard times. They don't panic or act poorly simply because there's adversity. They believe doing things the right way will eventually lead to great things coming your way.

It might not happen in this moment, in this game.

But in life, if you're surrounded by good teammates, you'll never fail alone. Your team will be there to pick you up, even when you score at the wrong basket.

You'll move through the difficulties. You'll learn from them.

And eventually, if you keep doing the things successful people do, you'll give yourself the best chance to be successful.

How are you responding to difficulties? Are they making you bitter or better? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

11 Must-Have Qualities of Authentic Leadership

I could tell she felt overlooked and undervalued as she shared what happened. I just tried to listen and be as understanding as possible. She felt like a leader had let her down. She felt diminished.

And I hate to see someone feel that way.

She had gone to a lot of work. It was a job well done. But she felt like no one noticed. At least, he didn't notice. The leader hadn't noticed her efforts.

Maybe she felt like no one ever notices? Her words came out defeated.

I felt empathy for her. But I also felt empathy for the leader. I don't think it was intentional. In fact, I'm almost certain it wasn't intentional.

And I couldn't help but think there were probably times someone else felt that way about my leadership, in spite of my best intentions.

Leadership is tough. Whether you're a principal, a teacher, a parent or just about anyone. If you've been in a leadership role, you've carried an important responsibility with that. It's a responsibility to your followers, to the people you're leading.

You feel that weight, that responsibility...if you're a good leader.

But you also know at some point, you're going to let someone down. Someone is going to be disappointed. They're going to feel like you made the wrong decision. Like you devalued their work. Like you didn't give your full support.

So let's just keep this in mind. Effective leadership must give grace.

But leadership needs grace too.

In the end, we can't expect our leaders to be perfect. We just need them to be authentic.

And we need them to do what's right and to always care about their followers.

So what does it mean to be an authentic leader? It doesn't mean you're perfect. You'll probably still fall short sometimes. But it does mean you're willing to be open, honest, and real. And it means you'll do everything you can to step up for the people counting on you.

Here are 11 Must-Have Qualities of Authentic Leadership. These are challenging for sure, but they are the qualities I aspire to meet. Of course, too often I fall short. But I'm still trying.

1. Lead with your heart.

It's important to care about others, not just for what they can do for you, but because you genuinely care. Because they matter. When you lead with your heart, you also listen with your heart. Be understanding.

2. Shoulder blame.

When something goes wrong, don't try to minimize it or deflect it. If it was your mistake, just own it. Apologize for it. Make it right. And then move forward from it.

3. Share credit.

Invest in the success of others. Be generous with recognizing their contributions. Be happy when they do well, in their professional or personal lives.

4. See the best in others.

And believe the best in others. Lift them up. See them for all the good they are and all the great they are becoming. Never underestimate someone or diminish their abilities. Never.

5. Seek criticism.

Authentic leaders want to know what they can do better. They want to know how their followers are experiencing their leadership. They want feedback, even when it's critical.

6. Lead with optimism.

Your attitude, positive or negative, will determine what kind of leader you will become. Effective leadership hinges on choices, not circumstances. Good leaders are positive even when things are tough.

7. Speak with honesty.

There is no effective substitute for the truth. Authentic leaders always speak truth, but they do it with all the understanding, care, and concern that's possible.

8. Manage emotions.

Leaders must have their emotional abilities in hand. It's difficult to lead if your emotions are running your life. You must feel all your feelings, even the distressing emotions. But you must respond in healthy ways, and not react in destructive ways.

9. Be a positive example.

Do what's right, not what's easy. Whatever qualities you want to see in others, demonstrate those qualities. Your example is your influence. It's the most powerful thing you have. Everyone is watching to see what the leader will do.

10. Be courageous.

Be willing to take a risk. To set things in motion. To move ahead. Lots of people see ways things should be different. A leader is willing to take action and lead others to take action to make things different. But it requires courage.

11. Be willing to grow and learn.

Authentic leaders do not have a rigid view of themselves. They are open to changing their leadership when they learn something new or they are presented with new information. It's important to be flexible and always be learning.

What else would you add to this list? How would you take these ideas deeper? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. Your feedback makes us all stronger.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

5 Simple Rules to Be Great

An essential for being successful is to know who you are and what you have to offer. Your experiences help bring a fuller knowledge of yourself and how you can make the greatest impact. You have to believe in yourself and be willing to take risks to test your limits. 

These truths apply for anyone, not just teachers or educators. We need to help our students discover this process too, so they can be their best and reach for their potential.

1. Focus on your strengths.

It's easy to focus your mental energy on your weaknesses. That's actually what most people tend to do most naturally. But it's far more productive to build on your strengths. If you focus on how you don't measure up, you'll hesitate to step up. You won't make the impact you're capable of making.

2. Exercise your gifts.

You have gifts that you need to develop and share. What excites you and energizes you? What makes you want to do more and be more? What qualities do your biggest fans see in you? Don't discount these gifts. Exercise them and leverage them. Share them with the world.

3. Have courage to be different.

To be great, you'll have to be different. And that might make some people uncomfortable. Don't let other people shape you in ways that don't feel right for you. You have to be true to yourself and do the work you were made to do. You can't be a standout if you're just trying to fit in. 

4. Continue growing and learning.

When you continue to grow, you may find opportunities to reinvent yourself in ways that surprise you and delight you. It's a shame when people hold on to their view of themselves in self-limiting ways. They cling to a feeling of safety and security in who they are and don't risk questioning that they could be so much more.

5. Cope with your critics.

Always remember that it's not the critic who counts. At the end of the day, you have to be satisfied with who you are and what you are doing with your life. Make up your mind to learn from critical feedback. It can be helpful. But don't let criticism slow you down. Keep pressing forward and believe in yourself. Don't let anyone diminish your abilities.

What would you add to list list? What do you think it takes to be great? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Is Your School Extraordinary?

Think about the best dining experience you ever had. What made it exceptional? Was it the service, the atmosphere, or the cuisine? How was the experience more than just a good meal? Why was it truly memorable?

We recently asked our teachers to reflect on these questions during a faculty meeting. And the point of the reflection wasn't to assess what kind of foodies are among our staff members. However, our culinary arts teacher (@BettyGlasgow) had plenty to say on the topic! 

Our chief aim was to examine what makes an extraordinary culture for a restaurant and how can that relate to creating an extraordinary culture in our school. Most everyone can recount a dining experience that was truly outstanding. What made it different?

One of our instructional coaches (@ealove21) had participated in a similar activity in a graduate class. In the end, our goal was to draw parallels between an extraordinary dining experience and an outstanding classroom experience.

Our staff talked about things like how they were treated by the wait staff. How they felt like they were the most important guests ever. They shared how there was attention to just about every detail. How the atmosphere made them feel wonderful. They explained how the entire experience exceeded their expectations in every way. And of course, the food was outstanding, too.

If I just want to get a decent meal, my options are endless. But if I want a truly remarkable dining experience, there seem to be only a few restaurants meeting that standard. There is something extra that really makes it stand out.

Can the same be said for schools too? Are we providing something extraordinary? Is your classroom meeting expectations or exceeding them? Is your school truly excellent or doing pretty much what every school is expected to do?

Our next part of the conversation with our team was to ask our teachers to consider the basic expectations for schools. What exactly is it that every school should be doing? What things are just the minimum requirements?

Should every school love kids? Yes.

Should every school be a safe place? Yes.

Should every school implement engaging, relevant curriculum and instruction? Yes.

Should every school work together with families and the community? Yes.

Should every school promote life-long learning? Yes.

Those are all really important things schools should do. And there are many more. But those are really just the basic expectations. Excellence is how we can do those things in remarkable ways, in ways that demonstrate passion, commitment, and continuous growth.

In what ways are we making learning extraordinary and not just routine? Our kids deserve to have a truly remarkable, world class education. So it's really good that we're doing the things that make for a good school. But let's not be satisfied with being good when we can be GREAT!

While Chick-Fil-A is certainly not counted among my best dining experiences ever, I would say that among fast food restaurants, this chain is remarkable. And because of the commitment to their values and culture, Chik-Fil-A is crushing the competition. 

A Forbes article detailed the extraordinary culture and success of the fast food giant:
Chick-fil-A has achieved tremendous success by any business standard. They’ve experienced a more than 10% sales increase almost every year since launching in 1946. Franchisees retention rate has been 96% for nearly 50 years, while the corporate staff retention rate has hovered at 95-97% over the same time period.
If you are familiar with Chick-Fil-A, I bet you can think of several things related to their culture that makes them extraordinary. One thing some people even find annoying is when Chick-Fil-A employees will always say, "It's my pleasure" anytime a customer says "Thank you." Whether you think that is annoying or remarkable, it demonstrates this company is committed to doing things a certain way. 

One of our teachers commented, "When you're at a Chick-Fil-A, there is just something that feels different about it."

Most fast food restaurants are the complete opposite of that. They aren't remarkable. They are in a race to the bottom, to do it the cheapest, and with the least personal attention, or so it seems. We never want school to be like that. We want to be more like Chick-Fil-A

Do we do things in a certain way as part of our culture that makes us remarkable? I'm not talking about being good or bad. Clearly, most teachers are doing really good work and are willing to make extra efforts to help kids. Most schools are striving to meet expectations. But how are you demonstrating your excellence in visible and tangible ways? How is your classroom or school different? 

In our school, we have a goal this year related to our culture. We are striving to have an outstanding greeting for our students each and every day, both on arrival to school and arrival to each classroom. It's a simple thing, but it can make a huge difference. We've always greeted students, but we are working to make our greetings awesome.

We are aiming to provide a greeting that is extraordinary, that shows our students all the care and concern we believe they deserve. We believe it will translate and help make our school stronger in a whole variety of ways.

And our students have noticed how this is becoming a thing. We keep raising the bar. We added music to the morning greeting. We added handshakes and high fives. We're striving to make sure we know every student's name. Students have joined us to help welcome other students. And we've added signs that communicate our values. We've taken a simple thing and are doing all we can to make it extraordinary.

We're aiming for excellence!

Shout out to Brian McCann (@casehighprinc) for the sign inspiration!

Question: What is something your school is doing that is extraordinary? What makes your classroom or school different? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Creating a Culture of YES!


The idea: What if we had all the kids take a handful of confetti and throw it into the air?

The resistance: What if it makes a big mess? 

Well, it will.

The resistance: What if it makes some people uncomfortable? 

Well, it might.

The resistance: What if a kid gets confetti in his eyes? 

Well, I hadn't thought of that.

The resistance: What about the janitors? Doesn't this make their job tougher? 

I'll help clean it up. My family will help too.

The resistance: You know this isn't how we normally do things?

But is that such a bad thing?

You might be familiar with the idea of a children's message during a church service. I'm sure at some point that was an innovation. But for all of my years attending services, I remember it being a thinga really good thing. 

All of the little kids are invited down to the front for a short message/story that is intended just for them. It's usually an object lesson or story that conveys a Biblical truth in an interactive way. As much as it's intended for the kids, I think the adults often get a lot out of it too. 

Well, on Christmas Eve, our whole family went to church together, all six of us. And during the service, all of the little kids were invited to the front. I teased our youngest daughter Emma who is 15 and told her she should head down front. She gave me the "Really dad?" look. There may have been a little eye-rolling too.

There was a huge crowd at church for the Christmas Eve service, and the entire stage was filled with little kids brimming with energy. I mean, it's Christmas Eve! Kids have a lot on their minds this time of year.

Our children's minister planned a lesson about how joy comes from God, and we should share that joy with others around us. Of course, it included the story of how the shepherds, in particular, shared the news of the birth of Jesus with great enthusiasm. When you have true joy, you can't help but share it.

A good message for sure. And then the truly unexpected part of the message was about to happen. The children's minister explained how when we are excited and celebrating something great, sometimes there is confetti.

"Let's all get some confetti and celebrate the birth of Jesus. And then together we are all going to throw it into the air. Let's share our joy for everyone to see."

It was a beautiful thing. And memorable. And a perfect illustration.

There was joy in the congregation. There was certainly joy in the kids. And I'm pretty sure the joy went home with the kids and probably went with them wherever they went. After all, several were stuffing confetti in their pockets. It was a beautiful thing.

But it was risky. 

And to be sure, our children's minister had asked our pastor ahead of time for permission. 

And he said, "YES!"

And I'm pretty sure he didn't ask all of those questions that might come from the resistance

He just said, "YES!"

What kind of culture are you creating in your classroom or school? Are you missing something truly memorable and remarkable because you aren't willing to take a risk?

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Problem With "I Already Do That"

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post Eight Things Successful Educators Never Say. In the post, I explained how words reveal so much about our attitude and mindset. 

Our words reflect our thoughts. And our thoughts often become our actions. And then our actions determine our destiny. The words we use tell so much about who we are and what we value. 

Words matter.

In that earlier post, I was thinking about things that I could never imagine hearing from a highly effective educator.

I'd like to add one more phrase to that list. 

"I already do that."

Over the years, I've heard this phrase quite a bit, but rarely if ever have I heard it coming from the most successful educators. Let me unpack the context where I've heard the phrase used.

After a teacher/administrator shares an idea they tried that worked in their classroom/school, a colleague replies, "I already do that."

After a day of professional development that involves learning about a practice or method, an educator boasts, "I already do that."

When an administrator or instructional coach suggests a change that might be helpful for a classroom, a teacher responds, "I already do that."

Often the phrase is followed by an explanation of ways the educator is already doing that practice. And it could be that the educator has done something similar, or maybe even something almost exactly the same. Maybe it's true.

But regardless of whether the educator already does that or not, these words seem very dismissive to me. It seems to imply that I already know what you're talking about, and there is nothing more I can learn from you on this topic.

Like many seasoned educators, over the years I've had hundreds if not thousands of conversations about teaching and learning, and I've participated in untold hours of formal and informal professional development.

And even when it was not my choice to attend the workshop or session, I tried to have the attitude that I might learn something from this. 

There were times that I didn't fully engage, but I always tried to take away something. Sometimes I even learned what not to do. We've all been to bad PD sessions or uninspired training. But there can be learning nonetheless.

At other times, I heard ideas being expressed that were very familiar. Some of the themes in education remain the same. It's been said there is nothing new under the sun. And at some level I think this holds true. Even our most innovative practices are built on fundamentals that might be familiar.

But even when I encounter ideas that are not new to me, I try to remind myself not to be dismissive or think, I already know that or I already do that. Hearing good information again and again is not a bad thing. It reinforces knowledge and ideas that are important.

And it can help us to feel validated and confirmed in the good work we are doing.

Sometimes I will share information on Twitter or even in my blog that may seem obvious. For instance, I occasionally share that "kids learn more from teachers who smile" or "every child in every school should hear an encouraging word every day." Sure, these are simple truths, but they are also important reminders.

Recently, I had someone on Twitter push back, "Why are you talking down to teachers? Surely you don't intend this for experienced teachers. Do you even know what teachers do?"


Certainly my intent is never to talk down to anyone, especially teachers. I have the greatest respect for teachers. I may be a principal, but I identify as a teacher too. I'm not teaching lessons day in and day out, but I always want to lift up teachers and make the teaching profession stronger.

Even if an idea may seem obvious, sometimes it's still helpful to put words around it and help bring it to the surface again, to make it fresh, to shine a light on it, to celebrate it. 

Some people may encounter even a simple idea and be validated, encouraged, or inspired. Others may encounter the same idea and think, "I already do that."

I think those are two very different kinds of people. Which kind of person are you?

Do you hear this phrase often? How should we respond when someone says, "I already do that?" Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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