Sunday, January 14, 2018

5 Simple Rules to Be Great

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

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

1. Focus on your strengths.

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

2. Exercise your gifts.

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

3. Have courage to be different.

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

4. Continue growing and learning.

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

5. Cope with your critics.

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

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

Friday, January 12, 2018

Is Your School Extraordinary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should every school love kids? Yes.

Should every school be a safe place? Yes.

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

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

Should every school promote life-long learning? Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We're aiming for excellence!

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

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

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Creating a Culture of YES!


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

The resistance: What if it makes a big mess? 

Well, it will.

The resistance: What if it makes some people uncomfortable? 

Well, it might.

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

Well, I hadn't thought of that.

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

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

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

But is that such a bad thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it was risky. 

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

And he said, "YES!"

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

He just said, "YES!"

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

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Problem With "I Already Do That"

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

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

Words matter.

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

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

"I already do that."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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