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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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)