Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Importance of Daily Renewal for Educators


Teaching is a challenging and exhausting profession. No one can understand what it's like until you've experienced it. You make untold numbers of decisions every day. You work with kids who have all sorts of unique and sometimes unrelenting needs. 

The pressure is real. Sometimes it feels like you're just treading water and then someone hands you a concrete block. So you better be a great swimmer! Ha.

I hear lots of ideas about educators dealing with stress. You need to make time for yourself. You need to recharge in the summer and on weekends. You need to have a healthy work/life balance. All of those things are probably true.

But for me, the biggest thing that helps me stay positive, productive, and energized is daily renewal. And that comes in the form of my morning routine and my mental approach throughout the day. I'm renewing in the morning and then I'm renewing by disciplining my thoughts throughout the day.

For the past couple of months, I've really focused on my making my mornings more effective. I've always tried to have a routine in the morning, but last school year at times I wasn't as diligent. And I could definitely tell a difference.

More recently, I'm making my mornings count, and everything I'm doing seems to be working better. I feel more effective. I have more energy. My relationships are stronger. I'm more patient. More productive. More focused. More determined. I feel stronger overall.

So here's what I'm doing differently. I don't do every single one of these things every morning, but I do several of them each day. Being able to pick and choose gives my routine some variety. The routine can take me an hour or more, but there have been mornings I needed to get to school early, and I've done an abbreviated version in 10 minutes.

1. Smile

Start the day by finding something to smile about. Choose to smile. Research has shown the physical act of smiling has benefits for stress recovery, improved mood, and creativity. (Time: 30 seconds)

2. Breathe

I'm using a meditation app to work on focused breathing and meditation. There are several smartphone apps available, and I've tried a couple of them. Practicing mindfulness is great for increased focus, reduced anxiety, and improved cognition. (Time: 3-5 minutes)

3. Be Grateful

Gratitude is powerful for feeling better, having more energy, and training your brain to look for good things. I follow the advice of author MK Mueller. Be grateful for three things that have happened in the last 24 hours with no repeats ever. It's great to share your gratitude with someone or journal about it. (Time: 3-5 minutes)

4. Move

This one I'm including every day in my routine. I do something to be physically active each morning. It might be running several miles. Or, it might be a two-minute plank and that's all. But I'm getting some type of exercise in my routine every morning. (Time: 2 minutes-1 hour)

5. Envision

Almost all great athletes use mental imagery to gain an edge. When you imagine exactly how you want a situation, interaction, event, or performance to go, it creates a mental model for success. It sets the stage for success. I spend a few moments each morning thinking about desired outcomes. I think about these things as if the outcome has already been established, as if they are already true. I think it until I feel it. (Time 2-5 minutes) 

6. Affirm

This practice is similar to envisioning except it is focused on self more than situation. So I'm thinking about characteristics I'm developing in myself as if they are already present at the desired level. I tell myself the things that I value and that I want to become. It helps clarify my values and focuses my growth. (Time 2-5 minutes)

7. Read

Like movement and exercise, I also make reading part of every morning. I keep a list of books to read and have several people in my life who share book suggestions with me. I also try to read blog posts and, of course, Twitter posts from my PLN. I can't imagine not making reading a habit in my life. The things I continually learn add so much value to who I am and what I am striving to accomplish in life. (Time 15-45 minutes)

8. Reflect

I often think back over recent events during my morning routine. I think about decisions or interactions and what I can learn from them. What's working? What's not working? I'm careful not to beat myself up if something didn't go well. I simply consider what I could do better next time and keep my focus on the future. If I can't do something to improve myself or the situation, then I'm not going to continue thinking about it. Worry and regret is disempowering. I want to spend my time thinking in empowered ways. (Time 2-5 minutes)

9. Pray

If you're not a person of faith, you may choose to skip right over this one. I don't want to push my faith on anyone. I realize a person's beliefs about God are...well, deeply personal. But I must share this part of my morning, because for me, spending time in prayer is the most valuable part of my daily routine. I have a list of things I pray about each morning. They are things that are very important to me. I must also share that my prayer life often intersects with each of the other parts of my routine. My whole morning routine is basically my focused time with God. So I'm often praying while I'm exercising or reflecting. I want to start my day by meeting with God, so I'm more effective as I meet with people throughout the day. (Time 5-10 minutes)

I realize this seems like a long list of things to do, especially if you don't like getting up early in the morning. Keep in mind I don't do all of these every day. And the amount of time I spend on each one varies also. 

If you want to reduce stress, have more energy, and increase your effectiveness, I highly recommend developing your morning routine. How you spend the first hour of your day will have a big impact on how the rest of your day goes. Make it count.

What are some of your morning routines? Are you intentional about daily renewal? What are your thoughts about reducing stress and increasing your effectiveness? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, September 3, 2018

What's the Key to Influencing Your Students?


Information and well-reasoned arguments are rarely of much benefit to cause pivotal change. In Switch, by Dan Heath and Chip Heath, the authors detail dozens of examples of two different approaches to influencing (organizational and individual) behavior.

Think/Analyze/Change

One approach is Think/Analyze/Change. In this approach you present the facts. If you do this, this will happen. You make reasoned arguments. You encourage people to think like the rational human beings you expect them to be.

But the problem is, most people don't make decisions based on carefully reasoned decisions. Of course, to the individual, every decision is reasonable. Our students believe they have a good reasons for their choices. It's always important to remember students, and people in general, do things for their reasons and not ours.

So when we use "telling" as a strategy to reason with students about why they should comply, follow rules, or try harder, it probably goes in one ear and out the other, except for the students who already agree with our reasoning, and they aren't the ones who need to hear it.

See/Feel/Change

So the second approach is See/Feel/Change. This approach has been shown time and again to be far more effective in creating behavioral change. This approach makes change more visible. It often relies on mental pictures and narratives that people can really connect with. It focuses on heart needs. It connects with the person emotionally. That is critically important. 


While we would all like to think we're rational beings, we've made some of the biggest decisions of our life based on emotion...where we went to college, who we married, deciding to have kids, buying a house or that new car. There were powerful emotions at play in all of those decisions.

To be a change agent, you have to use See/Feel/Change strategies. 


Here are five tips...
1. The energy you bring to your classroom communicates expectations more powerfully than your words. If you bring enough purpose, passion, and energy to the space, you communicate to students that this teacher is not going to accept less than my best. Keep in mind your rules are no match for student habits.

2. Give your students experiences. Use demonstrations. Use role playing. Make the principles you are trying to teach visible and interactive and don't rely on just "telling." Invite students to reflect on experiences and draw meaning from concrete examples.

3. Tell stories. People connect with stories. So if you have a story that illustrates a principle, use it. But also tie it to a higher purpose. So instead of telling a story of how your son or daughter was complemented in his/her job for showing up on time and keeping his cell phone put away, share how proud you are as a parent that your child is doing well in his adult life. Our kids want their parents to be proud of them. Or, talk about how he or she is taking such good care of their family. Our students may not care about a career at 15 years old. But they do care about the things all people care about (relationships, feeling significant, being good at something, family, connection, etc.).

4. Teach specific first steps to make the change a reality. If students experience some success in an area, they are more likely to continue down that path. So don't just say, remember to do your homework. Help them make plans for exactly what steps they will take to do their homework. Planning first steps is extremely important to creating change. Don't assume they know what to do.

5. Help students find a sense of purpose. People who lack purpose have no reason to change. They have no hope. Encourage students by believing in their possibilities and by giving them encouragement to grow. Students are more likely to invest themselves when they feel meaning and purpose. Learning must be more meaningful than a grade or a test score.

Final thoughts...

Students (all people actually) do things for their reasons, not ours.

Information without emotion is rarely retained. And information rarely changes behavior.

Be mindful of how you can add the greatest value to students who could benefit from changed habits. Be a change agent.

Let me here from you. What are strategies you've used to help student's make pivotal changes? I'm talking about real, lasting change. Share a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

7 Ways to Be a Stronger, More Productive Risk Taker


If you want to learn and grow and make a greater impact, it's essential to be a productive risk taker. Not all risks are productive of course, but most people actually make too few mistakes, not too many.

Former IBM President Thomas Watson boldly proclaimed, "If you want to succeed, double your rate of failure." It's through our mistakes that we learn. When we take risks, we either win or we learn. Not win or lose. Win or learn.

So how do you become a stronger risk taker? How do you find the courage to step out of your comfort zone and into your growth zone? Here are 7 ideas.

1. Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable

Risk taking involves the possibility of failure. Be content with doing your best even if the outcome isn't what you hoped for initially. 

2. Take Many, Smaller Risks to Start

If you want to grow as a risk taker, take more risks. But don't think they have to be gigantic risks at first. In fact, it's not wise to take larger risks to start. Taking lots of smaller risks helps you gain the confidence, practice, and good judgment to take larger risks eventually.

3. Hang Out with Risk Takers

If you spend your time with people who protect the status quo and simply try to stay comfortable, you'll be more likely to do the same. Bring people into your life who are taking risks and living their dreams. It's very difficult to rise above mediocrity if that's what you are surrounded by every day. Seek excellence. And know that when you take risks, it's going to make some people very uncomfortable.

4. Do Something a Little Wild and Crazy

There are lots of wild and crazy things you can do that might feel frightening but really aren't that risky at all. You might risk embarrassment if it doesn't work out, but that's about it. Later this year my daughter Maddie and I will be contestants in our community's Dancing with the Stars fundraiser. So although dancing in front of a big crowd is way out of my comfort zone, what's the worst that could happen right? It should actually be fun. And I know it's an opportunity to practice risk taking and just going for it.

5. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

It might feel safer to just be content with how things are. It might feel more comfortable to just go through the motions. But if you want to grow, you have to step out of your comfort zone. There is always that little voice telling you to play it safe. You have to push past that resistance. I've made it a habit to read and learn and spend time on personal growth at least 5-hours every week. At first, that was very difficult but eventually it became easier. What was uncomfortable as first became comfortable and increasingly valuable over time.

6. Be an Adaptable Learner.

Our world is changing faster than ever. The rate of change is accelerating. And since we're not teaching kids from 20 years ago, our classrooms and schools shouldn't look like 20 years ago either. Things are changing so quickly that even schools that are taking risks and making bold moves forward are likely still falling behind. Our students need to see us as adaptable learners. They need to see us model growth, change, and adaptability. 

7. Make No Excuses 

No one want to live an average, ordinary existence. Don't sacrifice your capacity for excellence by listening to the voice telling you to settle for less. You can live an extraordinary life and have extraordinary impact. You just have to do it. You have to push through your fears and stop making excuses.

What risks are you willing to take this year? How will you push yourself out of your own comfort zone? I'd love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Aiming for a Breakthrough


Most people get to a certain level of effectiveness in life, work, relationships, etc. and then just hit cruise control. It's normal to just get comfortable and then go with the status quo. The current level of success becomes a sort of boundary they don't cross. They grow content with how things are. After all, things are pretty good.

It feels safe.

But that's not the way to create continual and extraordinary growth or develop amazing classrooms or schools. For me, I want to be relentless in pursuing a breakthrough or tipping point, where we go from good to great.

I want to remove the limits. I believe most people (teachers, students, principals, etc.) have incredible reserves of untapped talent and possibility that goes unrealized. How can we create an environment that brings out greatness?

It means taking risks.

Most schools have tremendous capacity that isn't being realized. The school is the people. And when the people in the school aren't pushing the limits, we settle for much less than is possible. And that's not to devalue the work anyone is doing. It's just saying, I believe in you. And I believe each of us has capacity to do so much more. I want more for you.

Our work matters too much to settle for less. Kids are counting on us. There is a future at stake. We can be the difference.

Mediocrity isn't being bad at something. Some people get caught up in mediocrity and they're actually pretty good at what they do. They just become content with being pretty good at what they do. 

Mediocrity is being satisfied with the status quo. It embraces apathy. It’s choosing, either intentionally or unintentionally, to stay the same. 

Excellence, on the other hand, is not necessarily being good at something. A first year teacher may not be a great teacher yet. They may really struggle. But they can have a relentless pursuit of improvement. They are excellent, not because of their current level of performance, but because they seek growth at every turn. They are pushing their limits.

Excellence is always striving to change, learn, and grow. It’s making the choice to get better every day.

So don't aim for just good enough. Don't even aim for a little better. Aim for a breakthrough. Set out to be a game changer.

Unfortunately, there are far more examples of mediocrity than excellence. Mediocrity is easy. Excellence is hard. When you notice someone who is doing something with excellence, take note. Learn from them. 

What will you do this year to aim for excellence and be a game changer in your school? Don't be satisfied with just a little better. Let's push the boundaries and unleash greatness. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, July 27, 2018

What Story Are You Telling Yourself?


When you think about your students, what stories are you telling yourself about them? I've been guilty of buying into limiting stories about who they are, where they come from, or what they're capable of.

Of course, I care about all of our kids and strive to treat them all with dignity and respect. But it's easy to see them a certain way if I'm not careful. It's easy to make judgments. There are subtle thoughts and feelings. I might believe a story that casts some as most likely to succeed and others as at-risk or some other label.

It's almost effortless to impose our stories on them or accept the limiting stories others believe about them without a question.

They don't have a chance.

They're victims of their environment.

They don't have the right parents, the right influences, the right resources. 

They have an IEP. 

They're low functioning.

They're a behavior problem.

They're lazy.

They don't care about school.

They'll never make it in college.

We can easily make all kinds of assumptions even without thinking. 

I've seen on Twitter recently the idea that we shouldn't judge a student by the chapter of their story we walk in on. That is a powerful thought. So true! We all know people who've had difficult back stories who were probably judged as incapable or unlikely to succeed.

And yet, they made it.

Some famous examples include Albert Einstein, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln and many others. Not only did they make, they became world changers.

I'm gonna try harder to never tell myself a story about a kid that says they can't because of where they live, what kind of home they come from, the trauma they've experienced, or anything else that limits their possibilities.

Things that have been true in the past don't have to be true for the future. Alan Cohen writes "our history is not our destiny."

As educators, we cannot buy into the idea that because a kid comes from the wrong side of the tracks, lacks resources, or has a difficult home environment they have limited capacity.

As I wrote in Future Driven
Treat all of your students like future world changers. I know there are some who are difficult, disrespectful, and disengaged. But don't let that place limits on what they might accomplish someday. Believe in their possibilities and build on their strengths.
Kids can overcome any obstacle placed in their way. Don't believe it? How can you know what might be possible with effort, enthusiasm, and continuous learning? 

And when no one else in the world is seeing a kid for the genius of what's inside them, it's time for educators to step up and be the ones who find that spark. 

No limits. No excuses.

What story are you telling yourself? What story are you believing about yourself? What story are you believing about your students?

The culture on the inside of your school must be stronger than the culture on the outside. There are so many outside voices telling kids what they can't do, and it's no wonder that kids start to believe it.

Every school needs every adult who works there to believe in the possibilities of their students, who will push them to greatness every day, who show them how to reach higher and go further. They may have limits crashing down on them from the external realities they live with, but we can help unleash the greatness they have within them. We can help them overcome and break through the limits.

What are specific ways we can help students realize they have greatness within? How can we unleash the potential they have to pursue their unlimited capacity? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, July 20, 2018

5 Tips for Building Great Relationships with Students


Relationships are essential to learning. Kids connect more to learning when they feel more connection to their teacher. A great classroom environment begins by building great relationships. 

So how do you build great relationships with your students? Here are 5 tips I promise will make your relationships stronger. 

What if everyone in your school tried to get a little better at these five things every day? Wow! That would be an amazing school culture.

1. Connect with your students.

Learn your students' names...on the first day. Greet them at the door. Make eye contact. Smile. Ask them questions. Ask them their opinion about a movie or type of music or your teaching. Joke with them. Offer fist bumps and high fives. Know at least two things about each student that have nothing to do with school. 

2. Invest in your students.

Believe in your students. Look for opportunities to affirm their strengths. Build them up. Show your approval. You will have far more influence if they know you're in their corner. Plant seeds in their mind of the great things they will do in their future. Treat them like future world changers. "You're going places. You're going to do great things." Then point out how their incredible strengths will take them far.

3. Personalize learning for your students.

Meet students where they are. Get to know their passions and look for opportunities to connect learning to those interests. Provide experiences that allow individual strengths and personality to shine. Place responsibility on your students and let them know you trust them. Never teach down to your students. Teach them in ways that empower them as learners. 
  • How often do your students have input on how they will learn?
  • How often do your students have input on what they will learn?
  • Are your students given opportunities to lead conversations?
  • Are your classroom goals developed by the teacher alone or in partnership with students?
  • Do your students have some time to pursue their own goals?
  • How often do you ask your students for feedback on their experience in your classroom?

4. Give time and attention to your students.

Notice when a student is having a bad day. Offer encouragement. Make eye contact. Stop and really listen. There are so many people and things clamoring for your attention. To give your attention to something is an amazing gift. Too often we make our plans a higher priority than our purpose. Our purpose might be to connect with our students, but what about our plans for today? Can we let go of those for a couple of minutes?

You can also give time and attention by making that positive phone call home, writing that note of encouragement, or attending that ballgame or concert after school.

5. Forgive your students.

Every kid deserves a fresh start in your classroom every day. Time spent holding onto yesterday means less time moving forward today. Forgiveness protects the relationship. It allows you to set aside those frustrating moments with a kid and believe today can be better. It's part of being able to enjoy your students...all of them. They're kids and they're not always going to show up well in your classroom. If you enjoy them and take delight in them, even with their imperfections, you'll feel better about yourself and enjoy teaching far more.

I think we can all continue to grow in our ability to build stronger relationships. What ideas do you have for building relationships in your classroom or school? How will you grow stronger in this area? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, July 9, 2018

7 Characteristics of People with a Strong Sense of Purpose


Daniel Pink wrote about purpose in his best-seller, Drive. He said there are three things that motivate creative peopleautonomy, mastery, and purpose. If we want to create a highly motivating environment in our schools, that also values creativity, it won't happen by control and compliance or rewards and punishments. 

It will only happen when we provide opportunities for meaningful work, both for teachers and students. We should always be concerned with cultivating meaningful work.

A sense of purpose gives the work relevance. I wonder what most kids think about the purpose for coming to school. It's mandatory. It's required. It's how I can get into college and get a good job someday. My parents make me. It's important to my parents. At least I see my friends there. The purpose is to get good grades, perhaps? It's something to be endured. Yikes!

I wonder what would happen if we really focused on helping students find deeper meaning and purpose in their school experience? What if we intentionally helped students find purpose and meaning in learning? Why isn't that a class we offer? Actually it should be part of every class. Sometimes I think the most important things are completely overlooked.

If school elicited a stronger sense of purpose, what benefits would we see? Here are 7 characteristics of people with purpose. I'm sure there are high-purpose people in your school. I just think we need more of them for sure.

1. High purpose people are willing to take more risks.

They will step out of their comfort zone to move forward because they have a reason to be bold. They know their why. They see the importance of what they're doing and want to make a difference. Ultimately, risk takers learn more because they don't retreat from challenges.

2. They're open to new possibilities.

Most people see problems. And they want conventional solutions. But people with purpose see possibilities. They don't let problems hold them back. When some people see challenges and obstacles, people with purpose look for opportunities to move forward and learn and grow. 

3. They have more energy and emotion about what they're doing.

People with high purpose have passion for what they're doing. They are deeply committed. They are intellectually connected to what they're doing, but they're also emotionally connected. They also feel it. They feel passion for their purpose.

4. They have no time for petty disputes or social drama.

Ever wonder how people can get distracted by petty disputes or social drama? It's lack of purpose. People who are mission focused won't allow themselves to drift from what's most important. 

5. They're intentional.

High purpose people aren't just going through the motions. Every day is valuable. The wake up determined and go to bed satisfied. They have important work to do. They want to grow and see progress.

6. They don't allow limits and naysayers to hold them back.

People who lack purpose get very uncomfortable around people with strong purpose. They may even mock their efforts and say it can't be done or point out the obstacles standing in the way. But people with purpose don't let these people bring them down. They just try to bring them along. 

7. They're willing to make repeated efforts.

People who lack purpose may try for a moment or a day. But they quickly get discouraged. They want results, but they don't want to grind. They aren't committed enough to the purpose to apply effort consistently until the mission is accomplished. The goal is too important to give up just because it's hard.

What's your purpose? You might consider writing a personal mission statement to clarify what drives you to do great work. What gives your life direction? Let me know your thoughts on creating a stronger sense of purpose for educators and students. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Don't Ask For More Until You're Willing to Risk More


Strong leaders have strong visions for their schools. They feel a constant tension between how things are and how they could be. And leaders want to see progress toward the vision. And progress toward the vision is great, but it comes at a cost if leaders aren't careful.

People must never feel diminished at the expense of the vision.

I would challenge leaders to consider this question. Why do you provide learning opportunities for your teachers? I'm guessing the most common answer would be it's for the kids and their learning. 

That's a noble goal, right?

It's to help teachers be better so kids can learn more too. It's to move the school forward toward the vision. We have important work to do to be the best we can be, so the kids can be the best they can be.

But here's the translation for many teachers: My current work is not appreciated here. It's never good enough. You're always trying to squeeze more out of me. I'm doing all I can and now you're adding to my plate. My work is not valued here. I feel like I'm being pushed in directions I don't even know if I want to go.

But what if we approached professional learning from a different perspective? What if school leadership focused more on serving teachers and meeting their needs? What if professional learning was more about growing the teacher and not about better test scores or some other outcome?

Let's create a culture of professional learning that values teachers. Let's start with this idea. We want to provide experiences that help teachers get the most out of their work. We want to provide experiences that help you achieve your greatest fulfillment as a teacher. 

We want to provide experiences that offer the highest return on your investment as an educator. 

That's servant leadership. Helping others make a greater impact and find more fulfillment in what they are doing. It's not about squeezing more out of the individual for the sake of the school, the test scores, or even for the kids. It's not about winning at the SMART goals game.

But those things will probably improve too as teachers feel more appreciated, find more fulfillment, and sense they are getting a higher return on their investment as an educator.

There's nothing wrong with leaders asking more of the people they lead. That's what good leaders do. They challenge people to grow their capacity and to use their capacity to the fullest.

But start with why. Reflect on your own motives. Why are you asking more? It has to be to care for your team. Love your team. It has to be for the benefit of each individual first. Help them reach their goals. Help them feel a greater sense of accomplishment. Give them a sense of their own talent, progress, and strengths.

The best leaders are constantly affirming the work that is being done. They are recognizing the strengths and contributions of each team member. The vision is realized as a result of valuing people, encouraging them, and supporting them all along the way.

Leaders: When we ask teachers to risk more and to give more, are we also giving more and risking more for teachers?

The vision for your school is important, but the vision is meaningless if performance is more important than people.

What are some ways you are risking more for you colleagues, caring for them, and increasing the return on investment for others? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, June 22, 2018

20 Ways to Be Future Driven in Your Classroom


Reflection is so important for continued learning and growth. I developed the list below as a tool for educators to reflect on practices that help prepare students for a rapidly changing, complex world. Some of these practices are new. Some are not. Some of them involve technology. Some do not. 

These are all based on important themes from my book, Future Driven. These factors help prepare students for a modern world where continuous learning and adaptability are paramount.

I don't think I would expect any educator to be pursuing all of these indicators at once. And this list should never be used to think in terms of judging a good teacher vs. a bad teacher. So don't look at it like that. The purpose of the list is for reflection and growth.

It might give you an idea of where you want to focus your learning for next school year. You could pick one or two and consider how you might develop the practice in your classroom. It might help you consider your next steps in your growth as an educator.

20 Ways to be Future Driven in Your Classroom

1. I provide opportunities for project-based and inquiry-based learning.

2. I give students choices about learning (time, place, path, or pace).

3. I am learning new things about technology and sharing my learning with students and teachers.

4. My students have opportunities to connect with real-world experts.

5. My classroom learning space provides flexibility for student-centered grouping and learning tasks.

6. My students regularly have opportunities to use digital tools to leverage their skills for learning tasks.

7. I utilize Genius Hour or 20 percent time to provide opportunities for students to pursue their passions and interests.

8. I model risk-taking, grit, and perseverance for students and regularly discuss the importance of these characteristics in class.

9. I build strong relationships by greeting students, calling them by name, and getting to know them as individuals.

10. My students assume considerable responsibility for class discussions. Conversations become student-led, instead of teacher-directed.

11. My students take on projects that make a difference in the community or in the world (service-learning).

12. My students have many opportunities to create work that will be visible to authentic audiences.

13. I am intentional about cultivating curiosity in my students by having them develop their own questions, by allowing exploration, or by creating mystery or intrigue.

14. I ask my students for feedback on my teaching and the relevance of my lessons.

15. Empathy is just as important as responsibility in my classroom.

16. I am focused more on what a child can do and not what he/she cannot do.

17. I think about how the future will be different for my students and strive to teach with that in mind.

18. My students have opportunities to experiment with different approaches, rather than just practicing a predetermined method.

19. Character is more important than compliance in my classroom.

20. My students have many chances to take initiative, not just follow directions.

What other practices do you think are important for relevant, future ready learning? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Is Positivity an Excuse for Silencing Opposing Viewpoints?



There's been some push back recently on Twitter against the whole idea of positive attitude as a good thing. It gave me some things to think about, because in general, I've found a positive mindset to be a source of strength in my life. I've even written several posts about positive thinking, including this one:

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?
How could someone not be in favor of having a positive outlook? I was curious and a little puzzled by some of the responses I've seen to the idea of having a positive attitude. I wanted to know more.

So here are some of the arguments I've seen. Keep in mind I'm doing my best to synthesize, so if you're in the anti-positive thinking camp, let me know if I'm missing the point.

1. Calls for a positive attitude are one way the dominant culture silences critics and those with opposing viewpoints. By asking me to have a positive attitude, you are refusing to acknowledge my experience and my suffering. I'm not allowed to speak my mind or share my experience without being labeled a negative person.

2. Positive thinking is not the solution to mental health issues. To the contrary, it's part of the mental health crisis. It's no longer okay to feel negative emotions like sadness, fear, isolation, hopelessness, or anger. If you feel those emotions, you're not being positive, and that's not okay.  The pressure to feel positive all the time is too much, and so when I don't, I feel further devalued and unable to measure up.

3. Sharing positive thoughts is empty of meaning. It's not doing the real work of challenging injustice or working to understand those who are oppressed or those who are suffering. Instead of sharing something "positive," share something that demands justice or calls out oppressive forces. In other words, raise some hell to demand change. That's doing something positive.

I think those are some really good reasons to push back against positive thinking, if you define and understand being positive in a certain way. I think there are some nuances to the idea of being positive that are important for the idea to work, otherwise it's just a thought that we should all be happy all the time, and that's just not helpful.

Here's how I would respond to the three concerns about positive thinking.

1. Being positive doesn't mean everyone has to be agreeable and have the same opinions. But it does mean we express our opinions in ways that are productive and helpful. In a school, leaders need to encourage productive conflict and invite critical dialogue. I want people around me to push my thinking and challenge my ideas. That's how we get better. 

But I'm guessing...in some cases, leaders are silencing voices who are simply expressing a different viewpoint and using positive attitude as the reason. Either you agree with me or you obviously don't have a positive attitude? It's one or the other. That type of thinking is not effective.

2. Being positive doesn't mean you're happy all the time. I think believing you should be happy all the time does result in complications to mental health. We need to feel all our feelings, the positive and negative ones. The truth is none of our feeling are truly negative. They're not bad. They're just feelings. They come and go. And as humans, all of them are legitimate. Being positive is the ability to experience the array of human emotions and respond to them in ways that are helpful. 

In response to every emotion, we have the choice in what we do with it. How do we hold that emotion in our mind and how do we think about it? Do we listen to what our emotions tell us and let them take us down whatever path they choose? Or, do we choose the path for our emotions? Do we point them in a direction we want them to go? We're not repressing them or denying them. It's important to fully acknowledge how we feel, but then choose to use that emotion as fuel to go in some positive direction in life. I'm going to use this pain or sorrow for good in this certain way.

Of course, this is always a process. There are times I do not handle my emotions in productive ways. And that results in strain on my relationships or sticky situations as a leader. I've often had to apologize for times I allowed my emotions to choose the path.

3. Sharing positive thoughts are empty of meaning if they are empty of meaning. But they don't have to be. In fact, the person who can communicate difficult, hard truths in a positive way is a wise person. There is wisdom and strength in communicating a difficult message in a way that doesn't offend or alienate. That's making an effort to have dialogue and not a shouting match. I see no benefit to a shouting match. Neither side is really listening. Nothing productive is resulting from this exchange.

And yet, that is how most people seem to be handling conversations these days in regard to our most pressing issues. It's evident all over social media. There is no dialogue. There is no civility. Each side hurls insults, snide remarks, insulting labels, and believes they have the moral high ground. Our way is the right way!!!

It makes me sad when I see educators fall into this same type of behavior. Unfortunately, I've noticed more destructive posts like this recently from educators. We have an obligation to set a good example for our students every day in our classrooms, and also on social media. We have an obligation to do our very best, all the time, to be respectful and positive with our words and actions.

At the same time, it's never okay to silence an opposing viewpoint on the grounds that the person needs to be positive. It's okay to ask someone to communicate respectfully. But it's not okay to silence someone who disagrees.

Let me know your thoughts on all of this. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I always enjoy hearing from you.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

11 Powerful Characteristics of Adaptable Learners



Most of what is learned in the traditional approach to school is not adaptable learning. It is discrete learning. It's focused on a specific body of knowledge and isn't always transferable to new situations. Yesterday's learning is in silos with distinct separation among the disciplines. It's the type of learning that was useful in a world where you could train for a profession and be assured of relative stability in that profession for many years.

Gone are those days.

Our world is moving extremely fast. We can't even fathom how fast things are changing. We're too close to the change to get a sense of the magnitude. 

How can we deal with this increased complexity and uncertainty? Change is accelerating. And that creates a need for a different type of learning. In Future Driven, I write that adaptable learners will own the future.

So what makes an adaptable learner? Here are 11 characteristics.

1. Recognize Your Environment Is Constantly Changing

Adaptable learners are ready. They embrace change. It's not just small changes we're talking about. It's a tidal wave of change that's coming. Change is accelerating exponentially. You must be willing to adapt.

2. Reject Comfort and Complacency

You can't adjust to the changes, meet the challenges, or take advantage of the opportunities without stepping out of your comfort zone.

3. Take Ownership of Results

It's not helpful to blame poor outcomes on changing circumstances. The adaptable learner looks inward first to find solutions. There's a stubbornness to find a way or make a way.

4. Show Willingness to Collaborate

No one person can have all the skills needed to meet the challenges of rapid change. But together, it's possible to leverage our shared abilities for the good of our team.

5. Build Resilience and Perseverance

In an uncertain learning environment, there will be mistakes. It's important to learn from these mistakes and press on. It's critical to stay with difficult problems and try different solutions.

6. Demonstrate Care for Others

I believe adaptable learners are caring learners. People find better solutions when there is a larger purpose. When people are caring learners, it makes the learning meaningful.

7. Be Open to Changing Your Mind

No one has it all figured out. Have strong opinions loosely held. If presented with new evidence, be willing to take a new position.

8. Be Flexible in Your Methods, Focused on Your Mission

Our methods and practices must change with the times, but our process of adapting can continue. And ultimately, the mission can continue. 

9. Be Eager to Try New Things and Learn New Skills

Adaptable learners are constantly picking up new skills and adjusting previous skills. There has to be a willingness to do something new even if it's hard at first.

10. Be Open to Feedback

Feedback is a necessary ingredient to learning. Don't feel threatened by feedback. Pursue feedback. And use it to adapt and learn.

11. Develop Confidence in Your Ability to Learn

Most people are frightened by the thought of rapid change. But the adaptable learner feels a sense of confidence. When you believe in your ability to learn and solve problems, you view challenges as opportunities.

How are these characteristics being developed in your classroom or school? Are your students ready? Will they thrive in an unpredictable world? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I want to hear from you.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Be Firm in Your Principles. Be Flexible in Your Practices.



I'm a big advocate of positive and productive change. If one thing is certain, it's change. There will be change, and we must adapt. Our students must adapt. Our schools must adapt. The world is becoming more complex and uncertain, and that makes change even more imperative. 

But some things never change. Teaching principles, for instance, stand the test of time. Principles are fundamental truths. They are universal and unchanging at their core. These things should be the foundation of who we are and what we do as educators.

-Treat every child, every person, with dignity and respect.

-Make kindness a top concern.

-Communicate clear goals and objectives.

-Set high expectations.

-Believe the best of your students.

-Provide extraordinary learning experiences, not just lessons.

-Make learning relevant to time, place, and the individual.

-Persevere, push through obstacles, and never give up on a child.

-Recognize effort and progress.

-Consistently provide useful and meaningful feedback.

These things will not change. There may be some slight contextual ways that they change. But essentially, they are some of the fundamentals whether we look at education 50 years in the past or 50 years into the future.

But our practices are different. Our practices should be much different than 50 years ago. They should even be different than 5 years ago. They may be different tomorrow, based on our students' needs. We must adapt our practices to the needs of the students we are working with today, right now. We need to adapt to the changes that are happening in the world right now as well.

Teaching practices are only effective in certain situations and change over time: grading, curriculum, technology, strategies, and lessons all must change to stay relevant.

So...

Be firm in your principles. They are your core beliefs.

Be flexible in your practices. They flow from your principles and are your actions today.

Be firm in your mission. It's your purpose as an educator.

Be flexible in your methods. Your methods are how you achieve your purpose and may change with the situation.

How are you developing your principles and practices as an educator? Both are important. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Surprisingly Beneficial Way to Think About Motivation



Every teenager is motivated. Every student is motivated. Every teacher. Every parent. Every person is 100% motivated. That's right. You're 100% motivated to do exactly what you're doing at any given moment. 

I've been reading The Game Changer: How to Use the Science of Motivation With the Power of Game Design to Shift Behaviour, Shape Culture and Make Clever Happen by Jason Fox. Besides having a spectacularly long title, the book is long on great ideas too. The author makes a strong case for ways game design can be applied to bring motivation to life and work.

The book shows how we are motivated to do what we are currently doing in a given moment. That's why it's not helpful to assume someone just isn't a motivated person. 

Whatever we are doing is what we are motivated to do.

As a result, it doesn't make sense to try to change motivation. It might be possible, but it's very difficult. We will default to activities that provide the richest sense of progress. Motivation isn't the problem. The problem is the work itself. We want work that is satisfying.

We meaning WE, all of us. The adults in the school want meaningful work, and so do the students. All of us.

That doesn't mean that every moment of the work will be satisfying, but overall, we see progress and benefits from the work we are doing. I'm guessing none of us would do anything we are currently doing if we didn't see it as valuable or necessary to some relevant and beneficial purpose. 

And if we were required to do something out of compliance, that we did not value or find satisfying, over time it would be soul crushing and mind numbing. I wonder if some of our students feel that way?

If all of this is true, does it really make sense to expect students to change their motivation toward learning in your classroom or school? We plead with them to do their homework. We try to convince them why the work we offer them is so important to their future. We fuss at them to do more. We try to get them to buy-in to the game of school.

But why don't we just change the game? 

Why don't we reduce the friction? That's the point I was trying to make in a previous post, 9 Ways to Make Learning Irresistible

I'm not saying we should make things easier, just more meaningful. Gamers fail as much as 80% of the time. Kids are extremely persistent when playing the games they love. They will persist in spite of frustration. They enjoy the challenge. They will stay with the struggle.

If kids aren't persisting in our lessons, maybe we need to change the game. Every game includes goals, rules, and feedback. Every classroom includes goals, rules, and feedback. 

If we have an effective learning design, students WILL be motivated and you WILL successfully influence their behavior. Instead of expecting students to adjust to your game, why not develop the game with their motivations in mind? 

Why not change the learning to meet the students where they are? To me, that's true relevance.

The students in your class who are struggling have probably always struggled in school. That becomes a pattern of frustration and failure. What are you doing to disrupt that pattern? What are you doing to be a game changer?

I'm really curious to know your thoughts on all of this. Leave me a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, June 1, 2018

3 Reasons to Recognize Effort and Growth Over Achievement and Outcomes



As the school year winds down, what is your school doing to recognize students? It's really common at this time of year to have awards programs to celebrate students for success and achievement. A problem with these types of programs is they tend to only recognize a certain kind of student.

Praising compliance, outstanding grades, and high achievement may be motivating for some, but may also lead to disengagement, resentment, and alienation for others. What kind of success are we celebrating?

I don't want to send the message to our students that only a certain type of success or achievement is celebrated in our school. All of our students are valuable and make contributions in a variety of ways. 

And most importantly, I want to celebrate the process of growth and learning, and not just the outcomes. Students can't always control the end result, but they can control the controllables, things like effort, enthusiasm, empathy, energy, and work ethic. It's also important to recognize students for curiosity, creativity, and perseverance.

So we do our "awards" program differently.

Each teacher chooses one student to recognize at our end of school assembly. But the teacher selects the student based on whatever criteria they choose. It could be for effort, improvement, citizenship, school spirit, or just showing up well and having positive energy.




Some of the students who receive the award are the typical academic high flyers, but many are not. Many have probably never had their name called out in front of their peers, or their parents, to receive an award.

Each teacher says just a few words about why the student was selected. These stories are powerful for showing how we value students for more than just the grades they earn.

For some of our students, receiving an honor and affirmation like this could be pivotal. It could give them the spark of confidence and belief they needed at just the right time. It could inspire them to take on new challenges and set their sights higher.

Here are three reasons to recognize effort and growth over achievement and outcomes:

1. Avoid alienation.

By the time students arrive in high school, far too many believe the system of school won't work for them. They are checked out. And no wonder. They've seen a certain type of student celebrated. They've built their identity around not being like those students, because they can't measure up to those kids anyway, the ones who get all the awards. Personal growth isn't even on their radar, and they don't see that as the purpose of school anyway. To them, school expects quiet compliance, right answers, and perfect grades. That's how you measure up. Recognizing progress and growth levels the playing field for all students.

2. Reinforce healthy attitudes about success.

It's not healthy to get your sense of value or self-worth from achievements. For some, success is like a drug. They need more and more of it to get the same feeling. No matter how successful they are, in the end, it's never enough. They are dependent on success to feel good about themselves, to feel secure. Any mistake or failure is almost unbearable. They feel threatened when others do well. Some of the most high performing students in your school may not be well-adjusted in this sense. It's great to pursue excellence. But excellence is in the process of doing your very best, growing your strengths, and finding your purpose.

3. Encourage growth mindset.

A key finding of growth mindset was the recognition that praising effort was much more effective in motivating learning behaviors than praising fixed characteristics. The belief that I can grow my intelligence leads to better outcomes in the end. But the focus is on the process of growth, not the outcome. When we only recognize students for their achievements, we reinforce the fixed mindset. But when we recognize growth, we encourage all students to stretch themselves and strive to take on challenges. Success isn't as important as progress in this system. And failure is only a temporary setback that provides an opportunity to learn and grow.

How is your school recognizing and celebrating students? Are you encouraging effort and growth over achievement and outcomes? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Aiming for Excellence: Whatever You Do, Do It to the Best of Your Ability


We recently held commencement for the graduates of the Bolivar High School Class of 2018. I always like to provide a few words of encouragement for the graduates. The overall theme of my message this year was Aiming for Excellence.

__________________

Class of 2018, you’ve answered lots of questions in high school. But today I want to present you with a couple of different questions. These questions don’t have right or wrong answers, and you won’t be getting a grade. But how you answer these questions will impact the rest of your life: 

1. What’s your purpose? What is your purpose? Or another way of saying it, what is your dream? I believe every person has a specific purpose. There’s a dream in your heart to do something great. Find out what that is. You have a gift. Your voice matters. You were born to make an impact. Find your purpose. Think deeply about this. 

And here's another thing. Every day ask yourself this question:

2. What will I do today to move in the direction of my dreams? How will I carry out my purpose? Dreams without actions will always just be dreams, but if you put your dreams in motion and pursue them with passion, there’s nothing you can’t do. And you’ll leave the world a little better than you found it.

Aiming for Excellence

A couple of years ago, I stopped at Walmart to pick up a few things. I was eager to get home after a long day, and the checkouts were backed up. You all can probably relate to that quick trip into Walmart. Never happens. I randomly picked a line since they were all busy. But this time I picked the right one. Before I knew it I was on my way home. That line moved so fast. It was clear the person working this checkout was doing a great job, not just putting in her time.

When it was almost my turn to checkout, I said to the customer in front of me, "Wow, she really knows how to make that line disappear." The other customer smiled and agreed. I turned to the clerk, "How did you do that? Literally, it was almost like magic.”

She looked up and said, "I love my job." 

I love my job. I...Love...My...Job!!!

That’s what she said. And I thought to myself that’s pretty cool, maybe I need to try for a job at Walmart.

But seriously, it’s not every day you hear someone say that. Lots of places I go people seem miserable in their jobs. You probably see these people too, dragging themselves along with a frown on their face. But not this Walmart cashier. She was going above and beyond. 

She went on to double bag all my cold items, rushed around to help load groceries into the cart, and even made a suggestion about a type of potato chips our family might like similar to the ones I bought. She wasn’t just doing her job. She was aiming for excellence.

What’s your purpose? What will you do today to move in the direction of your dreams? In everything you do, give it your very best. Do more than expected. Be generous in how you treat others. Be faithful in the small things, and you’ll have opportunities to do greater things. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart. Be the best version of you.

More than your talent, your education, or what’s happened in your life to this point, the thing that will determine your success and your future more than anything else is your attitude. Most people tend to see the negative. But did you know that in a study of the best characteristics of leaders, the number one thing people want in a leader is a positive attitude?

Not everything that happens to you will be positive. Life will knock you down. There’ll be obstacles, failures, and disappointments that come your way. When these things happen, get back up. You’ll be a stronger person. When (BHS cross country athlete) Kelie Henderson fell to the ground with the state championship right in front of her (she had a sizable lead at the time), just steps from the finish line, she didn’t quit. In the end, she didn’t win the race, but she showed she’s a winner. Her body shut down on her. But her spirit pushed through, and she crawled the last hundred yards to the finish line. And she inspired us all.

I know many of your stories. Some I do not, regretfully. But I know all of you have faced challenges. Sometimes getting out of bed in the morning felt like a challenge. But you are overcomers. There will be difficulties. But in difficulties there are also opportunities. View your challenges as beneficial. I’ve learned nothing in my life from the easy days. The easy stuff teaches me nothing. But the difficulties, the hardships, and even the pain has taught me so much.

So I leave you with these final thoughts:

#1 Start With Questions - What is your purpose? What will you do today to move in the direction of your dreams?

#2 Aim for Excellence - Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability.

#3 Lead Up - Your positive attitude, more than your talent or expertise, will determine your success.

#4. Lift Up - Be generous with people. Give encouragement and understanding.

#5 Never Give Up - Your struggle will make you stronger. Everything that happens is an opportunity to learn and grow. Never give up. It’s the Bolivar Way.

Class of 2018, I am very proud of you and your accomplishments and it’s been truly an honor to know you and be a part of your high school years. I wish you the best. I believe in you. God bless you all!


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