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.
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