Friday, December 28, 2018

Top 10 Most Popular Future Driven Posts from 2018


I continue to enjoy learning from you all and appreciate your connection with my blog throughout 2018. I'm inspired by the incredible community of educators who are so deeply committed to preparing students for the future.

That's really the message of my book, Future Driven. Today's schools can't afford to be time capsules, preparing students for a world that no longer exists. They must be time machines, preparing students for the future, preparing them to be adaptable, continuous learners.

Our world is changing faster than ever, and schools can't afford to stay the same.

This past year I continued to share thoughts here at the blog along those lines. Like you, I'm seeking ways to leverage my learning to help provide better learning for students. 

Here are a few of the ideas that seemed to resonate the strongest with readers. The top 10 for 2018...

1. 5 Tips for Building Great Relationships with Students

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.

2. Why Do Some Educators Burn Out While Others Seem to Grow More Passionate

Why Do Some Educators Burn Out While Others Seem to Grow More Passionate?

I'm really interested in know where passion comes from. And that's because I can't think of a single passionate educator who doesn't make a greater impact for kids. And on the other hand, I can't think of a single educator who seems burned out who can still be their very best for kids.
3. 5 Questions Every Kid Is Trying to Answer

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.
4. What's Your Priority? Passion or Proficiency

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.
5. 20 Ways to Be Future Driven in Your Classroom

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.

Top 10 Continued...

Friday, December 14, 2018

5 Thoughts to Improve Your Mental Approach as an Educator


Your lessons matter. Your strategies matter. Your relationships matter. Lots of other things matter too. Some of these things are in your control and some of them are not.

But in every decision you make, in every action you take, there is a common thread. What is your mental approach? Do you have a growth mindset? Are you an empowered educator? Do you believe in your ability to make a difference? Do you have a strong sense of self-efficacy? 

A person's mental approach to any situation has an incredible impact on outcomes. The choices we make determine our future. It is our choices more than any other factor that determine who we are and who we will become. I believe that's true for students, and I believe that's true for us as educators as well. 

1. Extraordinary results require you to expect big results.

Extraordinary results don't happen by accident. Just look at what successful people do, and you'll see what it takes. First, you have to believe great things can happen. Some people are hesitant to set the bar very high, because they might fall short. Others think about how much work it's going to take to get there, and wonder if it's going to be worth it? 

But if you're not willing to aim for extraordinary results, are you settling for less than what you're capable of doing? And if you're settling for less, are you giving your students an experience that is less than they deserve? You deserve to be your best too. Crave that which is not easily within your grasp. Dream big.

2. It's not lack of time, it's lack of direction.

We all have exactly the same number of hours in each day. We have the same number of days in each week. I've rarely heard anyone complain about lack of time who also wasn't wasting some amount of time every day and every week. The key is how we are using the time we have. Are you making the most of your time? Are you giving time to the things that will make the biggest impact? Do you know with clarity what's most important in your day? 

Choose to pour your energy into the things that will transform your effectiveness. You have to take risks. You'll miss 100% of the shots you don't take. What actions are your multipliers? They make everything better. They pay dividends into the future. Pour your energy into things that give the most returns. Find your true north and set your direction accordingly.

3. Be willing to let of go of something good for something great.

Most people reach a certain level of effectiveness, and then they just maintain the status quo. They get into a routine without continuing to stretch and push forward. Too often we are polishing the past, trying to improve on practices that are simply outdated or no longer effective. We're aiming to make things just a little better instead of opening our minds to new possibilities. 

Don't settle for good enough. Don't settle for teaching as you were taught. Our world is changing faster than ever before. So our schools should reflect those changes. We can't allow schools to become time capsules, when they could be time machines. We need to adapt and create learning that's relevant to the world our students will live in. 

4. See problems as they are, but not worse than they are.

I believe in the power of positive thinking. But positive thinking, in my mind, is not believing everything is okay. It's not pretending everything is great. But it is believing things can get better. It's focusing on solutions, not problems. We need to see problems for what they are, but not act like they are impossible to overcome. 

Some people focus their energy on blaming and complaining. They throw their hands up and quit. Their solution is for everything outside of them to change. But a different approach is to be focused on pursuing excellence. No obstacle is too big to stop trying. They believe that with hard work, determination, and the desire to continually learn and grow, there is no limit to what might be possible. 

5. One of the best ways to increase student effort and engagement is to increase your own energy and enthusiasm.

What type of energy are you bringing to your classroom or school? I notice some of our students dragging into school with very little energy. What's it going to take to shift that energy and get them going? Many of our students have developed habits that prevent them from getting the most out of their learning. Those habits won't change unless we as educators are intentional. We need to change. 

We need to bring so much determination and passion to what we do that students know, "This person is not going to accept less than my best." Lots of things can stand in the way of learning in a school, let's make sure it's not the attitude or enthusiasm of the adults who work there. 

What other ideas do you have for establishing a solid mental approach as an educator? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, December 7, 2018

What Would Happen If You Weren't Successful On This Thing?


Here's a reflective question to ask yourself when you're making decisions about your priorities:

What would happen if you weren't successful on this one thing?

What would be the ramifications? What would be the price to pay? What would be the cost if this thing did not happen? What would happen if success in this area isn't made a priority? What would we stand to lose? How would it impact the student, the community, or the world? 

Some things are absolutely essential and some things are nice to see happen and some things really aren't that important at all. Life's all about priorities. But how often do we just go with the priorities of what's been done in the past? 

How often do we accept the priorities of others without even considering if they are best for kids? How often do we push back against the priorities of the status quo because we know we can do better?

There isn't enough time, energy, or resources to make everything a priority. We have to make good choices about what's most important and how to apply our energy and effort. We have to establish the priorities that make the biggest difference.

Here are a few examples of my thinking as I work through this thought experiment...

1. What would happen if I didn't develop the strongest relationships possible with my students?

I would risk losing the learner entirely. They might just check out and not follow my lead on anything. There's greater chance of behavior problems, attitude problems, parent problems, and more. If the relationship is toxic, nothing I do will be good enough, interesting enough, or important enough. It's impossible to have extraordinary learning experiences with mediocre relationships.

2. What would happen if students dreaded coming to our school or my classroom every day?

If students hate school, we know they're going to be disengaged, distracted, and probably agitated. None of those are good conditions for learning. We can wish they would change and magically love school. Or we can change the school and find ways to reduce the friction. What if we made it harder for kids to hate school? What if we created a place where kids who hate (traditional) school love to learn?

3. What would happen if students didn't get chances to lead and make decisions in this school?

If they don't have chances to lead and make decisions now, they won't be ready to lead and make decisions later. They won't have opportunities to practice and they won't be primed for leadership and decision making beyond school. Kids need practice leading and making decisions about their learning. They need agency just as much, if not more, than they need achievement. If I simply learn, I will probably forget. But if I have a strong enough learning identity, there is nothing I can't learn eventually.

4. What would happen if students didn't master every standard in this school?

They might not score as well as others on standardized tests. They might have some gaps in their learning. They might have to learn some things down the road if they're faced with situations where they aren't fully prepared. But is that really the worst thing? Is standards mastery the key to future success? I don't think it is.

5. What would happen if students didn't learn soft skills or develop good character in this school?

I'll answer this question with another question. Would you prefer to have a neighbor that is a caring person or one who has outstanding academic skills? Of course, having both would be great. If you needed help with some complex math problems, they'd be able to help you and care enough about you to be willing to help you. But if you had to make a choice? I'm picking soft skills and character every time.

So what other questions might you ask to test your priorities and your school's priorities? If we didn't do this thing, what would happen? Pour your energy into the things that you know count the most. We get most of our results out of a small portion of our effort. We accomplish 80% of our results with just 20% of our effort. The rest of our effort is lost compared to that 20%. If we can learn to apply effort more efficiently, our overall capacity would greatly increase.

Let me know what you think about this thought experiment. Is what you're doing today moving your students closer to what you want for them tomorrow? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, November 30, 2018

11 Helpful Phrases for Disarming Conflict


It's inevitable. Sooner or later there will be conflict. People will have differences. Disagreements will erupt. Mistakes will be made. Stuff happens.

But we can sharpen our skills to be ready when unhealthy conflict begins to rise. And we can use our tools to keep dialogue open and productive. Disagreements don't have to turn destructive. 

A difference of opinion doesn't haven't to escalate into a damaged relationship. The phrases I share below have worked well for me, for the most part. Tone of voice and body language are critically important too.

It doesn't matter if the conflict is with a student, a colleague, or a parent, it's so important to listen carefully and let the other person know you are listening carefully. 

Listen carefully and practice empathy. Try to fully understand where the other person is coming from.

Here are 11 phrases that might be helpful...

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

All of the problem-solving to address an issue shouldn't come from one side or the other. It's not me vs. you. It's us vs. the problem.

2. "I may be wrong. I frequently am. Let's look at the facts."

Our natural tendency is to become defensive when someone challenges us. Take a tentative stance at the start. That shows you're open to listening.

3. "If I'm wrong I want to correct it and make it right. I may be in error."

If you start to defend your position right away you set yourself in opposition to the other side. When we set ourselves in opposition to another, it's their instinct to cling to their ideas and defend them whether there is truly any merit to them or not.

4. "Let me see if I got that."

Or "Let me see if I understand you correctly?" Listen actively. Acknowledge what the other person is saying. Instead of defending or explaining, start by paraphrasing. Repeat what they've said to ensure that you're getting the right meaning. Ask clarifying questions. It makes the other person feel heard. It shows you are listening.

5. "What's your biggest concern?"

Sometimes when people get upset they vent about all sorts of things that may be related and may not be related. This question helps focus on what the real issue is.

6. "How are you feeling about that?"

Again this question is acknowledging that there are strong feelings as a result of the situation. It's good to validate the feelings someone is having. It doesn't mean you agree with what needs to happen, but you are trying to understand how they feel. 

7. "What would you like to see happen? What would make you happy?"

Sometimes when I ask this question after I've listened carefully for a time, the person will say they don't really want anything to happen. They just wanted to express their frustration. And sometimes there are specific requests. This question get possible next steps out on the table. 

8. "Is it possible that we could...?"

Or "What if..." Help introduce new possibilities to the situation. In emotionally charged situations, people often get locked into seeing things from only one perspective. We're looking for a creative solution that is win/win.

9. "I'm willing to discuss this as long as needed until we're both satisfied how it's resolved."

I love to say this when I can tell things are really heated. It immediately says to the other person that I'm not going to be your opponent in this discussion. I'm not going to allow this to be an argument. It almost always diffuses the situation.

10. "Let me think about this some more. Let's try again later."

Sometimes, even when I've tried to maintain dialogue and approach the problem with as much diplomacy as possible, we still can't seem to either deescalate or find acceptable solutions. Then it's time to say let's both think about it some more and try again later.

11. "Do you feel like the situation's been handled fairly?"

It's very rewarding when a conversation that could be angry and awful ends up being successful. It actually builds a stronger relationship. Conflict can make us stronger. Sometimes I will even ask if the other person feels it's been handled fairly. If they can't say yes, then maybe we need to talk some more.

Don't allow yourself to become an opponent in the conversation. If people sense that you are defensive, they will set themselves in opposition to you. They will cling to their ideas and defend them no matter what. Even if there isn't merit to the concern, they will fight for their point of view. They won't care about what's right. They'll only care about being right. They'll defend the most ridiculous claims and blunders simply because they view you as an opponent.

And conversely, if you truly listen and avoid becoming an opponent, people are far more likely to admit errors of their own. If they are handled gently and respectfully, they will be more open to listening to your perspective too. But make sure they've had plenty of opportunities to be heard before you expect them to hear your point of view.

Do you have other ideas for disarming conflict? What's been your experience with handling conflict successfully? I'd like to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Are You Reaching Your Full Capacity?


Last Christmas, we decided to add a new Boston Terrier puppy to our family. His name is Rudy. There have been many times over the past months that Rudy has tested our patience. And he's tested the patience of our older Boston Terrier, Max, too.

He's chewed up the house. He's been slow to house train. He's been quick to disobey. He's a little too affectionate. He's in your face affectionate. It's cute and annoying at the same time.

But a few months ago we noticed something was wrong with Rudy. He was having problems with one of his back legs. It would happen occasionally, and he would limp around on three legs for a while, and then he was back to his old self.

But the problem became even more frequent. A trip to the vet revealed Rudy's leg problem was Patellar Luxation, a knee cap that was dislocating. The leg would not get better on its own and needed to be addressed surgically.

So Rudy was scheduled for his operation.

After Rudy had his surgery, the vet said we needed to keep him from using the repaired knee. "No using that leg," he said. 

Just how are you supposed to keep a dog from using a leg? Hey Rudy, no using that leg, okay? 

But turns out that wasn't a problem. Rudy didn't want to use the leg. I guess it was pretty sore, and he quit using it entirely after the surgery. 

Even weeks later, after several visits to the vet, Rudy was still not using the repaired leg. The vet suggested several ideas for getting him to start using the leg again, including swim therapy in our bath tub. Seriously.

But Rudy still refused to use his fourth leg. He was a three-legged dog, it seemed, forever.

However, it was clear from our trips to the veterinarian, Rudy's leg had healed properly. He was simply choosing not to use the leg. He had created a limitation in his canine brain that he was a three-legged dog. He had created a new identity that kept him from reaching his full capacity.

Would Rudy ever walk on four legs again?

And then, in a matter of a couple of weeks, Rudy started testing the fourth leg a little more. He pushed out of his comfort zone and into his growth zone. The video clips below were shot on the same day in the span of about an hour. You'll see his three legged routine and then what's possible when he pushes past the limits. Rudy was very capable it seems.



When Rudy got past his limits, he was running around like any puppy should. He was back to annoying all of us again, in his regular way. He was starting to utilize his fourth leg to its full capacity.

But here's the thing, how many of us are choosing, perhaps unintentionally, to be three-legged dogs? Could it be that most of us are only using a fraction of our true capacity? What might be possible if we would only test our limits and continue to learn and grow?

I think most people are only operating at a small percentage of full capacity. And I think most schools are only operating at a small percentage of full capacity. We're probably capable of so much more. Our schools are probably capable of so much more.

Sure, we're trying to make progress, but we're walking on three legs. We're trying to make things better, but we need to make ourselves better. Change you first.

What we really need is to cut loose and run on all four legs. And we need to create conditions where other people are able to reach their capacity, too. 

So how can you reach your capacity? You have to get started on a path of growth. Break through your limits with the following...

1. The BELIEF that you need to get better.

If you think you're doing just fine on three legs, you'll never find your true capacity. You'll just keep limping along. You need a vision of what's possible. Moreover, you also need the belief that things CAN get better. Don't allow your past performance to limit your future possibilities.

2. The DESIRE to want to get better.

Growth is the more difficult choice. It's easier just to be satisfied, either intentionally or unintentionally, with how things are. We have to crush apathy and reject mediocrity. We have to desire excellence. You have to commit. You have to really want it.

3. The WILLINGNESS to take action to get better.

You have to test your limits. You have to see what that fourth leg is capable of doing. Sometimes it feels really risky to step out in faith. It might hurt. But you must take action. Destiny is about decisions. It might be hard, but it's worth it. 

4. The WISDOM to learn how to get better.

There is a certain wisdom and humility needed to recognize that we're not currently all we could be. We're probably capable of more, if we're honest about it. We must therefore seek out opportunities to learn from others. We must apply the things we learn. We have to pursue growth intentionally. 

5. The DISCIPLINE to follow through and be GREAT.

Living a no limits life requires discipline. A new direction requires discipline. Full capacity requires discipline. You have to eliminate the choices that aren't leading you toward your capacity. You have to be relentless to achieve the results.

What are some ways you want to test your limits? What are some ways you need to test your limits? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Friday, November 9, 2018

7 Unexpected Benefits of Curiosity


Curiosity might be good for you, and good for your students too, in ways you haven't considered. One of our core values in our school is "start with questions." We want our students to be more curious tomorrow than they are today. We want to design learning that develops curiosity. We believe in the benefits of curiosity. In fact, curiosity has been shown to contribute to academic success as much as hard work or intelligence. 

But curiosity has many benefits beyond academic success. When we are curious in a whole variety of situations, we can better come to terms with who we are, how we fit into the world, and how we can make an impact on the world around us.

So here are 7 ways curiosity can be beneficial beyond academic success...

1.  Curiosity About Feelings

We are seeing unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression among young people. But mindfulness principles are effective in addressing thoughts and feelings by leveraging curiosity, instead of angst or avoidance. Be curious about feelings in a nonjudgmental way. Recognize that feelings come and go and are neither inherently good or bad. Approach feelings with a sense of wonder, "I'm curious about why I'm feeling this way." Be curious, not furious.

2. Curiosity About Relationships

Relationships grow stronger when we show empathy. And it's necessary to be curious to develop empathy. You have to be curious about what the other person is experiencing. You have to put yourself in their shoes. When we are curious about others, it also makes them feel valued, listened to, and understood. Curiosity says, "I want to know more about you. You matter. You're interesting to me."

3. Curiosity About Perspectives

Our perspective shapes our mindset. We can view failure as something negative, or we can view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Everything that happens to me can be useful to me and for my benefit. But that requires me to be curious to consider how I might reframe in a positive way things that on the surface seem to be hardships or difficulties.

4. Curiosity About Habits

After reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, I became far more curious about my habits and the habits that are common in our school. We want to create an extraordinary greeting for our students, every morning and each class period of the day. We want to make that a habit. I also want to examine my personal habits with curiosity, "Is this habit taking me where I want to go? Is this habit consistent with the path I want to be on?" Let's be curious about the habits we have in the classroom and how they impact learning.

5. Curiosity About Risk Taking

What would you do if you had no fear? What do you fear? And why do you fear these things? What is holding you back? We need to be curious about these questions and why we aren't willing to embrace positive risk taking. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We cannot know what we are truly capable of accomplishing if we aren't willing to push outside our comfort zone and take risks.

6. Curiosity About How Things Work

Have you ever wondered how electricity works? Or magnets? Or gravity? Science can explain these phenomenon, at least to an extent. But they also maintain a mysterious quality. They make me curious. But as a leader, I'm also curious about what makes our school culture work the way it does. I'm curious about how student's motivation works. And I'm curious about how to facilitate positive change. There are so many examples of being curious about how things work. And sometimes, this curiosity leads to innovations and breakthroughs that make life better for everyone.

7. Curiosity About the Future

I'm curious about the future. I'm curious about what life will be like for my own kids and for my students. And, I'm curious about what educators need to be doing today to prepare students for their futures. When we are curious about the future, it helps us be more diligent in our decisions today. The choices we make today will shape the future. But we have to be curious and consider how today's decisions might lead to future challenges or opportunities. Acting today with little thought for tomorrow is unlikely to end well. A long term perspective is needed to prepare for an uncertain future. Be curious about the future.

Can you think of any other unexpected benefits of curiosity? Is you school consistently making efforts to bring out curiosity in students? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, November 2, 2018

5 Questions for Deeper Reflection


Reflection is important for growth. But we have to be intentional about it. Our reflection is meaningless unless we do something with it. It has to change us. Or, it has to help us change directions. Effective people are reflective people.

Many years ago I read Dale Carnegie's incredible book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Just this last week, I decided to start reading it again. Carnegie tells the story of a bank president who for many years made it a practice to reflect at the end of each week on every appointment he had in the previous week. He would ask himself the following questions:

"What mistakes did I make that time?"

"What did I do that was right--and in what way could I have improved my performance?"

"What lessons can I learn from that experience?"

The banker attributed his great success in large part to his system:
I often found that this weekly review made me very unhappy. I was frequently astonished at my own blunders. Of course, as the years passed, these blunders became less frequent. Sometimes I was inclined to pat myself on the back a little after one of these sessions. This system of self-analysis, self-education, that continued year after year, did more for me than any other one thing I have ever attempted.
It helped me improve my ability to make decisions--and it aided me enormously in all my contacts with people. I cannot recommend it too highly. 
I also try to make it a point to consistently reflect on how things are going in my work. However, I don't have a process as systematic as what's described by the banker. Maybe that's something I should consider.

This week as I'm reflecting, I thought of a few more questions to consider...

1. How is the reluctant learner experiencing our school (or your classroom if you're a teacher)?

We may think about how our students are doing overall, but I think we need to be especially attentive to how the reluctant learner is doing. If we create an experience that engages some of our most challenging students, that same experience will also probably benefit our other students too. We're aiming to create a place where even kids who "hate school" love to learn.

2. Am I measuring with a yardstick of my own years?

When I get frustrated with some of the behaviors I see in students, I need to be reminded that they are often acting exactly like 15-year-olds are inclined to act. That doesn't mean that I don't try to influence them to rise up, but I can't get frustrated when they don't think, or act, like me. That sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But I think we all tend to get frustrated if people don't act just like we think they should.

3. Do I have a healthy level of dissatisfaction with my own performance?

At the end of the day, it's important to be content with doing my best but to also be dissatisfied with how things are. I don't want to become complacent. And I don't want to beat myself up when I make a mistake. So be content, but never be satisfied. 

4. Are there ways I'm falling into binary thinking?

Binary thinking creates false dichotomies. It's either/or. Effective leadership almost always requires a more nuanced position. We can have fun AND have high expectations. We can use technology AND develop social skills and teamwork. We can encourage student agency/inquiry AND improve achievement. It's not all or nothing.

5. What specific strategies am I using to motivate students (and teachers)?

I'm thinking about the ways I influence student and teacher motivation. Am I doing it by connecting and building relationships? Am I doing it by clearing barriers and showing support? Am I motivating students by creating a positive environment? Just what are the specific strategies I'm using to motivate? Food for thought.

So how are you developing a reflection routine? Would you benefit from having intentional reflection each week? Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Passion Flows from Purpose


When I was fresh out of college, it was time to start my career as an educator. I was very passionate about the game of basketball, and that was part of the reason I wanted to teach and coach. I had passion for the game. I still love it today and look forward to the start of college basketball season.

But while I had passion, I didn't necessarily have a strong or clear purpose. I was just finding my way.

Although passion is great, we can be passionate about things that lack significance. We can be passionate about a game. We can be passionate about cars, or coffee, or even Netflix. Certainly, there's nothing wrong with passion and enthusiasm for these things. But it's not something with inherently larger meaning or significance.

Purpose, on the other hand, is about having a mission. It's about living a life of meaning and significance in a very intentional way. I'm defining purpose here as something that transcends what we do and becomes more about who we are.

It's not what you do, it's why you do it.

Your true purpose isn't limited to one role in particular. I can carry out my purpose through my role as a principal, or as a dad, or as a writer through blogging or writing books. I can carry out my purpose in whole variety of ways. I can also carry it out in casual conversations with just about anyone I meet. 

While I am passionate about being a principal, who I am is much bigger than my profession. My overarching purpose is much bigger than my title. Don't get me wrong, being a principal is one of the most rewarding ways I get to share my purpose. I love it. 

But my why is still much bigger.

My why is to help others grow their own capacity and find their personal path of purpose. A purpose that has power adds value to people. It focuses on making things better for others.

My passions may change over time, but for the most part, I believe my purpose will only grow stronger.

There are so many reasons to live out your purpose...
1. No one can take away your purpose. Some things we are passionate about might be taken from us. Don't build your foundation on something you might lose.
2. Your purpose is usually developed, not discovered. We grow into our purpose. It doesn't just arrive like the mail is delivered. It's grown like the largest tree in your back yard. 
3. You won't be fulfilled if you aren't fulfilling your purpose. You'll be restless and uneasy and searching for meaning. So many people are searching for happiness and what they really desire is purpose.
4. Apathy is no match for true purpose. The key to motivation is to know your why.
5. When you connect with people who share your purpose, it's electrifying. You feel understood and energized. It's like doubling the voltage.
6. When you have a strong sense of purpose, obstacles are no match for your persistence and perseverance.
7. Your purpose will give you a sense of peace. You'll know you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing when you're living out your purpose.

What are your thoughts on living with a sense of purpose? How can we help our students find meaning and significance? How can we help them find a path of purpose? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 19, 2018

What's Most Valuable? Creativity, Empathy, or Technology


In a world that is more complex and uncertain than ever before, what is most valuable? Creativity, Empathy, or Technology.

You might argue it's technology. After all, everything that can be digitized is being digitized. Over the last 20 years, we've seen changes that are unprecedented. The Internet has changed how we live, work, play, and interact. Social media has exploded. Nearly every person on the planet, it seems, has an Internet connected mobile phone. We can literally stay connected every minute of every day. Self-driving cars are a reality. We have the Internet of things, big data, robotics, artificial intelligence. Digital is how the world is changing.

Fewer people are creating a larger portion of global wealth today. It takes fewer and fewer people to produce more and more. The innovation economy is already here, but it's accelerating. Digital is going to continue to drive change. 

And change will happen even faster.

And yet, the things that are becoming more valuable for the future are the things that cannot be digitized or automated. Traits that are human-only will become more and more valuable. Traits like creativity and empathy.

Creativity is thinking in novel ways. It's solving problems. It's developing new ideas, finding better opportunities, and combining old things to create new possibilities. 

Empathy is the ability to understand, connect, and see the world through other people's eyes. It's moving closer to people. It's having social skills to communicate, accept differences, and find common ground.

In order to adapt in this rapidly changing world, we must embrace technology. It's important. 

But more importantly, our students will need to develop creativity and empathy. It's not about what you know. It's about what you can do with what you know. Can you work with people? Can you add value to people? Can you create something new and interesting?

These disruptive trends show no signs of slowing. But are schools keeping up? I don't think so. Things are moving so fast, it's hard to keep up, even for the schools that embrace change. 

Creativity and empathy are not considered the core work in most schools. They are extras, add-ons, and enrichment programs. But I think we have it flipped. Start with creativity and empathy and use those to propel learning of content and academic skills. 

It's very different than the type of learning I had when I was in school. We plowed through content and curriculum and produced right answers year after year. We jumped through all the hoops as instructed but probably didn't learn how to take much initiative. 

And that worked okay in a world where a high school diploma could get you a job, maybe even a career. And a college degree almost assured you a privileged place in society. Those days are gone.

We cannot afford to prepare students for the world we grew up in. We must prepare them for the world they'll live in.

How do you see the role of creativity, empathy, and technology in the future? What will our students need to thrive? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Every Interaction Is an Opportunity for Relationship Building


I met John Norlin this summer at the National Principals Conference and knew right away I wanted to learn more about his story and his work as co-founder of CharacterStrong. One thing led to another and luckily we were able to have him present to our staff earlier this week.

It was awesome. Many of the ideas he shared are reminders. He pointed this out more than once. These aren't new ideas. 

"I'm not here to inform you today as much as I'm here to remind you," he said.

We all know how important relationships are. We know how important it is to develop character. We all know academic skills won't take you very far unless you can also work effectively with people. We know kindness counts. 

But even when we know these things, we can get better at doing these things. We can become better people. And we can help our students become better people too. But we have to be intentional. We have to work at it. We have to develop our own habits. And it's hard work. 

It doesn't even necessarily take more time. But it does require us to use the time we have in very intentional ways. 

The reminders John shared are very important reminders. He shared the message in a way that inspired us and helped our staff build even stronger connections. I think we left more excited about our work and more committed to our students. I think we left more committed to each other too.

Here are a few reminders that stood out to me...

-Everyone NEEDS character development. All of us.

-We are built to be relational. Stronger relationships help build a stronger school and better learning.

-We need purpose more than we need happiness. Most are trying to be happy, but deeply fulfilled people know their purpose. 

-Students need a deeper why. So many don't know their purpose and how school fits with that purpose.

-Many of our students need hope. In truth, we all need hope and we need to be hope for each other.

-Our school culture is built on behaviors. Character is revealed by behaviors. We make thousands of choices daily. How are your choices contributing to the culture of your school?

-Such an important question: What have you done for others today?

In Future Driven, I wrote about my efforts to greet students each morning. I had always tried to be visible and friendly as students arrived to school in the morning. But then I decided to be more intentional. I made sure I was at the door to welcome as many students as possible, to learn as many names as possible, to make the greeting as extraordinary as possible. 

When I became more intentional, I noticed all sorts of cool things started happening. Like this...

One day I had some help with my greeting routine. One of our students, Nathaniel, was already at the bus drop off door. He was holding it open. I didn’t think too much of it, but then he started showing up every day. He’s always there now ready to help, even before I arrive. He’s quiet, so he doesn’t say much to the other kids as they come in, but many of the other students will tell him thank you as they walk by.

And I’ve gotten to know Nathaniel a little. He is passionate about professional wrestling. He looks forward to watching it on TV each week, and he asks me if I watched it too. I asked him if he knew about Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, wrestling heroes from when I was a kid. He just grinned and said he heard of them. I also learned a little about his family, where he lives, and some of his favorite things. I even learned we have 22 buses that drop off students in the morning because Nathaniel counted them for me.

Isn’t it amazing the impact our small actions can make? Just showing up in the morning to greet kids inspired Nathaniel to do the same. Our investment in people has a way of multiplying. Nathaniel wanted to help out. I think he feels good about holding the door open in the morning. I know I feel better each day I get to see Nathaniel and hang out with him for a few minutes. We never know when a simple conversation with a student might spark something lasting and worthwhile. Every interaction is an opportunity for relationship building.
Nathaniel was part of the Class of 2018. As graduation approached this past May, he asked me over and over, "Who are you going to get to replace me when I graduate?

He had faithfully met me at the door each morning and now as he was about to leave our school, he was concerned about who was going to do his job. He had purpose. He was selfless. He was kind.

I told Nathaniel he would be really hard to replace. I asked if he had any suggestions for who could took his place. We talked about a couple of kids he thought might work out. 

And then a few days later he walked across the stage and was awarded his diploma. When I shook his hand, he smiled and said, "Who are you going to find to replace me?"

I was proud of him.

A few weeks ago, one of our teachers came into my office and shared that Nathaniel was very sick and in the hospital. A couple days later I went to the hospital but couldn't see him because of the limited visiting hours in intensive care.

And then on Friday morning, September 28th we got the news that Nathaniel had passed away. It was crushing news. It still hurts as I'm writing this post.

But I'm so grateful that my story intersects with Nathaniel's story. I'm thankful I can share about our time together. I'm thankful I can share about a student who had purpose, who was selfless, and who was kind to others.

He wasn't worried about being popular, or cool, or a big deal. He just wanted to make a difference. 

I can't even imagine the kind of greeting Nathaniel received in heaven. He certainly deserves the best. He might even get a job holding a door open for others arriving on the scene. 

For those of us still doing our best here on planet earth, we need reminders. Let's not forget every interaction is an opportunity for relationship building.

Friday, October 5, 2018

When Student Behavior Is Like Looking in the Mirror



I've been thinking quite a bit lately about negative student behaviors and how we respond effectively. 

Here are five ideas that have been on my mind...

1. Judge behaviors, not intentions.

It can be really easy to become judgmental about negative student behavior, especially when it's repetitive. It's always appropriate to be corrective about non-learning behaviors, but it isn't right to place ourselves in a position of greater worth than the student. We might think, I would never do that. It's like we think we're superior in some way. And then we make generalizations about their motives based on the behavior. We act as if we know what's going on in the student's heart. 

That's the type of judgment that causes resentment and steals dignity. Judgement isn't always a bad thing. We actually know having good judgement is a good thing. That's how we know when something is right or wrong. But relationships get crazy when we start to judge motives. That's not ours to judge. Judge behaviors. They are observable and there are standards that must be held. Don't judge intentions. We can never know another person's heart.

2. We make mistakes too, just like our students.

Every negative behavior a student exhibits is probably closely resembling a negative behavior I've exhibited in my own life at one time or another. If I'm really honest with myself, it's probably like I'm looking in the mirror. I may not have done that exact thing to the degree that it was done, but I've struggled with that issue at some point and acted in a similar manner. There are only so many categories of mistakes, and I'm pretty sure I've covered them all at one time or another.

3. Correct the issue and preserve the relationship.

Number two is really important because it reminds me to have empathy, to be understanding, and to work with a student through the issue instead of towering over them and being iron-fisted about the issue. We want to correct the issue and preserve the relationship. We need to walk through this with the student.

4. Are there certain student behaviors that really push my buttons more than others?

The things that push my buttons the most might be the things that I actually struggle with the most. It's ironic, but often we are less forgiving and less patient with the behaviors that are most like the ones we struggle with. Think about an issue that is a struggle for you. Are you especially hard on students when they make a mistake in this area? Maybe not if they make the mistake in the same way you do. But if they make it in a different way or to a greater degree, look out. It might push all your buttons.

5. Change the environment to help the child change his or her own behavior.

When students show up poorly and have behaviors that are destructive, I need to also look at the environmental factors at play. If I was in the same environment as the student, might I also act in this way? What can be changed about the environment to help the student make different choices? That does not relieve the student of responsibility or accountability for bad decisions, but I don't want to just enforce accountability. I want to help create conditions so the student will succeed next time.

I think we could all stand to be a little more patient with our students. Heck, sometimes we need to be a little more patient with ourselves too. Mistakes are opportunities to learn more about who we are and to reflect and become stronger, more caring people overall.

I would love to hear your thoughts as always. What's on your mind after reading this post? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

7 Tips for Difficult Conversations with Students



These tips are actually true for conversations with just about anyone, not only students. Too often I think we avoid having a difficult conversation about a topic because we aren't sure how it will go. We aren't sure if it will be productive, so we just remain silent.

Or, on the other hand, we know the topic might evoke some strong emotions, so we come at the conversation forcefully, from a position of dominance. It's the "my way or the highway" approach. That might get compliance from students, but it won't build trust or stronger relationships. Underneath it all, there will be a kid who resents you.

Neither of these approaches is successful. It's not good to be silent and avoid the topic. And it's not good to be aggressive and overbearing either. A healthy relationship is build on mutual trust that comes through respectful dialogue.

Here are five tips for having difficult conversations that create shared meaning and understanding.

1. Keep Dialogue Open

Let the student know that you are willing to listen and work together to solve the problem. Ask if they are willing to listen to your thoughts too. Keep the focus on the issue and not on sweeping generalizations like "You always..." or "You never..." statements. You might even ask the student, "How can we have this conversation in a way that is positive and helpful?"

2. Make Respect a Top Priority

Let the student know you believe it's possible to solve any problem if both parties are respectful of one another. Let the student know you will never intentionally disrespect him or her. Let them know you want to hear what they think about the issue. The words we use are powerful and communicate our level of respect. Your body language and tone of voice are equally important.

3. Describe Your Intentions

You might say, "I'm willing to discuss this as long as it takes until we both feel good about how it's resolved." Let the student know you're wanting a solution he or she can feel good about too. We're aiming for a WIN/WIN outcome, not my way or the highway. As the teacher, you don't have to prove you're in charge. You ARE in charge. You don't have to prove it. Work cooperatively with students to seek WIN/WIN solutions.

4. Be Curious, Not Furious

Ask questions to understand the student's perspective. Be curious about what they are experiencing. Say, "Tell me more" or "Go on" to show you are interested in hearing the details. Paraphrase what they say to you to show you're listening. My biggest mistake is talking too much. When I'm "telling" a student what I think should happen, I'm missing the opportunity to listen and better understand the student's perspective.

5. Avoid Countering

Countering results in arguments. We start debating the facts. We build our case. We prove our points. It's about "being right." Try to avoid this trap. Try to stay curious and avoid countering. Spend more time listening. The goal is to get to a place where both parties let their guard down and work together cooperatively.

6. Timing is Everything

In my first few years as a principal, I would sometimes choose horrible timing to try to address an issue. I thought it had to be resolved immediately. Usually, that's not true. Most of the time it can wait until cooler heads prevail. If I sense there is no way to have safe dialogue in the moment, I'll step away temporarily. And then I'll resume the conversation in a different location in a different time. This works much better than allowing a situation to escalate.

7. Focus on the Future

Every kid needs a fresh start every day. Time spent holding onto yesterday means less time moving forward today. Take inventory of the current situation, but then focus on the future. Where do we want our relationship to go from here? How can we work together to make the future brighter in this situation? What are we trying to accomplish? What will it look like if we are successful in resolving this problem?

Some people might view these tips as "going easy, or "being soft" or "having low expectations." I would completely disagree. We must have firm boundaries. What's easy is avoiding the conversation entirely. What's easy is being silent. What's easy is also using threats or power to get your way. What's hard is listening to a student, understanding their perspective, and guiding them in a way that is cooperative and respectful. We MUST have boundaries, and we MUST challenge behavior that is harmful to learning. But the way we do it can either build trust or destroy it. 

What are some of your strategies for having difficult conversations with students? I know you have some great tips to share. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

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. 
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