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.

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.

 

Blog Gone Effective!

In my experience, blogs are great tools for perpetuating cultures of collaboration.  Digital environments seem to be extremely comfortable spaces for sharing.  We see it daily as our otherwise reserved friends and family update their social media pages.  In education, I’ve found that people are less inhibited and more willing to offer a peek into their thoughts, ideas, and practices when they’re given the opportunity to do so by way of a thoughtful and positive blog post as opposed to a live presentation or a classroom visit.  I do know educators who thrive in classroom visit and live presentation scenarios.  However, a truly collaborative culture is all-inclusive.  I’ve experienced learning communities in which those who are comfortable with live sharing become the only ones to share.  Conversely, in communities facing that challenge, those who are not comfortable sharing tend to sit in the back, isolate themselves in their classrooms, and avoid opportunities for collaboration.

It’s important to understand that these are not hard and fast rules, only possibilities to consider.  In considering all relevant possibilities education leaders can work to break barriers that might otherwise encumber the collaborative learning cultures they strive for.  It does take a village to raise a child, and two heads really are better than one.  We so frequently insist on these collaboration axioms because they’re true.  After much critical thought, related data collection and analysis, and ongoing reflective practice, I would assert that blogging is one viable option for bringing communities together in purposeful collaboration, and perpetuating cultures by which otherwise unlikely contributors feel comfortable enthusiastically showcasing their work to the benefit of all stakeholders.  As educators, our collective goal is to enhance student achievement and attitudes toward learning so that the students we serve are prepared to meet and exceed their potential as contributing members of an increasingly complex global community.  When we share, we expand our ability to meet that goal.

Conveniently, there are multiple free and cost effective hosting services like Weebly and Edublogs that are extremely easy to use, both for strategic classroom instruction and professional learning.  To begin with, consider purpose.

Who is your audience?

What are your targeted short and long-term goals?

While perpetuating collaborative learning is the overarching theme that I’m suggesting, what will your path to that end look like?

Will teachers be blog managers or strictly contributors?

Will you involve students as contributors?

What other roles might they play?

How about parents and other critical partners?

In part, my blog is designed to showcase the incredible ideas and practices of my colleagues so that they are increasingly aware of each other’s expertise.  The lens through which I attempt to reveal those ideas and practices (along with my own personal and professional experiences) is my authentic perspective.  The intention is to connect individuals who would be interested in expanding on that perspective, and integrating those ideas and practices into their paradigm through collaborative reflection, planning, and implementation.  Learning and connecting with learning partners is my primary purpose.  The authentic expression and modeling of that purpose is key to the effectiveness of my blogging efforts.

What is your purpose?

How will you reveal that purpose to your audience?

How will you develop it into share objectives and actions with those who would be your partners in learning and growth?

As you contemplate these questions in the development of your blog, carefully consider the structure and the procedures that you intend to put in place for its effectiveness and sustainability.  One of the most important things that I’ve learned so far on my blogging adventure is that blogs need proper feeding and care.  It takes a focused effort, a significant time commitment, and a passion for digital collaboration to manage a blog with any degree of success.  A blog is a tool, and like any other tool its effectiveness is dependent on its user.  Blogs can be used to communicate content, expectations, resources, calendar events, etc., individuals or communities of contributors can manage them, they can provide real time access to developmental artifacts for reflective processing and adaptation, they can be literary or graphic, they can be whimsical or academic, most importantly however, they can be highly effective in perpetuating learning and growth.  After spending this past year using a reflective learning blog to support and encourage collaboration in the communities I serve, I can confidently assert that the time and effort I invested have been returned exponentially in the progress I’ve been a part of.  I will continue to work at developing my site and my skills, and I strongly encourage other educators to get on the blogging bandwagon.  If you’re already an education blogger, if you are considering it, or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me for collaboration…I’m always looking for new learning partners!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

When Creative Play Turns Into Video Production

This morning my four-year-old decided to wake up extra early.  It was quite a feat, given that we all went to bed extra late last night.  Adding insult to injury, my wife was up every hour on the hour with our runny-nosed infant.  Even as my mind raced to come up with some good reasons why it should be her turn again, I knew that I wasn’t nearly that clever.  I rolled out of bed.  My feet hit the floor with a bit of a clunk.  My shoulders stood up before my neck or head, bringing them along for the ride.  I followed the sound in the dark.  “Momma?  Momma?”  He was calling for her.  Didn’t that mean anything?   I knew it didn’t.

When I arrived at his bedside (little brother sawing logs next door) I naively asked if he wanted to rest some more in Momma and Daddy’s room.  I crossed my fingers, threw salt over my shoulder, held my breath, and visualized all kinds of pennies and rabbits’ feet…all to no avail.  The words didn’t come out right away.  It appeared as if he was considering the invitation.  I hoped.  In hindsight I think he must have simply been shaking that last bits of sleep off before dropping the, “I want to go downstairs” bomb.  He followed that classic with, “and I want apple sauce, milk, yogurt, and a Fiber One bar.”

I ached for my bed.  It called to me.  The whisper of my pillows slithered through the hallway and shimmied in through the boys’ cracked bedroom door, “Seth…we miss you.  We miss your head.  Please come back and lay down!”  I could almost feel my face resting against a revitalized “cool side.”  Alas, it was but a dream.  I was awake, and it was “go-time.”  Then I remembered yesterdays’ post.  “Be present,” I told myself.  Life is short.  I get to sleep every evening (for a little while at least).  However, I don’t get to wake up and play with my buddy every morning.  A burst of energy shot through me.  I picked the kid up, and down we went.

This one loves to draw.  We collaborated on some farm animals.  I did the rough sketches and he did most of the coloring in.  He told me what to draw, and while my technique admittedly leaves much to be desired, it was good enough.   As we worked he began to tell the story of three farm friends.  Turns out, “Cow-iobi,” “Pig-iobi,” and “Sheep-iobi,” were best friends.  One day when Cow-iobi was walking near the barn, he saw Pig-iobi climbing down from a tree.  On the last climb, Pig-iobi leapt out of the tree, only to get stuck on the fence.  The two friends had to think fast.  What would they do?  It wasn’t long before they remembered that “Sheep-iobi” was a real handy guy.  If he could come to the barn with his hammer and screwdriver, he might be able to set Pig-iobi loose from the fence.  As luck would have it, that’s just what happened!  The three friends celebrated.  They were filled with joy, and in being so filled, they proceed to jump for it (joy, that is).

This morning our creative play reminded us that friends always help friends, a wonderful lesson to remember in my estimation.  We had so much fun drawing, coloring, and making up a story, that we decided to produce a short film about the farm friends’ adventure, another reminder.  Extending learning based on learners’ interests is a great way to promote longterm engagement and achievement.  Little brother joined us before long.  Then came Momma and baby.  We all sat together for a while, playing and creating the Berg Brother’s debut production.  So, without further glamorization or adieu, pop your corn, find a cozy spot, and enjoy the film that critics are calling the breakout hit of the holiday season!

The Berg Brothers proudly present:  “Farm Friends in ‘Stuck on a Fence’.”

Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

 

A Fun *Way to Celebrate The Incredible Work Our Teachers Do

One Way

One of my favorite things about being a school administrator is that I get to spend lots of time with a whole bunch of phenominal teachers and a ton of incredible students.  It’s been an amazing growth expirence for me as an educator.  From a leadership perspective, I belive that support, encouragement, and celebration are three key ingredients for perpetuating healthy learning communities in classrooms, in school buildings, throughout districts, across entire states, around the country, and globally.  It’s one of my core values.  Twitter has been helping me transtate that value into action in my school community and beyond.

You may have already known that it’s quite easy to email a tweet.  If you didn’t, now you do.  Check it out.  Below is a tweet I sent from our 6th grade band concert.  A rocking musical event!  Focus on the three dots next to the word “more.”  Clicking on those dots provides a drop down menu that offers a couple of options.  The “Share via email” option is your Huckleberry in this case.  Click it, and you’re off to the races.  My admin team and I have been taking pictures of some of the great instrcution happening in our builidng.  We’ve been tweeting them, displaying them on our website, and sharing them through our facebook page.

Via Email

One of the practices that’s brought us a lot of joy and helped to further connect us with our community of rockstar teachers is following up with an e-mail of acknowledgment/apprecitation.  I highly recommend it.  It helps to perpetuate an ongoing diologue, it invites collaboration, and it reminds everyone involved that the great work happening in the classrooms and the hallways of our school is what it’s all about!

If you want to take it a step further, use a hashtag to archive as you go.  We’re using #rcshms (Rochester Community Schools – Hart Middle School).  In doing so, we can backtrack, share at any given moment, revisit with individuals and groups, or even scrapbook if we want!  It’s an easy way to chart your course.

Some Awesome Ways

Make It Fun, Make It Relatable, Make It Interesting

Bike Math

This teacher brought his bike tredmill into school to deal with ratios.  He gave the students some information about the size of the tire, then asked them to do some computations.  They were able to visualize the concept as they worked.  It was engaging.  It brought fun and energy into what might have otherwise been a stessful and even intimidating learning expireince for some.  The shared enthusiasm for learning and application was palpable!

Get Creative, Connect To Application

Creative Math Tools

With some rulers, some tape, and some string, this teachers was able to help his group connect the curriculum to natural environment application.  He introduced the lesson with a story about how he actuatlly used the same set-up in a building project that he did at home over the summer.  His students had an opportunity to use the makeshift tool outside of the classroom.  They got a taste of how math applies to everyday life, and how deeply connceted innovation and imagination are.  It was good stuff!

Give Options, Tap Interests And Abilities

Childrens Book

Guitar

These pictures represent some of what this incredible Language Arts teacher uses to promote her students’ achievement…their interestes and abilities.  We’ve got art, we’ve got music, we’ve got passion and engagement!  Allowing students to deisgn their pathways to achivement in the creative writing process fosters a sense of autonomy, and a allows for feelings of competence as their work unfolds.  Also, it’s fun for them to share their talents with one another.

Put Them In Other Peoples Shoes

MapLenssound room

Facilitating a process by which students are encouraged to view the world from multiple perpectives is a great way to help them expand their own.  Above you see three examples of activites in which students had opportunities to think/work from a lens other than their own.  Writing about potentially adopting the metric system from the perpective of a chef, being hired to design a sound-efficient living room, or deciding where to live based on actual historical events, each perpetuates authentic learning and growth.

*This post represents the first in a new series I’m calling “ways.”  When I see, read about, or otherwise come across great ways to engage learners in development and growth, I’m going to consider adressing them under this category.  I anticipate that the focused reflection will enhance my learning process as it relates to application, and I hope that readers will benefit from the updated organization.  As always, input is welcome and appreciated!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.