Category: WAYS

These are some ways that I’ve seen, read about, or otherwise come across that seem to engage students in learning and growth.

Reflection and Growth: The Bad News Is the Good News [(a)IQ]

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When I think about reflection I typically think about looking back on something. I think about a blanket analysis of something I had previously thought, said, or done.

Why?

Why do I think of reflection as a simple backward-looking act when I know what the word means? A reflection is an image of the present. It’s essentially an aura of the moment in which it exists, and in that, it’s a powerful tool for considering growth and next steps.

While the incorporation of pathway and progress are essential to planning and forward thinking, it would seem that those next steps should be the critical focus of a meaningful reflective practice.

Hank Procee refers to Frank Serafini’s outlining of reflective practice on the foundation of both “reflectively” as dealing with “profession-related issues” and “reflection” as stressing “critical social issues.” He summaries Serifini’s distinction between “three critical dimensions” or reflective practice as follows, “The first dimension in purpose (what is the goal of reflection); the second is process (how is reflection exercised); and the third is focus (what is the central event or experience to reflect upon)” (p. 238).

I’m beginning to consider that my conventional reflective paradigm might have something to do with a type judgment that lays outside of the scientific lens that Serifini constructs, and in that, has the potential to restrict meaningful and progressive outcomes.       It is through that consideration that I have been further contemplating shifting my paradigm in favor of a more real-time conception, solidifying a new reflective paradigm that better aligns with my intended purpose, process, and focus, and framing each reflective stop along the path with forward progress always in mind.

In doing so, I’m also bearing in mind an effort to reframe and enhance my perception of judgment as a function of learning and growth indelibly connected to reflection.

Visualize your own reflection in a mirror. What do you see? Do you not see yourself as you are right now?

Arguably, in this moment, within your reflection, and given the knowledge you have of yourself and your past, you can see how that past has impacted your progress toward this moment.

As I reflect right now my thoughts are with what has led to this moment, professionally and personally, and with what I might think, say, and do to continue becoming what it is I’m aiming at. This would be a process focused on real-time growth with the purpose of learning and enhances practice…process, purpose, and focus.

In reflection through this lens I would be forced to think on a foundation of the moment I’m witnessing and asking how I can bring my best and most thoughtful personal and professional qualities to each consecutive moment, even as I change along with an ever-changing understanding of myself within both a personal and professional context.

Another critical aspect of understanding my best and how to tap it in each moment is reflection around best practices in others. Sometimes it’s difficult to see and understand our own best. It often seems less difficult to recognize others at their best or to pick out best qualities in others. If that is the case, scientifically reflecting on the thoughts, ideas, and actions of others as potential models of effective practice (whether through a “what to do” or a “what not to do” lens) could contribute to progress in meaningful ways as well.

In doing so it is critical to avoid negative or personalized judgment, while focusing in on growth-producing judgment. What if I were only to pull only the very best from every situation I see or hear about? What if my reflective practice was only about the positive? What if even the instinctively negative aspects of reflective judgment were forcibly viewed holistically as opportunities for advancement?

Inside of a growth mindset, even challenges and mistakes are to be considered positive opportunities for learning. Through this lens, even the bad news is the good news because the bad news is fodder for contemplation of connected development.

I would suggest that thinking about reflection as a scientific act in which purpose, process, and focus set the stage for growth allows us to separate from the arguably reflexive potential for negative judgment, and to connect our personal and professional practice to the meaningful growth patterns we would inevitably then discover in ourselves and in others. I would further suggest that the same has the potential to help reflective practitioners see those patterns with enhanced clarity and use them as drivers of continuous and positive progress.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Frustrated Tomorrow

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Frustration can be depleting.  It can be distracting. It can catalyze an energy shift from joyful to uneasy in the blink of an eye.

Running into frustration can zap you.  It can take you off guard and it can inundate potentially peaceful moments of your one, relatively short life with tension.  It can take you by surprise and spin you around.

Also, frustration can be extremely easy to come by in the busy, fast-paced world in which we live.

I understand that we are each unique. However, I would venture a guess that everyone experiences some frustration in one form or another.

I would further speculate that most of us experience at least a bit of that frustration over situations that, if scrutinized for balanced responses and significance, wouldn’t actually call for it (the frustration, that is).

Finally, while I suppose there is an argument to be made for frustration as a motivator, I would suggest that any number of alternate, upbeat, and progressive routes might be increasingly positive & holistically more productive than the frustrated one.

In that I don’t prefer the troublesome nature of frustration to joyful calm I’ve focused some relatively significant reflective energy on seeking one of those alternate routes for moments where frustration presents as a viable mindset.

After only forty-two short years of soul searching I think I may have found a decent strategy for energy shifting, reframing, and regulation toward the calm focus of which I speak when those moments arise.

I’m calling it, “Frustrated Tomorrow.”

Turns out, it’s not new and it’s not rocket science.  Not nearly.

It’s simply about having and exercising the desire, the will, and the connected commitment to joyful, present, and thoughtful living to counter-infect your mind with contented serenity as an antidote to any frustration that would seek to strip from you the same.

It seems to work too.  At least for me.  And at least so far.

I’ve only been doing it for a couple of weeks and the impact is already visible.

For example, I realized not too long ago that I had recently lost the will to engaged in car karaoke. A practice I’ve been enjoying for decades.

After enlisting the support of “Frustrated Tomorrow” I’ve found myself once again singing along with my favorite eighties superstars at the top of my lungs; Journey, Aerosmith, and even Bette Midler in a moment of pure abandonment (“The Rose” – I couldn’t help it).

Freed from the minutia of unfettered frustration by way of “Frustrated Tomorrow” I’m finding myself more frequently accessing the reflective, creative, and jubilant parts of what makes life fun for me.

I’m more available to my family. Ironically, one of the frustrations that at times has kept me drained and somewhat distant, even when I was physically present, was the fact that I don’t have nearly as much physically present time as I’d like.  Aside from thick with irony, that’s just goofy.

“Frustrated Tomorrow” helped me walk that back and remember what a blessing each moment truly is.

Under the “Frustrated Tomorrow” paradigm I’m more fun, I’m more thoughtful, I’m more introspective, and I’m simply more me.

If you ever feel frustration and question it as potentially unnecessary, and if you’re interested in exploring another pathway to peacefulness, you might consider the procedure below in exploring that “Frustrated Tomorrow” could work for you.

Step 1: When you feel frustration knocking decide to reserve it for tomorrow by saying, “I’ll be frustrated about that tomorrow.”  Out loud is good.  In your mind will do.

Step 2: Actually, there is no “Step 2.” Step 1 should do the trick if you trust yourself, and if you’re able to take your own advise. If it doesn’t work, you’ll simply get and possibly remain frustrated. No harm, no foul.

Good news though, you can keep trying as often as you’d like, even and especially if you fail at first.  After all, failure is a magnificent pathway to learning and growth.  The most magnificent some might say.

In fact, “Frustrated Tomorrow” might not work for you until you work on it.

It’s possible that you might have to see the benefits before it sinks in.

It’s possible that you might have to be cool with delaying the gratification of frustration before your able to give it up (if indeed frustration itself turns out to be your desired end game).

If you enlist the courage to continue through failure you might find that in some, if not most cases, you’ll end up not needing frustration once tomorrow comes.

If you dig in even when facing seemingly imminent defeat, you might experience that in some, if not most cases you’ll forget why you were considering frustration in the first place.

Who knows? Not me. Just a thought.

If you need it, and you want it, and you try it, and it works…well done (and happy joyful calm).

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Laugh. Lead.

3 Ways To Practice Forgiveness, 2 Reasons To Consider It, & 1 Disclaimer

Near Seems Bigger

Do you ever have moments you’d like to return? Have you ever thought better of an action or a decision and wished you could step back in time? Is there an occasion you can recall in which bringing your best would have been wonderfully effective, but instead you brought something else?

Have you flopped? Have you failed? Have you disappointed yourself? Have you disappointed someone else? Has something like this happened to you? Has it happened repeatedly? If so, congratulations! Not only do these circumstances represent powerful opportunities for learning and growth, but if you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, I can verify with a high degree of certainty that, like me, you’re a human being; a flawed but extraordinary thing to be.

The 3 Ways:

1. Forgive Yourself. Do it. You can thank yourself afterward. Forgiving yourself is a boon for maximizing the learning and growth of which I speak. It’s not always easy. Not for me anyway. Sometimes you’re not forgiven by others, and in those cases it’s especially not easy. But still, do it. Don’t forget. Don’t overlook. Don’t dismiss. Just forgive, and then, reflect with intention. Don’t repeat the same mistakes too many times; a few will do. Be strong in your resolve to make positive progress. Focus on your core values as you reflect. Enlist strength to defeat frustration. Never give up. Try to remember things that are near can seem bigger than things that are far. Down the line you might even wonder why forgiveness was needed in the first place. Still, I would suggest that it might be.

Think about what might happen if you make strides with each opportunity; even tiny strides. Do it. If you don’t like it or see value in it, stop. But I think you will. If you already do it, keep it up, even and especially when it’s most challenging. Give yourself permission to stumble, and if you don’t catch yourself, to fall. All the while, remember that you’re brave, strong, and in every way capable of bringing your best at every turn; dark, light, or otherwise.

2. Forgive Others When They Ask For Forgiveness. Grudges are bad. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone along the way, but don’t waste time obscuring your positive progress with extended negativity. I believe most people are well meaning. Like us, they stumble and they fall. Give the benefit of the doubt, maintain optimism, consider that good intentions abound, suppose that pain could be the root of hurtful behavior and that sadness might be the foundation of insensitivity, and then use those considerations to exercise compassion in the face of frustration. Take an apology as an invitation to support someone in learning and growth. Give them that gift.

3. Forgive Others Before They Ask For Forgiveness. Why wait? If you agree that forgiveness is a positive thing you might consider carrying some with you all the time. A reserve, if you will. Even a bit of “just in case” forgiveness can go a long way. Most people mean you no harm, and those that do are typically seeking to gain power over you. Dissolve that possibility. Don’t be harmed. Be strong. Have resolve. Again, stick to your core.

The 2 Reasons:

1. Practicing Forgiveness Is Good For You. When you practice forgiveness in any of the ways listed above you open yourself up to a world of possibilities that tends to be stifled by the opposite. Again, forgiveness and apathy are wildly different things. When you forgive the humanness of any given situation and the human being within it, with the understanding that we learn from bumps on the road, you stand a chance at paving the section of road you just stumbled on. Pave it. You bring your best when you seek do so. You enhance the world when you bring your best.

2. Practicing Forgiveness Is Good For Those You Serve. Speaking of enhancing the world, we are all servants. I mostly speak to parents, educators, and organizational leaders because that’s my wheelhouse, as it were. When we offer forgiveness we model forgiveness. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. We should be teaching those we serve, especially the children we serve, about the power of forgiveness and we should support them in learning to exercise it themselves. Practicing it might just be the best way. Besides, it feels good to be forgiven. It promotes confidence and suggests value. Confident people who feel valued contribute great things to the world.

The 1 Disclaimer:

1. I Could Be Wrong. It’s a human thing. My thoughts and ideas on this and all other topics of which I think, speak, and write are inexorably tainted by my limited capacity to understand the complexities of this world and inescapably skewed by the experience I’m having within it. In other words, this stuff might work for you and it might not. It’s really just food for further reflective thought.

So, if forgiveness isn’t currently a part of your paradigm and you decide to consider it on the basis of reading this post…and, if doing so isn’t effective for you…please forgive me, or not. I already have.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Let’s help boy writers celebrate themselves as writers, please (thanks).

Believe It.

There’s so much more to being a writer than simply thinking you’re one. I think. Or maybe not. Who knows? Not me. I’m just a guy who thinks he’s a writer, but that’s beside the point (kind of).

Anyway, in elementary school we find that some students don’t think they’re writers. Specifically, we tend to find this diminished sense of writerly self or otherwise holistic lack of confidence and/or drive in boy writers. But that’s too bad, and it’s also the underpinning of unfortunately inaccurate feelings on their part. In fact, they are writers. We all are. We all have a story and we’re all capable of telling it in some written form. That’s writing, and that’s what writers do.

I love to write. Writing quite literally feeds my soul. It scaffolds my growth. It’s the foundation of my reflective processing. It’s in no small way a big part of my life. I crave it.

When I feel bad, writing helps me feel better. When I’m stuck, writing helps me move. When I need it, it’s there. I can write on a napkin or in the sand. I can writer standing up or siting down. I can think about what I would write even when I don’t have anything to write on or with. I call that mind writing and I think it’s writing too (some people consider it daydreaming; you say tomato…).

I consider myself a writer, and I consider that consideration a gift. It’s a gift given to me by those who have celebrated my self-identification as a writer, and those who have supported me in doing the same, for better or worse…and there’s been a lot of worse with some peppered in better.

I distinctly remember writing and submitting a piece composed in a language that I totally made up. It was entirely nonsensical from start to finish, but it made sense to me. I was compelled to do it even thought I suspected that my teacher would be frustrated and that my parents would most likely be on the receiving end of an angry phone call regarding my lack of solemnity for school. What if that was the moment they found out I was a silly guy? So be it.

But it wasn’t. My teacher took it seriously. She celebrated it. She celebrated me as a writer. She supported me in doing the same, so I did. I loved it. I wanted to write more. I did that too. I still do. I even write in English (a well establish and widely recognized sensical language) much of the time.

I identify as a writer. I made, and continue to make no apologies about using words like “sensicle.” Just look at this post. With regard to writing proficiency it’s stinky at best. And that’s being kind. Heck, I’ve used the words “but,” “with,” and “and” to begin sentences throughout these paragraphs. I honestly have no idea if I’m actually allowed to do that. I’m walking a fine line to say the least. But I love it (oops).

Getting boys to self-identify as writers is a challenge that we in elementary education face with a great many of the boys we serve.  We want boys to self-identify in this way because we believe that self-identification breeds confidence and fosters engagement. It does and always has for me.

I was a boy at one time. Granted, it was long ago and for an appallingly brief period of time, but I was. I promise. Now, I’m the father to three boys. I want them each to feel free to write as they see fit. I want them to know the power and the joy of the written word, or the written whatever. I want them to be able to define what it is to write for themselves and to feel comfortable exploring this cathartic medium with vim (and even vigor if at all possible). I want that for all the boy writers I serve.

Parents and educators, let’s make sure to celebrate as the primary response to boys when they seek out quiet spots with pieces of paper and pencils in hand, when they get lost in scribble and sentences, when they discover the power of expression that writing can uniquely grant them, and let’s get wildly excited when then decide to share their writing with us, even and especially if and when they use silly words or broken punctuation. Let’s be ok with “but,” “and,” and “with,” as sentence starters if we can muster the strength.

We can refine along the way. First let’s help them explore, discover, and understand what being a writer means to each of them individually, and then let’s help each of them get excited about the fact that that’s exactly what they each are! Writers indeed.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Write? Write.

The Immeasurable Joys of Conscious Weight Gain Leadership

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We went to my mother-in-law’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Technically speaking it’s my father-in-law’s house too, but he doesn’t cook like she does. In fact, I don’t know that he cooks at all. When my mother-in-law is at our house babysitting for more than a few hours at a time I suspect that ‘Papa’ has to skip meals.

I feel for the guy, but with the four little ones at home we do need help. He’s lost a lot of weight since we began having kids but he seems to be surviving. He’s very resilient. Anyway, as I was saying, we went to my mother-in-law’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.

I took a bit of nap before dinner because I knew that I’d need the energy for digestion later on. I could have waited to take the nap until after the meal but I nap on the floor, and given the “Tigger”- like nature of my children I’m never too far from a surprise pounce on the belly while floor-napping. Last night I was confident that my belly would be full in a not-for-pouncing sort of way. I was well thought out and prepared. I was driven and dedicated to getting the job done.

Any dinner at my mother-in-law’s house is not for the faint of heart, and this was Thanksgiving dinner. We’re talking about a woman who grew up in the kitchen with a mother who loved to cook. She watched and learned. She loved it. She still loves it.

Her food is no joke. I’m a grown man of forty-one years and this food often has me crying tears of joy in anticipation. I ‘ve been known to weep with eagerness days before I know she’s cooking. It’s the type of food that makes inevitable weight gain worthwhile. I go in knowing that the scale will tip. It’s a sacrifice I’m always willing to make.

Adding to the forthcoming lapse of dietary judgment I was planning to commit, I snuck a few chocolate truffles before dinner…maybe three or four (or so). They were siting on the counter calling my name (repeatedly). I was warming up. I thought I was alone but I wasn’t. My mother-in-law caught me red-handed. I didn’t know what to say so I just blurted out, “Not so good for my waistline but these truffles are great!”

With every bit of calm and encouragement, and as she continued stirring, pouring, and managing her orchestra of culinary wizardry, she assuredly replied, “We don’t worry about our waistlines while eating chocolate.”

Wow. Good point, and therein sets the leadership message: trust yourself, decide purposefully, and feel good about the path you tread.

For example, there are plenty of times during any given day when I feel way too busy to spend quality time with the incredible people I serve. Times when I feel stuck behind my desk responding to e-mails, writing reports, or organizing files.

However, there are times when I cast those things aside for the former. Times when I decide to go into a kindergarten classroom for some counting with beans or sharing of creatively written stories. Times when I decide to engage in the process of science exploration with a group of enthusiastic fifth graders. Times when a Teacher or a parent sits down in my office and we simply catch up on life for fifteen or twenty minutes.

These times are great. These times are important. The key is that the joyfulness remains intact. The key is that I’m not fidgeting with sweaty palms, anxious to get back to my e-mails, reports, and files. The key is that I engage in real-time, genuine conversations and learning collaborations without guilt or heightened stress.

What if you felt miserable every time you ate a piece of delicious chocolate? What if throwing caution to the wind with a rich and hearty meal every once in a while was a dismal experience? I say with balance and intentionality you can keep on course and also indulge every now and again. In fact, I say it’s important.

Conscious weight gain leadership is when you deliberately switch out a moment of one thing that seems imminent and critical for a moment of another and is actually more important. Parents might try this too.

I would suggest that you only do so with the confidence that the switched-out thing will eventually get done, and in a meaningful way. I would also suggest that you highlight the joyfulness of whatever it is you’ve switched out for. Don’t spend time on regret. It’s not helpful for anyone involved.

Be thoughtful, error on the side of joy, get done what you need to get done so that you can be intentional about switching stuff out every now and again, put people first.

Above all else, never eat a piece of chocolate or a rich and hearty meal with your waistline in mind…it’s simply not as good.

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Use Courage.

The Fine Art of Eating Crow

Making Mistakes

Making mistakes is an amazingly meaningful and important component of learning and growth.  We have to do it.  If we didn’t do it we would run the risk of stagnation.  Without mistake making, we could forget that stumbling is a wonderful way to learn balance, that falling is great start to getting up, and that failing is an incredible tool for understanding what it takes to succeed.  I am a true Edisonian (it’s a word now).  I love that Edison got giddy about making mistakes!  I appreciate that he checked failed attempts off of his list, watching the list morph into an expansive doctrine on how not to do stuff, create things, and achieve goals.

The bigger the list got, the closer he came to doing that stuff, creating those things, and achieving those goals.  Best of all, when folks laughed, told him so, or gave up on him, it didn’t cross his mind to join them.  It wasn’t important that they believed or gave him any kind of credit for forward progress.  He just wanted to make good things happen.  He yearned to be a factor in positive change.  However, the positive change was the reward, not being the factor.

Being Right v Doing Right

Creating a light bulb is about offering people a mechanism by which to see with clarity in dark places.  We in education can relate because we have a very similar intended outcome.  We seek to bring light into dark places too.  We work to facilitate processes by which those we serve are able to maximize, and even exceed their potential.  We believe in what others might consider impossible.  We understand that the world we are ever-preparing for is in many ways beyond even our most outstretched imaginations.  We know that we don’t know.  We seek to know more every day.  We push ourselves to the max.  We hope.  We dream.  We believe.  Nowhere in the core of the values that drive us does “rightness” play a role.  It ain’t easy, in part, because we are regularly bombarded by voices that insist we’re wrong.  Ironically, many among us consider those voices, not in self-defeatist ways, but in reflective ways.

Educators are a kooky bunch of do-gooders who would much prefer to do the right things than to be the ones who are right.  At our core, we want our communities to learn and grow, whoever those learning and growth paths are paved by.  I believe that it behooves us to consider that as we walk through the fast paced, high intensity, and sometimes-exhausting world of our daily lives.  It’s hard though.  When frustration creeps in, we can always fall back on the action part of “rightness” and ask ourselves, “what’s important here?”

Have you ever moved forward with consensus, failed, then looked up at faces that were no longer consenced (probably not a word…but you get it)?  Have those faces ever worked to cut you down with assertions like, “Wow you really dropped the ball there!” or, “Ouch, you couldn’t have been more ineffective at that?”  Casting blame, pointing fingers, and other sundry attempts to deflect or distract should actually be considered boons for educational/organizational leaders!  They give us opportunities to model value driven professionalism and maturity, to show those we serve that even when the road is long and windy we are better off to tread with optimism, and to thicken our skin (which can help everyone focus).

I don’t prefer to cast generalizations.  However, every experience I’ve had leads me to firmly believe that being right is almost entirely inconsequential in the face of authentic learning and growth.  Remember that while process is key, we should always keep our eyes on the prize.  Student achievement, positive cultural development, learning, growth, fulfillment, and joyfulness perpetuate enhanced communities.  Arguments and extensive perseveration over who’s right, who’s wrong, or whose idea it was, diminish communities, weaken systems, and distract from the incredibly important work we do.

Don’t Over-Chew

So, eat that crow folks, and don’t over chew.  Swallow it like a pill and move on with your life.  Keep it light hearted and positive.  When people point out the messes you make, the balls you drop, the mistakes, the challenges, and the errors along your path, own all of it and thank them.  Then, ask for their help in moving forward.  Give them the voice that they need.  Offer autonomy inside of your partnerships, distribute credit for achievement, and overtly appreciate those you serve for their dedication, hard work, and contributions.

Remember that you are but a link in this chain.  Celebrate the strength of team, reserve pride for your own reflective growth, and help others understand that you are ready to take responsibility for positive progress, even when that means eating crow.  The more you practice, the easier it becomes, and the more impactful you will be on other individuals’ ability to see past distracting behaviors and into value/goal driven professional practice.  Besides, crow isn’t so bad with a dab of ketchup.  Just don’t put your foot in your mouth…that really stinks!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Personalized Theoretical Constructs for Doable Ongoing Action Research

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary suggests multiple definitions for the word “theory.”  I find, “an idea that is suggested or presented as possibly true but that is not known or proven to be true,” to be the most impactful one, as viewed through a researcher’s lens.  Specifically, think that definition works well for practicing educators and educational leaders engaged in ongoing action research framed by already-defined theoretical constructs.  In large part, research is designed to impact change in positive, progressive ways.  The developmental process by which change happens is embedded in a paradigm of possibility.  Using theory to guide research, with the understanding that there are ideas to be adapted and truths to be discovered, can be a powerful strategy for growth and development.

Dressman (2008) points out, “as research methodology has broadened in its scope, the ways in which theories are used have changed as well, from the generation of hypotheses to be tested to the use of theories as rhetorical “framing” devices that provide powerful metaphors that in some cases organized entire research projects” (p. 3).  In other words, research does not have to end in the proving or elaboration of any given theory.  Alternatively, theoretical beliefs and assumptions can be used to guide research that is intended to impact people, programs, and/or situations rather than the development of those beliefs and assumptions.  That kind of research is based on theoretical constructs or paradigms.

“Applying theory as a lens through which to view the social world is a powerful analytic process with significant implications for social change” (Allen, 2011, p. 16).  I think of the lens that Allen writes about as a theoretical construct, and the analytic process as research.  Suppose that people learn more effectively when they are joyful.  This is not an entirely implausible supposition.  In fact, there is a large body of existing research that suggests comfort, happiness, wellbeing, and even joyfulness can aid in productivity.  Stephen Covey’s incredibly popular strategies for organization and communication are meant to increase meaningful productivity and lead to “success.”  In part, Dr. Covey’s strategies focus on finding joy in one’s work, life, and relationships.

Regardless of Dr. Covey’s, or any other research, it would be reasonable for me to theorize that joy plays a significant role in learner productivity and success based on my own experiences, both as a learner and as an educator.  I can recall a multitude of situations in which the absence of joy left me preoccupied, and equally as many in which the presence of joy contributed to my ability focus on the task at hand.  I have worked with a several students who have lacked drive, and have pointed to challenging, joyless life scenarios as distractions from engagement and productivity in school.   I could very reasonably scaffold a research project on the theoretical construct that joy enhances learner productivity, without seeking to validate or otherwise justify it.

I could use case study methodology to identify ways in which joyful learners participate in the learning process, and then generate a list of behaviors that seem to lend themselves to meaningful engagement.  I could do a comparative ethnography of varied school or classroom cultures that speaks to joy as a motivator for learning, never attempting to substantiate the theoretical construct itself, only using it to scaffold understanding and progress with regard to learning cultures.  Research requires a starting point and a frame of reference.  A theoretical construct can provide both, even without defining proof that the construct is universally held to be true.  Furthermore, resulting data need not point to the validity of the theoretical construct, only to progress in the area of focus, or for the focus subjects of the research.

As an administrator I appreciate the use of theoretical constructs as the basis of ongoing research, because I believe that it diminishes the perceived intensity of research itself.  When research can move forward without the burden proof its assumptions, its accessibility is enhanced.  Besides, the outcome of such research will speak to that proof, even if in indirect ways.  The researcher and the research subjects can benefit from focused exploration, especially if they are willing to adapt according to outcome indicators.

I think that educators at all levels should be constantly doing action research.  Using personalized theoretical constructs to support that effort reduces formality and allows educators to weave reflection, analysis, and a growth mindset into their daily work.  By simply identifying critical challenges, framing them within a theoretical construct, collecting and analyzing related data, then applying those data to development through application, educators can effectively engage in continuing progress.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

 

References

Allen, E. J.  (2011).  Women’s status in higher education: Equity matters.  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Dressman, M.  (2008).  Using social theory in educational research: A practical guide.  New York, NY: Routledge

Theory.  (n.d.).  In Merriam-Webster online.  Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theory?show=0&t=1393191734

3,2,1 – Value Driven Leadership Made Easy

I’m about to make a generalization, so close your eyes if you don’t want to read it.

Value driven leadership is really the only way to go.  Leaders serve.  Within the notion of service, two groups exist…you, and those you serve.  I happen to believe that while distinguishable in many ways, during the leadership/service relationship, those two groups ought to be conjoined (so to speak).  What is leadership about if not facilitating a process by which an organization and its members are supported and encouraged in the ongoing process of reaching and exceeding their potential?  Moreover, should that facilitation not be aimed at the organization and it’s members, both as individuals, and as a collection of individuals with a universal initiative and a shared notion of anticipated outcomes?  If so, how better to lead an organization than by understanding and working through a set of values that speaks to that collection of individuals, lends itself to that initiative, and perpetuates those outcomes?  If not, what could it hurt:)?  The following is a simple system that can help any organizational leader tread a value driven coarse with ease.   Let’s call it “3,2,1.”  Check it out.

Do these 3 things during every interaction:  Listen, Care, and Offer to Help.

Again, organizations are make up of individuals, and by individuals, I mean people.  Typically, people like to talk.  School communities in particular, are made up of people who like to talk.  Teachers work really hard to build meaningful relationships and provide high quality classroom instruction.  They focus tons of time on learning and development.  They share their professional world with large groups of other stakeholders, who provide them with plenty to talk about.  Many of them enjoy talking about their journeys.  Some of them need to talk about their challenges.  Most of them are well served to know that someone is listening.  Be that someone.  Listen.  It couldn’t be more important.

Students and parents have a myriad reasons to talk as well.  They have thoughts and ideas about learning and sharing in the positive progress of the school community.  They have hopes and concerns.  They too need a venue for sharing.  Being a good listener can go a long way in building the type of culture that enhances learning and growth for all.  And, if you intend to be that “good” listener, I would suggest that you care.  Incidentally, this is not something that you can pretend to do.  Have you ever had a conversation with someone in a crowded room, but felt like you and that person were the only two people in there.  That’s good listening.  When you truly care about what someone is saying to you, it’s an easy feeling to achieve and project.  When you don’t truly care, it’s nearly impossible.  So care, for real.

Finally, offer to help.  This can be done in a variety of ways.  However, I have found one to be highly effective and quite easy to implement.  At the end of a conversation, e-mail, or text, just say or write, “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”  Simple, tells the story.  Then, if the person that you’re talking or writing to responds with a suggestion of how you can help, do that.  If you’re not able to, communicate that.  The key is that you authentically try to help in any way you can.  Listen, care, and offer to help.  Now you’re counting down to value driven leadership.  More importantly, you’re framing those values in a way that makes sense and has meaning to the people you serve.  It’s good.  And don’t worry if you mess up on any of the three at any given time.  You can try again.  You can keep trying.

Do these 2 things in between:  Reflect and Respond.

Reflect as frequently as you’d like, in whatever fashion suits you best.  I like to blog.  Blogging gives me an archive of my regular reflections, it gives keeps me on a reflection schedule, and it gives me a contributing audience whose input has been invaluable to my growth process.  While I highly recommend starting one, you don’t need a blog reflect in a meaningful way.  You can write in a notebook for ten to fifteen minutes at lunch or the end of the day.  You can speak into a voice recorder whenever an idea for reflection pops into your head.  You can sit in a quiet room and think, you can draw pictures to storyboard your growth, you can write poetry, you can sculpt, and you could even talk to your dog (a very non-judgmental individual, I would guess).  However you choose to reflect, do it, and make sure that you do the second part of the “2” – respond.

Reflection is great practice.  Some would suggest that it’s essential to learning and growth.  I will suggest that it’s infinitely less meaningful if it doesn’t lead to action.  Respond to your reflection by doing something.  If you had a negative interaction with a colleague on a given day, reflect on it, and then respond by brainstorming ways that you might approach that person in the future or repair a bruised relationship.  If you are consistently unable to address all of your daily e-mails in a timely manner and falling behind as a result, reflect on it, then refine your organizational or time management systems.  Taking the time to reflect and respond to your reflections will help to keep you grounded your values, and those of the organization in which you lead.  The practice will highlight successes, expose missteps, and encourage forward progress through challenges.

Do this 1 thing all the time:  Forgive.

Forgive yourself and others.  We will all make mistakes.  Forgiveness helps people move forward.  Also, it can be a power tool for grounding oneself in an authentic set of core values, because if done from the heart, it can diminish many of the unnecessary distractions that some of us face on a regular basis.  Keep this tool in mind when you drop the ball.  Remember, if you can forgive yourself for being human and fallible, you can feel good about trying again.

If you try “3,2,1” or use a different system, I’d love to hear about it!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Using Scissor Skills as an Inroad to Positive Student Growth

Recently, my four-year-old procured a new sheet of temporary tattoos.  Angry Birds.  Couldn’t he want to play with something called Happy Birds, or even Mildly Frustrated Birds?  “Angry” is just so harsh.  Anyway, I think that the sheet may have come from a birthday party gift bag.  Regardless, yesterday was tattoo day.  After a long morning of rotating between Tickle Monster & Daddy Jungle Gym, I was ready for a bit of rest.  We climbed the stairs and headed for the Lego drawer in the living room.

Part of my great love for Legos is that they’re awesome!  My kids love to create.  They reach deep into their imaginations to construct things that one might not think would be possible to construct with Legos.  While all of their architectural masterpieces don’t exactly resemble those “impossible” things, they always seem to make some sort of sense with creative explanations and close inspections.

The other reason Legos are cool is because when we play with them, no one is jumping on stomach, stomping on my face, beating me in the head with a Styrofoam hockey stick, insisting that I pick them up by their feet, swing them around, throw them up in their air, and repeatedly chase them around in small spaces for hours on end, or sneezing directly in my face at close range (incidentally, I’ve experienced some relatively productive sneezes in that fashion, but that’s beside the point).

As the Lego play ensued, a look of pure joy came upon my big guy’s face.  He remembered the sheet of tattoos sitting on the kitchen counter.  One of those tattoos was just waiting to be adhered to the back of his hand.  Jumping up and down, he declared, “Daddy, we need to do our tattoos!”  He and his little brother grabbed each other and bounced around as if they just connected on a game-wining touchdown pass.  Little sister and I looked at each other and smiled.  Those goofy boys!

Here’s the rub, when we got to the kitchen I asked which tattoo each of the brothers wanted, then I proceed to cut the specified tattoos out of the sheet.  My four-year-old looked at me in amazement.  He said, “Daddy…you are a great cutter!”  At the risk of lacking humility, I must admit, I am a bit of a tattoo-cutting wizard.  I never go over the lines, I leave plenty of space in between tattoos, and I can get the one right in the middle without damaging any others.  I know…impressive.  Seriously though, it’s a skill that he admires.  While it’s nothing to most adults, four-year-olds find cutting that way pretty challenging (and not just because their rounded, plastic, scissors don’t work as well as ours).

When I put this in the context of education, I remember that we have many opportunities each day to connect with students around growth and development, simply in the ways in which we model and respond to their perceptions of us.  One of the things we’re looking to do as educators is help these young people function with increased automaticity in progressively more ways as they advance through school, into college, and eventually independent adult life.  When our students look at us with amazement, whether it’s because of something relatively basic like our expertise with scissors, or something relatively complex, like our ability to negotiate consensus through conflict, we need to be aware, take note, and make a plan.  Those moments are ripe for learning, connections, and delivering a sense of value to those whose positive growth is our charge.  Take the time to follow up with students who express interests in learning things that you know.  A few sessions of “Scissors 101,” can go a long way in showing a kid that he/she can, and that we care!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

7 Ways to Practice/Model Effective Leadership

 

Some Thoughts and Ideas

I’m pretty sure that the whole “apple and tree” thing comes up so frequently because there’s some truth to it.  The apple really does seem to fall pretty darn close to the tree.  Remember though, apples do come in all shapes and sizes, they are unique from one another in many ways (even those from the same tree), and they have the capacity to grow, and to change.  I think I’m not talking about apples any more.  Regardless, I would argue that modeling plays a big part in growth and development.  Furthermore, I find modeling to be an invaluable practice of leaders who seek to influence positive development within the communities that they serve, and among the populations of those communities.

Like apples, leaders come in all shapes and sizes.  Isn’t it cool when we see a kindergartener being kind to his peers in overt and intentional ways?  A kid is showing his leadership value when he makes sure that everyone get’s a turn, or shares some of his snack because someone else forgot to bring one, or takes the time to build friendships with those who are to shy to reach out.  Education thrives when leadership is not only distributed, but also recognized in all of its myriad forms.  Below are seven ways one might consider modeling effective leadership.  I assume that many leadership/education blog readers are already doing these things in their personal and professional lives.  I would suggest that insomuch as you are (and whether or not you intend to), you are working to guid others down a path to productivity and wellbeing.  By being prescriptive about the ways in which you lead, you are well positioned to perpetuate a positive culture of distributed leadership.

1.  Stay Grounded In Your Core Values

Covey relentlessly reminds me of this important leadership practice, and I appreciate it!  The first step to making this happen is to clearly articulate your core values in one form or another.  Even a quick list scratched out on a legal pad will do.  What do you hold sacred?  Why have you chosen a career in education?  At he end of each day, if you accomplish one thing, what would you like it to be?  A few concepts that come to mind as I scratch out my list are kindnessopen-mindedness, reflective thinking, autonomy within collaboration, progress, and patience.  There are more, but simply articulating this group gets my wheels turning.  How am I functioning as a school leader within these categories?  What could I do to enhance the connection between my work and my core values?  Is that connection impacting the community that I serve in positive ways?  Where could I shift my thinking/practice to gain positive momentum toward collective outcomes?

I recently had a meeting with a mentor who reminded me how important it is to be authentic in my convictions, and to see them through.  Our discussion brought to light the often-difficult nature of facilitating cultural shifts.  He is currently engaged in an ongoing process by which the school community he leads is updating their strategic plan.  He has committed to developmental structures that give voice to the community.  Those who are served by the plan will develop the plan.  It resonates deeply with me because our district is doing the same.  To that end, our superintendent has worked hard to design and implement a process based his clearly articulated core values of collaboration and stakeholder ownership.  He has invited the gamut of our community members to contribute through varied means.  He has made clear that this is to be “our” plan, and that every voice will be listened to, heard, and valued as it unfolds.  A great way to model leadership and build enthusiasm for positive progress!

2.  Keep Moving Forward

It ain’t always easy to stay the course.  Especially because we’re fallible, and there are many bumps, twists, and turns along any given trail we attempt to tread.  Education provides us with lots of opportunities to feel that throwing the towel in is an option.  However, we know full well that it isn’t.  Re-consider, adapt, change your mind, shift your thinking, stomp your feet and pound your fists if you must…but never give up!  Simply the modeling of optimism, and a commitment to positive forward progress toward any goal, with any group, in any situation, can mean the difference between growth and stagnation.  A lot of “any’s,” no doubt, but I’m standing by it.

3.  Trust Your Gut

Remember “Raiders of the Lost Ark?”  The scene where Indiana Jones stepped off what appeared to be a menacing cliff, into what appeared to be a gigantic abyss?  I don’t recommend that.  However, I do appreciate the decision as it relates to leadership modeling.  Dr. Jones (while a fictional character) was well read in biblical history and lore; he studied countless texts, paintings, and artifacts, had critical conversations, taught college level courses, and was guided by his father’s detailed journal.  In the end though, he had to make a decision based on a feeling.  The feeling was generated in large part by his extensive preparation…but it was still a feeling.  Do you ever have a feeling about the right thing to do and the right way to do it?  I do.

There is a whole bunch of grey in education.  I believe that’s one of the reasons we spend so much time thinking and talking about failure as a path to achievement.  Edison knew something about how a light bulb would eventually hold and project sustained light.  He wasn’t going in to each of thousands of experimental attempts blind, but he did need to trust his gut to some extent.  He knew that the thing he aimed for was possible, just as Indiana Jones new that something was going to prevent him from falling as a result of his “leap of faith.”  Sometimes it doesn’t matter that we can detail the “why” or the “how” of a thing.  It’s fine line though.  As leaders (even if we’re only leading ourselves down life’s path) we have to hone our gut-trusting abilities.

As with any aspect of life, in leadership, degrees of caution are required for progress.  We can practice by taking reasonable risks.  Reach out to someone who you feel would be interested in collaboration.  Implement an after school program that gives some student group a voice in your school improvement plan.  Offer selected teachers, students, and parents learning tools that you may not fully have vetted yourself.  Try Stuff when your gut tells you it’s good stuff to try.  The more you do it in non-earth-shattering situations, the better you will be at doing it when the ground threatens to shake a bit.  Also, the modeling will help to generate a sense of value, autonomy, and even enthusiasm in those who you serve, and those who share leadership responsibilities in your organization and in your community.

4.  Be Reflective (Learn)

It tends to be much easier for me to dole out advice that to take it.  I’m getting better though.  I’m becoming increasingly reflective.  Occasionally I find myself working to help others through challenging situations by reminding them that patience is a virtue, or that it takes two people to have an argument, or things usually work out better when you think before you speak.  During many of those occasions I realize that the same advise would work well for me.  I feel a bit silly at first, but then I realize the opportunity I’m facing.  I can take that advice.  I can enter any advice into my paradigm of regular reflection, and I can use it to help me develop in to the kind of father, husband, educator, and person that I’m constantly aiming to be.

Life is filled with chances to think about what you might have done.  I would suggest that the most effective reflective practices take it in a bit of a different direction, asking:  What will I do know?  What will I do next?  Organizations, systems, programs, and people are ever-evolving things.  When leaders model the ware withal to move through their own individual evolutionary processes as reflective adapters, they stand to perpetuate cultures that are capable of the same.  If you value growth and development born from reflection, model it.  You will find that people appreciate the open-minded, adaptable, forward thinking practice of truly reflective leadership.  I believe that reflective leadership can dig deep in enhancing organizational outcomes.

5.  Commit

Stuff takes time!  If you believe in one or more of the practices outlined in this post, make a commitment to incorporate it/them into your leadership practice.  If not, make sure that you do know what works for you, and re-up your commitment to that/those things.  If you are already deeply committed to the leadership practices that fit you and your community, and need no further development…well done.  You can take a nap now.

Of course, there are varied levels of commitment.  Some commitments are intended to last for a lifetime, while others are meant to be relatively short-term and experimental.  The key is to see things through to their end.  Don’t be wishy-washy.  Your population of students, parents, and colleagues will appreciate your well thought out & decisive nature.  They will come to understand and feel comfortable that your word is your bond, and that things get will get done when and how they are supposed to.  When I do this well, I always see positive results.  When I drop the ball on this (which unfortunately happens), I tend to experience disappointment from others, and myself, along with a diminished enthusiasm for progress.  While those things can be repaired with authentic and sympathetic communication, it’s best to avoid them when possible.  When leaders regularly model fulfilling intentional commitments to things that they can handle well, they promote a relaxed sense of comfort among those they serve.

6.  Believe

I would not presume to tell you what you should believe; just that believing seems to be a good way to go, and therefore, a good thing to model.  I happen to believe that big dreamshard work, and wellbeing are three essential ingredients to a productive and joyful life.  I end my blog posts by asserting “Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.,” specifically because of that belief.  Take it or leave it.  However, it’s been a great practice as I reflect through this blog.  It repeatedly grounds me in that set of beliefs, and while they are already deep-seeded aspects of who I am and how I function, I find the reminders helpful.   Some educators believe that all students can learn, some believe that the ‘good’ in everyone will eventually shine through, and some believe that every integration is a pathway to learning.  Making your belief system overt in your words and actions helps people understand who you are and how you operate.  When leaders are intentional about modeling this practice they are likely to enjoy the reciprocal benefit of similar output from others, which enhances relationships and generates companionate communication, development, and growth.

7.  Appreciate Adapted Outcomes

It doesn’t always work out the way you intended, but it does always work out.  The train is going to keep moving whether or not you’re on it.  It’s all right to be disappointed in outcomes, but it’s not all right to dwell.  One good way to be all right with the way things work out (when they don’t work out the way you wanted them to) is to appreciate it.  Adapted outcomes can be very useful to organizational leaders.  In part because they have hence become the reality of things, and in part because they can provide great insights as to how things have evolved.  Model excitement over outcomes as points along a path and you will be modeling patiencegenuine learning, trust in the process of growth, and comfort with change.  All important leadership concepts to keep in mind as you work to fulfill you individual goals and address the vision of your school and district communities.

So What?

In writing this post I’m suggesting that any one of the above ways is a decent starting point for a brainstorm regarding leadership.  However, while I have a long way to go, my development has led me to consider that any and all combinations therein could be useful as scaffolding for quality leadership and leadership modeling (arguably one in the same).  That in mind, I think any and all advice should be dissected.   I think it should be broken down to its smallest parts, questioned and even denied, laughed at, kicked around, and crumpled up into little bits of unrecognizable fire fodder.  Then, if an inkling of connected interest remains, it should be considered in whatever ways the considerer feels comfortable.  Only if that process ends with some sort of “aha” moment should the advice be adopted.  So do what you will with what you just read, and please keep in mind that I’d love to hear about it!  As always, your input is welcome and appreciated.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.