Why are we waiting for tomorrow?

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When I recently was visiting a school, I noticed their “motto” on the wall that talked about “developing today the leaders of tomorrow”, or something similar.  This was not unique to this school, and I could tell you from connecting with that staff, that these are some amazing educators that have created an amazing culture of learning and leadership.

The one challenge that I gave to them was by the asking the question, “Why are they not ‘leaders’ today? Why are we waiting for tomorrow?”

I understand the idea behind it and the age-old notion that as educators we are developing the “next generation”, but I also believe that if we want students to make a difference, why wait for it to happen later?  Why can’t they go out and make an impact in our schools and community, both locally and globally?  They have the world at their fingertips and playing “Candy Crush” on Facebook now doesn’t necessarily mean that one day they are going to be leaders because it’s “their turn”.  We need to empower their voice.

We are defined by our actions today, not our potential for tomorrow.

Kids needs time to grow up and be “kids”, but that doesn’t mean they cannot make a difference in our world.  I am hoping that stories like the one of Martha Payne become the norm and these kids aren’t simply outliers.

Words matter.

Our expectations matter.

If a kid makes a difference today, aren’t they more likely to do it tomorrow as well?

There is no need to wait.

4 Ideas To Have A Successful First Year as Principal

I am so intrigued with the number of people that are jumping into principal positions as I think it is truly one of the best jobs in the world.  It is also one of the toughest.  Isolation within a school (even though that is a choice that we now make ourselves) has been kind of a norm in past years, so to have a shared focus as a school is foreign territory for many (including principals).  Yet with a constant focus on “change”, many principals bring people together, but often for the wrong reasons.  If you move to fast, that can often lead to strained relationships within a school and resentment towards the new “leader”.  As much as principals want to make it “our school”, many admin really try to make it “their school”, or at least, that is the picture that they paint to their staff.  Sometimes you need to move slow to go fast.

Here are some things that I have learned from my time in both success and failures.

1. Build strong relationships first.  If you did a “Wordle” on my blog, I am guessing the term “relationships” would be the word that is in the top five for being most used.  Although this may seem redundant, to emphasize the importance of this over and over again, is something that cannot be understated.  The investment you make in your staff, students, and community will come back tenfold, but it takes time to build trust.  I have watched administrators like Patrick Larkin, Kathy MeltonJason Markey, Amber Teamann, and Jimmy Casas show and share the significance that they put into people.  This is not just your teachers either.

Every single person on your staff is an important part of the team and should be treated in that same manner.  Make sure that you connect with every person on that staff and know something that goes beyond the building.

One of my favourite things to do with the community was to wait for the busses and talk to kids and parents as they arrived to school.  Talking to kids is huge and a great proactive way to avoid issues later, while also being visible to the community.  It also builds credibility with staff.  Relationships, relationships, relationships.  Trust me, it is the most important part of the job and the foundation that all great schools are built upon.

2. Find the value of every staff member.  I tweeted the following yesterday:

Principals often want to make a splash with staff and bring in “gurus” to move them ahead, but I truly believe that most schools have everything they need within the building, we just have to find a way to bring it all together.  It is not that you shouldn’t look for outside help ever, as a differing perspective helps sometimes, but you should also balance that with having your own staff deliver professional development as well.  This builds capacity and relationships (see number one) within your building.

Every person in your organization has something to offer.  What is it? This is fundamental to “strengths based leadership” and people that know they are valued will go above and beyond. There is a difference between “developing” and “unleashing” talent; a great principal does both.

Great leaders develop great leaders.

3.  Show instructional leadership. There used to be a belief that “those who can’t teach, become principals”.  This drives me crazy.  The other idea is that the principal should be the best teacher in the school.  That is also a fallacy.  Some teachers are absolutely amazing and have no interest in becoming principals; there is nothing wrong with that.  You do however, need to show credibility in your role as principal.  This could be in delivering professional development to your staff or teaching a class, or even a combination of both.  Teachers connect well with teachers, and when they see that their principal, no matter the position, is still a teacher, it shines a different light on them.  When you teach, it also reminds you that the “change” that we try to implement is not as easy as it sounds with 25 kids in a classroom.  It is possible, but it takes time and this perspective that you gain by staying current in your own teaching practices is important.

4.  Don’t focus on “change” as much as you focus on “growth”.  Change and growth are often synonymous but the words sometimes the words evoke different emotions.  If you walk into a school and constantly talk about “change” or how you are going to create the “best school yet”, you are disrespecting the work that has been done prior by the same staff that you are now serving.  I agree that there are lots of things that need to “change” about schools, but I also know there are lots of great things that have already happened in many organizations.  Growth is different.  We expect it from kids and we should expect it from ourselves.  You may have seen the light and changed your teaching practice, but my guess is that you didn’t change every aspect of what you used to do.  You probably got better.  And when you ask for “growth”, make sure you model how you are growing as an administrator as well.  Say when you screw up, admit mistakes, apologize, learn openly, and do things that show you want to get better in your role to model what you want from your staff.  Modelling growth moves from saying, “do this”, to “let’s do this together”.  Very different ideas with the latter being much more effective.

Everyone wants to make a big splash when they are starting a new job, and administrators are no different.  Yet sustainable growth takes time and as Covey states, it is important as a leader to show “character and credibility”.  Both of these things take time.  You may have a vision of where you want school to go but the best leaders hold that vision and break it down in smaller steps so that people can gain confidence and competence in the process.  If you want to create something great, it will take time and will only come from the people that are a part of your learning community.  Honour and tap into them and you will move further than you could have ever imagined.

Investing in Individuals First

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“Every single employee is someone’s son or someone’s daughter. Parents work to offer their children a good life and a good education and to teach them the lessons that will help them grow up to be happy, confident and able to use all the talents they were blessed with. Those parents then hand their children over to a company with the hope the leaders of that company will exercise the same love and care as they have.” Simon Sinek

With the focus on “collaboration” in many organizations being the forefront in what they do, we often forget that each team that exists within an organization is made up of individual people.  People are often asked to sacrifice for the “good of the team”, but this does not happen unless a safe culture is created by its leaders.

If you are spending a third of your day working with others, we have to realize how important each person is and how much we need to care for these individuals.  Simply saying, “we are a team”, does not make it so.  In fact, that constant push for collaboration without caring for individuals often pulls teams apart and creates an “every person for themselves” mentality.  The “greater good” does not happen without individuals and when people are asked to work long hours and sacrifice, they are more likely to do it when they know they are valued as people first, and employees second.

When I have worked for people that have taken the time to care for me personally, my loyalty to them is unwavering and sacrifice is simple.  Those moments that we simply “check-in” with one another builds that trust daily, and often forges the team.  This does not happen without great leadership constantly building trust with individuals to create a strong team.

One thing that I have seen from great leaders that has made a huge difference is how they are truly in the moment with you.

Every educator is busy; how many have you met that don’t know what to do with the abundance of time that they have left over?  “Busy” is a given that we do not really need to share in every conversation.  What I have seen some of the best leaders do when they talk to people is not share how they only have a “few moments” to talk when their colleagues come talk to them, but they make them feel welcome and are glad to have the conversation in the first place.

Yes, you are probably busy, but the time a leader takes to really talk to someone when they have the chance, often comes back in spades from people who will go above and beyond for someone who makes them feel valued, as opposed to simply watching a clock for those that seemingly do not care.  Just like with our students, when we take time to build relationships with our colleagues there is an initial time investment that is made at the beginning that pays off greatly later on.  That’s why it is called an “investment”.

Now that many people are going back to school, it is easy to talk about the bigger “we”, but remember that your team are made up of individuals.  We need to cherish each person and their strengths AND weaknesses before we can do something great together.

“We need to build more organizations that prioritize the care of human beings. As leaders, it is our sole responsibility to protect our people and, in turn, our people will protect each other and advance the organization together.” Simon Sinek

P.S.  This post was inspired from reading the new Simon Sinek book , “Leaders Eat Last”, that was suggested from my recent visit to Richland Two School District in South Carolina.  It has been fantastic so far!

Our Kids

Last Friday night, I sent out the following tweet:

With many people sharing the tweet, and taking the time to comment on a Friday night (she received 21 comments…not bad for her second blog post!), it really reminded me how much teachers care for kids.  And when I say “kids”, I am not talking about kids in their class, but kids anywhere.  Naomi received comments from all over North America, and even Australia.  Can you imagine what this does for her to help her keep writing and learning, even over the summer months?  Every person that took the time to write, even if it was only for a few seconds, made a difference.  (Side note…I have never shared a blog to #comments4kids hashtag that William Chamberlain hasn’t commented on.  What a great guy for always taking the time to do that.)

Yet when I see how a lot of schools are set up, we seem to be in competition with other schools, districts, and sometimes people in the same building.  Why is that?  When you became a teacher, was it to help kids, or to only help the specific kids you in your class?  I know that with the majority of teachers that I have connected with, any student that is placed in front of them is a kid that teacher will do everything for to help them become better.  What happens when we look at all students as “our kids”?  The imperative share becomes much greater.

So this is why sharing has become so important in our work today.  Every little bit we share with one another, helps a kid somewhere.  Whether it is taken in its exact form, or it is remixed to meet the needs of our class, that “share” does something for kids.  Does it matter if they are across the hall or even across the globe?  I became an educator to help kids. It doesn’t matter where they are from.

Paraphrasing Dean Shareski, it is our moral obligation to share with one another in the field of education.  I believe that the more I go into classrooms and see what teachers do all of the time.  I always think of the “obvious to you, amazing to others” video, and the humble nature of teachers who often think that what they do is not that significant.  You never know the impact of what you share could have on a kid somewhere.  If it makes an impact on one teacher or one kid, somewhere else, isn’t that enough?

We sometimes do not see the impact of our sharing on others, but that is not reason enough to not do it.  I saw the following quote today and it really struck me:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams

The “sharing” that we do often does all of the things listed above, and if it helps kids, no matter where they are, it is definitely worth it.

P.S. If you want to see a great video on the power of “sharing”, I loved the one below:

Can we keep making small “tweaks”?

I can’t remember where I saw it, but I recently read an article about the interruption  that bell causes with many schools when it destroys the flow of learning for a teacher.  I have said something similar before and have not been in a school as an administrator where bells signified the end of a class.  The idea was always that if a kid was deep into learning that the bells would stop that deep learning that was happening in the classroom.

Then I started to think my time in high school and how the bell was a reprieve from the boredom that I was experiencing in any given class.  Yes, there were times where I wanted class to go on, but I would honestly say that as a student, those experiences were in the minority.  How many times did you hear things such as, “The bell doesn’t dismiss you; I dismiss you.”  You might have even said it a few times as a teacher. I know I have.

So as I thought about it, that one or two minutes that you might go deeper into a conversation could be great, but if we are set up on the same scheduling that we have been traditionally in high schools, do we ever really get deep enough into learning that students don’t want to leave?  Are they trading “waiting for a bell” for “watching a clock”?  Although I believe that bells are annoying and aren’t really helping anything in school other than create a Pavlovian effect for our students, is this small change creating a major  difference in the way that we teach and learn?

When I went to visit Ann Michaelsen in Norway this past January, she told me how their high school had got rid of several classes in a day for high school students, and went with one class per day.  For example, you might have English on Monday, Mathematics on Tuesday, and so on.  What she had shared was that this created a significant shift in the way educators taught their classes.  As I watched the teachers in action, it looked more like a workshop model in every classroom, with students doing a lot of hands on work, and the teacher becoming almost like an academic advisor, working with individual students throughout the day and seeing where they were in their studies.  The amount of time that each teacher had with the students had really made an impact on changing teacher practice and mindset towards the way kids were learning throughout the day.  It would be tough to lecture for five or six hours in a day; the students would have to become more involved in their learning.

I am not sure how effective this type of day would be for a student or a teacher at the high school level, because I have never experienced it (although this was a standard practice for myself as an elementary teacher), but I will tell you that it looked pretty amazing.  We still have to work within the confines of a system and although there are many people that would like to start from scratch, it is not a reality for many schools.

That being said, are there times when we have to think less about the little “tweaks” we can make to the existing structure of school, and think more about some of the major changes we can make in our school?  For example, many see a SmartBoard as a glorified chalkboard; a great improvement on what we have used before but not necessarily going to make a major difference on the way we teach and learn in the long run.  Many would point to something like going “1 to 1” being a major change in many schools, but that would be only if was followed up with proper professional development.  In a lot of schools the technology is being used to simply write notes and “google stuff”, or even simply collecting dust.

When do we move from “tweaking” the system to making some major shifts in what we do?  There are a lot of innovative things that we can do within the system, but when do we start really pushing the boundaries?

A Different Perspective?

Summer is a great time for reflection and throwing ideas around, so here is something that has been floating around in my brain.

The other night on the ESPY Awards, when Stuart Scott was awarded the “Jimmy V Perseverance” award (an amazing speech that you really should watch) for his fight against cancer, his friend Robin Roberts came up to the stage and talked about a new initiative in the hopes to cure cancer.  Although she mentioned it very briefly, my interest was piqued considerably when she talked about the idea of bringing in people outside of the profession to give new ideas to think about curing cancer.  My interest was piqued considerably at the idea that people outside of a profession look at solving a problem.  In education, many of us have spent many years looking at the same problems that the system we are in created; a different perspective on things could be helpful.

I will admit that one of my biggest pet peeves is hearing people say that people outside of education shouldn’t speak at education conferences because they do not know what it is like to be in the classroom.  The same “growth mindset” that many of us preach seems pretty closed when we hear sentiments like this.  I myself have been guilty of saying, “what would they know, they’ve never had to teach”, yet still love when hearing a student’s perspective about school, when they also have never taught.  We can learn from anyone about anything, and what is important is that we learn to make connections to what we do in the education system.  If you go to many conferences, many of the same ideas shared by educators are ones that are often reiterated from others but with a different perspective or “twist” to the story.  Many people are wanting some vastly different ideas.

Now there is a difference between having a non-educator talk about how to solve problems in the classroom, as opposed to hearing someone’s story from outside of the education realm.  A doctor doesn’t know what it is like to have 30 kids in a classroom, no more than I know what it is like to remove someone’s appendix.  It is important to understand that in any profession we respect that experience often trumps research.  I am not looking for Bill Gates to give me ideas on how to run a school.  I would however be interested to know what Bill Gates has done in his own work to create change and make what he does better.  I would also like to know about the changes that have happened in the music industry, and how people in that field have created an environment where they thrive.  How did Uber come about and what are traditional taxi services doing to change the way they do business? The Edmonton Humane Society has totally changed my perspective on how an animal shelter should look like (it is an amazingly beautiful place and looks a lot different from the small cage that I got my first dog Kobe from), and their outreach to the community through their Twitter account has been engaging and powerful.  How did they get to that point and why did they change?

The thing that education has in common with many other fields is that change has been thrust upon them because of the ease of access to information and the easy ability to connect with one another.  Schools aren’t the only organization that is having to look at drastic change.  Many industries are facing similar challenges. What can we learn from them about what they have done and how can we make it applicable to the challenges we are facing?  Creating those connections to both ideas and people could be extremely valuable to the field of education.

So the idea that has been floating around in my head has been hosting an “innovator summit”. This would have people from different fields that are looking at creating, and have created change in their respective fields.  How did they do it?  What worked? What didn’t?  What could we learn from each other?  This would also include people from the field of education who have been successful in creating valuable changes in their own organizations.  There is a lot that different industries could learn from us and apply to their own work.  Truthfully, if anyone should look at hosting a conference where we can learn from one another, shouldn’t it be the field of education?

I have been tossing this idea around in my head.  Perhaps having an “Ignite” style day with short talks, but with the opportunity for conversations with other people.  Maybe even an “Edcamp” type conference.  The idea is definitely in its infancy.  The one thing that I know I would NOT want is people from different fields coming in to tell educators how schools should be.  I have seen that before and it has been a lot of “how to” on getting students to do better at tests, and behaving, etc.  Are we focusing on “doing things better”, or “doing better things”?  Those are two uniquely different ideas and my hope is that we are moving to the latter.

Maybe this has been done before.  Maybe it hasn’t.  It is pretty hard to have an original idea in today’s world but I would sure love some feedback and thoughts on what this could look like or if this is even something that would be beneficial in our work to help our students.

Thoughts?

Where’s the evidence?

This is one of those posts where I might just ramble on but I am trying to clarify some thoughts in my head…

When talking about new and innovative ways to teach students, a question that I constantly get is “where is the evidence that this works?”  The problem with trying something new, there is rarely evidence to support it because it is new.  That being said, I am seeing many educators be the “guinea pigs” themselves and trying out new strategies for learning on themselves and with staff.  If there engagement and learning is improving from their own experience, it is more likely to make an impact on students.  We have often believed that teachers should be experts on “teaching” when the reality is that they should be experts on “learning” first.  Immersing themselves into learning opportunities will help them get closer to that standard than simply reading about teaching techniques.

As I have started to think about the “where is the evidence” question, I am wondering if it should be asked right back.  Where is the evidence that what we used to do was knocking it out of the park for all of our kids?  When I went to school, many students struggled then in school and it wasn’t the utopia that so many people have made it out to be.  Are grades the measure?  If they are, do we look at factors such as socio-economic status and their impact on test scores?  Do we believe that any one thing is a direct result to improved grades?  If you look at any school division that has improved, do they usually only have one initiative that they can directly correlate to a numerical improvement, or are there multiple factors?  Does critical thinking improve learning? Does helping students make healthy choices improve learning?  Or would a combination of both have an impact?  Or would one make an impact on one student, while the focus on another might be the different for another student?  It is tough to make standardized assessments on individuals; each person is unique and needs different things.

This brings me back to a conversation this morning that I had with one educator who had mentioned that her admin “didn’t think that kids would do well with this type of learning”.  What I told her is that we should never limit a kid to what we, as adults, think that they can or can’t do.  There is a saying that “whether you think you can or you can’t, you are usually right.”  It is one thing to have this mindset for ourselves, but when we decide our kids “can’t” before giving them a chance or showing a belief in them, their opportunities to grow and achieve something great are limited.

So I guess the next time when I am asked, “Where is the evidence that this works?”, my response might be that nothing works for all people. It never has and it never will.  Some kids will do better with pen and paper, and some adults will do better with a laptop; we have to be able to provide options that work for our students, not just ourselves.  I also believe that sometimes our faith in our kids could be as important (if not more) as some of the evidence we collect.  If we believe we can help our students do amazing things, continuously grow, and make the world better, isn’t it more likely to happen?

Connecting Your Own Dots for Leadership

As I looked into moving into “leadership positions” within my own district, I believed that I did not have the experience to get into a role that I had wanted.  The tricky thing is that if you don’t have the experience, how do you get the job?

“Leadership” is not about title, but often influence and the ability to help others.  There are many administrators who aren’t necessarily leaders, and there are many teachers who exemplify the definition.  Yet for many, the idea of moving into “leadership” without the experience, seems insurmountable.  The reality is, the experience is already there within your current role, you sometimes have to just connect the dots for others, and more importantly, yourself.

So how do you do this?  As I applied for administrative positions within my school district one of the best pieces of advice that I received was to look at Alberta’s “Principal Quality Standard”, which is the evaluation tool for administrators within the province.  Most provinces or states will have something very similar.  After looking at the seven standards, I was given the task to look at what I was currently doing in my role as a teacher, and how I was already meeting the standards.

For example, the first “quality” for leadership was regarding “Fostering Effective Relationships”.  This standard is not exclusive to school administrators, and the best teachers do this in an abundance.  To be able to make this connection on a resume and a portfolio is a great reflection for yourself, while also being able to showcase this to others.

Another “quality” is on “providing instructional leadership”.  I have watched many teachers share ideas from their own classroom, and make an impact on not only other teachers, but students in the school (sometimes outside the school as well) that they do not teach. Again, this is not a quality that is exclusive to an administrator.  In fact, a great administrator will not only be an instructional leader, they will develop others with these qualities as well.

There is a saying to “dress to the job you want, not the job you have”, but if you look closely enough, you might realize that you have already been playing the part. You sometimes just need to connect the dots.

Is it about what you have learned or that you are learning?

When do you give up on someone?  When do you just realize that they are never going to get what you are trying to help them learn?

Early on when I first started doing workshops with teachers, especially in the area of the technology, there would be a point where I would just give up on some.  I hate to admit it but they were nowhere near where I thought they should be so I would turn my attention to those that seemingly were getting it and basically cut my losses.  I am not proud of it, but that’s what I did.

Then I remember a teacher coming into my room extremely frustrated with her classroom.  She had talked about how big of a challenge they were and that she was seemingly getting nowhere with the majority of them.  Then I asked her the question, “Are you a great teacher?”, where she emphatically replied, “Yes!”  Then I said to her, well it is pretty easy to teach a class of students that all seem to get what you are trying to teach them, but a great teacher works with any student that is put in front of them, recognizes when they are trying to get better, and helps them move forward.  She took my question and advice to heart and she had an amazing year with her students.

As I thought about my own words to someone else, I realized that I wasn’t even following them myself.  As I thought about our conversation, I started to look different on the professional development opportunities that I was delivering myself.  I started to realize that it was not about what people had learned, but that they were learning.  If they were trying to move forward,  they were successful that day, and making sure they knew that would push them that much further.  I often tell my workshop participants early on that if you do not think you have picked up everything that I have shared, that is fine, as long as they are trying to pick up some of the things.  I have even told them that if there brain is full, and that they have picked up enough, to feel free to just explore what they have learned while I share other things.

As much as we talk about the importance of collaboration, learning is an extremely personal experience.  For some people, whether it is our kids or adults, just showing up is a victory and a way of them saying they want to get better.  Don’t ever give up on someone that is learning, even though sometimes it would be really easy to do.  We wouldn’t accept doing that to our students, so we shouldn’t accept doing that to each other.