Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Three Myths About Kindness

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It's been great to see all the posts today for #WorldKindnessDay. It got me thinking about what it means to be kind. I think there are a few myths out there about this concept, and I wanted to address them.

Myth #1: Kindness is weak.

Kindness is NOT weak. In fact, it takes courage to show kindness. It takes strength. It takes setting aside what's easy for what's valuable. Being kind requires strength of character.

Myth #2: Kindness is the same as being nice.

Kindness is NOT just being nice. Being nice is one aspect of kindness, but that's not the end of it. Kindness is about making decisions that result in healthy relationships. It's about giving your time, your attention, your caring heart, your extra efforts, your helping hand, your selfless actions to lift up others. 


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Myth #3: Kindness is a feeling.

Kindness is NOT a feeling, it's a choice. It's a behavior. You're not going to like everyone you meet. You're probably not always going to feel like being kind to them. But you can choose to treat everyone you meet with all the care and concern of people you do like. 

The more you practice being kind, the easier it is to demonstrate this behavior consistently. It becomes a habit. It becomes who you are, and you don't even hesitate to act in kind ways.


You can never do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

How has someone shown kindness to you? How are you growing in your own ability to be kind to others? What other myths exist around kindness? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Power of Perseverance



In this instant everything world we live in, it seems like life is moving faster than ever. It's a text, tweet, Tic-Tok world for our kids and the idea of staying with anything for very long seems very old school. And that's a common concern I hear from teachers. It's extremely difficult to have a successful learning environment without learners who can persist in learning.

Perseverance matters for learning and life, and educators must be intentional about helping students develop this trait. But how can we do that most effectively?

This past summer I was blessed to be part of Education Write Now Volume III, a collaborative writing project for educators sponsored by Routledge publishing. The team gathered in Boston for this effort and produced the book in just over 48 hours!

This year's volume, set to be released in December, will feature solutions to common challenges in your classroom or school. Each chapter will address a different challenge.

While the book promises to be a great resource for overcoming education challenges, the proceeds for the book also support a great cause seeking to overcome one of the most pressing challenges imaginable, teen suicide. The Will to Live Foundation supports teen mental health projects and is doing great work in that area.



For my chapter, I shared some thoughts on developing perseverance in students. How can we respond when students show apathy? What are strategies for nurturing grit and growth mindset? How can we ask better questions to encourage honest reflection and self-awareness in students? Those are a few questions I tried to explore.

One thing is for certain, our students are not going to reach their potential or make the most of academic opportunities unless they have an orientation toward working hard and persevering when faced with difficulties. There is great power in perseverance.

Here's an excerpt from my chapter:


As educators, we must plan for teaching students about perseverance just like we would plan for teaching subject matter content. Developing perseverance in students is just as important as learning any academic content and will support the learning of academic content. I believe the investment in educating kids about productive failure will result in increased learning across the board. As a building leader, I also want to support this work and take every opportunity to recognize and celebrate perseverance in our school.


We can all probably agree that perseverance is important and that it’s valuable for kids to develop these skills, but we have to be intentional about creating the structures and systems that support the development of perseverance. We can think it’s important, but what are doing to act like it’s important? Intentions without actions aren’t going to result in any progress.

As you're planning for your classroom or school environment, are you being intentional about character and leadership development? Are you teaching students how to persevere? 

When we see students struggling with an essential life skill, one that's keeping them from academic success, I believe we should be just as intentional about teaching these skills as we are about teaching academic standards. It was an honor for me to share several specific strategies that might prove helpful in #EdWriteNow Vol. III.

So what's it like to write a book in 48 hours? Exhausting? Yes! Exhilarating? Yes! But when you've got a great team to help you through...it's an amazing experience. It's an experience I'll never forget.



What are some of your thoughts on teaching skills like perseverance? Do you feel this is a significant challenge in your classroom? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Do You View Students as Possibilities or Probabilities?


Earlier this month, we hosted a CharacterStrong training in our school. Our presenter was Houston Kraft, CharacterStrong co-founder. He was amazing with the teachers, staff, and even a few students who attended. 

After the day concluded, I couldn't stop thinking about how we must bring more of this type of hope, energy, and connection to the daily life of our school. All schools need this work. It's truly an amazing experience!

As Houston shared with the group, one other idea really jumped out at me from the day. I was reminded just how powerful our lens can be. Our paradigm or perspective can have a powerful impact on the people we interact with. 

It's true that how we see others, including our students, makes a huge difference in how they see themselves. Let me say that again, how you see your students influences how students will see themselves.



So consider this question Houston presented. Do you see your students as probabilities or as possibilities? Do you see their strengths and what's possible for them? Or, do you only see the deficits, challenges, and shortcomings? Do you only see what's probable for them based on how they show up today? Or what might be in their background?

After all, it's easy to build a case for how another person will behave or what they will achieve in the future. We know that in general past performance is often a good predictor of future performance. It's also easy to judge on other factors that limit our students and what they can accomplish.

However, if we want to add value, win hearts and minds, or be agents of change in our relationships, we have to see others for who they are becoming, not just for who they are right now. We have to see them as possibilities and not just probabilities. We have to see them as future world changers, as leaders, as influencers, as difference makers. 

And then we need to encourage them, provide experiences for them, and offer opportunities for them to rise up. How we view others has a big impact on how they view themselves. 


5 Ways to See Students as Possibilities


1. Notice their strengths and reinforce them every chance you get.

Every child in every school needs to hear an encouraging word every day. We need to build on the strengths of our students while simultaneously challenging them to stretch themselves to do hard stuff. 

2. Give them opportunities to lead and have responsibilities.

I love this quote from Booker T Washington...
“Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.” -Booker T. Washington
What are ways you can give a student responsibility and demonstrate your trust in him or her? 

3. Listen to your students and respect their voice, background, and culture.

We need to be very careful about placing judgments on students because of our differences. Instead, we need to listen with caring and curious hearts. We need to recognize we're not there to rescue, fix, or determine their future. We're there to help, support, and influence them as they discover the story they want to create with their lives.

4. View mistakes as learning opportunities.

When we view mistakes as learning opportunities, we are far less likely to sort students or determine what's possible for them based on how they show up right now. Many highly accomplished people have leveraged their challenges, failures, and shortcomings to do amazing things in life. Maybe your student will be one of those stories. And your belief in them can make the difference.

5. Never crush a child's dream.

Yeah, we all know the odds of making it to the NBA are very slim. But my job as an educator is not to remind kids of what they can't do. Encourage their dreams. But at the same time, hold them accountable to the value of other things along the journey too. NBA players need to be coachable, they need to be learners, and they need to solve problems and use their thinking skills. So good news...my classroom can help you get ready for the NBA!

What other tips do you have for seeing students as possibilities? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, August 5, 2019

11 Questions that Build Relationships and Foster Connection


Earlier this summer our district leadership team spent a day of training together around the Clifton Strengths Assessment. It was really interesting to learn more about self and others and how to leverage our individual and collective strengths to make our impact for kids stronger.

Of my top five strengths, I was a little disappointed to learn that none of them fell into the larger category of Relationship Building. 

That's right, I often write about how much I value relationships and how important they are, but connecting is not a natural strength for meat least not in my top 5 according to this instrument. 

Our trainer was really helpful in explaining that just because something isn't a natural strength doesn't mean you're not good at it, or that you don't find value in it. It just requires more effort and intention to be good at it. When you believe strongly in something, you can be effective in it even when it's not near the top of your strengths.

That was encouraging to me. 

My top 5 strengths were 1. Learner, 2. Activator, 3. Belief, 4. Futuristic (sounds like a familiar book title), and 5. Self-Assurance. These are all areas where I get energy, where I thrive.

But I also realize that relationships are the most important part of what I do. I can't be effective as an educator or as a human being for that matter, unless relationships are my number one priority. So I will remain intentional about how I strive to connect with others.

I've noticed sometimes when I interact with students I feel like I'm saying the same things over and over. Just simply exchanging pleasantries, smiling, nodding, fist-bumping, etc. And then maybe I'll ask about last night's game or how their classes are going.

I've also noticed that while we often talk about how important relationships are in education, we don't always share specific strategies for how to build relationships and connect in the middle of all those interactions we have every day. 

But I read an article recently about a study by psychologist Arthur Aron that described how certain questions have proven to build connection between people. And while the questions were designed to be used in a single 45 minute conversation, I'm wondering about how some of these questions might be helpful to me in working with students or colleagues, perhaps in shorter time frames. 

Some of the questions seemed more fitting than others. I thought I would share a few here in case you're like me and looking for ways to make your conversations more meaningful. The questions were divided into sets based on the level of vulnerability they might require.

I think they might even be good for staff meetings to build more connection and teamwork among teachers. When we share together we grow stronger together.

Set 1

1. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

2. What would constitute a "perfect" day for you?

3. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

4. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set 2

5. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

6. What do you value most in a friendship?

7. What is your most treasured memory?

8. Is there something you've dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?

Set 3

9. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

10. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

11. Make three true "we" statements each. For instance, "We are both in this room feeling..."

There were actually 36 questions total. I'm just sharing a few of the ones that seemed most likely that I might use. I would definitely be uncomfortable asking students, or even colleagues, a few of the questions that were included in the larger group, especially from Set 3. 

You might want to check out the full list of 36 questions and the protocol for the entire activity. You might find some other questions you like for your classroom or school. Or, you might want to try the entire process for date night with your significant other. Enjoy!

What are other questions or topics you rely on to foster connection? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, July 12, 2019

8 Things That Influence Who You're Becoming


I was taught as a kid that the things that you put into your mind would have an influence on who you are and who you are becoming. Garbage in, garbage out. How you fill your cup will determine what spills over in your life. 

Actually, at the time, I remember thinking some of this was just to keep me from listening to the "wrong" type of music in my teen years. 

I think my understanding of the concept was over simplified and more focused on what I should not do. But it has just as much to do with what we should do.

The Bible puts it this way...

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
Proverbs 4:23-27


Now I understa
nd more clearly the truth of this. We really do become what we think about about. The things that we focus on become more visible to us, more evident, in every area of life. It becomes our lens. And that influences our behavior.

When our family bought a Chevy Malibu a few years ago, all of the sudden I noticed how many Chevy Malibus were on the road. I had never noticed before, but these cars were everywhere. 

When a student or parent says to me, "There's so much drama in high school" I find it interesting because I know others who haven't experienced all of that drama. They see social conflict everywhere because it's the paradigm they engage with. Others mostly avoid the drama, because they focus their attention on other things.

Tony Robbins has described it this way, "Where your focus goes, energy flows." You move in the direction of the things you focus on. Your energy goes toward those things.

When you practice gratitude, it's amazing how you will notice more things to be grateful for. I believe you actually start to have more things to be grateful for. Good things come to people who believe the best and expect the best.

Les Brown said it simply, "What you think about, you bring about."

Below are 8 things that will influence your growth and who you are becoming. We often think this is the type of advice our students need, and for sure they need to hear this message. But I think we all need to reflect on these things. Everyone needs this message.

How are we spending our time? What are we putting into our minds, rehearsing in our minds, and how can we ensure that it is leading us where we want to go? The patterns of our mind are powerful. They can empower us or defeat us.

The things we think about influence our effectiveness in every area of life. If you want to be a more effective educator, friend, spouse, or neighbor, think about how you are being intentional with these things.

8 Things That Influence Who You're Becoming
1. What you watch
2. What you listen to
3. What you read
4. What you believe
5. How you spend your time
6. Who you spend your time with
7. The things you say to yourself
8. The thoughts you choose to accept

What would you add to this list? What stands out to you on this list? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook. I'd love to hear what you think.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Are You a Change Agent?


I noticed an educator recently who had 'change agent' listed in her Twitter bio. I thought that was cool. I think every teacher, every educator for that matter, should be a change agent. We aren't just teaching lessons, we're cultivating potential. We're helping students become world changers. We are helping them build capacity in a variety of ways. Academics is only one part of what we do.

This summer I've read a number of books on change. One that was especially helpful was Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. I wanted to share a few of my notes and how I think it might apply to classrooms and schools.

Which of the following is most powerful?

Think, Analyze, Change or See, Feel, Change

Think, Analyze, Change is when we use data, evaluation, reasoning, and research to drive change.

See, Feel, Change is when we utilize stories, experiences, connections, and emotions to drive change.

For smaller adjustments and minor behavioral changes, Think, Analyze, Change seems to work fine. But for transforming change that requires much bigger shifts in thinking and behavior, emotion is critical.

Think about the biggest decisions and the biggest changes you've made in your life. I bet they were more driven by emotion than by analyzing. Where you went to college. Who you married. Deciding to have children. Buying a car or home. I'm sure you used your powers of reasoning in these situations also. But there were also very strong emotions at play.

Do most people get into too much debt because of a problem with analyzing or a problem managing emotions?

It's not uncommon for emotions to overpower the reasoning that we apply to a given situation.

So if you want the people (students, colleagues, staff) you are leading to change, it's probably more effective to help them 'see' and 'feel' why the change is important and not just present them with the reasons why they should change. 

You can't change them, but you can help create conditions where they can change themselves.

An example from Switch was a 1st grade teacher who told her students that by the end of the year, they were going to learn so much they would be as smart as 3rd graders. For 1st graders, it feels really good to be like a 3rd grader. It feels big and strong and important. So the teacher constantly revisited the idea that by the end of this class you're going to be like 3rd graders.

Our emotions are often driven by our identity, and we tend to act in ways that are consistent with how we see ourselves, who we believe ourselves to be.

Change agents use See, Feel, Change to help others see themselves in new and powerful ways. They see them not just as they are now, but for who they are becoming.

Here are five ways to use See, Feel, Change as a teacher or principal or parent. You can use these in any role.

1. Give people experiences.

Powerful experiences can be transformational. I remember moments my thinking changed entirely at a conference. We've sent teachers to Ron Clark Academy, even though we're a high school. And some of our teachers have credited that experience with a whole new trajectory in their teaching.

2. Give people affirmation.

Affirmation is not just giving a complement. Those are good too. But affirmation is seeing qualities in someone they may not see in themselves. My high school coach saw potential in me when I didn't believe in myself. That made all the difference. The person who influences you the most isn't the person you believe in. It's the person who believes in you. All of our students are future world changers. See the good in them.

3. Give people responsibility.

If you want people to rise, give them responsibility. It's amazing how the opportunity to take the lead can change a pattern. When you give responsibility, it shows faith and trust in someone. They don't want to let you down. The new responsibility can disrupt the pattern of disempowerment they've experienced.
"Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him." -Booker T. Washington.
4. Give people hope.

Some of our kids are hopeless because they don't think it matters what they do. Nothing will change. So we need to constantly tell stories of courage, perseverance, and triumph to let them know what's possible. We must give people something to believe in. Things can get better. We always have the power to decide. And our decisions will determine our destiny.

5. Give people connection.

And finally, give people connection. For people to change, they need to feel a sense of safety and belonging. They need to feel secure. They need to know they matter, that someone is listening, and that their presence here is making a difference. 

What are you thoughts on being a change agent? Is that something that's important to you? How are you driving change? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

From Implementing to Transforming


Implementing a program or procedure can result in a certain level of success. But "implementing work" will never achieve the value of "transforming work."

Implementing is taking someone else's work and replicating it with fidelity. When we talk about best practices in education, that's implementing.

Implementing is the scripted lesson, it's following the established pattern, it's the well-worn path, the formula, the hack, the tried and true. It's doing it the way it's been done before.

We can train people to be implementers.

But implementing doesn't account for the unique gifts and abilities you have to offer. Sure, we should start with learning best practices. In fact, it's necessary to learn best practices. The work and wisdom of the past informs what's possible next. Tomorrow's progress is built on the progress of the past.

Tomorrow's progress is also build on your contributions. We should contribute to progress. As we develop our expertise, we should seek to make a larger contribution. We should be molding and shaping best practices.

That's transforming work.

Transforming work requires curiosity, creativity, imagination, and empathy. It makes a contribution to the world that is unique and beneficial. It's going beyond best practices to bring something new and better.

There are a million ways you can go from implementing to transforming. Rely on your strengths. Discover your passions. Grow your influence. You'll be more fulfilled when you do. 

Do the work you love. It's hard to love implementing when you could be transforming. 

Are you stuck in an implementing rut? Or are you using your full creativity and imagination in your work? Are you reaching hearts and minds with transforming work? Leave a message below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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