#NoArmChairNovember

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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

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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.

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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