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!

Jump Start Growth

Jump Start Growth

Recently, a mentor I respect greatly said something that deeply resonated with me. It was as if he said it just for me and me alone. He put words to something I often feel, but shrink away from admitting out loud. He declared, “I often feel weighed down by my own disappointment over my past failures to grow.” I thought to myself, “Yes… me too!” So often, I have such grand intentions about committing to growth in the form of stacks of enticing books to read, professional journals to digest, podcasts to explore, and past professional learning experiences to revisit.

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As I thought about my mentor’s admission, I was reminded of this truth: Past disappointments don’t determine future outcomes. Anything is possible if I want to change! Andy Stanley wrote about truths associated with change in his book The Principle of the Path. Mr. Stanley explained, “To get from where we don’t want to be to where we do want to be requires two things: time and a change of direction.”  

As I continued to reflect on these ideas about change, I was inspired to brainstorm a plan to jump start my own growth and came up with the steps below. I hope these steps may help you on your own journey towards continual personal and professional growth!

Jump Start Growth

Set a goal with milestones – A good idea is just that, an idea, but a goal with tangible milestones is attainable.  When considering a growth goal, set out steps that lead to the goal. Those steps serve a guideposts to where you want to go.

Celebrate small winsIn her blog, Meg Selig explains that, “Charles Duhigg used the term “small wins” in his book The Power of Habit to refer to modest behavior changes that can set off a chain reaction of more and better changes.”  When you accomplish a small win along the way toward your goal, celebrate! Plan to treat yourself to a pedicure with a friend or a special meal out. Share accomplishments along the way and enjoy the satisfaction of small wins knowing that small wins add up to big wins in the long run!

small wins

Be Accountable – Reach out to a trusted individual and tell them about your goal for growth. Ask this person to help hold you accountable to your commitment and empower them to check in on you at scheduled, agreed upon times. Be sure to communicate what your milestones are along the way, what you hope to gain on your journey of growth, and invite them to celebrate your accomplishments with you be it the small wins or the big kahuna!

Share your learning and growth – What do you plan to do with the learning you acquire and the growth you experience while on your journey? Your growth will be so much richer if you will commit to sharing your learning with others! Do this by tweeting one thing a day related to your goal, blogging your experiences and sharing out your blog, or creating a face-to-face forum such as a small study group to reflect with as you grow.

Seek opportunities to apply new learning – Look for new and different venues where your learning may take you. Could your learning be leading you to meet new people, to try new things, or go to new places? Achieving your milestones along the way requires applying what you are learning to reach your goal for growth.

Invite others to join you on your journey – I have found that my most meaningful times of growth have happened when I do it on a shared journey rather than strictly on my own. When I decided to go back to school to get my masters in Educational Leadership, I knew I did not want to do it alone. I found a colleague who was ready to tackle grad school too and we dove in together. My learning was so rich and profoundly deep because I had a friend to reflect, debrief, work, and laugh with throughout our courses. Spur others to join you on your journey and enjoy the added bonus of learning and growing in community with others.

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I have decided, I am not going to let my past disappointments stop me from pursuing future growth and accomplishments. I am recommitting to growth, one milestone at a time. My current goals include reading at least one book relating to professional growth each month and blogging at least once a month about my growth.

 What would you add to these ideas for Jump Starting Growth? I am also curious, what are your growth goals in 2016? 

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).

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     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

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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.”