Why I focus on #DigitalLeadership Instead of Cyberbullying

When we constantly talk to kids about cyberbullying, what ideas are we putting into their heads? We have a constant focus on “here is what you can’t do”” as opposed to here is what you can do?

For years, I have been writing about the concept of Digital Leadership, and shared this definition in 2013:

Using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others.

This little video reminds us how small actions can not only improve the lives of others, but they can easily spread.  That influence on others is a powerful trait of leadership, and something we should focus on when talking to our students.  It is not about what we can’t do, but more importantly, what we can. This belief in ourselves and our students can make all of the difference.

The “Basics” and Innovation

I heard a story once that really resonated with me (I will share it as best as I can from memory), in where an artist is creating art on the street, and a person walks by and wants a picture drawn of themselves.  The artist shares the price of fifty dollars to the patron, to which they agree, and so they start to draw.  Ten minutes later, the artist completes the beautiful piece that is so amazingly creative.  Even though the patron is very happy with the creativity and the high quality of the piece, they challenge the cost of fifty dollars, believing that something that took such a short time to create should not have the high price tag.  The artist responded, it took me ten years to be able to do it in ten minutes; much of the work that I have done to be able to draw this picture so quickly, you have never seen.

This story really resonated with me as I was reading article after article tonight about the battle between the “basics” versus “innovation” in education.  It seems that you may be on one side or the other, but here I lie in the middle.  To be able to be innovative in any area, there often needs to be a fundamental understanding of basic concepts.  To be a great musician, at some point, you would have had to learn some basic concepts of music.  The speed that you may have learned them in can vary from person to person, but you learn them.  The best writers in the world at some point learned how to read and write.  There are always exceptions to the rule, and I am sure that the real life Matt Damon from the movie “Good Will Hunting” exists, but this is not the norm.

I believe that the “basics” in many areas are still important in our world, and maybe sometimes I guess that is an assumed notion. But I also think that many students didn’t learn the “basics” in the way they were taught when I went to school.  I think about those students and then how we have access to so much information in our world from educators, parents, students, and communities, that the opportunities to help as many kids as possible is something that we need to access and capitalize upon.  But I also think about my own experience in school, and even though in grades one to probably around grade seven, my marks were usually in the top three of all students in my classroom, yet I never felt smart enough because I wasn’t ever number one.  Being ranked in school continuously led me to the Ricky Bobby belief that “if you’re not first, you’re last”, and I kind of mailed it in for the rest of the time as my student, was barely accepted in university, and struggled academically for years.  I knew the basics but never really saw myself becoming anything.  I never saw myself as a writer, a mathematician, a scientist, or anything academic.  And do you know why I went to university?  Because my parents made me go.  Not because I had an epiphany when I was six years old that I was going to be a teacher and did everything to get to that point.  My parents expected me to go to university so I did, and after four years of floating around, I then decided to go into education.  I took six years to get a four year degree.

So why did I do well in my first years of school? To please my teachers.

Why did I get through university? To please my parents.

And why did I become a teacher? Because I didn’t really know what else to do.

At about the age of 31, was the first time I identified myself as an educator not by profession, but by passion.  That took someone tapping into my strengths and interests, and helping me see those things in myself.

At about age 35 is when I first viewed myself as truly a learner. And now five years later, I am starting to see myself as a writer.  In eighteen years of school as a student, writing paper after paper, I never once saw myself as a writer, but at the age of 35 where I felt I could finally explore my own passions, did I even start to really go deep into my own learning.  And after almost 1000 posts am I starting to see myself as a writer.  I am thankful that I have found a love for what I do, and I do not see it as a “job” but as part of my being.  That is a beautiful thing.

Did my experience of school help me get here?  Absolutely, and I am thankful to so many teachers who spent so much time helping me to create the opportunities that I have today.  Without those “basics”, that were not only reinforced in my education, but also at home, amongst a myriad of other factors, I would not be doing what I am doing today.  The question I have though is why didn’t I see myself as those things earlier? More importantly, as an educator, how do I help students see themselves in that light as well.  Believe me, as someone who believes powerfully in the notion of “innovation in education”, I still cringe at spelling mistakes.  I hate them.  I would love kids to be able to know their times tables, not simply discount them as something a calculator will do for them.  But here is the thing…You might know how to read and write, but that doesn’t make a you writer.  If you are a writer though, you know how to read and write; that’s a given.

As I think about the next time someone challenges me with the question, “what about the basics?”, my thought is that there are so many educators that not only want that for our students, but so much more.  My parents came to Canada not to provide the same opportunities that they had back in Greece, but to create something better.  That is my drive as an educator; to create a better version of school than what I experienced.  It is not that I think less of my own  teachers as a student, but that I want to build on what they have done.  My hope is that the future teachers of the world will not recreate what this generation has done, but make something so much better.  Is that not our wish for each generation? To do better than what we have done?

What made the artist spend ten years to be able to draw the picture in ten minutes?  It was not only practicing the basics, but at some point, they were inspired and saw themselves as an artist. Hopefully schools can be a part of that spark.

3 Questions To Help Measure School “Success”

3 questions to Measure School -Success-

Yesterday I had a great conversation with a school district administrator about how we measure “student success”.  As I thought about this, one of the ideas that lingered in my mind is the difference between measuring student success, or measuring the impact of school and our organizations on success.

But then there is the word “success”.  What does being successful mean?  Many schools will share statistics regarding how many of their students go on to post-secondary, but if a student has a college degree but is unhappy, compared to a student that didn’t go to college and is, do we deem that a success?  The other part of this is what role did school play in this?  We state there are many factors outside of school that play in the success of a child, so would school be the sole reason a student goes to university?

The success of a school should not only be measured by what students do when they are there, but their impact on what they do after they leave.  We also have to realize that the word “success” is not necessarily one that we can define for our students.  As discussed with my colleagues, their impact on society also has to be a part of this.  You can make a lot of money, be happy, or both, but are you a positive contributing member of the community?  Again, this is not necessarily for a school to determine, but could be looked through the lens of the student.

As a survey to students after they leave school, here are three questions we could ask them to determine how we have done as schools, whether it is 1 to 100 years after the fact.

1. Do you consider yourself as a successful, contributing member to society?

2. Why did you give the answer above?

3. What impact do you think school had on your answers?

The answers will not be in nice and neat little packages, but they would tell us a lot about what our schools are doing.  These three questions would not only give us some powerful data, but the shortness of this survey leaves it more likely to be answered while compiling some powerful quantitative data.

These questions could be a good start, but I would love your thoughts.  How would we measure our impact on student success after they leave our schools? What questions would you ask?

P.S. This video below REALLY challenged my thinking on what being “successful” means. It would be a great video to discuss with staff and students and what schools are trying to do. Are we trying to replicate the same world we live in, or help our students to create something better?

Educator = Trajectory Changer

I have been thinking a lot about the word “trajectory” and it’s relevance to what we do in education.  Every interaction we have with so many, changes trajectory in some way, similar to the idea of the “butterfly effect”.  As someone who speaks, I think about this a lot and what I hope happens in my talks.  I hope for a positive upward change from those interactions that we have in workshops or talks, and that someone does something better after our encounter.  This can be a tricky thing when we want to push someone’s thinking.  Their is a fine balance between challenging someone while also still showing that you value their thoughts as well as their journey.  Sometimes our actions, wrong words, or phrasing might push someone into the negative, even though that was never the intention.  My hope is that I can do everything I can to change trajectories for the positive.  Sometimes it might be a blip, sometimes it could be a large leap, but as long as it is positive, I am happy.

I think about how educators are these trajectory changers.  How those daily interactions may not always lead to a positive, but overall, the best educators make an impact on students long after their time in their classrooms.  I remember so many teachers that I have had that made such a positive impact on me, and sometimes, it was after the fact, thinking about what they had done to go out of their way for me but I did not realize until I grew up.  Sometimes the impact is not instant, but it eventually comes.  Educators are trajectory changes, always. The only thing that matters is whether or not that change is positive or negative.

You could say this is of any profession, but in education, our impact on a daily basis with so many, alters their destination which can alter so many others.  My good friend Holly Clark, recently shared an email that she received from a participant at a conference after speaking in South Africa:

Hi Holly,

I had to sit and type you a quick email to tell you how excited I am about changes I have made in my class.

I attended the ICT conference in Kloof (KwaZulu Natal, South Africa) at the beginning of the school holidays. I actually attended two of your workshops and listened really carefully to your keynote address.

Although we are a “tablet/device” school, I was noticing that our girls were choosing to leave their devices at home, as they weren’t using them at school. Which is SO sad and frustrating! Many teachers battle to integrate the devices, and I think that I have had a light bulb moment when I say it isn’t about the APPS! It’s about finding a way of incorporating the technology to make it work for you.

I arrived back this term with a renewed energy. Firstly, I rearranged my desks and we now sit in groups, we engage and it is fantastic! New rule… devices on desks! When I teach – students may take notes and then we save to Google Drive! Google Drive has changed my life!!

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I have many girls using it! YAY!!! My Grade 9s have already submitted their brainstorming ideas into a shared Drive Folder and I am marking it from my PC. The excitement when they realised that I had received and looked at it was quite cute. At school we have a “library of devices” so girls who don’t have them can use ones I have in my classroom. These were gathering dust in a storeroom and not being used. Not anymore!

You cannot believe the energy and excitement in my classroom! A student commented today when she looking at my chart of apps we use in my class and said  “Finally a teacher who understands us and is allowing us to use our devices for learning!”

Attaching a few pics!

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Thank you so much for inspiring me!

Holly is one of the kindest, humblest , and most authentic people that I know, and what I was reminded of in this email is that educators don’t just teach stuff, but they connect with people.  It was not only the willingness of Holly to share information, but more importantly, how she did it.  This participant left feeling that they could change the world, and I guarantee they are for their students, because that is what great educators do.  Holly’s impact on him, will now impact so many students, who will impact so many others.  The ripple effect is endless.

You can be the smartest person in the world, but if we forget how we communicate and who we do this work for, it doesn’t matter what we know.  Great educators make a positive change in trajectory with so many others and I am proud to work with so many great people that do this every single day.

3 Questions to Drive Passion Based Learning

What will I learn?

What will I solve?

What will I create?

These three questions are ones that could create some amazing passion based learning opportunities for our students, and help shape them as learners as much or more than any curriculum could in the year.  They are not something that you only necessarily have to do answer only once in a year, but they will help to shape some of the learning that your students will create for themselves throughout the year.  I will go further into detail on each one.

1. What will I learn? 

Years ago, watching John Medina speak, the writer of “Brain Rules“, he shared the idea of the importance of content in learning.  He shared the analogy of learning to play the guitar and how basically not knowing how to play the chords would actually lead to simply mimicking playing the air guitar.  Our learning of knowledge is important for us to create from it.  You may know how to play the chords, but eventually creating music could be the goal.  What is important in this process is having the opportunity to learn something that you are interested in.

In Josh Kaufman’s talk on “The First 20 Hours to Learn Anything“, he talks about how we can learn basically how to do anything within 20 hours.  You might not be at the top of your field as shared in the notion of “10,000 hours”, (although if you google “10,000 hours” you will find that this might be a myth), but you will have a good understanding of this.  a “20 hour project”, could be something where students have the opportunity to learn something that they are interested in, without the pressure of solving the world’s problems.  Content is much more engaging to explore when we are actually interested in the topic.

Things that students will need to consider in this opportunity is not only where they will find information but who will teach them? This could give students the opportunity to learn to network and connect with others to help share ideas that they want to learn about.  This could create some very powerful learning opportunities for our students.

 

2. What will I solve?

Ewan McIntosh’s thoughts on “Problem Finders” has long been pushing my thinking not only for education, but innovation.  In his post, he shares the following idea on the topic:

Currently, the world’s education systems are crazy about problem-based learning, but they’re obsessed with the wrong bit of it. While everyone looks at how we could help young people become better problem-solvers, we’re not thinking how we could create a generation of problem finders.

Thinking about this, students could look at problems that they can find within the school, local, or even global community, and share how they have solved it.  Sharing ideas such as “capstone projects”, where students pose a problem that they are trying to solve and then share how they learned it, could be a powerful way to really influence not only innovation and entrepreneurship in our students, but also help them to develop empathy for others.  Whey they have the chance to try and see problems from the perspective of others, that does not help them develop as learners, but also as better people.

3. What will I create?

Will Richardson shared a quote from Gary Stager regarding “making across the curriculum“:

“When school leaders tell me “our school is building a $25 million Makerspace,” I am concerned that Makerspaces may exacerbate educational iniquity. While there are expensive pieces of hardware that may need to be secured, I want the bulk of making to permeate every corner of a school building and every minute of the school day. Teachers whose Makerspace is in a few cardboard boxes are doing brilliant work. Making across the curriculum means students as novelists, mathematicians, historians, composers, artists, engineers–rather than being the recipient of instruction.” Gary Stager

With this in mind, students should have the opportunity to create something of interest to them, and share that process.  This could be in any field, whether it is inventing a process or product, composing music, developing a health initiative, or writing a novel.  This is an opportunity for a student to develop the “Innovator’s Mindset“, and go much deeper than learning, but going to where the magic happens in creation.

If we embraced and worked with our students on these three questions, it would be amazing to watch them develop as learners.  What would be crucial in all three of these questions is the opportunity to constantly reflect on each one throughout the year and have opportunities to create documentation which would not only create evidence of learning, but show growth over time. This could be done through audio, video, written, or whatever the student felt comfortable with, but there would definitely be a benefit in the reflections being accessible to more than simply the teacher.

There would be lots of logistics in creating opportunities for these three opportunities to come to life, and as educators, that it is why it is imperative to be innovators ourselves. We will have to take what we work with, and create opportunities for our students where learning is truly meaningful and powerful for them; great teachers find a way.

Three Questions To Drive Passion Based Learning

Sometimes We Just Need To Ask

What’s your dream job? Have you ever been asked?

As a principal and vice principal, nearing the end of every year, when when our leadership team would look at staffing, we would send out an email to all staff and ask them, “As we are currently undergoing staffing, we were wondering if you could describe your dream position next year, what would it be?”  Obviously, there was only so much we could do if you said astronaut or reality tv personality, but in the context of the school, we wondered what opportunities could we create.

What was important in asking this question, was simply, asking the question.  We could not guarantee that we could create the job that you wanted, but if we encouraged people to share what they had dreamed of doing, maybe we could?  As an elementary principal, I remember one teacher saying that although they loved working with grade five students, they would really like to work with kindergarten or grade one students.  The crazy thing was we had a grade one teacher, that wanted to work with our older students.  A simple swap was made, and both did amazing at their jobs, and unbelievably grateful for the opportunity.

Another teacher shared how much he loved teaching one subject and wasn’t too passionate about the other.  They loved working with students but really wanted to be passionate about the subjects they taught.  A couple of adjustments and it was done!

I also remember our grade two teacher at the time saying, “My dream job is teaching grade two and I get to live it every single day, but I just want to tell you how much I appreciate you asking in the first place.”

Giving people the opportunities to try something new or pursue something they love is not something we should only value for our students, but also our staff.  Sometimes people are afraid to share what they want because they didn’t even know it was a possibility in the first place. The way we saw it, was that if we can move people into positions where they feel most passionate about what they are doing, they are more likely to be successful as individuals, elevating the organization as a whole.  What was surprising was how many times we could actually accommodate the requests.

I wouldn’t have known that in the first place, and that is why we asked.

Learning and Leadership

In the day of any conference, the conversations are fast and furious, and I can sometimes get overwhelmed by so much flying at me at once.  I do my best to spend time connecting with people, but sometimes the conversations that are had don’t stick with me at first, but resonate with me after I have had some time to decompress.

One of the things that has stuck with me from one event, was a person in an administrative position, approaching me and saying, “after I listened to you and thought about what you were saying, I realized, I am the barrier that is holding us back.”  I am not sure what her position was, but I was amazed by the honesty of her reflection.  She also shared that she did not want to be that person anymore, and was going to try and create different opportunities for those that she served.  It was a humbling conversation that has really been stuck in my brain.  I honestly can’t stop thinking about it because of the courage that she had in sharing that or even being able to say it out loud.

Something I have been saying lately in some conversations I have been having is the following:

“There are people in this room, no matter how compelling of evidence or ideas that I have shared, or the experiences that I have tried to create, will do nothing different tomorrow.  Are you that person?”

It is a comment meant to challenge and push people out of their comfort zone, while also imploring them to reflect on their learning.  I have learned that ideas and my own thinking changes over time, and by being open to challenge and growth in my learning, is how I model what I hope to see in others.  I am never expecting someone to do exactly what I have shared or even not challenge my thoughts, but I am hoping they take action and ownership on how they can move forward.

But with that being said, I am hoping that people not only think about what they have learned, but also how their learning impacts others.  Every single person involved in education is in some type of leadership position in the way that we serve the needs of others, whether it is students or adults, and our willingness or lack thereof to grow, impacts not only ourselves, but others.  This one administrator reminded me of that in her brave way she shared her self-realization.  The willingness to be able to reflect and to identify how your actions and growth are affecting others, is a powerful trait of a leader who wants to make a difference.

“In education, our learning not only impacts our own growth, but the growth of others that we serve.”

 

Understanding and Removing Barriers

Grant Wiggins, a visionary education reformer who has made a tremendous impact now and will continue to do so even after his recent passing, and was one of the developers of “Understanding by Design” (with Jay McTighe), shared a powerful “guest” blog post of a learning coach mirroring two students for a day each in her school (it was later acknowledged to be written by Alexis Wiggins).  Here was the initial plan for the process from Alexis:

As part of getting my feet wet, my principal suggested I “be” a student for two days: I was to shadow and complete all the work of a 10th grade student on one day and to do the same for a 12th grade student on another day. My task was to do everything the student was supposed to do: if there was lecture or notes on the board, I copied them as fast I could into my notebook. If there was a Chemistry lab, I did it with my host student. If there was a test, I took it (I passed the Spanish one, but I am certain I failed the business one).

The post was telling as it shared how much Alexis struggled through the process of “being a student”, and it led her to the following three key takeaways:

    1. Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.
    2. High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes.
    3. You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

Now the point of sharing this is not to challenge the ideas that she shared (as this is from the perspective of her school at the time), but to think about the process.  This is not the norm for many students in schools around the world, but as leaders, how do we know this?  Do we often make assumptions in what is happening in our school, or do we actually experience something different?  One of the toughest groups to teach in the world is other teachers, and to go from that viewpoint, some of the expectations we have on our students, is not something we could handle for an hour, let alone, a full day.  The one quote from the blog post that really resonated for me, was when the student was asked about her perspective in class:

I asked my tenth-grade host, Cindy, if she felt like she made important contributions to class or if, when she was absent, the class missed out on the benefit of her knowledge or contributions, and she laughed and said no.

I was struck by this takeaway in particular because it made me realize how little autonomy students have, and how little of their learning they are directing or choosing.

Can you imagine going to a place every day where you felt your voice didn’t matter?  That part shook me.

The power of this post was not only in what was written by the author, but also the comments (there were 285 as of the time that I referenced this article and probably they will continue to receive more), that came from a variety of people, including students and educators.  The comments had a range of stories shared from personal experiences as a student, and struggles to accommodate something different as a teacher.  The reality of the learning environments that happen in our classrooms, are that they are not only created by the teacher, but the entire school.  If this is what school looks like for our students, what are we doing as leaders to help support to create something new?

The Impact of Our Decisions

One of my own thoughts as a central office administrator, was to be in our schools as much as often, to support our educators.  If you really love education, this can never happen enough, but I saw this as crucial to the work I was doing.  If my decisions had an impact on classrooms, then I better experience and see the impact of those decisions.

What I would often do is take my laptop and sit in a classroom in a school for anywhere between three to six hours, where I would get to the point that the teachers and students did not even notice I was there.  That way I could really see what their experiences looked like.  What I struggle with in our mobile world, is how reluctant we are to take our computers as leaders and do some of the administrative work in our classrooms?  I could answer my email a lot faster in my quiet office, but there are so many reasons why I would rather do it in the classroom.

What needs to be clear in this process is that I was not there to evaluate the teachers.  In fact, it was more to evaluate the environment that was created by the school district.  What I had noticed is how much “other stuff” teachers had to do, to make things work.  Whether it was going through an arduous logon process with students, or constant issues with WiFi, they looked less like teachers, and more like magicians.  From an IT department perspective, Internet is often “fast” and the logon process is quick, but times that by 20-30 students in a classroom (if you are lucky), and you have many frustrated educators that go above and beyond to create powerful learning opportunities for our students.

If we want “innovation” to happen in our schools, we have to be willing to sit in the environments where it is going to happen, and be able to not only discuss teaching and learning, but also do everything in our power to remove barriers from those that we serve.  One of the things that I have noticed in education is that we do not need “managers”, but we need “leaders”.

The truth is we need both.

We need leaders to have a vision of where we can go in our schools, but the “management” part is about making sure we have what we need to get there.  Stephen Covey (paraphrased) said that we manage things, but we lead people.  The educators that we serve, need the “things” to work if we truly want to create a “culture of innovation”, and support in creating an environment that we would truly want to be in as a learner ourselves.

“Do one thing everyday that scares you.”

Just something I am thinking about and trying to process through writing…

One of the hardest things I have embarked on in the last little while is trying to write a book.  I have been working on it (I know this is going to sound horrible) for the last couple of years, yet have not been able to just finish it.  The amount of content I have written on this blog in the past five years (nearly 1000 posts) has been huge, but writing a book is not only a different process, but also a  different product. If you disagree or want to challenge something in this blog post, your shared point of view might change mine, and the next blog post might be a reflection of that.  What I think now, might be different than what I think in five years.  A book though, has a certain amount of permanence to it.  I think it is totally understandable on challenging a book and having the author rethink their position, yet you might feel something totally different after publishing, but your old viewpoint is still seemingly engraved on those pages.  It is almost the modern day equivalent of being written in stone.  A blog seems like a formative assessment, and a book seems summative; there seems to be a certain finality to it.

That is one thing that I am struggling with.

The other is the effort and time you would need to put into it, and the mere moments it would take to criticize it online.  Going through the process has changed the way I read Amazon reviews.  I cringe at a bad review and think, if something I would publish would actually be on that site, would I even look?  It is something that would haunt your dreams, just like the one negative comment out of a 100 on a session will be the one you focus on?  I think of this not only in writing a book, but any type of music or art that one pours their soul into, and it can be ripped apart in moments.  It is daunting.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t challenge the thoughts in a book (I have done this myself), but just thinking about how we do it.

So here is what I like about the process….actually going through the struggle that I have described above.

I am really trying to focus and finish a first copy sooner than later, and hammer through it to have it ready to go by a certain timeline.  I need to have that timeline in my head, or I will continue to push it off.  But the above things that I struggle with, put me back into a place of discomfort, and lead me to become more empathetic to understanding that others struggle with the things that I now feel are second nature.

I remember working with a teacher who was so reluctant about using Twitter, and then they  finally had the courage to join and try, and it was daunting to them.  On their very first tweet, they asked for help, and other than my resharing of it, the first response was a sarcastic comment on the quality of the question.  I really believe the person had no intent of criticizing the person and it was just their humour, but I saw the worst case scenario in her mind come to life and that was the end of the process for her.  She had no idea who the person was so it was hard for her to understand the comment. I am not sure if they continued on with Twitter, but sometimes when that first “jump” becomes as scary in reality as it was in your head, it is tough to go again.

At the beginning of the year, I decided that my “word” to define my year was going to be empathetic, and it has stuck with me every single day.  I think about the person with their first tweet as well as the person with the thousandth.  On any day, a response without that approach could be the one that pushes a person to lose confidence in their voice.  The recent #semicolonEDU reminded me of not only how many people go through things that I never know, but how courageous so many people are to put themselves out there, whether it is online, or even showing up to work every day.

always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.

This is not only with social media, but even things like a staff meeting.  I have seen people finally get the courage to speak, but then watch a room that has no one listening.  It is sometimes not even in what we say, but in what we do or not do, that can make an impact.  Will they feel the confidence to share again, or will that be the last time for a long time?  I am guilty of this myself as I know that I can easily become distracted or lost in something, so I am trying to get better at being in the moment.  And don’t blame mobile devices…I was easily distracted LONG before they became the norm in our society.  I am trying to get better.

I think that putting yourself in spaces where you struggle not only helps you to grow your mind, but sometimes grow your heart.  Remembering what it is like to struggle, I mean really struggle, is something that will remind you how hard it is for you and others to put themselves in place of vulnerability.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge, but thinking about when we challenge, and how we do it.  I have said it over and over again, that learning is relational.  An effective coach is not one that treats every player the same, but treats every player as an individual, and knows when to push and when to pull, and builds upon the unique strengths of each to bring a team together.  How one is treated when they struggle and lack confidence, is often remembered on the path to success.

If we followed the advice “do one thing everyday that scares you”, we would not only grow, but we would also remember how hard it is for others to do the exact same.

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Greatness is often in the smallest of details.

The phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff”, is one that has stuck with me for a long time and something that I have honestly worked on a lot as a leader and a person.  The “small stuff” can get to you, and sometimes you have to let it go.

On the other hand though, sometimes you need to sweat the small stuff.

I was talking with a former superintendent, who was also an athlete, and he was discussing the sport of swimming.  He said that swimming was an amazing sport because it is about who can do the movements perfect, fastest.  Every little detail in swimming is crucial to success.

So I started to think about how I present and the slides I create.  There is a consistency in the font.  I prefer using Keynote because it allows me to better manipulate videos on when they start, and how quiet or loud they are.  The design process of creating the keynote is almost as important as the delivery, and it is something that I put a lot of focus on. Does it really matter if one slide is in “Georgia” font and the other is in “Times New Roman”? To me it does.

I love this quote on design from Steve Jobs on the things you might not even see:

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

Sometimes the small stuff is the difference between “good” and “great”.

So what about the small stuff in the terms of leadership?  At one point, the small stuff could be the thing that keeps you up at night.  You will sometimes have people upset with a decision, but if it is based on the focus of “what is best for kids”, then you will have to let it go, or else those “small things” will get to you.

But the “small stuff”, such as making sure you learn student names, go visit teachers, taking time to get to know your community, might seem like little things, but they are the small things that lead to excellence.  In no educational leadership competencies does it tell you that you need to go out of your way to know the names of all the students of your school.  But that seemingly overlooked idea can be all of the difference in your school.

I truly believe that if you are an educator, whether an administrator or teacher, that every single student or teacher you pass in the hallway, you acknowledge in some way, whether you teach them or not.  Going out of your way to talk to a student, might seem “small” to you, but it could be a world of difference to a student that day.  The “small stuff”, sometimes is the most important stuff we do; we have to learn when focusing on the little things will make all of the difference.

Greatness is often in the smallest of details.

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