Tag: productivity



I wrote a post recently with ideas for creating school environments that are supportive and help students “show up well” and ready to learn. A positive school and classroom culture can help overcome some of the negatives in a student’s life that may be impacting their emotional and educational well-being.



In the post, I also mentioned that adults who work in schools must also work at “showing up well.” We have to take care of ourselves and each other to have the type of supportive environment that we all need.



Teaching is stressful. In fact, teaching seems to be among the most stressful professions in America. A 2014 Gallup Poll found that nearly half of all teachers reported high levels of stress from the previous day. It was the most stressful profession in the study, slightly ahead of doctors and nurses in terms of reported stress.




http://mypinkyfinger.blogspot.com/2015/06/i-retired-no-really-i-did.html

Stress takes a significant toll on the individual, but it certainly impacts our effectiveness as educators, too. If teachers are feeling high levels of stress or are otherwise emotionally drained, it is not possible to show up well and meet the needs of students.



So why are teachers feeling so stressed? There are a variety of factors. Heavy workloads, challenging student behaviors, lack of autonomy and voice, and high stakes assessments might be a few reasons. Some of the factors are completely out of the control of educators. And some of the factors are just inherent in working with kids. It’s awesome to work with kids, but stressful at the same time.




Everything we do is about making life better for others! Never leading scorers…we love the ASSISTS! #KidsDeserveIt pic.twitter.com/WdV5s5Thmi

— Salome Thomas-EL (@Principal_EL) August 6, 2016

There is an important truth in this quote from Salome Thomas-El. We can’t always control the weight of our load. We have to look for ways to find the strength we need to show up well and be our very best. Our #KidsDeserveIt!!!



If you are struggling to show up well in your classroom, it can result in anger, resentment, frustration, depression, and other hurtful emotions. Actually, these emotions will probably show up from your students, too. As educators, what we model is typically what we get. 



Here are some ideas on resilience for teachers and taking care of your own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. I’m not great at all of these, that’s for sure. But I recognize their importance and how they help me to be my best when I do have success in these areas.



1. Focus on your purpose and the meaning in your work.



A recent Edutopia article explained how stress in itself is not necessarily bad. Stress tends to be negative when it doesn’t seem like it is meaningful. I’m reminded of the pain mothers endure in child birth, and yet it is worth it (so I am told) because of the miraculous value of bringing a child into the world and being a mother. In fact, moms often willingly do it all over again. The deep meaning of the experience must make it worth the pain.



2. Recognize you are making a difference.



This letter posted by Danny Steele on his blog really captures the commitment and dedication of teachers. You are making a difference. 



3. Build a support system at work.



We need people at work who believe in us and who inspire us. Surround yourself with people who energize you. Stay away from energy vampires, who might suck the life out of your day.






4. Develop a support system away from work.



Beyond work, we also need healthy relationships that strengthen us. It’s tough to do life alone, and we all need to rely on others. If you are struggling to find your support system, try to be that person for someone else. Giving to others is a great way to find people who can also lift you up.

5. Learn to say no.



Focus on the things that are most essential to your mission and purpose. Being busy isn’t a happiness killer in itself. But when you are too busy doing things that you aren’t even passionate about, that’s a sure recipe for burnout.



6. Make spiritual wellness a top priority.



My spiritual life is important to me. I need to nurture my relationship with God and rely on him for guidance if I’m going to show up well and be my best for my students. 



7. Relieve stress by exercising.



When I feel stress or anxiety building throughout the week, a long run does wonders to help me relax. There are so many bad habits we can turn to as a stress reliever. But exercise is good for you and helps ease the stress.



8. Eat well.



I really struggle to eat well. I love fast food, pizza, and ice cream. But when I am eating too much of the wrong stuff, I can tell it impacts my ability to be my best overall.



9. Set boundaries.



Healthy people don’t let others run over them. They set boundaries and they communicate their thoughts and feelings to others. A lack of boundaries will eventually lead to simmering resentment or angry outbursts. Ask for what you want. But also listen to others and respect their boundaries. 



10. Practice being grateful.



Gratitude is one of the most powerful things you can do for your emotional health. Be honest with yourself about your struggles, but also be always grateful. There are blessings in each day and even our difficult circumstances have the power to make us better if we choose to grow.



11. Forgive yourself and others.



Let go of things that are in the past. Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. As educators, we have to be willing to forgive. Bitterness is a heavy burden to carry.




https://quotescover.com/wp-content/uploads/Its-one-of-the-greatest__quotes-by-Maya-Angelou-69.png



12. Remain always hopeful.



If you’re like me, you don’t want anything to feel like it’s out of your control. You desire a sense of security and predictability. But life doesn’t work that way, and the only way to have peace is to give up on worry and live in the present moment. Our worries tend to live in the past or in the future. Hope is believing good things are possible and headed our way. In the mean time, we must live in the current moment.



13. Have fun!!! Enjoy the journey.



Last Friday, I had a lip sync battle at lunch with one of our other teachers. It was for a good cause. We were raising money for Care to Learn, a charity that helps students in need. But it also helps me to not take myself too seriously. I like to joke around and make laughter a part of each day.



Lip sync battle for Care to Learn! #goliberators pic.twitter.com/8k5oa8iHIc

— Liberator Counselors (@LibCounselors) November 4, 2016



14. Keep learning and growing.



Whatever problem you may be facing, you have the power to do something if you are willing to learn and keep growing. I don’t feel as stressed when I feel like I can learn from my difficulties. I view challenges as opportunities for growth, instead of stress inducing burdens.



15. Take risks.



One of the biggest regrets people have is playing it too safe. If you really want to get the most out of life you have to be bold and take risks. 






Question: How are you working to “show up well” for your students? How are you managing stress as an educator? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Read More Are You Showing Up Well For Your Students?



I wrote a post recently with ideas for creating school environments that are supportive and help students “show up well” and ready to learn. A positive school and classroom culture can help overcome some of the negatives in a student’s life that may be impacting their emotional and educational well-being.



In the post, I also mentioned that adults who work in schools must also work at “showing up well.” We have to take care of ourselves and each other to have the type of supportive environment that we all need.



Teaching is stressful. In fact, teaching seems to be among the most stressful professions in America. A 2014 Gallup Poll found that nearly half of all teachers reported high levels of stress from the previous day. It was the most stressful profession in the study, slightly ahead of doctors and nurses in terms of reported stress.




http://mypinkyfinger.blogspot.com/2015/06/i-retired-no-really-i-did.html

Stress takes a significant toll on the individual, but it certainly impacts our effectiveness as educators, too. If teachers are feeling high levels of stress or are otherwise emotionally drained, it is not possible to show up well and meet the needs of students.



So why are teachers feeling so stressed? There are a variety of factors. Heavy workloads, challenging student behaviors, lack of autonomy and voice, and high stakes assessments might be a few reasons. Some of the factors are completely out of the control of educators. And some of the factors are just inherent in working with kids. It’s awesome to work with kids, but stressful at the same time.




Everything we do is about making life better for others! Never leading scorers…we love the ASSISTS! #KidsDeserveIt pic.twitter.com/WdV5s5Thmi

— Salome Thomas-EL (@Principal_EL) August 6, 2016

There is an important truth in this quote from Salome Thomas-El. We can’t always control the weight of our load. We have to look for ways to find the strength we need to show up well and be our very best. Our #KidsDeserveIt!!!



If you are struggling to show up well in your classroom, it can result in anger, resentment, frustration, depression, and other hurtful emotions. Actually, these emotions will probably show up from your students, too. As educators, what we model is typically what we get. 



Here are some ideas on resilience for teachers and taking care of your own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. I’m not great at all of these, that’s for sure. But I recognize their importance and how they help me to be my best when I do have success in these areas.



1. Focus on your purpose and the meaning in your work.



A recent Edutopia article explained how stress in itself is not necessarily bad. Stress tends to be negative when it doesn’t seem like it is meaningful. I’m reminded of the pain mothers endure in child birth, and yet it is worth it (so I am told) because of the miraculous value of bringing a child into the world and being a mother. In fact, moms often willingly do it all over again. The deep meaning of the experience must make it worth the pain.



2. Recognize you are making a difference.



This letter posted by Danny Steele on his blog really captures the commitment and dedication of teachers. You are making a difference. 



3. Build a support system at work.



We need people at work who believe in us and who inspire us. Surround yourself with people who energize you. Stay away from energy vampires, who might suck the life out of your day.






4. Develop a support system away from work.



Beyond work, we also need healthy relationships that strengthen us. It’s tough to do life alone, and we all need to rely on others. If you are struggling to find your support system, try to be that person for someone else. Giving to others is a great way to find people who can also lift you up.

5. Learn to say no.



Focus on the things that are most essential to your mission and purpose. Being busy isn’t a happiness killer in itself. But when you are too busy doing things that you aren’t even passionate about, that’s a sure recipe for burnout.



6. Make spiritual wellness a top priority.



My spiritual life is important to me. I need to nurture my relationship with God and rely on him for guidance if I’m going to show up well and be my best for my students. 



7. Relieve stress by exercising.



When I feel stress or anxiety building throughout the week, a long run does wonders to help me relax. There are so many bad habits we can turn to as a stress reliever. But exercise is good for you and helps ease the stress.



8. Eat well.



I really struggle to eat well. I love fast food, pizza, and ice cream. But when I am eating too much of the wrong stuff, I can tell it impacts my ability to be my best overall.



9. Set boundaries.



Healthy people don’t let others run over them. They set boundaries and they communicate their thoughts and feelings to others. A lack of boundaries will eventually lead to simmering resentment or angry outbursts. Ask for what you want. But also listen to others and respect their boundaries. 



10. Practice being grateful.



Gratitude is one of the most powerful things you can do for your emotional health. Be honest with yourself about your struggles, but also be always grateful. There are blessings in each day and even our difficult circumstances have the power to make us better if we choose to grow.



11. Forgive yourself and others.



Let go of things that are in the past. Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. As educators, we have to be willing to forgive. Bitterness is a heavy burden to carry.




https://quotescover.com/wp-content/uploads/Its-one-of-the-greatest__quotes-by-Maya-Angelou-69.png



12. Remain always hopeful.



If you’re like me, you don’t want anything to feel like it’s out of your control. You desire a sense of security and predictability. But life doesn’t work that way, and the only way to have peace is to give up on worry and live in the present moment. Our worries tend to live in the past or in the future. Hope is believing good things are possible and headed our way. In the mean time, we must live in the current moment.



13. Have fun!!! Enjoy the journey.



Last Friday, I had a lip sync battle at lunch with one of our other teachers. It was for a good cause. We were raising money for Care to Learn, a charity that helps students in need. But it also helps me to not take myself too seriously. I like to joke around and make laughter a part of each day.



Lip sync battle for Care to Learn! #goliberators pic.twitter.com/8k5oa8iHIc

— Liberator Counselors (@LibCounselors) November 4, 2016



14. Keep learning and growing.



Whatever problem you may be facing, you have the power to do something if you are willing to learn and keep growing. I don’t feel as stressed when I feel like I can learn from my difficulties. I view challenges as opportunities for growth, instead of stress inducing burdens.



15. Take risks.



One of the biggest regrets people have is playing it too safe. If you really want to get the most out of life you have to be bold and take risks. 






Question: How are you working to “show up well” for your students? How are you managing stress as an educator? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Read More Are You Showing Up Well For Your Students?

When I was boy, my dad bought a long, green Pontiac station wagon. Long before the creation of the mini-van, it was the car of choice for a large family. We spent countless of hours of my childhood driving from the West Coast to the Mississippi River and back during his Navy years. After we […]

Read More PMP:041 What Makes a Productive Team?



I had a conversation not too long ago with an educator who pushed back a little on the topic of student empowerment. The teacher asserted that he went to school to be trained as a professional, is an expert in his discipline, and knows the best methods and strategies for teaching the students in his classes. The line of thinking seemed to indicate that students are not equipped to take a more active role in directing their own learning.



In another conversation with a different educator, I suggested that students and teachers should partner in the learning process and that students’ voices should be heard. But there was some push back. The person shared that some teachers would not like the term partner with students. It seems too much like students and teachers are on the same level.  



Of course, I realize teachers assume a position of authority inherent in their role. And while teachers should seek to share power with students, they should also maintain a leadership role. When necessary, they can direct, guide, or even say no. But when teachers truly honor student voices and really listen, it’s often amazing to see the initiative, wisdom, and commitment students will display.



I guess you can see I’m a big believe in student empowerment. Actually, I’m a believer in student and teacher empowerment, and empowerment in general.



I believe empowerment is one of the essential purposes of pursuing education. The more you know, the better you are equipped to make good decisions, by your own choice. Empowerment is increasing the ability to act on one’s own behalf or on the behalf of the community to accomplish a goal or create an outcome. It is an essential part of our freedom and liberty in this country. In fact, it is wrong to keep capable people controlled or limited when they can do it on their own.



When students are empowered learners, we equip them to make positive choices, to take control of their circumstances, and to go forward with their learning and goals. It’s empowering!

9 Reasons Educators Should Empower Students



1. To develop more independent learners.



The best learning is not dependent learning. It is learning that is self-directed and intrinsically motivated. School should be a place where students are expected to take greater ownership of learning.



2. To create life long learners.



As I reflect on my school days, very little I experienced led me to be the life long learner I am today. That’s not to say I didn’t learn quite a bit in school, but I didn’t learn how to pursue learning for life. I learned that outside of school. I don’t think it has to be that way.



3. To help students learn to make good decisions.



Students need practice making decisions about their own learning. They need to learn about their own strengths and weakness and how their decisions affect self and others. When there are few choices in learning, students are being robbed of the opportunity to grow as a decision-maker.






4. To foster more relevance in learning.



When students are empowered, learning becomes more relevant. Instead of just doing something as I’m told, I am able to learn things that are of interest and value to me. Teachers can help provide the context to expand and challenge the interests of students but not to make all the decisions for them. I believe students would take a harder look at what is really valuable if they were given more opportunities to be empowered.



5. To help students find their passions.



I believe this is one of the most important parts of a well-rounded education. Students need to find things they are passionate about. Learning is lifeless for the most part unless there is passion. When students discover passions, they care will care more and do more. If I’m passionate about something, I will invest in that passion even when it’s hard. Students will be more likely to find passions when they are empowered as learners.



6. To learn resilience.



Resilience develops from suffering a failure but caring enough to press on in the face of difficulty. School that is mostly compliance-driven results in students who want to do just enough to get by, or they want to take shortcuts or work the system to get a certain result (a good grade or a diploma for instance). Learning that is empowered results in students who will strive to overcome obstacles and do more than is expected. Resilience is closely tied to sense of purpose, support from others, and a positive outlook.




Retrieved: https://quotefancy.com/quote/1582901/Dick-Costolo-When-you-are-doing-what-you-love-to-do-you-become-resilient



7. To develop empathy.



I believe empowered learners are more likely to understand and exhibit empathy. Empowered learners see how they can make a difference in the world. They see how their learning can impact others. How it can help a friend, or solve a problem, or challenge someone’s thinking. If we want to create students who are world-changers we have to give them opportunities to make a difference now. Students need to have opportunities, as part of their education, to recognize injustice and then do something about it.



8. To promote leadership.




When I talk with students about leadership, I can see that many view it as having and wielding power. I think much of this thinking comes from the experience they’ve had in school where most all of the power is consolidated with teachers and administration. When we empower learners, we share power with them to help them develop the skills to own power and also share it with others. It’s not about telling someone else what to do. It’s about working with others to accomplish a greater good. At its best, it starts with humility and service. Students need to see this modeled, and they need to have the opportunity to practice it as well.








9. To develop better global citizens. 



Young people want to make a difference in the world, but they are often immobilized by a system that tells them every move to make. Empowerment allows students to make a difference now. Empowerment asks students, “What problem will you solve? How can you make the world a better place?” But there is a choice. Students will learn to be better citizens when they have the chance to lead and speak up on causes that are important to them.

10. To practice creativity.



Creativity requires unconventional thinking and will not thrive in a compliance based culture. Empowerment promotes creative thinking. It’s not about finding right answers. It’s about looking at problems in novel ways.



11. To cultivate curiosity.



Curiosity is also supported through decisions that empower others. We aren’t likely to be curious about things that aren’t personally meaningful. But when we are empowered to pursue our own questions, to investigate, to explore ideas, then our curiosity becomes an incredible pathway to learning.






Question: What are your thoughts on student empowerment? Why does this seem scary for so many educators? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.





Read More 11 Reasons Educators Should Empower Students



I had a conversation not too long ago with an educator who pushed back a little on the topic of student empowerment. The teacher asserted that he went to school to be trained as a professional, is an expert in his discipline, and knows the best methods and strategies for teaching the students in his classes. The line of thinking seemed to indicate that students are not equipped to take a more active role in directing their own learning.



In another conversation with a different educator, I suggested that students and teachers should partner in the learning process and that students’ voices should be heard. But there was some push back. The person shared that some teachers would not like the term partner with students. It seems too much like students and teachers are on the same level.  



Of course, I realize teachers assume a position of authority inherent in their role. And while teachers should seek to share power with students, they should also maintain a leadership role. When necessary, they can direct, guide, or even say no. But when teachers truly honor student voices and really listen, it’s often amazing to see the initiative, wisdom, and commitment students will display.



I guess you can see I’m a big believe in student empowerment. Actually, I’m a believer in student and teacher empowerment, and empowerment in general.



I believe empowerment is one of the essential purposes of pursuing education. The more you know, the better you are equipped to make good decisions, by your own choice. Empowerment is increasing the ability to act on one’s own behalf or on the behalf of the community to accomplish a goal or create an outcome. It is an essential part of our freedom and liberty in this country. In fact, it is wrong to keep capable people controlled or limited when they can do it on their own.



When students are empowered learners, we equip them to make positive choices, to take control of their circumstances, and to go forward with their learning and goals. It’s empowering!

9 Reasons Educators Should Empower Students



1. To develop more independent learners.



The best learning is not dependent learning. It is learning that is self-directed and intrinsically motivated. School should be a place where students are expected to take greater ownership of learning.



2. To create life long learners.



As I reflect on my school days, very little I experienced led me to be the life long learner I am today. That’s not to say I didn’t learn quite a bit in school, but I didn’t learn how to pursue learning for life. I learned that outside of school. I don’t think it has to be that way.



3. To help students learn to make good decisions.



Students need practice making decisions about their own learning. They need to learn about their own strengths and weakness and how their decisions affect self and others. When there are few choices in learning, students are being robbed of the opportunity to grow as a decision-maker.






4. To foster more relevance in learning.



When students are empowered, learning becomes more relevant. Instead of just doing something as I’m told, I am able to learn things that are of interest and value to me. Teachers can help provide the context to expand and challenge the interests of students but not to make all the decisions for them. I believe students would take a harder look at what is really valuable if they were given more opportunities to be empowered.



5. To help students find their passions.



I believe this is one of the most important parts of a well-rounded education. Students need to find things they are passionate about. Learning is lifeless for the most part unless there is passion. When students discover passions, they care will care more and do more. If I’m passionate about something, I will invest in that passion even when it’s hard. Students will be more likely to find passions when they are empowered as learners.



6. To learn resilience.



Resilience develops from suffering a failure but caring enough to press on in the face of difficulty. School that is mostly compliance-driven results in students who want to do just enough to get by, or they want to take shortcuts or work the system to get a certain result (a good grade or a diploma for instance). Learning that is empowered results in students who will strive to overcome obstacles and do more than is expected. Resilience is closely tied to sense of purpose, support from others, and a positive outlook.




Retrieved: https://quotefancy.com/quote/1582901/Dick-Costolo-When-you-are-doing-what-you-love-to-do-you-become-resilient



7. To develop empathy.



I believe empowered learners are more likely to understand and exhibit empathy. Empowered learners see how they can make a difference in the world. They see how their learning can impact others. How it can help a friend, or solve a problem, or challenge someone’s thinking. If we want to create students who are world-changers we have to give them opportunities to make a difference now. Students need to have opportunities, as part of their education, to recognize injustice and then do something about it.



8. To promote leadership.




When I talk with students about leadership, I can see that many view it as having and wielding power. I think much of this thinking comes from the experience they’ve had in school where most all of the power is consolidated with teachers and administration. When we empower learners, we share power with them to help them develop the skills to own power and also share it with others. It’s not about telling someone else what to do. It’s about working with others to accomplish a greater good. At its best, it starts with humility and service. Students need to see this modeled, and they need to have the opportunity to practice it as well.








9. To develop better global citizens. 



Young people want to make a difference in the world, but they are often immobilized by a system that tells them every move to make. Empowerment allows students to make a difference now. Empowerment asks students, “What problem will you solve? How can you make the world a better place?” But there is a choice. Students will learn to be better citizens when they have the chance to lead and speak up on causes that are important to them.

10. To practice creativity.



Creativity requires unconventional thinking and will not thrive in a compliance based culture. Empowerment promotes creative thinking. It’s not about finding right answers. It’s about looking at problems in novel ways.



11. To cultivate curiosity.



Curiosity is also supported through decisions that empower others. We aren’t likely to be curious about things that aren’t personally meaningful. But when we are empowered to pursue our own questions, to investigate, to explore ideas, then our curiosity becomes an incredible pathway to learning.






Question: What are your thoughts on student empowerment? Why does this seem scary for so many educators? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.





Read More 11 Reasons Educators Should Empower Students



One of the most important parts of leadership is communication. And no matter how much you try to communicate, it seems there is always room for improvement. But why is it that so many new ideas flame out before they really get established?



In Adam Grant’s book Originals: How Non-Comformists Move the World, he writes about the exposure effect. People tend to gravitate to ideas or methods that are more familiar, while they tend to avoid things that are less familiar.

The mere exposure effect has been replicated many times—the more familiar a face, letter, number, sound, flavor, brand, or Chinese character becomes, the more we like it. It’s true across different cultures and species; even baby chickens prefer the familiar. My favorite test was when people looked at photographs of themselves and their friends that were either regular or inverted, as if seen in a mirror. We prefer the regular photos of our friends, because that’s how we’re used to seeing them, but we like the inverted photos of ourselves, because that’s how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror. “Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt,” says serial entrepreneur Howard Tullman. “It breeds comfort.”

The exposure effect might explain why teachers tend to teach as they were taught. And why parents can get a little anxious when their child’s schooling deviates from what they experienced as a student. It might also explain why new ideas may not gain traction right away, even if they are great ideas that might be game-changers for student learning. People need time to warm-up to a new idea, and the research seems to prove it.



So if you want to move your vision forward, you have to help people become more comfortable with the vision. You have to overcommunicate the vision. But usually the opposite happens. Leaders often communicate far too little and too infrequently. Grant writes that leaders tend to assume everyone else is familiar with their ideas. They spend hours thinking about the vision from just about every angle. It seems easy to the person most familiar with it.

You know the lyrics and the melody of your idea by heart. By that point, it’s no longer possible to imagine what it sounds like to an audience that’s listening to it for the first time.

It’s easy to forget the perspective of the audience. But perhaps they aren’t on Twitter all the time discussing the topic. They might not be constantly engaged in conversations with other forward-thinking educators. They may not have the opportunity to go to as many conferences or attend as many workshops. To them, the message seems foreign and difficult to understand. It’s hard to take the message and fit it with their current thoughts and ideas. You possess a clarity they do not.

As I read this part of the book, I was reflecting on my own communication as a leader. I can actually think of lots of ways I’ve failed to consistently communicate our vision. It’s easy to add just one more thing and make our goals too complex. Then the communication is just a muddled mess of one new idea after another. There isn’t opportunity for people to really adopt an idea, get behind it, and see how it works in their world. The next new thing is just around the corner.



Just last year, our district admin team was reading Finding Your Leadership Focus by Doug Reeves. But in spite of the study of priorities, I don’t think we eliminated a single initiative. We just continued spinning plates. You work on spinning a few over here, and then give attention to some others before they come crashing down. Because nearly everything seems to be a priority, in reality it means that nothing is a priority. We are killing any chance at a transforming vision by initiative fatigue.




Retrieved: https://workingmomadventures.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/man-spinning-plates.jpg



But I actually thought of one example that was a success. So let’s focus on the positive, right? 



In the years leading up to our 1:1 initiative, we didn’t have the budget to make it happen. We just didn’t have the money. That provided plenty of time for staff to warm-up to the idea. They heard me tell stories of other schools who were going 1:1. I constantly was dreaming about how awesome it would be when all of our students had consistent access. I talked about it a lot. And other people talked about it too. I think all those years helped most everyone embrace the idea. Our budget woes may have been a blessing in disguise. The delay was probably helpful in setting the stage for the success of 1:1 at BHS.



In the fall of 2015, when 1:1 became a reality, we totally hit the ground running. I’m not saying it was perfect. But the buy-in was at a high level, and our digital transformation was off to a great start. For several years, our team was getting ready for this future reality. There was plenty of time to become familiar with the concept of 1:1, why it was important, and how it could be helpful in each classroom. We communicated the ‘why’ of 1:1 over and over again. 



As Grant suggested, “If we want people to accept our original ideas, we need to speak up about them, and then rinse and repeat.”



So as your leadership team plans to move your vision forward, consider the importance of the exposure effect. Really listen to the feedback from your team to understand how the ideas are being received. And make sure you don’t underestimate how much exposure your audience needs to understand your vision and embrace it.

When Harvard professor John Kotter studied change agents years ago, he found that they typically undercommunicated their visions by a factor of ten. On average, they spoke about the direction of change ten times less often than their stakeholders needed to hear it. In one three-month period, employees might be exposed to 2.3 million words and numbers. On average during that period, the vision for change was expressed in only 13,400 words and numbers: a 30-minute speech, an hour-long meeting, a briefing, and a memo. Since more than 99 percent of the communication that employees encounter during those three months does not concern the vision, how can they be expected to understand it, let along internalize it? The change agents don’t realize this, because they’re up to their ears in information about their vision. 

So as a result of Grant’s ideas, I’m considering ways I can be more consistent, focused, and systematic in my communication. I need to refine the message and then use the “slow-drip method” to keep it in front our staff. And I want to listen to feedback and revise the vision as needed. Ultimately, the vision should belong to the team. It’s really about giving an idea time to “percolate” so there is opportunity to process, evaluate, and ultimately act upon it.

An unfamiliar idea requires more effort to understand. The more we see, hear, and touch it, the more comfortable we become with it, and the less threatening it is.

Question: What are ways you are communicating a focused message to your team? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Read More One Simple Strategy to Overcome Resistance to Your Vision



One of the most important parts of leadership is communication. And no matter how much you try to communicate, it seems there is always room for improvement. But why is it that so many new ideas flame out before they really get established?



In Adam Grant’s book Originals: How Non-Comformists Move the World, he writes about the exposure effect. People tend to gravitate to ideas or methods that are more familiar, while they tend to avoid things that are less familiar.

The mere exposure effect has been replicated many times—the more familiar a face, letter, number, sound, flavor, brand, or Chinese character becomes, the more we like it. It’s true across different cultures and species; even baby chickens prefer the familiar. My favorite test was when people looked at photographs of themselves and their friends that were either regular or inverted, as if seen in a mirror. We prefer the regular photos of our friends, because that’s how we’re used to seeing them, but we like the inverted photos of ourselves, because that’s how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror. “Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt,” says serial entrepreneur Howard Tullman. “It breeds comfort.”

The exposure effect might explain why teachers tend to teach as they were taught. And why parents can get a little anxious when their child’s schooling deviates from what they experienced as a student. It might also explain why new ideas may not gain traction right away, even if they are great ideas that might be game-changers for student learning. People need time to warm-up to a new idea, and the research seems to prove it.



So if you want to move your vision forward, you have to help people become more comfortable with the vision. You have to overcommunicate the vision. But usually the opposite happens. Leaders often communicate far too little and too infrequently. Grant writes that leaders tend to assume everyone else is familiar with their ideas. They spend hours thinking about the vision from just about every angle. It seems easy to the person most familiar with it.

You know the lyrics and the melody of your idea by heart. By that point, it’s no longer possible to imagine what it sounds like to an audience that’s listening to it for the first time.

It’s easy to forget the perspective of the audience. But perhaps they aren’t on Twitter all the time discussing the topic. They might not be constantly engaged in conversations with other forward-thinking educators. They may not have the opportunity to go to as many conferences or attend as many workshops. To them, the message seems foreign and difficult to understand. It’s hard to take the message and fit it with their current thoughts and ideas. You possess a clarity they do not.

As I read this part of the book, I was reflecting on my own communication as a leader. I can actually think of lots of ways I’ve failed to consistently communicate our vision. It’s easy to add just one more thing and make our goals too complex. Then the communication is just a muddled mess of one new idea after another. There isn’t opportunity for people to really adopt an idea, get behind it, and see how it works in their world. The next new thing is just around the corner.



Just last year, our district admin team was reading Finding Your Leadership Focus by Doug Reeves. But in spite of the study of priorities, I don’t think we eliminated a single initiative. We just continued spinning plates. You work on spinning a few over here, and then give attention to some others before they come crashing down. Because nearly everything seems to be a priority, in reality it means that nothing is a priority. We are killing any chance at a transforming vision by initiative fatigue.




Retrieved: https://workingmomadventures.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/man-spinning-plates.jpg



But I actually thought of one example that was a success. So let’s focus on the positive, right? 



In the years leading up to our 1:1 initiative, we didn’t have the budget to make it happen. We just didn’t have the money. That provided plenty of time for staff to warm-up to the idea. They heard me tell stories of other schools who were going 1:1. I constantly was dreaming about how awesome it would be when all of our students had consistent access. I talked about it a lot. And other people talked about it too. I think all those years helped most everyone embrace the idea. Our budget woes may have been a blessing in disguise. The delay was probably helpful in setting the stage for the success of 1:1 at BHS.



In the fall of 2015, when 1:1 became a reality, we totally hit the ground running. I’m not saying it was perfect. But the buy-in was at a high level, and our digital transformation was off to a great start. For several years, our team was getting ready for this future reality. There was plenty of time to become familiar with the concept of 1:1, why it was important, and how it could be helpful in each classroom. We communicated the ‘why’ of 1:1 over and over again. 



As Grant suggested, “If we want people to accept our original ideas, we need to speak up about them, and then rinse and repeat.”



So as your leadership team plans to move your vision forward, consider the importance of the exposure effect. Really listen to the feedback from your team to understand how the ideas are being received. And make sure you don’t underestimate how much exposure your audience needs to understand your vision and embrace it.

When Harvard professor John Kotter studied change agents years ago, he found that they typically undercommunicated their visions by a factor of ten. On average, they spoke about the direction of change ten times less often than their stakeholders needed to hear it. In one three-month period, employees might be exposed to 2.3 million words and numbers. On average during that period, the vision for change was expressed in only 13,400 words and numbers: a 30-minute speech, an hour-long meeting, a briefing, and a memo. Since more than 99 percent of the communication that employees encounter during those three months does not concern the vision, how can they be expected to understand it, let along internalize it? The change agents don’t realize this, because they’re up to their ears in information about their vision. 

So as a result of Grant’s ideas, I’m considering ways I can be more consistent, focused, and systematic in my communication. I need to refine the message and then use the “slow-drip method” to keep it in front our staff. And I want to listen to feedback and revise the vision as needed. Ultimately, the vision should belong to the team. It’s really about giving an idea time to “percolate” so there is opportunity to process, evaluate, and ultimately act upon it.

An unfamiliar idea requires more effort to understand. The more we see, hear, and touch it, the more comfortable we become with it, and the less threatening it is.

Question: What are ways you are communicating a focused message to your team? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Read More One Simple Strategy to Overcome Resistance to Your Vision





“Is there really a difference in student performance with technology compared to without technology? My students seem to be doing just fine without it.”



I guess that depends on how you define student performance and success. If success is measured only by a test score or by mastery of content, then perhaps students are successful without technology.



“My classes are always engaged and seem to do just fine without technology.”



I guess that depends on how you define engaged. I think it’s important for students to do things that reflect the world we live in, not the world we grew up in.



“I want to see the proof that technology improves learning before we purchase any new tech.”



Whether technology improves learning or not isn’t about the technology itself, but how teachers and students use the technology to improve learning. 



I hear many stories about failed technology initiatives in schools. The technology was not used to the fullest, or worse it was not used at all. The narrative is all too familiar. Little was done to gather input or get buy-in from stakeholders up front, and little was done to support the implementation after the fact. How many smartboards in this country are being used as glorified projector screens? Almost always, these types of failures are avoidable with proper planning and ongoing support. 



But is it really worth it to invest thousands for technology in schools. Is it reasonable to provide a connected device to every student? For years, I’ve asked my graduate students to think about technology purchases in their own schools. Did it really pay off to buy the technology? Did the technology allow something to be done that couldn’t be done before? Was the total cost of ownership considered? 



After all, most studies I’ve encountered don’t really support the idea that technology raises student achievement. Of course, student achievement in these studies is usually narrowly defined by test scores. One study I read concluded that technology even widens the achievement gap. It found that more privileged students tend to use the devices more often for learning, while less privileged students tend to use the devices for entertainment. 



In spite of these discouraging reports, I believe we need to look further before concluding that technology isn’t worth it. As schools consider spending for new technology, there needs to be a clear vision of what success will look like. We need to really explore why we are doing what we’re doing. In addition to the questions mentioned before, I would also suggest the following as food for thought.



1. Can we afford NOT to place up-to-date technology in the hands of our students?



Technology is how things get done in our modern world. We aren’t preparing students for the world we grew up in. We aren’t even preparing students to be successful in the world they grew up in. Our world is changing so fast, our students are going to have to be prepared for anything. That requires adaptability. And it will certainly also include adaptability with the use of technology. Those skills aren’t measured on standardized tests. They are measured in authentic situations where real work is being done. 



2. Is technology being used in ways that give students greater ownership of learning? Does technology result in a shift in agency to the learner?





It’s wise to think of technology in terms of value added. How does technology allow us to do something better than before? And, how is it allowing us to do something we couldn’t do before? There are many ways tech improves things we do or allows for new things. But some uses of technology take learning to the next level. These uses are game-changers.



I would like to see technology being used to create big shifts in learning. One of the biggest shifts is to create more authentic, student-driven learning experiences. Technology is a game changer when it is used to shift agency to the learner. It’s a game-changer when students take greater ownership of their learning.



So let’s consider interactive white boards. They have some possibilities for student agency I guess, but they are probably used more often for direct instruction, led by the teacher. That doesn’t mean we should stop using these tools altogether, but I do think we should strive for technology to be used in more authentic ways, where students are given voice and choice and are creating and solving problems.



The most powerful potential for a shift in agency is for students to have access to a connected device in a BYOD or 1:1 scenario. But access is not enough. Just like there are lots of interactive white boards being used as glorified projector screens, there are also lots of laptops being used as overpriced word processors.



To use technology to the fullest, we need leaders in our classrooms and schools who can facilitate a pedagogy that creates greater student ownership of learning. How we use the technology is the critical issue that determines whether the investment pays off or not. So whether you invest in iPads or Chromebooks or some other device, the key question to remember is how will this technology improve student learning?



Question: How do you know technology use is successful in your school? Is it worth the cost? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

      

Read More Making Technology Pay





“Is there really a difference in student performance with technology compared to without technology? My students seem to be doing just fine without it.”



I guess that depends on how you define student performance and success. If success is measured only by a test score or by mastery of content, then perhaps students are successful without technology.



“My classes are always engaged and seem to do just fine without technology.”



I guess that depends on how you define engaged. I think it’s important for students to do things that reflect the world we live in, not the world we grew up in.



“I want to see the proof that technology improves learning before we purchase any new tech.”



Whether technology improves learning or not isn’t about the technology itself, but how teachers and students use the technology to improve learning. 



I hear many stories about failed technology initiatives in schools. The technology was not used to the fullest, or worse it was not used at all. The narrative is all too familiar. Little was done to gather input or get buy-in from stakeholders up front, and little was done to support the implementation after the fact. How many smartboards in this country are being used as glorified projector screens? Almost always, these types of failures are avoidable with proper planning and ongoing support. 



But is it really worth it to invest thousands for technology in schools. Is it reasonable to provide a connected device to every student? For years, I’ve asked my graduate students to think about technology purchases in their own schools. Did it really pay off to buy the technology? Did the technology allow something to be done that couldn’t be done before? Was the total cost of ownership considered? 



After all, most studies I’ve encountered don’t really support the idea that technology raises student achievement. Of course, student achievement in these studies is usually narrowly defined by test scores. One study I read concluded that technology even widens the achievement gap. It found that more privileged students tend to use the devices more often for learning, while less privileged students tend to use the devices for entertainment. 



In spite of these discouraging reports, I believe we need to look further before concluding that technology isn’t worth it. As schools consider spending for new technology, there needs to be a clear vision of what success will look like. We need to really explore why we are doing what we’re doing. In addition to the questions mentioned before, I would also suggest the following as food for thought.



1. Can we afford NOT to place up-to-date technology in the hands of our students?



Technology is how things get done in our modern world. We aren’t preparing students for the world we grew up in. We aren’t even preparing students to be successful in the world they grew up in. Our world is changing so fast, our students are going to have to be prepared for anything. That requires adaptability. And it will certainly also include adaptability with the use of technology. Those skills aren’t measured on standardized tests. They are measured in authentic situations where real work is being done. 



2. Is technology being used in ways that give students greater ownership of learning? Does technology result in a shift in agency to the learner?





It’s wise to think of technology in terms of value added. How does technology allow us to do something better than before? And, how is it allowing us to do something we couldn’t do before? There are many ways tech improves things we do or allows for new things. But some uses of technology take learning to the next level. These uses are game-changers.



I would like to see technology being used to create big shifts in learning. One of the biggest shifts is to create more authentic, student-driven learning experiences. Technology is a game changer when it is used to shift agency to the learner. It’s a game-changer when students take greater ownership of their learning.



So let’s consider interactive white boards. They have some possibilities for student agency I guess, but they are probably used more often for direct instruction, led by the teacher. That doesn’t mean we should stop using these tools altogether, but I do think we should strive for technology to be used in more authentic ways, where students are given voice and choice and are creating and solving problems.



The most powerful potential for a shift in agency is for students to have access to a connected device in a BYOD or 1:1 scenario. But access is not enough. Just like there are lots of interactive white boards being used as glorified projector screens, there are also lots of laptops being used as overpriced word processors.



To use technology to the fullest, we need leaders in our classrooms and schools who can facilitate a pedagogy that creates greater student ownership of learning. How we use the technology is the critical issue that determines whether the investment pays off or not. So whether you invest in iPads or Chromebooks or some other device, the key question to remember is how will this technology improve student learning?



Question: How do you know technology use is successful in your school? Is it worth the cost? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

      

Read More Making Technology Pay



A recent article came across my feed that caught my attention, Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians. It was especially timely since I’d just had a conversation about this topic with a principal from another school in our area. He was interested to know if we still recognized valedictorian or not. We do not. In fact, we haven’t had a valedictorian since before I arrived on the scene 8 years ago. I’m not sure how long that decision had been in place before my arrival.




Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, American students today are unmotivated and apathetic about their schoolwork, and teachers actually care more about students’ grades than the student. Teachers are expected to make lessons more engaging and fun, and to serve more like entertainers than old-fashioned teachers.



The author of the article contends that schools are ending the valedictorian award “because it might make others feel badly about their GPAs.” According the article, this decision is just more evidence that schools are lowering expectations. The author seems to draw connections between elimination of valedictorian and student apathy, mediocrity, and even the performance of the United States education system in international rankings. Those are sweeping generalizations with very little evidence to support the claims.



In truth, the school leaders I’ve spoken with have very different reasons for dumping valedictorian than those presented in the article. Valedictorian recognizes the top student in the class based on GPA. However, GPAs are a terrible way to determine one student as being the best. Often, the difference between the top few students can be less than one-thousandth of a decimal point. And the factors that determine that difference usually have more to do with what classes the students did or did not take than actual academic performance. 



For example, we had a student a few years ago who was a National Merit Scholar finalist and had perfect grades in high school. That’s right, straight A’s. However, his class rank was not even in the top 3 or 4 of his graduating class. How can that be? Well, he was an all-state musician and took multiple music classes every semester. These classes are not weighted in the GPA. Fortunately, he didn’t play the GPA game to be the “top of his class” or we would have missed his outstanding musical contributions in our school.



And it is a mathematical game. I could go on with more examples of how the system can be manipulated and often results in students taking classes strategically to have the highest GPA instead of taking classes because they are beneficial to their own future aspirations.



So the decision to get rid of valedictorian has nothing to do with lowering expectations or protecting other students’ feelings. In place of valedictorian, our school honors the highest performing students with a cum laude system, so students who earn above a certain GPA are recognized for their academic achievements. Our students wear medallions at graduation to note this distinction.



Moreover, we no longer provide information to students on class rank. It’s no longer on the grade card or the official transcript. We only provide the class rank information if it’s needed specifically for scholarship purposes.



And that decision is based on a purpose larger than the fairness of the GPA system. We want to encourage students to learn from mistakes, explore a variety of interests, and become better people as a result of their schooling. The GPA system does not reward growth or risk-taking. It rewards perfection and right answers. Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset is clear that labeling performance is not healthy for improving performance. Instead, the focus should remain on effort, improvement, and dealing with setbacks. 



Students cannot always control the results or outcomes in life, but they can always control their effort and their attitude. The loss of valedictorian isn’t harmful for motivation or performance. However, labeling students can be harmful for motivation and hurtful to healthy attitudes about learning. One mom shared how the pursuit of valedictorian was not beneficial to her perfectionist daughter.




The trouble with high school valedictorian awards – The Boston Globe

When educators talk about why their high schools have given up the award, they note the negative message it sends to the kids who lose by a fraction of a point, or the kids who are never in the competition. I am here to argue that it’s not even necessarily good for the valedictorian.



The pro-valedictorian author seems to imply that the valedictorian award is important as a celebration and reinforcement of achievement. But is a simple GPA formula appropriate to determine who is achieving the most?



Consider the student who is a victim of abuse, practically raises younger siblings, serves as designated driver for dad, and still manages to make B’s and C’s in school while holding down a part-time job. Anyone want to question this student’s merits as “high-achieving?” Again, effort and attitude are hard to quantify, but there are lots of students overcoming incredible odds to succeed in school. These inspiring students deserve to be recognized too.



That’s why schools should focus more on effort, enthusiasm, and attitudes. Rewarding only the highest achieving students won’t improve apathy in schools.



Question: What are you thoughts on schools ending the valedictorian honor? How does your school handle recognizing student achievement? I would like your feedback. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

      

Read More Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians (Response)



A recent article came across my feed that caught my attention, Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians. It was especially timely since I’d just had a conversation about this topic with a principal from another school in our area. He was interested to know if we still recognized valedictorian or not. We do not. In fact, we haven’t had a valedictorian since before I arrived on the scene 8 years ago. I’m not sure how long that decision had been in place before my arrival.




Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, American students today are unmotivated and apathetic about their schoolwork, and teachers actually care more about students’ grades than the student. Teachers are expected to make lessons more engaging and fun, and to serve more like entertainers than old-fashioned teachers.



The author of the article contends that schools are ending the valedictorian award “because it might make others feel badly about their GPAs.” According the article, this decision is just more evidence that schools are lowering expectations. The author seems to draw connections between elimination of valedictorian and student apathy, mediocrity, and even the performance of the United States education system in international rankings. Those are sweeping generalizations with very little evidence to support the claims.



In truth, the school leaders I’ve spoken with have very different reasons for dumping valedictorian than those presented in the article. Valedictorian recognizes the top student in the class based on GPA. However, GPAs are a terrible way to determine one student as being the best. Often, the difference between the top few students can be less than one-thousandth of a decimal point. And the factors that determine that difference usually have more to do with what classes the students did or did not take than actual academic performance. 



For example, we had a student a few years ago who was a National Merit Scholar finalist and had perfect grades in high school. That’s right, straight A’s. However, his class rank was not even in the top 3 or 4 of his graduating class. How can that be? Well, he was an all-state musician and took multiple music classes every semester. These classes are not weighted in the GPA. Fortunately, he didn’t play the GPA game to be the “top of his class” or we would have missed his outstanding musical contributions in our school.



And it is a mathematical game. I could go on with more examples of how the system can be manipulated and often results in students taking classes strategically to have the highest GPA instead of taking classes because they are beneficial to their own future aspirations.



So the decision to get rid of valedictorian has nothing to do with lowering expectations or protecting other students’ feelings. In place of valedictorian, our school honors the highest performing students with a cum laude system, so students who earn above a certain GPA are recognized for their academic achievements. Our students wear medallions at graduation to note this distinction.



Moreover, we no longer provide information to students on class rank. It’s no longer on the grade card or the official transcript. We only provide the class rank information if it’s needed specifically for scholarship purposes.



And that decision is based on a purpose larger than the fairness of the GPA system. We want to encourage students to learn from mistakes, explore a variety of interests, and become better people as a result of their schooling. The GPA system does not reward growth or risk-taking. It rewards perfection and right answers. Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset is clear that labeling performance is not healthy for improving performance. Instead, the focus should remain on effort, improvement, and dealing with setbacks. 



Students cannot always control the results or outcomes in life, but they can always control their effort and their attitude. The loss of valedictorian isn’t harmful for motivation or performance. However, labeling students can be harmful for motivation and hurtful to healthy attitudes about learning. One mom shared how the pursuit of valedictorian was not beneficial to her perfectionist daughter.




The trouble with high school valedictorian awards – The Boston Globe

When educators talk about why their high schools have given up the award, they note the negative message it sends to the kids who lose by a fraction of a point, or the kids who are never in the competition. I am here to argue that it’s not even necessarily good for the valedictorian.



The pro-valedictorian author seems to imply that the valedictorian award is important as a celebration and reinforcement of achievement. But is a simple GPA formula appropriate to determine who is achieving the most?



Consider the student who is a victim of abuse, practically raises younger siblings, serves as designated driver for dad, and still manages to make B’s and C’s in school while holding down a part-time job. Anyone want to question this student’s merits as “high-achieving?” Again, effort and attitude are hard to quantify, but there are lots of students overcoming incredible odds to succeed in school. These inspiring students deserve to be recognized too.



That’s why schools should focus more on effort, enthusiasm, and attitudes. Rewarding only the highest achieving students won’t improve apathy in schools.



Question: What are you thoughts on schools ending the valedictorian honor? How does your school handle recognizing student achievement? I would like your feedback. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

      

Read More Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians (Response)

This past week was a challenging one.  I left campus on Friday feeling beaten-up, stressed-out and discouraged.  Don’t worry too much about me…I’ll get over it, but it has led…

Read More Think you have arrived? Think again.