Leadership That Moves Beyond Me to We

Beyond Me to We

Have you ever heard someone say, “one day when I’m the leader” or “when I can make the decisions things will be different.” They believe that the ability to influence decisions happens across a desk or podium. Many abdicate their influence by getting stuck believing that they can only truly influence other through a position. Your leadership doesn’t begin when you get THE position. If you believe you will become a great leader once you get that instructional coach position, department chair, administrative job, or central office gig, you are missing the point. We grow the capacity of our leadership and influence by the choices we make today, not tomorrow. You become a great leader because of your relationship with people, not the position in relation to others. Your leadership role isn’t about your job, it is about how you position yourself in the lives of people, your investment in them, not your actual position. Our capacity as leaders is best expressed when we understand that our position can support our effectiveness, but our effectiveness is never dependent on our position. We move others when we see that as our primary role, not to build our name but others. Allow me to share a few ways that our leadership can move others…

Connect

Every opportunity that gives you an opportunity to connect with someone you should take it. If as leaders we are inaccessible or set ourselves up that make us unrelatable then we greatly diminish our ability to be effective in other’s lives. This doesn’t mean I will be everyone’s friend, but I certainly shouldn’t attempt to make myself unlikable. There are those who would say, “I don’t need to be liked but respected.” Reality – people won’t respect you if they don’t like you. People won’t follow you if they don’t like you. People won’t stay at your school if they don’t like you. Let us not confuse fear with respect. If I stake my leadership based on what others are doing or not doing, results driven rather than relationships, it communicates a culture that values performance over people. In that type of system, people will never be able to perform enough.

Bottom line: Am I giving a compelling reason for people to stay connected and committed to our mission, school, district?

Contribute 

If all you do is the minimum to satisfy your job description that minimum is exactly is what you will get. Consider ways to add value to your school or organization. Lately, we have been in a series with #Leadupchat about moving from me to we, what is your critical contribution that adds value to the “We?” Take responsibility for the critical area in your position or on your team and lead with excellence. Make it a point to get better every day at what you do, guess what? You will. Why? Because it becomes a focused area of relentless pursuit.

Bottom line: How does what I do contribute to what we do as a school? Does this move the dial?

Capacity 

Building capacity in others doesn’t mean giving your people more tasks or work. Just like students can smell out an extension activity that is nothing more than busy work to keep them busy, we must be careful not to do that with our current or emerging leaders. Leaders understand that momentum will be maximized when one delegates authority, give decision-making permission to those around us. Let us  not confuse tasks with authority. To truly build capacity are you allowing others around you to actually make decisions. A team can never win on the shoulders of the coach, decisions and implementing those ideas have to be made on the field or court. Our ability to build capacity fundamentally starts with believing the best about others and trusting them to do their jobs. Trust your people, allow them to make big decisions with you. As a leader, you should be able to focus on fewer decisions because you are empowering others to make decisions. If you feel exhausted having to make all the decisions it may be time to reevaluate your effectiveness in building capacity in others.

Bottom Line: Do I delegate tasks or do I delegate authority?

Don’t wait to become a great leader tomorrow, start today. As Simon Sinek says, we should be the leaders we wish we had.” Commit to be a leader with high standards, who believes that your greatness is defined less by your name but through others. Why? We need you now more than ever!

10 Defining Characteristics of a #LeadUpTeach Teacher

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A LeadUp Teacher undoubtedly possesses many characteristics! Innovative, inspiring, and empowering just to name a few. What would you add to these 10 Defining Characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher?

Continually Curious

A LeadUp Teacher is adept at asking questions. What is…, how does it work, is there another way, what about this, why… and so on. This teacher asks these questions of both others and themselves on a regular basis. Never content with answers that take on a, “This is how it has always been done.” flavor. -ing the Status QuoThe LeadUp Teacher knows that questioning the status quo is their responsibility and others actually expect them to push the envelope with their questions. 

Adds Value to Others

LeadUp Teachers recognize how to relate to colleagues in all positions, and they devote quality time to listening with understanding to their needs and concerns. They are cognizant of what others value and are continually learning about those they work with in order to lead effectively. When we identify the strengths of those around us, we can uplift and encourage our team members to step forward. As we add value to individuals, areas of growth further develop and begin to strengthen due to trusting relationships, support, and encouragement. LeadUp Teachers are aware of the impact they have when they intentionally add value to colleagues.

Empowers & Celebrates Strengths

When teachers feel celebrated they recognize that their strengths contribute to the greater good and are motivated to make more of an impact. LeadUp Teachers understand that it’s not solely the principal’s role to celebrate the accomplishments of others, but grasp that as a collaborative team we share this responsibility. Model Risk Taking The LeadUp Teacher empowers colleagues by modeling risk taking, sharing, and being transparent about both successes and failures. By being willing to take the fall and share about experiences, colleagues feel a sense of security which in turn promotes them to take risks as well. Leadup teachers verbalize their belief in their colleagues and act as a support system that provides genuine encouragement.

Reflective Practitioner

Deliberate reflection turns experiences into an opportunity for growth. LeadUp teachers understand that they need to look back to move forward. They reflect by uncovering both their successes and failures in order to retool their practice. Reflection that is transparent promotes the growth of both individuals and teams as teachers share what they learned, and how they will proceed forward in the future. Leadup Teachers embrace a growth mindset and the idea that every opportunity around us, provides an opportunity to learn.

Habitual Learner 

The LeadUp Teacher doesn’t depend on others to grow or challenge them. They view professional development as a lifestyle, not an event and are always on the lookout for opportunities to learn more, do more, and be more because they know their continual growth is a critical factor to their students’ growth over time. Life Long LearnerBeing a lifelong learner is never cliché for the LeadUp Teacher, but rather is their unyielding mindset, the pervasive culture in their classroom, and encompasses a passion not quenched by compliance based professional development. George Couros explained, “To truly integrate new learning, it is critical to carve out time for exploration, collaboration, and reflection to allow educators to apply what they are learning.” This is what a LeadUp Teacher does in all areas of their life.

Ignites Innovative Practices & Embraces Shifts 

The LeadUp Teacher often serves as a catalysts for innovation as they see a variety of possibilities on how to craft diverse and unique learning opportunities that richly benefit students, and their school community. As connected educators who embrace learning from fellow educators in a variety of positions, the LeadUp Teacher is able to gain a unique perspective on shifts taking place in schools globally. LeadUp Teachers are fearless in the pursuit of what’s best for students and their school community. -ing the Status Quo (1) With a tendency to be visionary, the LeadUp Teacher identifies how they are a key player in fostering systemic change through cultivating shifts that impact school culture, instructional strategy, and ultimately student learning.

Demonstrates Courage & Voice 

Cultivating change and being a risk taker in education requires boldness. The LeadUp Teacher exhibits courage, finesse, and demonstrates a solid voice when it comes to advocating for improved practices and authentic learning opportunities for students. Before making decisions, a LeadUp Teacher always considers the impact on the whole child. When educators collaborate with an all hands on deck approach, they empower one another to demonstrate courage and share their voice.

Positive Outlook & Impact 

The LeadUp Teacher approaches life and their work with a positive outlook. They throw kindness around like confetti and their impact is one of positivity. They believe and expect the best in others, approaching challenges with positive suppositions. They reframe obstacles as opportunities to innovate rather than seeing setbacks as overwhelming defeat. Or as LaVonna Roth explained it in her Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E. presentation at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference, They know “adversities are opportunities in disguise.”

Passionate, Committed, & Purposefully Driven 

“Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.” -Unknown

LeadUp Teachers are “fearless in the pursuit of what sets their soul on fire” -Jennifer Lee. They exude passion for their priorities which always center on PEOPLE first! They commit to inspiring everyone in their sphere of influence, first and foremost their students, colleagues, and families. They see what they do as  both significant and life altering. Their passion to LeadUp is not accidental or random, but a calling that drives an unwavering, unending commitment to excellence!

100% Student Focused

Doing what’s best for students is the only way a Lead Up Teacher knows how to work. Their purpose is to make the world a better place one student at a time, one day at a time. Students are at the center of their purpose, passion, decisions, and classroom. They put the needs of their students ahead of their own comfort zones, expectations, and even plans. Students are the focus of the classroom and student learning takes center stage, priority #1.

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Each day we’re provided a new opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students and within our school community. Embracing the characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher has the potential to inspire passion to ignite within others, which empowers them to put forth their best. In this movement, how will you be an influencer who embraces the characteristics of a Leadup Teacher and sparks the spirit within others?

Leading Up, Elisabeth & Heidi

 

Loving Recklessly: Hope Within Reach

Loving Recklessly

This post was co-written with Todd Nesloney. You can find his blog here.

The Way It May Seem

It seems these days that you can’t turn on the tv, radio, or surf the web without bearing witness to another atrocity that has happened around the world.  Sometimes those events are far away and easy to disconnect from, yet sometimes they happen right in our backyard.

As more and more of these painful events have taken place, something began to happen in both of our own hearts and minds.  While talking on Voxer one afternoon, we realized how heavy recent events had been weighing on our hearts.  But even more so, the thought of love kept coming to mind.  Loving unconditionally appears reckless to a watching world.

The Way It Really Is

As men of faith, we both know the power that exists in loving unconditionally.  We’ve both seen our own lives changed when we ourselves felt the unconditional love and forgiveness of Christ.  But even more so, we’re reminded of our charge to love others. No matter how hard it may seem.

Loving without limits can be difficult to wrap our minds around. We become conditioned to see people as transactions rather than relationships. Our exchanges with others can be reduced to position or to the role that they serve in our lives rather than the most basic connection: the value of them as a person. When we fail to see the humanity and the needs of others we in a sense lose our own humanity and our way.

Our Belief About Others

What we believe about others will in turn determine our behaviors towards them. Others around us are not looking for a piece, a part, or only half of who we can be when it comes to believing the best about others. They’re looking to see that we want to bring out the best one hundred percent of the time, loving without limits, filled with the desire to see that all people are given opportunities to surpass expectations. No one likes a half-hearted commitment, so our commitment to love people must be 100%.

At the same time, deep-seated in all of us is what we believe about ourselves.  And that too affects how we interact with others.  Many times we see ourselves as unlovable, easily abandoned, or not worthy. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “we are what we believe we are.”  Because of that belief about ourselves, we don’t give others all of ourselves.  We give them pieces of who we are.  We believe that if we give too much they’ll hurt us or use it against us.

Loving without limits is allowing our arms to be wide open to embrace a radical commitment to live beyond ourselves. We must always ask, ‘what does love require of me?’

A radical commitment to…

Compassion

One thing that this world can never have enough of is compassion. Compassion doesn’t come from a place of weak mindedness. It actually comes from a place of incredible strength. When you stop to help the least of these you are sharing your strength.  Being compassionate allows you to be vulnerable, a trait we need more of in our culture, not less.

We tend to overcomplicate what compassion looks like, reserving those moments for someone in times of loss or severe trial. However, what if we displayed this as servant leaders daily. Imagine if we taught this in our classrooms. We must model through our own words and actions for others what this looks like. Being generous with authentic words of praise and affirmation to those around us affirms others in ways they often will not ever communicate. For example, we have witnessed how students or teachers will hold onto that simple post it note we wrote. Why? Because you went beyond yourself and took the time to recognize their value.

Forgive

Forgiveness.  Probably the most difficult of all.  So often in society today we’re taught an eye for an eye.  When someone hurts you, you’re supposed to hurt them back.  Make them feel your pain.

If there’s anything we’ve learned it’s the freeing power of forgiveness.  Because often what you find is that when you forgive someone it frees you more than it does that other person.

We don’t need to hold onto hurt.  To hold onto hate.  When we chose not to forgive we’re only making the issue worse.  One of our favorite quotes is that “hurting people, hurt others.”

Forgiveness isn’t easy.  And honestly, we don’t believe it really comes naturally.  But it’s something that is so necessary.  We have to be the one to step up and say, I forgive you. And to remember that when you forgive it’s not an acknowledgment that what the other person did was ok.  It’s a realization that what they did to you will have no hold over you.  That you’re in control of how you feel and what you believe about yourself.

Hope

Hope is not based on wishful thinking but in the power of that which is not yet becoming reality through intentional belief and action. Hope is the power to drive out fear. When we give into fear we allow anxiety and allow the darkness to cast a shadow in place of light.

All we need is just the slightest sliver of hope.  Belief that things can and will get better.  Darkness cannot hide where there is light.  Together, we can be the light in a world that often feels so overrun by darkness.

So What?

As we both came together to write this post, we wanted it to be a beacon of light. A reminder that as people we can do so much good in this world.  And though it may seem that things are dark or that darkness is prevailing, we can still be the light.

Our hope is to strike the match, that leads to a flame, the ends in a full-on raging fire.  To push forward with unconditional love.  To show compassion in every situation. To forgive quickly, even when we don’t think we can.  And most of all to hold onto hope.

Just as Margaret Mead says, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world.  When indeed, it’s the only one that ever has.”

#Loverecklessly -Todd and Jeff

Land Your Dream Job: Interviewing and Hiring Insights

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 “Great leaders make all decisions based on the best people”. -Todd Whitaker

It’s an exciting time of year for schools looking to hire the best and educators alike in search of their dream job. And even though we are heading into the final half of the hiring season, quality candidates and exceptional schools are still in interview mode. Having been both in the hot seat as an applicant and as part of numerous hiring committees, we would like to offer practical advice directly from our own experience for those in the hunt for the best job in the world, Teacher.

We want to start by pulling back the curtain and letting you in on a simple, yet important truth about hiring. Every interview represents the committee’s desire to hire only the very best for their students. You might be thinking, duh! But there’s a great deal of depth to this. School leaders understand these wise words by Jim Collins, “People are not your most important asset. The right people are.” Administrators and hiring committees know that their numero uno objective is to hire only the very best, no excuses, and let’s face it, getting The Job at The School you want to be at is competitive. We hope these tips help give you an edge over other candidates and set you apart as The. Best. Candidate. Here goes!

Your Experience and Hustle is Your Best Resume

Your proven track record should speak for itself, but the committee won’t know what it is unless you tell them. Some get nervous or shy in an interview because they feel like they are bragging, but in truth, no one can speak about your experiences and success like you can! Look for opportunities in the questions asked of you to share about specific examples, scenarios, and experiences. Be sure to highlight your competencies. Tell the committee about your unique skill set and how you leveraged those skills to implement a special program, spearhead an innovative initiative, and supported student success.

Focus on Your Core Values

The interview committee is trying to get a feel for you during the time you are with them face-to-face. It’s up to you to communicate your core values clearly. The committee wants to know what you believe and if your values are congruent to their culture.

Do Your Research

It speaks volumes when you are aware of the strengths and areas of growth of the school you hope to soon be serving. This means not only looking at hard data, but also investing time to find out their story on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Know When the Interview Begins and Ends

  1. The interview started the minute you hit submit on the application and resume. In the digital age, admins want to make certain that your digital footprint matches the values and standards they want for their campus.
  2. The parking lot – your arrival is anticipated so don’t be surprised if a first impression is formed through a window. Dress and carry yourself in a way that communicates yourself as the professional you are. Don’t lose out on the opportunity because an outfit is distracting.
  3. Always include your most current supervisor as a reference. Not including this person could prevent the interview you want from even happening in the first place.
  4. The interview is ongoing. Though the formal 30-60 minutes may be over the interview is far from over. Even if you do not land the job today, you may be offered a different position by the same school or within the district later.  You want to demonstrate that you are such an asset that to not hire you would be a loss.

At the End, Ask the Right Questions

Inevitably, almost every interview ends with the question, “Do you have any questions for us?” Be ready for this by knowing what questions you want to ask (and what not to ask)! The tone and type of questions you ask will communicate additional things about you to the committee. We suggest asking high level questions that anyone on the committee could answer. Here are a few great closure questions:

  1. What do you hope people see about your school when they walk in the front door?
  2. What makes your learning community exceptional?

Shy away from questions that focus on easily searchable information about the school or district, like pay or the school calendar for example. And don’t ask about wearing jeans every day either.

Close Strong

Be ready for the committee to ask you, “Is there anything else that you would like to tell us that would help us make our decision?” Have your response to this question ready. Seriously, plan and practice your closing statement! This will be your last opportunity to make a final face-to-face impression with the committee and you want it to be memorable and strong! You want them to have the feeling that they need to offer you the job before you leave the school. Your closing words should punctuate your interview, summarize your core values, and inspire the committee to KNOW You are The Best fit for their school!

In closing we want to share a few signs that the interview is going well or not going well based on our own experiences.

Signs It’s Going Well:

  1. The interview goes longer than scheduled.
  2. When the interview shifts from a strict interview format into more of a conversational flow.
  3. The committee is telling you increasing details about the school or the position (ie When it starts to feel like you are interviewing the committee).

Signs It’s Not Going Well:

  1. It’s a short interview, very short! As in it was scheduled for 30 minutes and it wraps up in half the time. A short interview can be a sign that it’s probably not a right fit.
  2. One-on-one interviews. The absence of a committee could signal that the interview is nothing more than a courtesy interview. If this happens, don’t blow the interview off! You always give it your all and knock the socks off the person interviewing you because you never know, this opportunity could lead to your big break.

A final word is not to forget who you are in the process. Allow your genuine love and passion for students to shine through and you will be sure to find the right fit.

Let us know if these suggestions were helpful to you in your own job search. Anything else you would add?

This post was co-authored by Heidi and Jeff.

When All Else Fails

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Do you ever feel as a leader that what you are doing just isn’t good enough, that if you only could do more then it would all be better. There are days you question your calling and wonder if you have it in you to continue. It is in those moments that great reflection and clarity can reaffirm your passion and purpose. Wherever you are in your journey consider the following…

Embrace the Mess

The moment we start falling in love with our content or a token issue we lose sight of what matters most. Our job isn’t about teaching curriculum, but rather reaching students. I like what Michelle Forman, a former national teacher of the year, has to say, “learning and teaching is messy stuff, it doesn’t fit into bubbles.” Many of us are on high need campuses where our students look to us to provide for them well beyond the required curriculum. Daily I encounter students who feel school is the safest place they can be. Face it, our kids and families often come from challenging situations. As leaders, we must accept people as they come, not as we want them to be. People grow when they are loved. It’s in the mess that the real learning happens. Reaching the whole child or family requires that we position ourselves to see life not through our content or instructional expertise but simply as a human being.

We must fight a tendency to treat others as some kind of impersonal “stakeholder” or “customer.” These kind of words at their worst allow us to serve people from a distance, rather than up close and personal. Some might accuse our profession of caring too much. When did this become a problem? The anxiety level of many teachers is at an all-time high because we realize the stakes are so high to be so much to so many who need us. You just need to remember that it isn’t your job to fix kids or people, just love them through it.

Elevate The Conversation 

Schools can have mission statement all day long but they are pointless if they don’t translate into moving people forward. Our school partners get an authentic view into our beliefs not by what we put at the front of the school on a wall, but how we authentically approach people daily. Our greatest act of leadership won’t be the test score report card,  but the community we are creating. Remember, people grow when they are loved.

Loving people means not getting caught up in unproductive conversations. Don’t get trapped in the figurative faculty lounge gripe sessions. Misery loves company,  and our greatest opportunities often present themselves to help position conversations in a different light. The power of positive questions and statements will go a long way into reframing a toxic environment. Rather than dreading that negative parent, teacher, or team make it a personal mission to change the tone and outcome. By taking personal responsibility for how I approach conversations I am empowered to believe the best about people or a situation as I allow. As leaders, let’s step into the space to ensure that the people around us know we won’t go negative with them.

Emulate The Expectation 

As leaders let’s not be found asking others to do what we aren’t willing to do ourselves. I grow increasingly concerned at the disconnect of what is expected for teachers and students, but may not be modeled by the leadership in the building. For example, if you want teachers to create environments for students to be expected and accepted we must do that as leaders for all our partners. Your culture in your school will be as strong as what you tolerate. Leaders who set an expectation that staff and students are to be compliant will get just that, or worse. Schools not only become what is obvious but also what is ignored. Let’s not fail our people by creating a culture where others perceive we can’t handle the hard stuff, the tough conversations. School’s that thrive have leaders who aren’t afraid to confront the truth and then pursue greatness together.

When all else fails remember to ask yourself, “what does love require of me in this moment?” Imagine how different our motives, attitude, conversation, and culture will look as a result of how we answer this question.

Follow The Leader

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Remember as a kid playing the game, “Follow The Leader.” It’s pretty simple – first a leader or “head of the line” is chosen, then the children all line up behind the leader. The leader then moves around and all the children have to mimic the leader’s actions. Any players who fail to follow or do what the leader does are out of the game. As a leader, what message are you sending to people about how you want them to follow. Don’t fool yourself if you think that your students, staff, and parents are not watching your every move. You can either have them move with you or against you. It is your choice! Our ultimate goal is to build and sustain capacity in people that should long outlive us in that position. Here are some points to consider as we lead people…

“Serve” – as leaders we get this glorious opportunity to serve our students, staff, and families. Serving can be misconstrued to mean “door mat.” Serving doesn’t mean you get on your face and grovel before someone…it simply means you work for their best. Consider how you can work for the best of those in your care. It can be the simple act of covering a duty or those moments when you emotionally show up to ask, “how are you today”” and really mean it. The role of leadership means sensing what your people need and being ready to respond on their terms, not yours.

Get Out of the Way – We have to put people over our own agenda. In our best of intentions we can in fact become the biggest inhibitors to growth. How does this happen? When you operate within a hierarcial system the pipeline of decision making often forces everything through the leader at the top. What if we flattened leadership? Truly our job as leaders is to help other leaders get where they want to be with their ideas, hopes, and dreams for how to helps kids be truly successful.

Give permission – to self and others to seek even if the answers don’t seemingly materialize right away. You have individuals and teams of people surrounding you just waiting for you to say, “yes.” Be known as a gracious permission giver and create conditions that support other’s actually learning. It could begin by canceling your school faculty meetings, encouraging personalized learning opportunities, and giving time back into the hands of our staff. When students and teachers are given “space” or time they are free to engage, explore, and experiment.

Go explore – As the edleader for a campus model the way by seeking out your adventure and discover personal new opportunities that create pathways of learning, innovation, and ingenuity. As you learn, bring those opportunities back to your people that will elevate the journey for your team. Be curious with your people. Our people need to see us as the most curious learner in the building. Basically, get out of your office, even off your campus, and learn!

Ask the “right” questions – along the way ask the questions that no one currently is willing to ask. Model risk taking and a growth mindset in your meetings with staff, coffee with parents, and sit downs with students. Use intentional questions that will generate constructive thinking and problem solving. Ask the questions that you know might result in some painful but needed truth for you. It is only in getting honest feedback that you can make the changes that will grow your campus forward. Don’t forget we are in this for kids.

Celebrate the “small” moments– be intentional about celebrating the process, the journey that your students, teachers, or other edleaders have been on. When we celebrate we are validating the process. 99% of the time authentically celebrating someone doesn’t take any money just some time and relational energy. You can’t imagine what a quick fly by note (less than 2 minutes to write) can mean for a teacher or student. You want to put energy back into people, notice them and they will notice others.

Finally, if we want to sustain a healthy culture where our stakeholders want to follow the leader we must also believe the best about people. We must maintain an attitude that is gracious, generous, and supportive because if we don’t then who will!

The Joy of Boys

Joy of Boys

     Boys bring a certain level of verve to any setting. Day or night, they are ready for action and movement. Boys have a natural curiosity that fuel their hunger for learning about our wonderful world. They instinctively want to experience their environments in a kinesthetic fashion and are never truly satisfied with a “because I said so” answer to their questions. In short, they are explorers and doers of the best kinds. Relentless in their search for adventure and always ready for a good ole’ ruckus. I know this is true not because I was a boy, but because I am the mother of two young boys, 8 and 4 years old. Maurice Sendak was never more honest and true when he penned the sentences “Let the wild rumpus start” and “Inside all of is a Wild Thing”. Sendak had such a knack for channeling the essence of our boy explorers!

     Knowing that these are the hallmarks of healthy, growing boys why is it so many schools struggle to educate boys in a fashion that engage their full selves and optimize their many innate talents and characteristics? Below are my ideas for answering this question based on my own learning and experience as a mother and educator and a recent interview I participated in with Ruth Morhard and Richard Hawley, both experts and gifted authors on this topic of educating boys.

When teaching boys please remember…

Play is Their Work                                                                                                                      What may look like a simple act of play is a boy’s way of working out the intricacies of their ever expanding world. They need space to explore and opportunities to make messes, pretend, be loud, crash things, interact with peers, and imagine. Their job is to wonder, our job as the adults in their lives is to nurture their wonder and help provide outlets for their wonderings to expand. How and where can we offer increased opportunities for play in our schools, not just for boys, but all students?

Build, Destroy, Rebuild, & Repeat                                                                                                    I recently learned a new word: Thinkering! This concept is based on the book by Michael Michalko Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. Thinkering experiences are the kind of learning experiences boys crave at school! Boys are often on a quest to know how things work. They figure this out by employing the tried-and-true Build, Destroy, Rebuild cycle. Their visual-spatially bent minds crave experiences where they can put together and take apart. In a school setting, this can look like providing open ended time for building with blocks, creating in a pretend and play station, putting together and taking apart puzzles, construction and deconstruction opportunities with mixed materials, and maker-space experiences.

Relationships are Their X-Factor                                                                                             Show me you care and I’ll care about what you know! This is true for any person, be it a child or an adult, but it is essential for growing and developing boys in educational settings. Think of it this way, educators must build a relationship with a boy to open their avenues for learning. On a practical level, this looks like getting on their level (literally getting down, on the floor with them), engaging them in activities that are preferred for them, and really listening and responding to their ideas, questions, and needs. Nurture a respectful relationship with a boy and he will let you mold and teach him for a lifetime!

Relationships 2

What tips, ideas, and strategies do you employ to capture the hearts and minds of the boys in your world?

Learning & Leading, Heidi

*This blog post was inspired by a recent pod-cast conversation “Getting Boys to Love School” I had with Rae Pica, founder and host of BAM! Radio Network’s Studentcentricity,  Ruth Morhard, author of Wired to Move, and Richard Hawley, co-author of Reaching Boys/Teaching Boys. The topic of our pod-cast is “Ensuring Success for Boys”. 

 

 

Leading From the Edge

Many people like to live life in the center, choosing to stay away from the unfamiliar or the extreme. There is something about being in the mainstream, and going with the flow that feels “nice.”  There is a certain comfort afforded with this perspective.  However, what begins to develop over time, especially in organizations, is group think; or worse unquestioned conventional thinking that arises.  It becomes easy to hang out in the middle, not pushing back or making waves.  Questioning is replaced by complacency, an acceptance of business as usual.  In time organizational morale and engagement suffers.

As leaders, our ability to influence growth and change doesn’t happen from the center, but the edge.  Though the edge brings uncertainty, it also has the opportunity to bring clarity when we have a well-defined purpose and established values to lead others forward.  The edge affords a particular vantage point for effective leaders that differentiates them from managers or maintainers.

b2ap3 thumbnail Comfort zone

Vantage Point 1:  People Over Programs

You affect change or culture by impacting people, not programs. We miss when we spend time and money trying to motivate students and teachers through programs. School initiatives come and go, but what will always endure is the relationship potential that walks through our doors daily. Leading from the edge is an uncompromising commitment to develop your top talent.  In the era of high stakes testing and teacher accountability, there is a significant amount of time spent on developing the marginal amount ( 1-5%) of teachers who are in need of improvement.  Leaders should challenge this conventional thinking.

What if we invested the majority of our time in our most effective leaders?  Consider the multiplying effect of influence that result in developing those top people who in turn develop others.  Leading from the edge means-growing people, not bigger programs.  Your number one job as leader is to grow the capacity and skills of your top people.  In turn, as you grow your teacher leaders – student achievement rises as well.

Vantage Point 2:  A Culture of Permission

As leaders, one of the most powerful words we can ever say is “yes.” Our school cultures begin to thrive as leaders give permission and ignite ownership Effective leaders hire well from the beginning, ensuring they have only the best people and BELIEVE the best about their people.  In turn, it is easier to trust teachers to lead initiatives we believe in and can support.  Today’s leaders serve less as supervisor’s and operate more as coach.  Autonomy begins with supporting our people to have not only self-direction but also decision making.  Leading from the edge requires that today’s educational leaders are not managers of people but connectors.  Our job is to help our teams effectively connect, collaborate, and support them with resources necessary to thrive.

In the 21st century, edleaders are rejecting compliance-based systems because they realize how unmotivating it is for themselves and students.  If the goal is for self-efficacy of students and staff then our practice must reflect the rhetoric.  Students and educators alike increasingly want to be a part of a bigger story, to add value.  Leading from the edge means giving up control so that others can thrive, explore, and discover how they can leave an imprint.

Vantage Point 3: Risks Are Rewarded

Our culture does not stand up to celebrate failure.  We give trophies to winners and feel sorry for the loser.  This win/loss mentality is not an indicator of leading from the edge.  We are most effective when we foster a mindset that rewards risk.  As a leader, do you focus more on the problem or solution?  Solution focused leaders identify the issue and develop processes towards a solution.  By asking guiding questions such as –  “What do you need to do next time?  What do you need to do to move this forward?  What do you think we need to do to be successful?” allows an individual/team to feel supported and take next steps.  Great leaders will spend their own capital to support others failing forward on the road to success.

Are you willing to stand on the edge?  Standing on the edge can get windy, even downright frightening at times, but the view is worth it.

How Voxer Supercharged My PLN

Voxer JHVeal

     I was first introduced to the Voxer app fall of 2014 at a Saturday PD I attended near my home town. It was described in a “this app is on its way out” way because, at that time, Apple had just released iOS 8 which possessed competing voice messaging features in their new updates. Fellow workshop attendees briefly described Voxer’s attributes and dismissed it as quickly as the app had been brought up.  

     In short, Voxer is a walkie-talkie app that allows users to communicate via tap-to-talk voice recorded messages, unlimited length texting, and picture posts too. Despite the dismissive nature of my introduction to Voxer, I decided to investigate it anyway, especially after hearing how a connected educator in my school district used it to connect with her PLN. I downloaded the app along with a colleague and thus began my Voxer plunge!  

     My first forays into Voxer started off by joining a pre-existing group of educators. Over several weeks, I listened in on the conversation, feeling more like a voyeur, and left a few Voxes (that’s what you call a voice message on Voxer). My first impressions with Voxer left me thinking several things: This is remarkable, but who has time for this; I’m so nervous leaving a voice Vox; I don’t know these people, but they seem to be pretty connected. I ended up leaving that group and joining a few different groups, committed to giving it a fair shake at finding a group I connected with. I also used Voxer to communicate directly with a college who was a Voxer newbie. We eventually stumbled upon a newly forming group doing a book study on Eric Sheninger’s book Digital Leadership. We both joined the new Voxer group at the start of 2015, engaged in the book study that ended up lasting several months, and from that point I was sold on Voxer!  

     Since that time, Voxer has become a mainstay app for me, soon finding its way into my iPhone’s Dock as one of the four chosen Apps of Honor. I also took the plunge to become Pro, which was probably the most I have ever spent on an app, but was money well spent in my opinion.  

1 Voxer Quote

     When people ask why I’m so in the tank for Voxer I gladly explain that it played a vital role in my journey as a connected educator. It is the tool that propelled my Professional Learning Network into a Powerful & Personal Learning Network. Pre-Voxer, I connected on Twitter much like many other educator. As regularly as possible, I participated in Twitter chats such as #EduCoach and built a traditional PLN by following and learning with/from educators who inspired me and were experts in their fields. I also shared out things I was learning and helpful resources that were meaningful to me with others.

     Twitter was a great place to connect and grow, but I did not recognize what I do now. It was challenging to forge a PLN with authentic community and connectedness via Twitter alone. For me, Twitter was as wide as the east is from the west, but rather shallow when it came to deep connections. I felt limited by the 140 characters and rushed by the fast pace of most chats. So much of the interaction I experienced on Twitter alone was surface deep. Please don’t get me wrong though, Twitter did and continues to play a critical role in my growth as a connected educator, but I attribute Voxer with propelling me to the next level of connectedness. Voxer is where my PLN shifted from being strictly a P(rofessional)LN via single tweets of interaction to being Powerful and Personal, increasing in depth via the variety Voxer provides for communicating and connecting. Voxer has allowed me to interact far beyond a tweet by connecting at my own pace and utilizing a mix of text, voice message, picture, and resource sharing.

     Today, I wouldn’t be the connected educator I am without Voxer. It has afforded many unique opportunities such as growing with the LeadUpNow tribe as a founding member of their Voxer group, co-blogging with Bethany Hill, co-presenting at my state technology conference with Matthew Arend, Ryan Steel (both whom I met via Voxer), and Nancy Alvarez, and meeting  Eric Sheninger as a result of the Digital Leadership book study Voxer group (which is now reading his new book Uncommon Learning).

2 Voxer Quote

     I can now say I know, I really deeply know the people who make up my PLN. We aren’t just a brief bio and profile pic to one another, but friends who share about our families, our personal hurdles, our professional triumphs, our areas of growth, and our dreams and work as educators.

     Have I mentioned the incredible growth Voxer has afforded me? Thanks to Voxer, I experience powerful, impassioned, just-in-time professional growth from educational thought leaders across the country on a daily basis! I equate it to on demand PD, anytime and anywhere! All these reasons combined lead me to believe that Voxer is an app that is here to stay for quite some time.

I want to share some of my favorite ways to use Voxer and why I think it’s an app that could help propel your PLN too!

Groups

Collaborating in groups is my favorite way to use Voxer! I participate in several groups on a regular basis, but my core PLNs are the ones I spend the most of my time interacting with, those being the ECEchat and LeadUpNow groups. As a Voxer Pro subscriber, I am able to create and administrate the groups I create. I also connect with my own campus’s Leadership Teams as well as the Assistant Principals in my district via a Voxer group. We are able to communicate and collaborate as a group on an ongoing basis using this versatile and free app.

Book Studies

Voxer is a great platform for a book study! A group can come together to read a book over a period of time. As mentioned, I did a book study with a group reading Eric Sheninger’s book Digital Leadership. He actually was a part of the group too and would chime in from time to time. Recently, the group reconvened to read his second book, Uncommon Learning, and Eric is participating with us again. What an unique opportunity that only Voxer affords! We use a repeating set of questions allowing members to chime in each day to share their response to the question and interact about the content of the chapter for the week. Doing book studies on Voxer has been a great way to gain greater insights into the professional books I read, connect and grow with people in my PLN at a deeper level, and have accountability for reading and implementing new learning.

Email a Voice Vox

Voxer users are able to record a voice Vox in their “My Notes” and email it to another person even though they may not have a Voxer account. The emailed voice message is played through a Voxer web link. I use this feature to record and email voice messages to teachers after I visit their classrooms to give them informal, immediate feedback. I like that they can hear the enthusiasm in my voice after I’ve visited their classrooms.  

Keeping in Touch with Friends & Family Across the Miles

Voxer is terrific for keeping in touch with loved ones far away. I specifically use it to connect with my mother who lives states away from me. She doesn’t have a smartphone, but she does have an iPad so we Vox on a regular basis. My kids even Vox her sometimes. They especially love sending her pictures. It’s nice that we can send her a quick voice message or hear from her any convenient time.

How do you like to use Voxer? I’d love to hear your ideas! If you have not tried Voxer, I highly encourage you to give it a go. Check out Cybrary Man’s All About Voxer web page to learn more about Voxer and to find a group to connect with today. Voxer’s blog site is also a great place to learn more about the power of Voxer!

[Less] #Oneword2016

less

The temptation, perhaps human nature, is to always want more. We even tell ourselves we can have it all, only to be sorely disappointing when life doesn’t seemingly give everything we think we should have or deserve. I can remember growing up as a small boy not always having as much as other kids, but I always felt like I had enough. There was always plenty to explore, and I never went without a meal. I had teachers who cared for me and a family that loved me.

As one gets older and wiser to the ways of the world, we easily become intoxicated to a notion that what we have materially, spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally just isn’t enough. I don’t want my two boys or the students I get the privilege to serve each day to never believe that lie.

As I move forward into 2016 I am resolved to experience more life with LESS.

Less…

Stress
Expectations
Worry
Status Quo
Consumerism
Control
Busyness
Stuff
Talking
Excess
Overthinking
Doubt
Mandates
Me!

As a man of faith I don’t believe that there is a sacred or secular divide, it is all sacred. Likewise, we are living an illusion if we believe that our professional and personally identities don’t collide daily to make up the sum whole of who we are. So having said all that, it is important to move into this year making less of me and more of others.

Experience More…

Wonder
Abandon
Contentment
Giving
Listening
Abundance
Resolve
Faith
Freedom
Learning
Risk

Each day will require determination to intentionally be about less in a world awash in more. There is beauty in simplicity – I want to experience the peace of less as a believer, man, dad, husband, friend, administrator, and every other hat I wear. Experience more life…

 

#OneWord for 2016: Significance

#OneWord fo

It’s the very start of a new year. A time pregnant with opportunities and possibilities. What will I make of 2016? What will I do with the 365 days that fill the the calendar? One thing I know is sure, that I am not promised a single one of those days. They are hoped for, but not promised. How will I approach these hoped for days of 2016?

My PLN has challenged one another to choose a single word to encapsulate how we will each approach the new year. I have personally been mulling over what my one word would be for several days now and have carefully chosen my word: Significance. Thankfully, this one word has multiple facets because anyone who knows me knows I could not just choose 1 singular word. I had to chose a word that held multiple meanings. At the heart of it, I chose significance because it sums up my desire to do all things with a deep level of commitment and purpose.

Significance means “Make it Matter”. Whatever I put my hands to do in this new year I do it with the mindset of making it matter. Whether the task is big or small, it deserves my undivided commitment. It all counts, especially the bumps and failures that will, no doubt, come my way. I commit to make it matter by appreciating the significance of each interaction, event, learning opportunity, challenge, and celebration that come my way in 2016.

Significance means “Be Present”. Live in the moment and give full attention to where I am, who I am with, and the why for our time together. Being fully present with my family, my friends, and those I work with speaks value to all the people in my life. Each day is individually important and is non-returnable. I want to live significantly in the space of every day that is given to me because it is a grace and a blessing. These wise words ring true…

Presence

Significance means “Pursue Joy”. Those who know me would say I am generally a positive and optimistic person, but a mindset of joy is not equivalent to a sunny disposition or happiness. Joy has a much deeper root and is not based on emotions. Joy is a choice and it does not happen by accident. Joy is nurtured in giving, cherishing others, and serving. Significance means committing to living in a way that fosters joy.  

Significance means “Pursue Excellence, Not Perfection”. I always seek to pursue excellence in everything I put my time and effort to accomplish. Excellence here means my personal best, but does not mean sacrificing everything for unattainable and illusive perfection. Often times, I find myself spinning my wheels because I am sidetracked by perfectionism. What I commit to pursuing more intentionally is excellence!

IT DOES NOT DO TO DWELL ON DREAMS, (1)

Significance is the one word I chose as a banner over 2016. Through my commitment to significance, I resolve to live this year in a way that matters, with full presence, a mindset of joy, and personal excellence. I challenge you to chose a word and to post it below. Committing to a word over your year could significantly impact your 2016.

                                        Here’s to significance, Heidi 

 

Leadership Imperatives For Today’s School Leaders

Leadership Imperatives

As leaders we aspire to achieve for the sake of our kids, teachers, and parents; seeking to elevate others along the way. As we embark on another year, our challenge is to continue to refine our practice as reflective leaders, so we increase in effectiveness. I would suggest that there are 7 Leadership Imperatives that can increase self efficacy and build our own capacity. Keep in mind as a fellow administrator, I am speaking as one on the journey of leadership and learning daily.

Do

Over Communicate

This doesn’t mean over communicate through email, mass emails become frustrational and impersonal.  Utilize every possible means to get the story of your school out in a way that positively conveys the great culture and learning that you know is taking place. Consider creative ways to push beyond the newsletter and Twitter by using a Smore, Voxer, or video blogs with stakeholders to tell a compelling story. Don’t confuse mass distribution of information with telling a story. Allow the celebrations and learning in your school to be front and center, make it visible.

Value Principles over Rigid Rules

Have a few principles and stick to them, allow those to be hallmarks that others know guide your leadership. Guiding principles are the standard in today’s world, we live in post Newtonian world no longer governed by black and white. Furthermore, we work with kids, lots and lots of grey. When we get bogged down in rigid rules we actually become ineffective. Maintain those few non-negotiables, but consider those areas that truly at the end of the day are simply preferences.

 Develop “Next Up” Leaders

Yes, everyone has the capacity for leadership development. However, make it a priority to spend time with your best people, develop the talent that exists within your personal sphere of influence. If the day came that you are no longer the influencer in chief on your campus who will continue the momentum? It is by having focused conversations with your top talent and allowing those emerging leaders to experience actual decision making opportunities that they develop. Many leaders will assign tasks rather than shared ownership of ideas. Give yourself permission to release control to those highly qualified individuals that you are investing in daily. Like a relay runner, know when to pass the baton.

 Commit to Taking Care of You

Taking personal time might seem counterintuitive since educators are wired to give of themselves and be poured out so others can benefit. In the process of giving your all to kids, don’t give it all away, or you will have nothing left. Having white space, those moments to recharge, and reflect are crucial for you – plus your family and friends need you too!

Don’t

Try to Be the “Other Guy”

Leaders can feel the pressure to be the leader they know or have heard about down the street, sorry it doesn’t work. Make a commitment to be uniquely you for your time, setting, and situation. Every organization has it’s own DNA, free yourself to focus on your people, you gain nothing by comparison.  Of course, maximize learning from others,  but just because it works somewhere else doesn’t mean it will in your setting. Study your culture and find out what you need to start and stop doing immediately.

Believe That the Best Way to Get Results is Top Down

The best ideas never trickle down. Leaders can be very driven and feel the mandate to generate ideas. Focus on believing and instilling a value where the best ideas emerge not from the front office but the classroom. Seek to create a culture and venues where teachers are frequently heard and their ideas showcased. Avoid statements, “we will look into that, “maybe next year,” or “that won’t work” and instead look for opportunities to continue dialogue through PLCs. Listen to and invite student voice. Students often feel like learning is something that happens to them, not something they get to affect. Change will only happen to the level we allow.

Allow the Critics to Interfere with Momentum

Do you need to listen to all stakeholders? Absolutely. We would be foolish not to understand the various points of view that exist. However, in our desire to build consensus we can give more time and attention to the squeaky wheel beyond what is reasonable. Know when to listen, and when it is time to be the leader, making those tough decisions.

So here is to you having a new year and starting well. Drawing on the words of leadership giant, John C. Maxwell,  “You don’t have to be great to get started, but you do have to start to be great.”

Engaging Parents as Partners

Engaging (2)

 

It could be said, “We do what we do because of them” for if there were no parents there would be no students to nurture and teach in our collective schools. Yet why is engaging parents often posed an afterthought or a good idea to be explored or tried when other strategies are exhausted. I would like to assert that building parental partnerships is one of the most critical things we do as schools.

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Admittedly, there are barriers to parental engagement, but the benefits outweigh the barriers every time! I would like to explore the benefits to engaging parents as partners.

  • Parents are a child’s first teacher and are critical to supporting their child’s social and academic growth. When parents and schools interact as partners, both parties have the green light to enhance what the other is teaching. Student success is catapulted as parents are empowered fulfil their role as their child’s first teacher.
  • Without parental partnerships, the school’s influence with students is automatically lessened, but with it student learning and growth has the opportunity to multiply exponentially. It is the school’s responsibility to empower parents to take a front seat role in their child’s education. Schools are obligated to create front door opportunities to provide parent learning experiences throughout the school year. My school puts on quarterly afterschool IMPACT (Importance of Parents and Children Together) events where parents and children experience a fun, carnival like atmosphere while participating in carefully designed activities that align to our state Pre-K guidelines. These IMPACT events empower parents because they go home with free educational materials and ideas of how to continue fostering joyful learning in their homes in natural ways. (Learn more about my school’s IMPACT events.)
  • When parents engage as partners, the community at large is brought together and connections are strengthened. Think about what happens in the brain when neural paths are created and strengthened. The more use the path gets, the stronger the bond, and the more automatic the neural response or skill becomes. The same principle is true for a community. All entities benefit when the bonds between families, communities, and schools are strengthened. Unfortunately, many families are increasingly disconnected from traditional extended family and community bonds. The school should and can be the heart of its community. I propose that a supportive school culture is a critical variable for supporting students, strengthening families, and bringing communities together.
  • Engaged parental partners are positive advocates for their child’s education. They lovingly embrace their child’s school and advocate for better; better schools, better learning for their children, and better communities at large. As engaged advocates, this parental stance is one of collaboration and shared partnership as opposed to an adversarial stance that can poison progress and relationships.

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How does your school engage parents and partners? What are the persistent and creative ways your school does this? The benefits of engaging parents outweigh succumbing to the barriers any day! When parents are engaged as partners, there is a rightness of the world that is not found in our school communities in any other more profound way.

Serving together, Heidi

*For more on the topic of “Engaging Parents as Partners” check out Participate Learning’s archives of resources compiled from the 12/19/15 #LeadUpChat that my good friend Nancy Alvarez and I co-hosted/moderated.

Grace Changes Everything

Grace

There are many meanings for the small word grace. According to Webster, the word Grace can be defined as, unmerited divine assistance given for the purpose of regeneration or sanctification :  a virtue : sanctification : a way of moving that is smooth and attractive and that is not stiff or awkward : a controlled, polite, and pleasant way of behaving.” I would like to offer my own reflections on its meanings, and why it is a necessary element for someone who wants to live a life of impact all year.

G… Given. Grace isn’t grace until it is given. It is intended to be given and given freely, with no expectation for anything in return. When it is given, the receiver experiences unmerited pardon, hope, renewal. Additionally, the giver experiences freedom from holding a grudge or gnawing hurt.

R… Ridiculous. In the eyes of many grace is a ridiculous concept.  Why would anyone pardon another when it is clearly undeserved, and the offender is clearly in the wrong? Ridiculous, right?

A… Another. Grace can only be expressed from one person to another and is best experienced inside a relationship.

C… Culture. Imagine a culture of grace. Not phoney forgiveness or flippant pardon, but authentic give and take with the heart of everyone growing, and becoming better everyday, because of grace both given and received.

E… Equip. As important as it for oneself to be equipped to give grace, equip others to receive it as well.

Grace is something to practice and seek to understand, knowing it is a life time pursuit.

Above all, know that grace is a choice. It doesn’t happen by accident or even serendipitously. Grace will always be present in our world as long as people are willing to give it.

Serving together, Heidi

Love Them, Reach Them, Teach Them

STORIES

      The social-emotional growth of early childhood students should be a top priority for every early childhood educator. On my campus, we believe that social-emotional learning trumps academic learning any day of the week for our early childhood students. And this goes double for a child facing adversity! Self regulation skills are not something that a child naturally develops without intentional shaping and guidance from the influential adults in their lives, and gone are the days when schools are responsible for only teaching academic subjects. Early childhood educators have a unique responsibility to teach the vital skills associated with self regulation.

      In the specific context of children facing adversity, social emotional learning is their lifeline of hope for a healthy emotional future. A child coming from an at-risk setting cannot only be seen as at-risk for academic failure. They are at-risk for difficulties far beyond not “passing the test”. These are students who can display erratic and unsafe behavior, tantrum for seemingly no reason, display extreme self regulation deficits, hurt the very people trying to help them, lack empathy, and withdraw from the world. Any or all of these behaviors are possible for a child facing adversity. I’m reminded of the truth that a hurting child, and in need of love, will often ask for it in the most unloving of ways.

forelorne boy

      What are teachers of our youngest and most vulnerable students to do when working with students facing adversity? I would like to suggest a few critical ideas for building the educator’s tool box.

      The educator must first and foremost cultivate a relationship with a child facing adversity.  The teacher has to learn the student’s likes and dislikes, their triggers, their needs, and their nuances. The teacher does this by spending time with the child, giving them one-on-one attention, and noticing changes in their lives.

      Next, the educator should directly teach a wide variety of social-emotional skills. I strongly believe one of the most powerful things a teacher can do is to equip an at-risk child with social-emotional skills in the face of the stresses and struggles of their lives. This could look like role playing, using social stories, group lessons, playing purposeful games, using puppets, sharing songs, and other social-emotional learning experiences. Consider implementing a curriculum such as Second Steps because it serves as a comprehensive, solid Tier 1 resource for social-emotional learning in a classroom setting.

      Thirdly, I suggest tapping into the team of responsive adults that surrounds the at-risk student. Bring together those who can collaborate to find solutions to the unique problems that a child facing adversity can face. Together, the team has access to resources, pulls on experiences, and can support the both the child, the family, and the classroom teacher.

      Last of all, as educators, we must cultivate a growth mindset. This looks like continuing to learn about the needs of traumatized or at-risk students. Read articles, attend conferences, participate in (free) webinars via edWeb.net or Early Childhood Investigations Webinars (ECE Webinars has a free webinar coming up on December 16, 2015 specifically about SEL and facilitating resilience and inclusive culture), connect with experts, listen to podcasts (check out the podcast that inspired this post: Teaching Students Who Face Adversity Beyond Your Experience), and learn from any opportunity that comes your way.  A book I would highly suggest reading is The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz. This insightful book chronicles real stories of children raised in the most traumatizing situations imaginable and how they transformed despite their dire circumstances. Bridging the Relationship Gap:Connecting with Children Facing Adversity by Dr. Sara E. Langworthy “provides caregivers tools and encouragement to be the strong, positive, and nurturing adult these children need in order to thrive” (Amazon summary). Dr. Ruby Payne’s renowned book A Framework for Understanding Poverty is, in my opinion, an essential read for any educator working with student’s specifically dealing with the adverse effects of poverty in their lives.  

A child's current reality may be dire, but their future is not yet determined. @vealheidijhveal.com (3)

      The truth is, children facing adversity come to us having experienced things no grown adult should have to endure, and our obligation is to love them, reach them, and tech them. We bridge relationships by responding to their needs instead of reacting, teaching them replacement behaviors and skills instead of punishing, and meeting their needs from a heart of compassion instead of making assumptions. Their current reality may be dire, but their future is not yet determined. Who will join me in my commitment to love, reach, and teach?

Serving together, Heidi Veal

#NoArmChairNovember

armchair

Game of Six of the ALCS fans nearly watched the Royals blow a solid 3-1 lead against the Blue Jays when slugger Jose Bautista crushed a pitch from relief pitcher, Ryan Madson.  Royals fans certainly had to feel sickened by this unfortunate turn. They felt sick for their team, who, at the time, was on their way to letting a World Series trip slip away.  The more empathetic fans also felt sick for the onslaught of criticism that Royals manager, Ned Yost, would receive.  The critics were fast and furious with their dissatisfaction in Ned Yost’s decision-making.

#NedYost happens to be one of the worst managers in baseball; Madson has horrible numbers against the #Jays and he has Davis can get 5 outs?” 

#Fourth home run of the season for Madson. That’s almost a fireable offense for Ned. What a foolish, foolish mistake…#yosted

“I don’t know that there is a man I dislike more in baseball than #NedYost, even #ARod I like and respect more I think. #KCRoyals

Ouch. And these are those appropriate for a school leadership blog. Search #yosted if you’re interested in the PG-13-and-more version.  Yikes.

When fans criticize the decisions made by managers and professional athletes, they take the widely accepted role of the “armchair quarterback.”  According to http://www.onlineslangdictionary.com, an armchair quarterback is…

“a person who watches sports and believes one could do a better job than the players or coaches.”

We rationalize our positions as armchair quarterbacks by saying “It’s my right as a fan.” “They’re overpaid, so I can over-criticized.” “It’s not like I’m going to see Ned Yost tomorrow at the grocery store.”

All of that may be true, and it led us to start connecting the phenomenon of armchair quarterbacking to our positions as leaders…

It can be easy to sit in the safety and security of your favorite armchair, bellowing calls at the television or hiding behind social media.  This reality occurs daily in our respective roles as educators–teachers and principals being armchaired by naysayers, arm chairing each other or central office admin, legislators armchairing all of us, educators armchairing parents (yes, we are very guilty of this.)

It’s easy to be a naysayer, focusing on a single call or could have, would have, should have perspective. However, like a great coach, leaders understand the big picture, they have the moral and visionary courage to see beyond one inning or quarter, they embrace the challenge of the whole game. In fact, great leaders know that we may lose this one only to win the next. So we have a challenge to make, a declaration to abandon the practice of armchair quarterbacking others.  Let’s have a moratorium on judgment. We call it #NoArmChairNovember.

The #NoArmChairNovember Challenge…

Be invested in people, not problems

If we are not careful, we can focus on a problem, forgetting that real people are involved. Spend your energy on people, not the problem. Are you spending time with all your stakeholders? Do you truly know your students’ struggles; are you spending time in that teacher’s classroom, having that meaningful conversation with a parent, inviting that district leader to be on your campus? Like all worthwhile pursuits it will require you to invest of yourself and time, but remember it’s not about us, but the people around us.

Ask the right questions

You don’t know the reasons why a decision may have been made. Our first reaction is to question it before even seek to understand the purpose or strategy behind it.  Seek first to ask questions to bring clarity and understanding. As edleaders we have to avoid being expedient, making snap judgments, take the time to understand a situation. Avoid critiques; offer solutions that contribute to moving a conversation forward and being a win for all.

Believe The Best About People

Great teams don’t thrive in toxic cultures. When we believe the best about our people their capacity and confidence greatly increases. Leaders give their best so that everyone around them can be their best. Our call as leaders is to inspire and grow people, many of us believed this when we accepted the challenge to lead others early on, we get to coach others to greatness, and this means less evaluation and more modeling through our own attitude. As leaders, we raise what we praise. Like many a locker room has a saying over the door that players see daily as a reminder, we need to have that same vision for our teams and ourselves.

So embrace #NoArmchairNovember and resist judgment, seeing the best in others and creating a vision of acceptance and optimism.  When we do, we move from the armchair to the field, this is where the real action is, anyway.

The concept of #NoArmchairNovember generated from some friendly sports talk between Paul Erickson and myself.  Three weeks ago, Paul and I were voxing back-and-forth, talking college football and the scrunity under which coaches find themselves.  We started to make connections to the “armchairing” that educators face and the armchairing they engage in themselves.  Sports talk quickly turned into self-reflection, collaboration, and, finally, action….a call to resist the temptation to judge and to instead boldly build others up, believing the best in them and thus getting the best results for your school community.

Paul Erickson, is a lead learner and elementary principal in Kansas, and also a Kansas Principal of the year recipient.  Through Twitter, the #Leadupchat tribe, and Voxer, Paul and I have connected as like-minded educators, pushing each other lead on, lead up!  Thanks, Paul, for working with me on #NoArmChairNovember

Assessments: Left Behind

Written by Nathan Lang and Jeff Veal, co-founders of LeadUpNow and #LeadUpChat

We can’t argue that there is a movement to change the landscape of education. Just google search differentiated instruction, authentic learning, or project based learning and you’ll get a plethora of search results. Blogs, models, theories, strategies, challenges and evidence, they’re all there to help support teachers move forward so that students are prepared for the college and career.

But there is still an aspect of the Big Three (Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment) that is left behind. Yes, Curriculum and Instruction have been upgraded to the iPhone 6 Plus, while Assessment is still at a Nokia flip phone. Why is Assessment so antiquated in it’s ways and how do we overhaul it?

It’s the same reason Captain Kirk always flew the Enterprise. (Well, yes there was that one time with the Klingon Bird of Prey…). They’ve upgraded the specs and standards, and installed fancier torpedoes and faster warp drives. But in the end, it it still the Enterprise. It’s all Kirk has ever known.  Even though we have seen teaching strategies come and go, the “test” is all we have ever known.  Many, will say that standardized testing is the reason classroom assessments are “left behind.” It’s time to leave that excuse behind.

The Way It Was…

When we were in school, we probably learned for one of two (or both) reasons. They make the teacher (or our parents) happy. Or earn a high grade (via an assessment/assignment). We wanted directions spelled out and wanted to know exactly what it took to earn an A or high favor with the teacher. This made us “good students.” We knew what the teacher wanted and when it was due. We rarely bought in to the assignment, as it was a means to an end. Why would we take ownership over something that had no personal value to us.  Why would we give more than expected? Be creative? Be rebellious?

The Way It Can Be…

Until now. We now know the impact now of self-directed learning.  Which in turn impacts assessment. Let’s ponder two possibilities…

Create Conditions for Students to Self Assess

If we are self-directed learners, we thrive and crave on feedback. Let’s say we’ve bought into authentic, learner centered instruction.  The data we collect from an assessment can help to inform next steps for students in the learning process but it doesn’t exclusively guide student learning.

A key condition that our students need as they become self directed is autonomy. The teacher as coach or facilitator is more than wordsmithing, but an imperative for the assessment culture to change on any campus. Increasingly teachers serve as coaches to help students take personal ownership. Student autonomy is about providing space and time for connections with ideas and concepts. Self assessments push students as they have to analyze and answer questions exercising their ability to be problem solvers. Additionally, when we foster conditions in our classrooms and school buildings for students to think critically about their own learning we communicate something powerful about the role of reflection. Today’s teacher coach gives permission for reflection to occur and isn’t quick  to “move on” in order to cover the next unit, slow down and savor the learning.

Use Data as a Strategy Tool

There are multiple strategies we can employ such as the power in using student data journals. A data journal can guide students to literally capture the big picture of their goals, outcomes, and feel personal success. The data collected in a journal can drive students to ask reflective questions about their progress. Data can be a powerful tool to help students in the journey of learning, but the constant stream of benchmarks and other “assessments” misses the rich landscape of possibilities. Assessments that are only teacher generated make for an anemic student and not reflective of the whole student.

The Way It Will Be?

Are we still asking students to use an iPhone 6 Plus Monday through Thursday and then asking them to use a Nokia Flip phone on Friday. It’s time to reassess our assessments.  It’s time to provide meaningful feedback in a way that motivates students to strive for awesome. Not to please the teacher, but to push themselves to achieve their learning goals and beyond. We must go beyond.

As the landscape of learning is changing we are certain of one thing…we are done with traditional, regular maintenance quiz/test checks, which not only lack inspiration, but does little to spur students to spiral deeper learning connections. Assessments themselves should ignite learning not extinguish it.

This post is the result of a broader conversation from our Instructional Leadership Series “Rules of Engagement” at #LeadUpChat. Thank you to all the educators who see education differently. 

Seeker

This is part 1 of three parts in a Curious Collective Series:

Some of my fondest memories involve taking teams of high school students out of the country on summer trips to do acts of compassion, several weeks at a time to 3rd world countries. On one such summer night, a group of my older high school boys decided they wanted to take the younger freshman guys “snipe” hunting. You could just see the excitement in the younger guys, the thought of getting to do something so cool sounding with the older teens and a sense of adventure.

Now, I hope that I am not giving it away when I say that there is no such thing as a “snipe.” Yes, a bit of fun at the expense of some naive boys I will admit. The older teenage boys had asked my permission, I allowed it as it was all in good fun, plus I didn’t want to miss out on the awesome hilarity that would ensue. For like an hour, I stood and watched as this group of brave hearted boys went snipe hunting with flash lights on an unsuspecting beach. The older guys manufactured quite a show, and had those newbies believing they had seen a snipe, only a mere few feet from being within their reach.

Finally, I had to put an end to the shenanigans and reveal to these seekers of sport that there was in fact no snipe to catch. Man, at first they were not happy to put it mildly,  and of course felt they had wasted their time. In the eyes of a 15 year old maybe…but…

It wasn’t a waste…they were doing important work, they were seeking. photo-1441035245556-b476ee501efa

Agreed, they came up empty handed but everyone including our newest explorers had a good laugh and made a forever memory. What those guys experienced is what we to be more as as educational leadersThe Curious Collective. 

When young teachers enter the profession not afraid to go snipe hunting, they often don’t know what they don’t know. They will chase after wild ideas because they are passionate, believing that in the end it will be what is best for kids, a sense of optimism and idealism that mentors often say, “don’t worry – give it a couple of years and you will feel differently.” This should not be so. As teachers become building leaders, or even district office personnel, the sense of wonder and seeking can to often be replaced by compliance, mandates, and a sense of disillusionment. There is another way.

Instead, we need to be a curious collective, not afraid to:

  1. Give permission – to self and others to seek even if the answers don’t seemingly materialize right away. You have individuals and teams of people surrounding you just waiting for you to say, “yes.” Be known as a gracious permission giver and create conditions where “seeking” is not a lost art.
  2. Go explore – As an/the edleader for your campus or team lead the way to seek out adventure and discover new opportunities to create pathways of learning, innovation, and discovery. Seek out individual and team PD, PLC, PLN opportunities that will elevate the journey for both your staff and students. Be curious with your people.
  3. Ask questions – along the way ask the questions that no one currently is willing to ask. Model risk taking and a growth mindset in your meetings with staff, coffee with parents, and sit downs with students.
  4. Celebrate – be intentional about celebrating the process, the journey that your students, teachers, or other edleaders have been on. When we celebrate we are validating the process. 99% of the time authentically celebrating someone doesn’t take any money just some time and relational energy.

photo-1438480478735-3234e63615bbI want to challenge you to be apart of the Curious Collective as we change the conversation and tone of education. Seek and you will find.

-Jeff  | twitter @heffrey

The Hard Truths of Leadership

The following reflections are a compilation of reflections by Bethany Hill and myself.

When you think about it, teams are actually everywhere. And I’m not necessarily referring to the typical sports teams that dominate the American consciousness when the concept of a team is discussed. A family unit thrives as a team. Service, church, and civic organizations touch thousands of lives as teams. Musicians who play and perform together do so as a team. Aside from the Lone Ranger (who interestingly had a trusty steed that he depended on), the majority of the world’s work force function in teams. They are all around us at all times, but sometimes difficult to see because they are often so close in sight. Think of the phrase “Can’t see the forest for the trees”.

Team dynamics are a very interesting thing because every member brings something unique to the table. On high functioning teams, diverse strengths and a strong commitment to put students first often leads to an outcome of team-work, dream-work.

get_body

Over the years, I have had the personal joy of working on multiple highly functioning and collaborative teams. There was much sharing and encouragement for professional growth. We studied student data together to identify our students’ needs and worked cohesively to design engaging units of study. We were empowered by leaders that allowed teammates to lead with their strengths.

During my years as an educator I also worked on teams and have observed teams from the outside looking in that wrestled with dysfunction. It threatened to barricade the team from accomplishing their goals. These teams function more-or-less as a group of individuals who work next to each other and often uncomfortably bump into each other rather than cohesively pursuing a goal with excellence. Kind of like kids can sometimes do in a sandbox, you get the idea. This reminds me of Roland Barth’s metaphor of collegiality comparing sandboxes and beehives in his book Improving Schools from Within. Linked here is a great article written by Barth for ASCD titled Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse for more on the topic.

Recently, the John Maxwell Team shared several honest truths during a Twitter #LeadUpChat about the way teams function and work together. Bethany and I were equally inspired by their truths that day! Our hope is that, like us, you are also inspired by Maxwell’s wisdom to build teams that collaborate at the highest levels in spite of the inevitable challenges that arise.

The first is this, “The team cannot continually cover up its weakness.” The team has to honestly face up to weaknesses that exist. No excuses, no matter what! Own the weakness and see it as a grand opportunity to innovate. If the team is always glossing over weaknesses it will never get better. Don’t be the team with their head buried in the sand! Confront weakness respectfully and in a timely way. When you consider this wisdom in the context of schools, the stakes are incredibly high, and I’m not referring to mandated high stakes testing! I’m talking about the education of our nation’s most precious resource, our children.

The next truth John Maxwell Team shared was this, “When the team you have doesn’t match up to the team of your dreams there are two choices: give up your dream or grow up your team.”  Only two choices exist here because doing mediocre work is NOT an option. That actually falls in the category of “give up your dream”.  When the team settles for less than collaborative, supportive, collegial functioning, that’s a give up! Educators, we chose to pursue this noble profession in response to following a personal dream. None of us are willing to give up our dream of impacting our world by educating the next generation therefore growth is our only option! Team growing can come in many forms such as spending social time together to forge trusting relationships, spurring one another on in professional growth, welcome colleagues into your classroom to coach and give you feedback, using protocols to facilitate cohesive team communication, examining student data and flexibly sharing students across classrooms, and so on… What would you add? What have you tried?

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As Heidi stated earlier, she and I were very inspired by the #Leadupchat discussion and felt it deserved more reflection on our part. One particular truth that resonates within me is the following:

“You lose the respect of the best when you don’t deal properly with the worst.”

All teams must have a variety of personalities and strengths in order to function properly. There will be people who are somewhat hesitant of the team vision, and that is perfectly normal. We need these people in order to challenge our action plan and to become more grounded in our goals/beliefs. When the hesitance turns to resistance, we begin to lose ground toward the common goal and vision. Negativity, including resistance to change, disrespect toward others, gossip, etc., can intoxicate a culture. Leaders must face these issues head on without hesitation in order to preserve the health of the organization. The more negative conditions become, the more difficult it becomes to keep the trust and respect of the people impacted by them. When problems within are addressed, the people feel protected. Teams are stronger when leaders have the hard conversations. This forces the naysayers to jump on the bus, or find new one! Connections with people support our ability to have hard conversations, thus making our efforts to move the group forward more seamless. In John Maxwell’s book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, he states, “Connecting increases your influence in every situation.” This cannot be more true! Our ability to connect is directly related to our ability to influence others.

The following clip gives a glimpse of Maxwell’s thinking about connections and influence:

 

Our last truth from the John Maxwell Team is, in my opinion, the most difficult and profound.

The strength of the team is impacted by its weakest link.

Many leaders will tell you their experiences of being forced to focus on the people who tend to be the weakest or who cause the most conflict within a team. I have found myself in this trap of losing my focus of the entire team. It is easy to become burdened by negative and resistant people. Our strongest team members surely feel alienated by the fact that they do what’s right and beyond, yet at times the focus of the team becomes the few individuals who are not on board. Leaders must be constantly testing the waters for negativity and discomfort from team members who feel threatened by others. It is crucial to know your weakest link and use that knowledge to drive your efforts in supporting that person or group. Once identifying the weakest link, ask yourself these questions:

*Why is this person a weak link?

*Does this person KNOW he/she is a weak link?

*Where do I desire this person to be?

*Where does this person desire to be?

*What are this person’s strengths, and how can I use them to coach him/her?

We can look the other way, or we can face the weak links, assess the situation, and establish an action plan for support. The goal is to coach the weak links, leading the UP to improvement and growth. The alternative is to coach them OUT and on to a new path better suited for them. I believe strongly in the ability to lead UP. We can use or ability to connect to influence in a positive way. It all begins with our relationships with the people around us. Strong and lasting relationships foster the ability to lead UP, and allow others to grow into leaders themselves.

In summary, we must remember the impact we have as leaders. Through a fearless nature, a strong vision, and the ability to connect, we can influence in ways we never imagined. It comes down to knowing people and appreciating where they are in their own development. When we establish that, we can face the hard conversations that will help us all reach a common vision. After all, #KidsDeserveIt!

Special thanks to:
My co-author Bethany Hill  (@bethhill2829)
Quotes shared from The John Maxwell Team (@JohnMaxwellTeam)
#LeadupChat and LeadUpNow (@Leadupchat)

It’s Not About You Anymore

“How May I Serve You?” 

We love those 5 simple words when we order at a restaurant or check into a hotel. Our brains and emotions get excited knowing we are about to enjoy an experience that brings us comfort, after all we are paying for it!  Culturally we are surrounded by everything designed to make our lives easier, more comfortable, just plan convenient. We are catered to by businesses promising to make everything more comfortable from the pillows we sleep on, to the noise canceling headphones providing just the optimal experience to our ears. I will be the first to admit I have spent good money on experiences and products, all in the name of making my life easier. However, as I reflect on my life as an educator, having traveled from the classroom to the role of administrator I am struck by a few observations concerning convenience and today’s educational landscape.

A different Vantage Point

In our quest to make our lives easier what if it is actually hurting us? What if comfortable is actually toxic to our drive to ensure that we don’t just do “ok”? What if convenience kills our spirit to work harder?

I have sat through many interviews. You want to know who stand out to me, the candidate who  has a history of going above and beyond, where they share they have/will do whatever it takes to meet the needs of students. You bet I am looking for the person who gets “it.” Those kind of teachers you don’t have to train them in it, that is how they are hardwired. Don’t get me wrong, teaching is not your life, it is a part of life. Many of us have families, passions, and interests outside of education, as we should. BUT…

When we step across the threshold of the school building door each day we need to remember, “it’s not about us anymore.” We are 100% here for kids.

It’s not about you or me, but “us” doing what it takes, rolling up our sleeves, to ensure that every student gets what they need. Maybe we have tried 17 different strategies to help a student be successful, it’s time to try #18. We won’t quit until we get it right. It is the teacher who realizes that this a calling, a profession built on making sure others get better, not just being ok with ok.

The Challenge 

I am proud to be apart of a school that does not thrive or promote a “blame culture.” The type of culture that consistently complains about why kids are not succeeding. Let’s be clear… Bad parents have always existed, there has always been economic disparity, and kids have always been irresponsible. We might feel the reality of those factors more today than ever but we must offer real solutions.

The solution = You! 

I know, crazy right! The teacher is still the best promise for student success today. Even more powerful are teachers who band together to form an interdependent team, believing that all of us together are better than any single one of us. Teachers are the ones who have the opportunity speak truth, hope, and light into students. What if we truly embraced that customer service serveperspective, “how may I serve you?” The “you” being all our stakeholders from students to parents to our community. There are so many wonderfully hard working teachers who are doing this already but what if as a profession we were honest that we could go even further to ensuring all kids grow and succeed at their own level.

It will take a lot of hard work but I am convinced if we will walk into our schools each day saying (maybe literally outloud), “It’s not about you anymore,” that a culture of affirmation and achievement will soar!

Growing Together, Jeff

*Dedicated to the reflections that result from my strong PLN #Leadupchat and those who help to make me sharper as a learner and leader. 

Successful Leadership is a Shared Venture

Thanks to my PPLN, Powerful-Professional Learning Network, I have spent a lot of time over the past months reflecting over different tenants of leadership. One truth that continues to rise to the top of the leadership conversation and in the top of my thoughts is the fact that, as leaders, we succeed as a team, together and never alone! Our work is just that, OURS, not mine and yours, but a collaborative effort.

Successful leadership is a shared venture, never a solo act!

I currently serve alongside the most enthusiastic, dedicated and talented educators you would find anywhere. Our team is tireless! What it all comes down to is an unyielding committment to our students and the vision and mission of our school. We know that making progress means we all have to work together towards our goals. The following are a few truths about shared leadership that I’ve learned from my dedicated team.

Synergy is Tangible

When I work alone, I hit road-blocks and feel my limitations. When leadership is shared, the boundaries for what we can accomplish are limitless. Not only limitless, but the team brings energy that multiplies our efforts. Every members’ talents enhance the others. I’ve also found that when the leadership team is energized, it gives energy to the teacher teams as well. That’s a real win-win for everyone!

No Ego, All Team-Go

Sharing leadership means there is no room for egos. When egos are set aside, the team is free to trust one another to achieve their greatest potential. Egos slow progress down because it makes every decision and event about an individual. I am blessed to work with a leader who models egoless leadership in such a graceful way. She empowers others by leading with a team-go mindset. Because of her shared leadership, we believe there’s nothing we can’t accomplish together!

Our Successes and Failures are Shared

As a team, our successes are sweeter because together, we achieve more. We share both accomplishments and setbacks. Accountability is distributed. We learn from our mistakes and only grow stronger as a result. The team doesn’t finger point or single out, but shares ownership and learns from missteps together.

Teamwork is the Dream Work

What is impossible alone, becomes surmountable with the team. Many times, I find myself thinking, I work with the best team, a true Dream Team! They make going to work each day such a pleasure because each member contributes at their highest level. We also bring diverse and valuable talents to the team. Because of their dedication, they make our work dream work.

What are your experiences and reflections about shared leadership? I would love to hear from others in the field!

Thanks for reading & sharing, Heidi

Wave Makers

make waves 2*This entry is inspired from The Hidden Rules Series with #leadupchat on Saturdays @ 8:30am CST 

Beware of Calm Waters…

Growing up as a kid we spent many a summer at the lake. Rising early in the morning the lake would sparkle, and serve as a mirror with the sun reflecting off of the calm waters. However, it wasn’t long as the hours continued in the day that the waves started to beat against the sides of docked boats and on the water’s edge. It was with excitement we would take our boat out into those waters anticipating what the day may hold. However, I also remember finding myself in the middle of the lake when a storm would blow in and a downpour would engulf us. Experiences such as those were a mixture of both fear and pure delight. As I serve in my current building as an assistant principal I am making some strong connections to my current experiences.

Leaders anticipate that the waters won’t always be calm, they have already decided that waves will be inevitable when stepping into the boat.

Be a Wave Maker…

Leaders aren’t afraid to make waves, they understand that there will be storms to face. My friend Bethany Hill (twitter @bethhill2829) would refer to this type of leader as fearless leadership. I’m convinced schools rise and fall, not on test scores, but on leadership – plain and simple. School leadership is not for the faint of heart, and today more than ever waves will result, as we move forward against the steady stream of public perception, testing mandates, teacher turnover, vast socio-economic family dynamics, and outdated best practices that should have retired 30 years ago.

The Leader Is Prepared…

Go with the right equipment – It would be foolish to take a boat without paddles, so why go into school leadership without understanding the culture, dynamics, or needs of students.

Don’t go alone – Bring others along for the ride. Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely, and in today’s world the call is to connected leadership. Do you empower others to take the oars and row along with you?  These people exist on your campus but also through you PLN. Those who are rowing with me include the amazing thought leaders in my Twitter PLN #leadupchat and voxer group.

Anticipate the weather – Instructional leadership is a big piece of the pie for a campus building leader, but relational leadership is even more so. Student achievement flourishes when we meet the felt needs of both our students, staff, and community stakeholders. You must understand the weather (campus dynamics) and how it contributes to the waves you are, or may face.

Ride Out the Wave – It isn’t just what happens when the wave hits but how you recover from it. As a leader how you emerge on the other side of challenge speaks tremendously about you. How we navigate rough waters NOW may determine for people if they want you at the helm of the boat LATER.

Truth be told it is much safer from the shore, but not nearly as much fun and you miss out on chance to truly experience something incredible as a leader. Our people need us to take risks and to make waves. Today’s kids and tomorrow’s leaders are depending on us to model for them taking chances and having the resilience when knocked about by a few waves. Our people need us to step into the boat often before they will, and if we fear waves, then how will our people ever survive the ride!

Grow. Lead. Serve. -Jeff

Let Them Be Little

Today, this thought is on my mind, “Let Them Be Little.”  One of the instructional coaches at my current school introduced this phrase to me.  I came to Early Childhood Education after a decade-plus of working on a K-5 campus. This past year has taught me over and over the value of providing high quality schooling for our 3 and 4 year olds. I have the K-5 perspective reminding me that Kindergarten will come soon enough, with all of its academics and less developmentally appropriate practices. While our 3 and 4 year old children are in our Early Childhood Schools, let’s remember to “Let Them Be Little”. They will only be this precious age once. Their most important responsibilities at school should include playing and learning how to be a good friend.

Don’t misunderstand me, we have state provided Pre-K guidelines that we follow carefully.  Our students are daily exposed to and challenged to expand their phonemic awareness, academic vocabulary and number sense, but let it be done through exploration, play, creativity, and hands-on experiences.  Those are the things they will remember and carry with them as a foundation for all the academics that will come soon enough.

As early childhood educators, I believe we are obligated to design learning experiences that honor their littleness.  I think about the experiences students at my school have had this year that honored their littleness and feel proud of our teachers and their commitment to this principle. Our students built a model community called Johnsonville, learned about each other’s families, participated in multiple dress up days as community helpers, fairy tale characters, and even dinosaurs, performed a Snow White reenactment, and pretended and played in centers designed to be caves, weather broadcast booths, construction zones and pumpkin patches, just to list a few.  Our students also learned how to respect others, be friends, regulate their emotions and give their best efforts.

Early Childhood seems to be the final vestige of ‘Developmentally Appropriate’ instruction.  Every day has the potential to be magical for a child.  Let’s not lose sight of their tender age and stage as 3 and 4 year olds and pledge to “Let Them Be Little” while they are in our care and learning in our schools. They are only that way once. -Heidi

Let Them Be Little

I will let them be little

Fill their hearts with laughter

Help them grow their wings

Nurture their sense of wonder

Inspire them to believe

-poem’s author unknown

Non-Negotiables

I believe early childhood educators daily lay the foundation of excellence for the next generation of innovators through fostering creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and effective communication.

My thoughts here are simply intended to be my reflections on my journey as both a learner and leader. I share them with the hope they will spark others on their journey too.  That being said, I keep these quotes in mind:

“The journey is the destination.”  -Dan Eldon

“Success is a journey, not a destination.” -Arthur Ashe

I was recently asked, “What non-negotiables do you want to have in place in your building as a campus principal?” by one of my school district leaders.  Below was my response, in a nutshell.

My non-negotiables align with the 6 Exceptional Systems of No Excuses University (based on the book No Excuses University by Damen Lopez):

  • Universal belief in the achievement of all students, a Growth Mindset is crucial
  • Authentic collaboration that transforms the way we work together to achieve goals
  • Tight standards alignment for curriculum; vertically aligned curriculum
  • Ongoing formative & summative assessment practices that align to the standards
  • Data management practices that engage/involve students & teachers alike
  • Targeted intervention model that meets the need of all at-risk students (both behavior and academic) in a proactive fashion/at the point of need

I would also add:

  • Building a culture of innovation, creativity, reflection and risk-taking
  • Technology integration that is transformative not static
  • Relationships that last; “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” -John Maxwell
  • Designing engaging work
  • Employing research based instructional practices as a norm
  • Having a vertically aligned and implemented social emotional curriculum & school wide Positive Behavior Supports
  • Engaging parents and the community in both traditional and nontraditional ways

As you read over my non-negotiables, what would you add?  What are your non-negotiables in your building when you are the campus principal?

-Heidi

The Other 21st Century Skills: Educator Self-Assessment

User Generated Education

I’ve posted about The Other 21st Skills and Attributes.  This post provides links and resources about these skills as well as an educator self-assessment.  This assessment contains questions to assist the educator in evaluating if and how s/he is facilitating these skills and attributes in the learning environment. skills

21st century skills

Related Resources:

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The Power of Learning By Modeling

MLK-ed-quote

So much of the learning that has accompanied my education has had nothing to do with a classroom. I have personally benefited by being surrounded by people who have modeled intelligence and character. These people became my models, my heroes. Why do we love heroes so much? They give us something to aspire to, a hope of what we can become ourselves. Today, for example we stop to recognize the leadership and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our country is still feeling the effect of his efforts to educate and promote peace through reconciliation between people. I am profoundly reminded in a world filled with much social conflict, that we have come far in many areas, but yet have so far to go. The future will require leaders who can handle some huge questions. We consistently need to raise up in our community and schools, leaders who aren’t afraid to question, think, and demonstrate deep character. 

We talk a lot about the need for societal change,  but truthfully that is a macro level issue that will only be solved with a micro level solution – me. For real change to occur I need to exhibit it, by bringing real ideas and exemplary character to the table. In my life I have had some fantastic examples of leadership through my grandmother, parents, and other men who invested in me. All of these people have taught me through their example the power of relationship and how it impacts change.

My grandmother was in the banking industry for over 30 years and would tell me story after story about how she dealt with difficult people and different types of people of all colors and classes.  I learned more often by sitting at her feet than in a classroom. Those skills she imparted I carry with me today as I see the world as my classroom. However, at a much more concrete level I understand that my greatest influence currently is the school building where I serve as an administrator.

When I walk through those school doors each day I’m reminded that my most powerful teaching happens through my example. 

Some Helpful questions as I Model Learning

  1. How can I affect the culture of my school today through relationship building, trust giving, and empowering personal ownership of learning whether social or intellectual?
  2. What do I want students and staff to understand about their value as learners? What does that look like?
  3. Is there one person in particular I could be mentoring and building capacity, whether a student or staff team member? This extends beyond your core leadership team.
  4. Am I leading the way by modeling being an active, engaged, & life long learner? Am I challenging myself to grow as much as I am my team?
  5. Are all decisions being made with the highest ethics and integrity possible?

There is a laundry list of areas in life I have not figured out but this is one I am working on daily. Let us not be so short sighted to believe that the best learning is from a book or a standardized skill, but instead through the power of a person’s model.

Grow. Lead. Serve. -Jeff