Monday, December 30, 2019

Relentless About the Right Things



I love the energy and intention of the word relentless. There is power in that word. It indicates persistence, perseverance, commitment, and fortitude. The word is strong and mighty.

When we talk about educators being relentless, that's often a great compliment. What parent wouldn't want a teacher or principal for his or her own child who is relentless, who exhibits the qualities of being determined, dedicated, and diligent? 

But, one word of caution. Relentless about what?

When I was in college I had a professor who I would definitely say was relentless, in a way. He had an incredibly detailed syllabus, over 25 pages long. He had clearly invested much time and energy in preparing for the course. He seemed very relentless in his attention to every fine point.

No doubt his knowledge of his subject matter was off the charts. He spoke with tremendous authority on his topic. You could easily tell he had an impressive depth of understanding. I'm guessing he studied his subject matter relentlessly.

His tests were notorious for their complexity, rigor, and depth. Students lived in fear of his tests. And upon returning the graded exams, he would include meticulous written feedback regarding each incorrect answer. Much of the feedback went right over my head. We were asked to do nothing with the feedback, but he was relentless in giving it nonetheless.

I learned next to nothing in this course. I simply survived. And from my discussions with other students and his overall reputation around campus, that seemed to be the general consensus.

Getting through his class felt like it was more about gaming his system, and his 25-page syllabus, than it was about actual learning. I surprisingly got a decent grade, but it didn't reflect much of anything about the quality of my learning.

There was little interaction between the professor and the students. There was no connection. There was no attempt to meet the learners at their current level of understanding. He simply taught right over everyone's heads.

So what are you relentless about in your classroom or school?

Are you relentless about the rules or about the relationships?
Are you relentless about the grades or the learning?
Are you relentless about the curriculum or the progress of the learners?
Are you relentless about marching through the standards or inspiring a love of learning in your students?

Let's reflect on what's most important and make sure we're applying our energy to those things.

Let's be relentless about what adds the most value to our learners and their futures.

Let's be relentless about bringing joy and enthusiasm for learning.
Let's be relentless in knowing our students.
Let's be relentless in believing in our students.
Let's be relentless in listening to our students.
Let's be relentless in understanding our students' perspectives.

Let's seek to be relentless as educators. But let's also reflect to make sure we're relentless about the right things.

What are you relentless about as an educator? What do you value most and does that also add the most value to your students? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, December 13, 2019

All Kids Deserve Opportunities for Creative Work


Which students are doing the creative work in your school? Who has the most opportunities to work on projects, solve problems, collaborate with classmates, develop ideas, design products, and publish for authentic audiences? If your school is like most schools, I'm guessing your strongest learners have the most opportunities.

And I'm guessing the students who struggle the most are doing the most repetitive work, the routine work, and the isolated work. They are spending more time in intervention settings. 


There's nothing inherently wrong with repetition or routine work. Intervention can be helpful. Sometimes that's what's needed. But there is so much more.


Students may master standards in this type of routine learning, but they will never master themselves. They need chances to demonstrate agency, to take greater ownership of their learning, and to explore different ideas.


For your next lesson, what small changes could you make to cause your learners to experience a little more curiosity and a little more creativity? Ask yourself this each day. How can I move the needle toward curiosity and creativity in learning? How can I leverage curiosity and creativity to help students master standards? How can students access this curriculum in ways that build curiosity and creativity too?


Curiosity and creativity aren't separate events from learning content. They enhance the learning of content. It's through curiosity and creativity that we learn content best.

And I believe that's true for all students. It's true for students who have special learning needs, it's true for students who struggle with behaviors, and it's true for students who are behind academically.

All kids deserve opportunities for creative work. 


Learning doesn't stop with learning standards. In fact, some of the most valuable work we can do is developing the curiosity and creativity in learners. Our kids should leave school wanting to know even more. We should aim to develop them as curious, creative, and continuous learners.

How are you developing the curiosity and creativity of your students? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Problems Usually Seem Worse Than They Are



It's been said the only certainties in life are death and taxes.


Let's add one to the list. We can be certain there will be problems. As long as we are in this life, there is a 100% guarantee there will be problems.

We all face challenges every day. And sometimes the problems seem much bigger than they are. In fact, I would say they usually seem much bigger than they are.

I know this is true because some of the things that were huge, gigantic problems for me in my past, now seem much smaller as many years have past. In reflecting, I've even felt puzzled or confused that I ever got so upset about some of the things that I viewed as big problems years ago.

So no matter what you're going through, keep that truth in mind. This problem probably feels bigger right now than it actually is. So check yourself on that before you let your feelings take over.

See the problem for what it is, but not worse than it is.

Tell yourself the truth.

Avoid thinking there is no solution or things can't change. They almost always do.

Ask for advice or counsel regarding the problem.

Reframe the problem with gratitude. Be grateful for what you can do to address the problem. It could always be worse.

Work the problem. Seek solutions. Try different possibilities.

Get a vision of working past the problem. Think intently about what it will feel like to overcome this problem. 

Wait patiently. Often problems are not resolved on our timeline, but they are eventually resolved nonetheless.

Friday, December 6, 2019

7 Things People Think or Say that Reinforce Mediocrity


In my previous post, I wrote how failure is not the enemy of improvement. Failure is actually a healthy part of learning and growth. The enemy of excellence is apathy or mediocrity. It's being content, either intentionally or unintentionally, with how things are.

That's how people, schools, organizations, etc. get stuck in mediocrity. They become content with just good enough.

There are lots of reasons people embrace mediocrity, but here are a few of the mindsets I've noticed over years of working in school leadership and reflecting on my own attitude when I fall short and observing the attitudes of others as well.

I think by reflecting on these things, we can learn to recognize them in self and others and explore ways to move past them.

1. "I already do that."

Rather than approaching a topic as a learner and looking for ways to adjust and grow, we defend our current practice and imply there is nothing more we can learn about this idea, practice, or approach.

2. "I tried that, and it didn't work."

Since I tried this already, and it didn't work, then clearly there is not room for me to explore this idea or topic again. I have eliminated any future possibilities based on my own personal experience. 

And the thing about this one is that often people didn't execute the practice or idea effectively in the beginning, or they don't give the idea enough time to determine if it could be effective with further practice and/or adjustments.

3. "That won't work with these students."

This way of thinking is extremely limiting and dismissive to students. Effective educators believe in their students, and they aren't the ones to determine if students can or cannot do something. They create the conditions where students have the opportunities to stretch their limits. They think, "If I get the conditions right, I believe my students can and will succeed with this challenge."

4. "What will the other teachers think?"

I remember hearing Ron Clark speak about how, in his first teaching job, his exciting, enthusiastic approach was getting wonderful results. Kids were learning more than ever, and they were loving it. 

But other teachers in the school were not loving it. Clark's principal came to him and said, "You're doing great, but you're making the other teachers very uncomfortable. Would you mind closing the door to your classroom?"

There is a serious mediocrity problem if teachers are not willing to learn from each other and cheer each other on. 

5. "We've always done it this way."

It's been described as the most dangerous phrase in the language. It preserves the status quo. It protects comfort and limits growth. It shuts down new ideas. 

This phrase reveals thinking that is closed minded, inflexible, and possibly even stuck in the past. We can't think creatively or make progress if we're not willing to try something new.

6. "I don't have time for that."

It seems like everyone in education feels the pinch of not having enough time, so in a way, this is a legitimate concern. However, it's also one of the strongest messages we say to ourselves that keep us stuck, that prevent us from moving forward. 

We all have exactly the same amount of time in each day, 1440 minutes in each day to be precise. If you truly "don't have time" to improve something, does that mean you are not currently wasting any of those 1440 minutes? Does that mean that there is no room for growth on how you prioritize the use of those 1440 minutes?

Not having enough time is one of the biggest excuses I know for not doing anything to grow, learn, or change. You may not have time to do everything, but you do have time to do something to grow, learn, and change.  

We make many decisions each day how we use our time. We should use it wisely.

7. What if something goes wrong?

The fear of failure is one of the biggest deterrents to progress and growth. It feels like a big risk to try something that isn't as familiar. It feels like a big risk to try something new or different. It feels safe to try things that have predictable outcomes. 

But the big risk is staying comfortable and avoiding new possibilities. Excellence requires positive risk taking. 

Can you think of any other phrases or messages that keep us stuck in apathy or mediocrity? Share your thoughts here or on Facebook or Twitter. I'd love to hear from you.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Evidence You Have Unlimited Potential



Did you learn things in your first year of teaching you knew you needed to do differently? Of course you did.

If you could do year one over again, do you think you could learn even more from it? Are there things you could do differently, more efficiently, more effectively if given the chance to do it again? Probably so.

What about year two, three, four? I'm guessing when you reflect on your past from your where you are now, there are lots of things you realize you could've done differently.

You've come a long way.

And that truth demonstrates how your capacity is unknown and unlimited. If you can recognize you left some of your potential unfulfilled in the past, that's proof that you are capable of even more in the future. 

If you continue to grow, learn, and change, there are no known limits for you.

Excellence is making the most of your opportunities. It's getting the most from your chances to grow. The key is to never stop growing.

You truly have unlimited potential. So do your students. So does everyone with a willingness to pursue continuous growth. 

Excellence is always striving to grow, learn, and change. It's striving to be better today than yesterday, better this week than last week, better this year than last year.

The opposite of excellence is not failure. The opposite of excellence is apathy. It's choosing, either intentionally or unintentionally, to stay the same.

Failure is opportunity in disguise. Mistakes are helpful when you use them for your benefit, like Bob Ross explains in this short clip.




So believe in your own possibilities. Believe in the possibilities of your students.

Aim for excellence. And crush apathy. You have unlimited capacity for greatness.

Reflection Questions...
1. How am I growing and pushing my limits?
2. Are there areas I'm protecting the status quo?
3. Where can I be more open to change?
4. Who gives me energy and inspiration to move forward?
5. If I'm stuck, what can I do to disrupt my unhelpful patterns?

Friday, November 22, 2019

Never Ask a Student This Question About Their Behavior


Students who are in trouble almost always have a good reason for why they did what they did. Sometimes a student will admit fault and take full ownership, but that's not usually the case, especially for students who habitually shift responsibility. Usually, they explain away their behavior and how they were misunderstood or how someone else's bad behavior led to their actions. 

So how should educators handle that situation? Is it okay for a student to act badly if they have a good reason or feel justified in their behavior? Absolutely not. If they can explain their intentions, does that make it better? Not really.

I had this conversation with a student the other day. In life, people are going to know you by your behavior, not your intentions. So I hear what you're saying. You didn't mean to be disrespectful. You didn't mean to cause a problem. You had a good reason for what you did. But I can't know your reasons, truly. I believe what you're saying. But it's not for me to judge your intentions. No one can know what's in another person's heart with certainty. I can't know your intentions. But I can observe your behaviors.

And life will always hold you accountable for your actions. It might not happen immediately. You might get away with it for a while. However, the choices you make now will impact your future. And as someone who cares about you and your future, it's my job to help you be accountable now so life won't be so hard on you later.

So I never ask students this question:

"Why did you do it?"

That just reinforces the idea that if you had a good enough reason, it's okay to act badly. That if you had a good enough reason, it's okay to act in a way that's harmful to others.

Instead, ask the following:

"What did you do? Which choices you made caused a problem?"

"Who or what was harmed as a result of your choices?"

"What are the expectations (rules) here about these choices?"

"How might you correct the situation so it doesn't happen again in the future?"

Keep the focus on the behavior and not the underlying motivations. If the student tries to justify their behavior, keep coming back to the specific choices and how those choices aren't acceptable in this space. When we keep the focus on what happened and how it had an impact on others, we encourage full responsibility.

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.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Don't Just Plan Lessons, Create Experiences


"How did you become a Chicago Cubs fan?"

I asked the question to a Cubs fan I was visiting with recently. And I wasn't being sarcastic, since I'm a St. Louis Cardinals fan, and that would be on point for fan behavior between the two teams.

No, I was just curious because he wasn't from a part of the country that isn't typically considered Cubs fan territory. He explained that some members of his family were Cubs fans but what really hooked him on the Cubs was when he attended a game at Wrigley Field (Chicago) as a young boy.

That experience, he said, was something he never forgot and resulted in his lifelong love of the Cubs. It was as simple as that.

Experiences are powerful. They can change our entire perspective for good or bad. In this case, a positive experience resulted in a deep attachment to a baseball team.

I'm wondering about how students experience school. Are we creating experiences that result in a lifelong attachment to learning? Are we creating powerful learning experiences that develop curiosity and cultivate interests?

While much of my own school experience was somewhat routine and mostly forgettable, there were some amazing experiences that really led me to want to learn more.

Most of those memorable experiences were projects or trips to visit interesting places. I remember visiting a cave, a Civil War battlefield, and even a museum with a real mummy, all part of opportunities through school.

I also remember creating a news broadcast and interviewing people from our community, as part of a project for class. I also remember competing in a stock market game, and I remember performing a classroom play.

I don't remember a single lecture from school. I take that back. I remember one very gifted social studies teacher who could tell stories from the Civil War that were so interesting I wanted to learn more on my own. He had us on the edge of our seats.

I don't remember any worksheet tasks standing out. I don't remember any tests in particular. 

Here's the thing. I'm not saying tests, or assignments, or routine work are all bad in school. I'm not saying they don't have value. But if we want our students to be inspired learners, we better look for ways to connect learning to positive emotions. We better give students experiences that really capture their attention in ways that go far beyond the routine.

In a time where standards mastery seems to be at the top of all priorities, I wonder what types of experiences kids are having? 

What type of experience are they having when remediation has been routine for them year after year in school?

What type of experience are they having when they don't have the opportunity to pursue things they're interested in?

What type of experience are they having when they don't get to learn outside the classroom by taking field trips?

A couple of high school principals were discussing how they are making sure any field trips in their school tie directly to meeting standards. I guess that's one way to look at it.

But for me, I want our students to have as many opportunities as possible to learn and interact with interesting people and places away from our school campus. I especially want that for our under-resourced students who might not ever have those opportunities otherwise.

There is a time for rolling up our sleeves and doing the routine work of learning and life. But if we're not also creating peak moments along the way, we are missing the joy in the journey. 

And we're probably missing out on potential passions, and maybe even missing out on developing a passion for learning.

The routine work should flow from a deep sense of purpose. We need to know our why. That's where lasting learning is nurtured.

As I wrote in my book, Future Driven,
Don’t just create lessons for your students. Create experiences. Students will forget a lesson, but an experience will have lasting value. We want to do more than cover content. We want to inspire learning.
Is your school making time for powerful learning experiences? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What You Do Matters


How important are bus drivers? Our kids' safety is in their hands. They are the first point of contact in the morning and help set the tone for the day. Bus drivers make a difference. And so do cooks. And custodians. And everyone else who gives so much to the life of a school.

I was speaking last week at the Cypress-Fairbanks Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships Leadership conference in Houston. It was a great event, and I enjoyed making some wonderful connections with educators there.

One of the people I met shared some valuable wisdom with me. The conference provided a shuttle to and from the hotel, and my driver's name was Tammy.

She drives a school bus for the district, but she's not just a regular school bus driver. She substitutes for all the bus routes in the Cy-Fair district (one of the largest in Texas) wherever she's needed.

I can't imagine how difficult that must be to drive a different group of kids every day, on a different school bus, in city traffic, with your back turned to them. That takes a special skill set!

Tammy is amazing! I was inspired by her commitment and her kindness. I asked her how she handles working with so many different kids while navigating unfamiliar routes.

I'm paraphrasing what Tammy said...and then adding a few of my thoughts too. She shared great advice and encouragement!

1. "They can tell I enjoy them and love them. And that makes all the difference."

When kids know you care about them and accept them, you'll bring out the best in them. The quickest way to change another person's behavior is to change your behavior towards them. Every kid wants to feel like they are easy to love.

2. "When I ask them to do something, I address them as sir or m'am. And when they follow through, I say thank you."

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 have the highest respect for them.

3. "When those middle school students realize they can't get under my skin, I have them right where I want them."

The kids are going to test you and see how you respond. If it's with anger or frustration, the situation is likely to escalate. If you are firm, polite, and also calm and caring, you'll get a much better result. Let them know you're in their corner even when you're correcting them.

4. "I keep doing this because they need me."

Tammy explained she had thought about retiring, but I could tell she also felt great satisfaction and purpose in what she's doing. She sees purpose and contribution in what she does. She's making things better with each interaction she has.

5. "I can tell you put your heart and soul into what you do."

She said that to me. I was so honored and humbled. She gave me a big hug when she dropped me off at the airport. And I'm not even that much of a hugger. She encouraged me and affirmed me and added value to me.

Who makes the difference in your school?

Every person who works in a school makes a difference. Every person contributes to the culture of the school. 

What if everyone in your school gave as generously as Tammy to love and support the kids and the adults in the school? What if we all showed a little more care and appreciation for every person in every interaction? That's how you build a strong school culture.

Who is someone who inspires you? How are you giving generously to others? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I would love to hear from you.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Balancing Achievement and Agency


How do you define student achievement? Is student achievement defined by how students perform on some type of standardized assessment? When politicians, policymakers, and lots of educators too, talk about raising student achievement, it usually means raising test scores.

The problem is that test scores are a very narrow way to define student success and student achievement. That definition favors a certain type of student, magnifying a certain type of skill set, while diminishing a whole range of other factors that can lead to success academically and in life.

So why is it the current definition of student achievement is always tied to how students perform on one test that happens in one moment once a year? I want to see more emphasis on student agency. I want to find ways for students to connect to what they are learning, to apply what they are learning, to do things with their learning that are making a difference. To me, when students exercise agency and demonstrate growth, that is achievement.

When we are driven by preparing kids for a test, we may neglect preparing them for life. I'm not saying we can't prepare kids for the test and for life, but too often I think that's exactly what's happening. The test is driving everything in some schools. 

But does the learning stick? Will students remember the things they must know for the test? I really like how Will Richardson put words around this idea. He says we need to aim for learning that results in permanence. We should seek learning that has lasting value. When students have agency and ownership in learning, it's much more likely to have long term impact. When it connects to their passions and their goals, they're much more invested emotionally and intellectually.

Another question I would raise is this, does the learning shift perspective? Simply learning content and using it to answer test questions doesn't necessarily change who you are or how you see the world. And I think education should always result in more empathy and understanding. It doesn't just change what you know but helps you better understand who you are and how you can make a bigger difference.

If we want more permanence and perspective in education, we have to be willing to invest in agency. We must empower students and teachers to do things that are bigger than just mastering content standards. We have encourage creativity and connection and allow for learning that taps into strengths and passions.

So let's aim to get a better balance between achievement and agency. Achievement won't solve the world's problems unless our students learn they are powerful problem solvers. They must know first and foremost the significant agency they have to make a difference.

What are you thoughts? How are you specifically equipping students with greater agency and empowerment in your classroom and school? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

7 Questions to Reflect on Kindness


Kindness is more than being nice. It's great to do nice things for people, and that's certainly part of being kind. But true kindness goes deeper. It tests our character because it isn't always easy. Most everyone is kind to others when they feel like it, or when other people are nice to them.

But here are 7 questions that take it deeper. These might be good to discuss with your students or even with your colleagues. I know I need to consistently reflect on these to keep growing and developing my own kindness qualities.


1. Are you happy for others when they succeed?

True kindness doesn't envy the success of others. It's being happy for others and celebrating with them and for them. 

2. How do you treat people who can do nothing for you in return?

Some people are kind to gain status or favor or tangible rewards. But true kindness shows up strongest with selfless motives, expecting nothing in return.

3. How do you treat others in times of crisis?

When things are spiraling out of control, that tests how committed we are to kindness. Do you still treat people respectfully and with dignity even when it's a crisis?

4. Are you able to maintain respectful dialogue with someone who strongly disagrees with you?

Disagreement doesn't have to result in disrespect. We should be able to share different perspectives without feeling diminished or making others feel diminished.

5. When you make a mistake or act poorly, do you take full ownership? Do you apologize immediately and sincerely?

Kindness doesn't make excuses. If you make a mistake, admit it and do what you can to make it right.

6. Do you have positive beliefs about others? Do you look for the best in them? Do you believe the best about their intentions?

A person who is kind believes the best about others. It's being the type of person who can see the strengths in others, even when they're hard to see.

7. Are you able to forgive others for their mistakes? Are you able to forgive even if they don't apologize or admit their mistake?

Holding a grudge is definitely not a kindness quality. But sometimes it's hard if the other person doesn't apologize. But true kindness is tested by the hard stuff.

What are other ways you can think of to show kindness? Leave a comment or respond on Facebook or Twitter. It would be great to hear from you!

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