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 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.


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!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

5 Ways to Build Capacity for Solving Problems

In Future Driven, I wrote about how educators often want something that can be implemented quickly. We want something we can learn on Tuesday and use on Wednesday.
We want the strategy that can be used tomorrow. We want the handout, the cheat sheet, the quick fix. The hack. We want solutions that can be tossed in the microwave and heated up when we need them. Even if they taste like crap.
But the best solutions aren't microwave friendly. They come through deliberate practice. They come through deeper thinking. They come by shifting perspective. So kick the quick fix to the curb. Do the hard work of challenging the status quo. Ponder the deeper questions and look at the world in new and interesting ways.
Question everything.
Getting better results doesn't happen by having a magic bullet. There are no magic bullets. Better results come from having a long term perspective and working diligently to make things better now and in the future. We need to have a process for growth we can rely on, not just a quick fix.

Quick fixes usually make things better just for a moment. But looking good is not the same as being good. Looking good is on the surface. It's superficial. We want to actually be good and continue getting better. Ultimately, we want to help students succeed for the long term, not just for today.

Lots of educators are working tirelessly every day to try to make sure students succeed. They are trying to be as productive as they possibly can. They're putting out fires left and right. They're dealing with urgent problems. They're attending workshops to learn new ideas. And trying to implement new ideas.

But many feel like they're spinning their wheels. And it's no wonder.

In the busyness of everything that's urgent, it's really easy to neglect the importance of growing. Are you really examining your own growth? Are you looking inward? Are you developing greater self-awareness? Are you reflecting? And most importantly, are you really investing in building your own capacity?

Schools need to create environments to support educators in the process of growth. We must make sure professionals are given time, encouragement, and opportunity to build their own capacity. Leadership needs to support growth, not just demand productivity.

We focus lots of energy on problems. But how much time are we focusing on how we can become better problem solvers? Too much professional learning seems to try to "teacher-proof" the instructional process. It turns educators into implementers instead of initiators. And that's clearly not professional learning. I believe professional learning should actually help people grow as people and professionals.

One of the best strategies for solving problems is building capacity for solving problems. Everything about your school can be improved as the people in your school grow and learn together, all of them—students, teachers, everyone. The best way to improve a school is for the people in the school to be focused on improving themselves. The entire school becomes a dynamic learning environment.

Here are 5 ways you can be more dynamic in your learning and build your capacity for solving problems:

1. Listen Before You Act

As we get input from our colleagues, mentors and PLN, we can grow into problem-solving before we rush into problem-solving. We become more like the people we spend the most time with. Spend more time with people who are growing and who are capable problem-solvers. Soon, you'll be stronger too. 

2. Think, Don't React

Better schools are built on better thinking. Take the limits off and look at issues from all sides and as objectively as possible. Emotions may say one thing, but careful thought may lead you in a different direction.

3. Test Ideas and Solutions

We can become better problem solvers when we are open to trying creative solutions. Generate lots of ideas and test them. We can't keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Try a slightly different approach. Try a radically different approach. And see what works. Sometimes a massive change is needed.

4. Make Time for Learning

The most successful people make time for learning, not just doing. Benjamin Franklin, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates all follow the 5-hour rule. At least five hours a week should be dedicated to learning something new. Always be learning.

5. Look Within, Reflect

Self-awareness allows us to examine our own thought process. When we take time to reflect, we learn more from our experiences and the experiences of others. Without reflection, we are constrained by our bias, blind spots, and habits. We won't grow as problem-solvers unless we acknowledge the areas where we need to continue to learn and grow.

So what's your reflection on these thoughts? Are you making time to learn and grow? Are you only focused on being productive (checking off your list each day)? Or, are you also focused on building your capacity? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Culture of Compliance or Culture of Character?

Someone with many years in education was visiting our building recently and commented, "I don't think I've ever seen a high school lunch period this quiet." 

I think they caught us on a good day. But it was a nice compliment.

I know our lunches aren't perfect. In fact, there were a few grapes flying around recently too. Kids will be kids, right? But I was a proud principal after hearing the visitor's perspective, because I think it is a small indicator of our culture.

I was speaking with another educator who shared, "At my previous school, we had to have supervision all across the lunch room to keep everyone's behavior in line." It sounded like they had a bunch of people on guard to make sure there weren't any problems.

It's possible to achieve good behaviors by "running a tight ship" or by being "heavy handed." There are lots of ways to influence behavior. And forcing compliance is one way to change behavior. Fear is a way to change behavior. Sticks and carrots are a way to change behavior. 

So don't mistake a culture of compliance for a culture of character. There's a difference in doing the rights things, and doing the right things for the right reasons.

What happens when the adults aren't watching? How will the students act in those situations? That's when character is revealed. We can keep our thumb on them to get what we want, but are we really helping them develop the decision-making and responsibility they need?

I want students to learn why character matters. 

I want them to show empathy.

I want them to be upstanders and not bystanders.

I want students to understand how they treat all people makes a difference. 

I want students to know it's important to be honest, with themselves and with others.

I want students to learn to admit mistakes and move past them in a positive way.

I want to see students take full responsibility.

Ultimately, my goal is to create an environment that brings out the best in our students. I want them to feel supported and valued. And I want them to know I have very high expectations for them, not because of what they do but because of who they are. I believe in you, want the best for you, and I'm here to support you. That's the message I want to send.

I think the traditional model of education has been very focused on compliance. In fact, compliance is often celebrated. I've had parents and teachers talk with admiration about teachers and administrators who ran classrooms and schools with an iron fist. They applaud the strict adherence to commands and rules. I have to admit that used to impress me too. 

But not anymore. I've come to realize that schools can be extremely orderly and run with precision and under the surface have a character deficit. I'm all for discipline, but I want to see that students are taking ownership for their behavior and can self-manage in positive ways. I want to see students empowered to do good and make a difference in the world. That won't happen in a culture of compliance. It will only happen in a culture of character.

Is any of this making sense? I want to hear from you. I'm convinced that teaching character and developing it in our schools is as important as ever. What do you think? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Simple Advice: Enjoy the Kids

A substitute teacher in our building recently approached me about some problems she was having with student behavior. She detailed how she told the kids exactly what she expected and tried to enforce the rules, but they didn't respond well at all.

I got the impression she was trying the stern teacher approach.

She told me about one student in particular. And as she shared, I could see her demeanor immediately shift.

She was really upset. Her body language and facial expression showed she was really frustrated. I would go so far to say she was having a miserable experience.

And so I felt really bad for her in that. I don't want visitors to our building to ever have a bad experience. And being a substitute is not easy on a good day.

So I asked her a question, "Are you trying to enjoy the kids?"

She looked at me with a puzzled expression. I'm sure she was thinking how could I enjoy these kids when they're acting out and being uncooperative?

"What do you mean?" she said.

"Well, I've just found that I get a much better result in working with students when I make it a point to enjoy being with them. They don't always act just like I want, but I try to enjoy them anyway."

"But I'm trying to get them to follow the rules and do the work," she said.

"And that's a good thing. We expect students to follow rules and be productive and use time wisely. They do need accountability for that. But how you hold them accountable can make a big difference."

I encouraged her to leave some notes for the classroom teacher about the behavior problems, and asked her to give my advice a try the next time she had a chance.

A couple of weeks later she was back in the building, and she came rushing up to me. Her demeanor was completely different. She was smiling and full of energy.

"I tried what you said, and it worked so much better. It's like I'm not putting as much pressure on myself and the students are doing better too. I feel so relieved," she said.

I told her I was so happy to hear that, and I appreciated her giving my advice a try. I thanked her for sharing with me and for giving me an update.

The quickest way to change another person's behavior is to change your behavior towards them. Kids are going to make mistakes. But if you make it a point to enjoy being with them, and treat them with great respect and care, there is almost no mistake you can't correct. They'll be far more open to your feedback when they feel that you like them and enjoy them.

What are your thoughts on this advice? Are you enjoying the kids? How can you show delight in them and keep the classroom energy positive and productive? I want to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, March 26, 2018

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

I'm really interested to 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 is still able to be their very best for kids.

Who wants a teacher for their child who doesn't have passion for what they're doing? Anyone?

There are so many benefits to being passionate. Passion overcomes and eliminates apathy. It makes us stronger and more willing to take on challenges. Passion is caring deeply about work that matters and doing something about it.

When we are feeling passionate, we have more energy and enthusiasm. We are energized and not victimized. We believe we can overcome obstacles. We are able to translate that passion into commitment and do hard things, really hard things to get the most out of our abilities. 

When you listen to someone who is burned out, they often point to circumstances as the reason for their malaise. There is lack of support, lack of resources, problems with students, parents, administrators, other teachers, lawmakers, the department of education, society, you name it. And all of those things might be true.

But others faced with exactly the same circumstances seem to tell themselves a different story. They view the challenges as something to learn from and overcome. They seem to think differently. They focus on solutions instead of problems. They don't deny the problems or the barriers, but they are determined to focus on things they can control and not on the things they can't.

So why are they able to stay positive and passionate in spite of the challenges while others burn out?

People who avoid burnout and develop more passion do the following:

1. They believe they are growing.

People need to feel like they are making progress. We are wired to make progress. So if we feel we are stuck and not getting stronger or more capable, it can make us feel hopeless. People who are growing always have hope that things can get better. 

2. They feel like they are making a difference.

People need to feel like what they do matters. They want to feel like they are creating and contributing. Some people are making a difference but all they see are the problems and the ways they aren't having success. And that's when they burnout. We need to celebrate the little successes we have and know we are making things better.

3. They have a strong sense of purpose.

People need to feel like their work is connected to an important cause. We need to feel like we're part of something bigger than ourselves. Passion flows from a strong sense of purpose. Burn out happens when we focus on problems instead of purpose.

4. They have a strong sense of autonomy.

Passionate people need to feel like they have some control over their destiny. We burn out when we feel we can't make the decisions or take the action needed to create change. But regardless of how much autonomy you actually have, you need to feel empowered by the autonomy you do have. There are certain things you always have autonomy over, like your attitude for instance.

5. They share and connect with other passionate educators.

The people you share with and connect with most will have a big influence on your outlook. If you are around passionate educators and connect with them, you will likely feel your passion growing stronger also. On the other hand, if you are consistently around people who are negative and who lack energy, you will start to feel that way too.

6. They know when to set aside the work to rest, renew, and recharge.

Passionate educators don't have to be martyrs. It's great to have a high level of commitment, but you also have to know when it's time to be content with what you've done and take some time to set aside the work. Constantly worrying about your kids or your classroom won't help you in the long run. Create some white space just for you to find peace and rest.

For the most part, our choices determine our level of passion more than our circumstances. You can't control the environment of your school or the kids who are placed in your class, but you can control so much. Most importantly, you can control your mindset.

What else would you add to these thoughts? What are your thoughts? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

15 Ways to Increase Focused Energy in Your Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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