Sunday, January 29, 2017

What Do You Want Your Legacy to Be?

Your legacy is one of your most valuable possessions. It is a treasure. It is your gift to the world. For every person you come in contact with, your influence—good and badgoes with them to some extent. Your legacy is how you are remembered.

Who Has Inspired You?

There are a number of educators, and other mentors, who have had a profound impact on my life. They influence me even when they are not present, even if I have not seen or spoken with them in years. Just thinking about the type of person they are inspires me even now to learn more, dream more, do more, and become more.

These people lift me up and make me stronger. They have a strong legacy in my life.

How Will You Inspire Others?

I want to have a strong legacy too. Not only because I want to be remembered fondly. Of course, I do. But more importantly, I want to make a difference. I want my life to count for something bigger than me. I want to be that legacy person for someone else. I want to help others.

I was recently listening to a podcast by Andy Stanley. He shared an exercise he said changed his life many years ago. He was reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. 

In 7 Habits, Covey challenges his readers with an exercise that is profound. You might find it unsettling or even slightly grim. But I urge you to read it carefully and thoughtfully. As you read the excerpt, consider how reflecting on this passage might be life changing for you too.
In your mind’s eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.
As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today. All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.
As you take a seat and wait for the services to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family, immediate and also extended —children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents who have come from all over the country to attend. The second speaker is one of your friends, someone who can give a sense of what you were as a person. The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your church or some community organization where you’ve been involved in service.
Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?
What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?
Stanley shared how he spent several days reflecting, in writing, on the questions set forth in the passage.

The 3-year timeline until your death is an important detail in the exercise. It creates a stronger sense of urgency. As educators, we should always have a sense of urgency too. We may be our students' best hope. But we only have so much time. We may not have the same opportunity to influence them next year. They will likely move on to a new classroom with a different teacher.

Educators Leave a Lasting Legacy

Although the funeral exercise is great reflection for living a meaningful life, how might it be slightly modified to narrow the reflection for you as a teacher/educator? In a similar instance, what might your students say about you as their teacher? What would their parents say? How about the community you where you work? What is your legacy in that?

As I reflect on those questions, I am reminded of what's most important to me. And I am also reminded of things that might distract me from the most important things. The most valuable thing is how I treat people, all of them. People come first. I want to be the kind of person who is always learning, who lifts others up, and who treats people with kindness, care, and consideration.

It's easy to get distracted from the most important things. I am a person who also wants progress, who has goals, who is driven. If fact, in the past, there were times I was too focused on achieving and not tuned in to the people around me. I am working hard to make sure that doesn't happen anymore.

I am convinced that reaching goals, making progress, and achieving success will be more likely to happen—mostly inevitable—if the first priority is people. If we treat people with all the care and concern we possibly can, we will see progress and success like never before. 

I respect every person who works hard and gets stuff done. There is value in working hard and earning a living to support yourself and your loved ones. But teaching provides the opportunity to do far more than just earning a paycheck. It's more than a job. When teaching is your life's work, you have the opportunity to make a lasting difference. You have the opportunity to make an important contribution. Your legacy counts!

So think about it...

What really matters?

What keeps you up at night?

What makes you want to be a better teacher, principal, parent or friend?

I hope these questions are helpful as you think about your legacy and what's most important to you. Reflecting on what you really value is one of the best things you can do to find purpose and meaning in your life and work.

Questions? What do you want your legacy to be? Are you focused on the right things? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Why Successful People Are Open to Coaching

In an earlier post, I (David) shared 5 Blind Spots Educators Must Address. My friend Jennifer Hogan commented that one way to overcome blind spots is through coaching. That conversation led to the idea of writing this collaborative blog post.

There are lots of ways we can become more aware of our blind spots. Usually, it happens when we have some input (reading, discussing, observing, etc.) and then reflect on that information. But one type of input that is probably underutilized is coaching. We all need to be open to coaching.

Coaching is a good strategy for revealing blind spots while also building on strengths. How do we open ourselves up to embrace coaching as a way to grow both professionally and personally?

Blind spots represent gaps between what we think is true and what is really true, and uncovering blind spots is an important part of one’s personal and professional growth. Blind spots may be certain behaviors, traits, habits, or thoughts that are observable to others but not immediately evident to us. To reduce blind spots we must be open to acknowledging what the other person sees and be willing to reflect on different perspectives. When we recognize a blind spot exists, we can work on changing, reducing, or eliminating them.

We all have blind spots. There are things we do not immediately recognize in our own patterns and behaviors that are plainly evident to others. It’s almost always easier to see how others could improve than to see areas in ourselves that we might improve. For the most part, you know far less about yourself than you feel you do.

Here are a few ideas for developing an openness to coaching and receiving feedback.

Coaching involves building trusting relationships.

Unless there is trusting relationship, it is impossible to have an effective coaching relationship. We can’t act with good faith on feedback from a person we don’t fully trust. But if we sincerely believe a person wants the best for us, we should always openly consider the feedback they provide. Why would we ever be closed to someone who genuinely wants good things for us? It doesn’t mean we automatically have to agree with their perspective, but we need to listen carefully. This person has my best interest in mind. They want me to do well. Why wouldn’t I listen to their feedback?

Good coaching involves listening, not judging.

Feeling judged makes the defenses go up. But feeling heard creates safety. Listening is one of the best tools a coach can use. It’s not a situation where one person is the expert fixing someone else’s problem. Even if it might seem obvious someone has a blindspot, it is ultimately their responsibility to own that. In a coaching conversation, the goal is shared meaning and solutions that arrive as a result of both parties contributions to the discussion. Listening opens doors to new ways of thinking and makes room for others to reflect on their own thinking.

Accepting coaching means facing, and even embracing, failure.

Most people see failure as a threat. We’ve learned failure is bad, and we want to avoid it. We want everyone to think we are successful all the time. But if we reframe failure, and think of it as an important part of how we learn, then we can translate our failures into even greater successes. Each time we fail, we can feel defeated and afraid. Or, we can look for the possibilities for growth in the situation. Some of our greatest opportunities are disguised as failures. Productive failure leads to personal and professional growth. We just need to see clearly. We need to overcome our blind spots.

Identifying blind spots requires seeking evidence that might be critical.

If we truly want to grow, we have to seek evidence of things we might be doing that aren’t working. Sometimes we might not want to look too carefully at something because we might find something we don’t like. But that type of thinking will always hinder our performance. John Hattie urges educators to “know thy impact.” Seek evidence to understand what’s working and what’s not. Hattie focuses on collecting evidence regarding one’s impact on student learning. Coaching can help us reflect on and process what we are doing and how it is impacting student learning. When we better understand what’s working and what’s not, we can focus our energies on highlighting the strengths and mitigating the weaknesses.

A coachable person views criticism with curiosity.

Curiosity leads to discovery and experimentation. A curious person will listen to criticism and feedback with an open mind and a willingness to continue learning. Curiosity is the engine that keeps us searching until we understand something or trying until we can do something. The inclination to explore new ideas, even ones that contradict current beliefs, help to close the gap between what we think is true and what is really true.

Asking for feedback makes it more powerful

Unwelcome feedback usually falls on deaf ears. Unless there is a high level of trust and a desire to hear a different perspective, it is usually a waste to offer feedback. We need to create a culture where it is normal and routine to have honest conversations about performance. Leaders need to model this. They need to ask for feedback too. When leaders demonstrate consistent comfort with examining their own areas for growth, others will feel more comfortable doing this too.

Effective coaching leads to positive change.

Learning is messy. As adults, we are in control of a lot of things. We decide what we’re having for dinner, how our classroom will run, where we will vacation, what time to leave the house, and so many more little and big decisions. Learning is messy. The process is never linear. Learning and trying something new goes against our habits of creating control in life situations. Especially when we know that we will be accountable for the learning and will get feedback throughout the messy process. But ultimately, coaching can lead to clarity, confidence, and growth.

What happens when we don’t open ourselves to receive coaching? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, January 6, 2017

5 Blind Spots Educators Must Address

More than likely, you've seen the video below. It is designed to test the power of your attention. It will take careful concentration to succeed in the task. 

In the video, two teams are passing basketballs, one team is wearing white shirts and the other team is wearing black shirts. Your task is to count the number of passes by the white team, ignoring the black team entirely. Before you read further, I would like for you to watch the video and see how you do.

The video has been watched millions of times. And over half those who view it do not see a person wearing a gorilla suit appear, join the other players, thump its chest, and exit. Were you among those who missed the gorilla? If so, don't feel bad. You may have the ability to focus in ways others could not. You didn't allow a silly gorilla to distract you.

The blindness to the gorilla is caused by the focused attention on counting the passes of the white team. Our brain has the ability to ignore what it doesn't perceive as important. And we all know the idea of effective multi-tasking is a myth. You can learn more about this study on selective attention at

One of the remarkable findings of the study is how surprised people are to realize they missed the gorilla. "No way!" they think. They cannot imagine how they could have not seen someone in a gorilla suit in the video. They can't believe they missed it.

The invisible gorilla study reveals a couple of interesting facts about our minds. 

First, we can be blind to the obvious. We can miss the forest for the trees. We are so focused on the details we miss the bigger picture.

And second, we are not only blind to the obvious, but we are unwilling to admit we didn't see clearly. We are also blind to our blindness.

This gorilla business got me thinking about blind spots we may have as educators. The day-to-day problems we face require intense concentration, and unless we pause to reflect, to listen, to pay attention to the world around us, we may miss some of the most important changes happening. Or we may miss things we need to change.

The world is changing rapidly. And we can be so busy we don't even realize what's happening. Because of our intense focus on the routine parts of our work, we may not be aware of how our classrooms and schools need to change. 

We can't afford to let that happen. Our students can't afford for us to have blind spots. Here are five questions to help you think through some issues that can be blind spots for educators. You may have assumptions that haven't been tested. Maybe these questions will help you see any 'gorillas' in your approach.

1. Are my lessons designed to help me teach better or to help students learn more?

Some teachers design lessons to deliver content to students. They strive to teach better. They seek better presentations, better strategies, more tools. They rely on a test at the end to know if students are learning. Other teachers design lessons that cause students to own their learning. Students are the ones doing the heavy lifting. They are creating instead of consuming. They are active in the process. Their learning is visible throughout.

2. Am I teaching students first, or a curriculum?

Some teachers implement a curriculum. They teach the standards of their curriculum with fidelity. But if that is all they do, in my mind, they are not an effective teacher. If you teach students first, you recognize their unique needs. You seek to guide them, mentor them, and help them grow as people. You make learning personal. And you want them to be more excited about learning when they leave your class than when they came. It's more important to develop a passion for learning than to check off standards.

3. Am I preparing students for the world they live in or the one I grew up in?

Some teachers are teaching exactly the same as they were taught. If you visited their classroom, there would be no way to distinguish between this classroom and one from 1991. Your classroom should never become a time capsule. It should actually be more of a time machine, helping students to see what they will need to be successful in their futures. The next 20 years will be the most dramatic period of change in the history of the world. How are you adjusting your classroom to prepare students an uncertain, complex world?

4. Would I want to be a student in my own classroom?

If you are like most learners, you don't enjoy sitting for long periods of time, listening to someone else, and having very little input about anything. Be the teacher who prepares learning experiences, not lectures. Listen to students and try to see learning through their eyes. That's one of the most powerful weapons a teachers can have. If you can understand your students better, you can create learning that is irresistible.

5. Do my students see me as a learner too?

Some teachers are afraid of being wrong. They want to have all the answers and be seen as the expert in the classroom. But more important than being the content expert, teachers need to be learning experts. They need to model how to be an effective lifelong learner. If you asked most student if their teacher learns new stuff, they might say yes—at a conference, or a training, or in teacher meetings. But what about the classroom? Do your students see you learning side-by-side with them every day?

Question: What other blind spots might educators have about learning? I think we all have areas we could see more clearly. Or, we miss the forest for the trees. Or, we don't acknowledge the gorilla. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

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