Crafting Courageous Conversations: 5 Maxims for Everyday Leaders

As educators, we are in the people business. Yes, we deal with curriculum and instruction daily but the currency of our profession is founded in relationships. We are also in the continuous improvement process daily and that include coaching others and having those conversations that many may feel inclined to shy away from. We can all remember that first difficult phone call or conversation with a parent. It wasn’t easy, but we survived. But, what happens when the “issue” is with a colleague?

By and large, educators are pleasers, and we don’t seek out confrontations. College may have prepared us with the theoretical constructs on many educational issues, but somewhere along the way we all missed the class on giving and receiving constructive feedback.  Yet, real understanding in how to approach, prepare for, and execute courageous conversations with others is crucial for the success of any leader.  In educational leadership roles with several decades of experience we have found “5 Maxims for Courageous Conversations”. If you are a leader you can’t avoid them.

Maxim #1: A Courageous Conversation is about crafting constructive communication, not collisions.

This first maxim is based on a presumption of wanting to see others and yourself get better, it’s all about continuous improvement.  Courageous conversations are often not welcomed, but they have the power to transform a relationship. Rather than seeing an impending collision, find the benefit in dealing with an issue head on and up front. Yes, it may be uncomfortable to discuss a problem with another person, but when it comes to the “why”, we need to have the conversation considering that the positive outcomes will outweigh the negative ones.  When sitting down with another person, be certain that your own personal intentions are grounded in finding common ground, keeping your sight set on solutions and creating a shared dialogue. ~Jeff

Bottom Line: Courageous conversations avoid creating winners or losers. You will both gain relational credibility with one another.

Maxim #2: A Courageous Conversation is one in which leader takes his/her work personally and leads with heart.

Advice to leaders entering difficult conversations is typically filled with maxims like “don’t take this personally” or to relax and “not take yourself so seriously.”  In the book Fierce Conversations, Scott asserts that these suggestions are misguided.  She, instead, urges leaders to take themselves and their work personally and seriously.  Leading courageously is “seriously personal” business.   When leaders take their work seriously personal, they come out from the behind the conversation, that is the safety of pleasantries and the futile efforts to placate others, and make it real.   

When leaders step out from behind the conversation and passionately cement their spirit at the forefront, people recognize it and respond.  Because it happens so seldom, people are touched and influenced by leaders who courageously show their true selves.  They are willing to get behind a leader who is passionate and authentic.  They are willing to take his/her words and transform them into action. ~Paul

Bottom Line: Courageous conversations are ones in which the leader takes the work seriously personal, showing his/her true self and influencing others to take action.

Maxim #3: A Courageous Conversation is grounded in clearly defined and communicated core beliefs.

Many times, leaders find themselves in a position of regret wishing they would have communicated expectations or actions earlier in a process.  Then, they find themselves in a position needing to “back-track” to the intended purpose or intention.  In his book Focus, Mike Schmoker shares the importance of being “explicitly clear” in communicating the expectations up front and throughout a process.  When the leader explains his/her core beliefs, it makes it easier for others to anticipate direction and intent of leadership decisions. ~Neil

Bottom Line: Courageous conversations about beliefs up front avoid uncertainty or misconceptions among the team.

Maxim #4: A Courageous conversation is listening for understanding, not listening to reply.

We have all been there, having that conversation with someone and feeling like they are looking past you wondering if they are even listening. Your body language, where your eyes go,  and tone in the conversation is a key indicator of if you are listening. Having a courageous conversation is about allowing both sides to give input. In order for this to happen effectively, you must resist the urge to respond to every comment or explain yourself. Every time you redirect the conversation back to you, you put the focus, well, back on you. -Jeff

Bottom Line: A courageous conversation is about active listening.

Maxim #5 – A crucial conversation is essential if we want to bring about lasting change to our school culture and school community.

In School Leadership That Works, Robert Marzano describes the difference between first and second-order change: first order is incremental, and in many cases, it can be easy and manageable.  It’s something like changes to playground supervision schedules or school dress code policies.

Second-order change requires more than just talking about a problem…it requires action…and it can be emotional.  This is why crucial conversations are so vital…they bring to the surface the uncomfortable and the difficult, and they ask us to address them in a way that will impact our school’s culture.  This is the type of change that people fight against because it is going to go against the adage of “that’s the way we have always done it.”  Bringing this level of change can be paradigm-shifting, but it can also lead to the most resistance and reticence from nay-sayers.  Thus, it requires us to reflect on whether or not this is “the hill we are willing to die on.”  If it is, this crucial conversation must be undertaken if it is going to positively impact kids and their learning. ~ Todd

Bottom line:  A Courageous Conversation is one that brings about second-order change.

Bringing It All Together

Courageous conversations are powerful opportunities to influence lasting change in a person. You should end the conversation asking if there is anything additional that they may need for support or to move forward. Your goal is to set that person up for success. When engaging in this work we need to be mindful to check our motives, remembering our goal should never be to take something from the other person but to add value.  Peter Drucker reminds, “Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people”, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”


This piece was a collaborative effort on the part of the co-leaders within LeadUpNow & #LeadUpChat – Jeff Veal, Dr. Neil Gupta, Paul Erickson, and Dr. Todd Schmidt. Though we serve as administrators in four different states our commitment is the same. Together, we are committed to changing the tone of education and building capacity in the everyday leader whether in the classroom or conference room. 

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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

Adobe Spark (3)

 “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!