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


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

#Leadupchat Launching

#leadupchatTwitter has become such a powerful learning network for educators, certainly beyond anything anyone would have imagined years ago when it launched. When I first started using Twitter in 2008 it was still text message based, but the opportunity for expansion was evident. I have personally benefited  from the wisdom and leadership of many other ed thought leaders and felt the timing was right to add another layer to the edconvo. Nathan Lang (@nalang1) and myself are launching #leadupchat on March 21 and want to invite you to join us in this journey. This chat will be every Saturday @ 8:30am (CST) and will have a guest moderator monthly just to invite other points of view into the conversation.

This chat will focus on school leadership broadly, culture, changing paradigms, and the growth mindset. We can not wait to learn with those will join us as we explore topics that impact us all in education and the challenges we face as we move forward. Thanks for being on the journey as we grow and learn together. -Jeff

Proactive Leadership: Everything is Not an Emergency

“One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” -Arnold Glasgow

As parents of young boys (3 and 7) we have experienced our fair share of accidents, resulting in screaming, crying, and calling out for us. As a young parent you respond to every emergency because well, you just don’t know better. In the mind of a child everything is important, everything matters right now – “it’s an emergency because I think it is.” As our boys have gotten older and we have gotten wiser we have learned when to respond. Also we have tried to come alongside our boys and teach them they are not helpless, to be resilient, and not just react when they are hurt or upset.

Likewise I want to apply this same lens as a campus leader. As a leader I am challenged in this new year to see my leadership less about solving every emergency that happens with my students or staff but instead about helping them to be proactive problem solvers. In doing so, we communicate a strong message – I trust and respect your brain enough to figure this out. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in abandonment, instead being a coach to that struggling student or staff team member. If we don’t approach our leadership in this way we find ourselves always deeply invested in owning every problem and only reacting as they arise. This creates a very unhealthy school culture when we model for our school that the only time anything gets our attention is when it is broke.

We provide leadership when we recognize there is a problem and attempt to help our students or teams steer through it themselves but not grabbing the steering wheel. We undermine the very capacity we are attempting to increase when we must be the problem solver all the time. We respect ourselves and others when we look objectively at a problem and offer solution based insights.

Consider Asking…

Tell me what you have tried? Have you considered? What do you think may result if…? What do you think you might do to solve the problem? 

As a school leader it is challenging to feel like you have to provide all the answers…stop…you don’t. Instead pivot and become a great questioner to help others solve their problems.

What do you think?