Tag Archives: leadership

Simple Words

I love seeing the different things shared at “opening days” for schools and districts. I have learned so much from experiencing this and it is a great opportunity for people not only to connect, but also set a tone for the year and hopefully fuel inspiration.

Today as I sat and observed opening day in Mcalester, Oklahoma, I was inspired by the “vision” that set the background for the year, that shows schools shifting in a much more “empowered” direction.

What I have also noticed more now than ever, is districts are tapping into the power of student voice to kick off the year.  Who better to set the tone for what we do in a school year than the people we are ultimately there for.  I have seen this more and more, and am always inspired, but today, the young lady that addressed her teachers was so unbelievably inspiring.

What really resonated with me, was her openly emotional speech sharing the impact of her teachers. Within moments, her passion brought me to tears and created such an excitement within me for our future as I could see it so brightly in this student. She talked about how her teachers empowered her to be the leader she is today, so that she can continue to be a leader in the future.

The simple tweet I shared above, followed by my own comments to the entire audience about how inspiring her and her peers were, was a simple acknowledgment of how powerful her words were.  I never thought much of it, because I just said what I felt.  But by the end of my talk, a teacher had approached me, and profusely thanked me for my comments on her daughter (I had no idea her mom was there), telling me that they had experienced a tough year and that it truly meant a lot.  She was very emotional and extremely grateful for my kind words.

It was yet another reminder, that if we have the opportunity to say something kind and sincere, we should, always.  You never know what simple words you share, can mean the entire world to someone else, whether it is a student, a colleague, a family member, or anyone. One moment can sometimes make all of the difference.

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.

Cloned Leadership

In my first interview for a position as an assistant principal, I remember talking to the principal and thinking that we couldn’t be any more different. We actually argued in the interview, and I walked away accepting of the fact that I wouldn’t be getting the job anytime soon.

A few days later I was hired by that same principal and it forever changed my thinking.

Were we more alike than I had initially thought? Yes and no. We both wanted what was best for kids, but our beliefs on how to get there had differed in many ways. That’s actually why I was hired in the first place. Our diversity and willingness to embrace the differences of one another ensured that we did not create an environment of “cloned leadership”; leaders hiring people that simply think and act like they do . Some people felt more comfortable talking to me as the assistant principal, and some felt more comfortable talking to him as well. We supported each other always, but our differences helped more people to connect with us in the building.

When I became a principal, my first action was to hire someone who I knew would disagree with me yet wanted to ensure we had the wellbeing of students driving their decision-making. My constant pursuit of the best answer, as opposed to my answer, made this hire crucial. When you hire someone who you know will challenge you, it can become extremely frustrating, yet it is crucial to growth. If someone doesn’t push our thinking and beliefs, how do we become better?

Yet I still observe many leaders that are looking for “yes” people; they simply agree with one another and challenges, although encouraged, don’t happen. Divergent thinking is crucial to innovation, yet too many leaders hire clones of themselves. When you have two (or more) administrators that aren’t willing to challenge one another, it often creates a culture where others don’t feel comfortable challenging ideas either, as there seems to be only one acceptable way forward.

I still believe that the best thing I ever did as a principal was to ensure that my first hire would be someone who challenged my thinking and would not always agree with me. It’s unfortunate that too many organizations take the opposite approach. Discomfort and challenge is crucial (and necessary) to achieve growth.

New Project: #EDUin30

Image created by Tracy Mulligan  (@iMacMulligan)

Image created by Tracy Mulligan (@iMacMulligan)

Running seems to give me inspiration, clear my mind, and inspire new ideas.  Knowing that Twitter has recently created an option to share videos up to 30 seconds, I thought about creating a new project to get people to share ideas and things that they are doing, going beyond the 140 characters.

What I thought of is the idea of #EDUin30; an opportunity to not only share practices in a different format, but to also connect more to the educational community.  Here is the introductory video:

To be honest, it felt a little uncomfortable to share myself in a video. That was actually kind of the point. To stretch myself in this format as well. So I asked the question for week one, “what is a practice that you would like to share with others?” To model what I seek, I shared the question and an answer of my own.

Tweaking the project, I thought it would be great to use the initial hashtag of #EDUin30 in all of these tweets, but to also add a hashtag specific to the week’s question. So for week one, it is #EDUin30w1 (next week it will be #EDUin30w2, and so on). Since you are not sharing many characters, two hashtags should work fine. Here I am explaining that process.

So why do this? First of all, I think it is imperative that we make reflection a part of our work as educators. Thinking and processing thoughts on what we can do will only make us better, and everyone has 30 seconds in their life to share a quick reflection. The next reason is that we need to model growth.  I see a lot of people complain that other’s don’t move fast enough, yet are we ourselves continuing to push our growth and learning? This new addition to the medium means there are more opportunities of how we can learn from one another.  My hope is that educators partake in this for their own learning, and then think of ways that they can do this type of reflection with their kids.  If you want to become a master teacher, you have to become a master learner.  This means going out of your comfort zone. The final reason is the most important one to me.  It is easy to forget there is a person behind the avatar, and using video gets you to hear voices, see faces, and get to know people on a different level.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video?  This can connect us in different ways. It was nice to see other people starting to share right away.  I was able to hear great ideas, but get to see them as well.  Here is one from Kevin Zahner:

And another from Jeff Dahl:

It was great to hear not only their ideas, but their voices. It is a nice way to better know our educator community.

So for the next few weeks, I am going to share a question to the #EDUin30 hashtag on the weekends. This question will be for the week, and you can share when you have the opportunity. You can also see others as well by following the hashtag. I would love for people to partake, hear actions and perspectives, but also would love to get your ideas for questions that talk about actions.

It would be great if you could share this idea with others so we can learn from each other.

Update

Tweets like this are why I wanted to do the project.

Please take time to check out the first week of responses and add your own at #EDUin30w1.

A great leader will know when to get out of the way, or help you along the way.

You have a great idea.

It has been brewing around in your head for days and days, and although it is something you have never tried before, you see it as something that could be great for your students.

You decide to bring it to your boss to make sure it is okay to try.

You are crushed when they say, “I don’t think that is going to work.”

Not only did you just hear “no” now, but you probably won’t even ask in the future.

Sometimes “no” is not only a conversation killer, but it can be a relationship killer.  It makes people feel that they aren’t trusted or that they are doing something wrong.  When people make an effort to go above and beyond, and we stop them before their first step, it creates a reluctance to even try something different again.

Great leaders don’t necessarily always say “yes”, but they rarely say no.  The best leaders I have ever had have said things like “go for it”, or “I think you have a great starting point, but have you thought about this?”  They work out ideas with you, or they let you fly on your own, supporting you any way they can along the way to be successful.

A great leader will know when to get out of the way, or help you along the way. They alternate accordingly between both spaces.

In a culture that promotes “innovation”, new ideas are not only welcomed, but they are encouraged.  It’s the only way as educators we will ever create something different.

Feedback or noise?

I don’t know if it is because it is basketball season, but stories from coaching and reffing have been popping up in my head in relation to leadership.  As I was listening to someone tell another story about the “squeaky wheel that gets the grease”, I thought about the coaches you would pay attention to when I was officiating basketball, and why you would really listen.

I remember one game in particular, where we were discussing the game plan as officials before we started, and my partner said, “the coach on the visiting team doesn’t say much, but when he does, you need to listen because it is probably legitimate.”  The coach did not argue every call they didn’t like, but they chose to use their voice when they thought it was imperative.  As hard as it is to admit as a former official, there were many coaches that did the exact opposite and were constantly complaining about every single call that was not in their favour.  In a tense environment, it is hard to acknowledge everything coming your way, and the more spread out you are, the harder the job becomes to do well.  Constant complaining is no longer feedback or “picking your battles”, but it can simply become noise that many choose to drown out.

I have read so many articles written on dealing with the “squeaky wheel”, but there are few that discussing how not to be that person.  In a time where a lot of things are either changing or need to change in education, it is easy to complain about how fast or slow things are going, but after awhile, I know that commentary can go unheard if it is just a constant noise.  In the last little while, I have really tried to think about what is important to bring up and push, and what is not necessary at that moment.  There have been times that I wondered how to deal with the squeaky wheel, but I am also thinking about making sure that when I do say something to others, it doesn’t simply become “noise”.

They Will Follow Your Lead

When I first started to teach, coaching basketball was everything to me. I played basketball since I was in grade 4, and to be able to still be a part of the game was an amazing opportunity. Watching years and years of the NBA, the rivalries between legends like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and some new guy named Michael Jordan, I would try to mimic their plays on their court, into my own style. I wasn’t even in close, but like every kid that played basketball at that time, I wanted to “be like Mike”.

Transitioning into coaching, I followed the same script. Imitate NBA players when you play; imitate NBA coaches when you coach. It seemed pretty easy. I would watch countless games in the pros, and try to draw up similar plays that I would see in games and we would call them “Bulls” or “Lakers”, so everyone knew what we were running. It wasn’t only the “x’s and o’s” of the game, but it was also the interactions these coaches had with referees. They yelled, I yelled. If you wanted to get the attention of the ref, best thing to do is start screaming across the court at them. That’s what I saw. That’s what I did.

One game, while in my first year of teaching and coaching, I remember constantly yelling at a ref who I felt had made a bad call, and my players totally agreed, so they joined in. I called a timeout, and the ref came over to talk to me, and what he said changed me forever.

“No matter if you are kind or a jerk, these kids will look up to you and follow your lead. What direction do you want to lead them in?”

That was the last time I ever yelled at a ref. Would I talk to them or challenge their calls? Absolutely. But it was always in a manner that was respectful.

This does not only translate to the coaching ranks, but the way we teach as well. If we model that we struggle with any type of change, or hate being flexible, what do we think our students will become? If we don’t try to push ourselves and think of innovative ways about our teaching and learning, why would students be any different?

I could not thank that referee enough for that moment. He could of yelled at me, thrown me out of the game, or ignored me, but he saw someone just starting off in their career, and made it into a teachable moment. Those words stick with me to this day.

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!

One Step At a Time

The push to totally change the way school looks, is coming from many that believe that education as it looks today is not sufficient for our kids.  Although I do believe that we have to change some major elements of school, I also believe that there are lots of positive elements that we can build on as educators.  When we say “everything has to change”, we also tell educators that “everything you are doing is wrong”.  We have to build upon our strengths, while also paying attention and developing on our weaknesses.  This does not happen overnight.

Barry Schwartz talks about the “paradox of choice”, and in his Ted Talk (one of my favourites), he talks about abundance of choice often making people miserable.  This would be no different with what is happening to many educators.  When we say “change everything”, people are often overwhelmed and change nothing.  Personally, I understand that although teachers need to question the system, they also need to work with inside of it to make change.

So if we are really going to make powerful long lasting change, we have to realize that this happens one step at a time.  Although we might have a vision of where we want to go long term, successful leaders will help break the BIG VISION into smaller, achievable steps.  With every single step, we move closer to our goals, while building confidence in a “new way of learning”.

My suggestion for people wanting to change what they do?  Focus on one thing at a time.  Look at something you currently do, and ask how you could do that better, and improve learning opportunities for kids.  Once you have seen success, move onto another thing.  I love this story from Will Smith about something he learned from his dad when he was young:

When Will was a 12-year-old kid, his dad gave him an impossible task: rebuild the brick wall in front of his business. It took Will and his little brother a year-and-a-half, but they built the wall.

How did a couple of little kids build a big brick wall? Will explains, “You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say: ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ And you do that every single day, and soon you’ll have a wall.”

Success breeds success, and if you focus on that one brick at a time, soon you will have something that is so much better than what you started.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu