Tagged: Accountable Talk

I Might Not Love My Favorite Color!

We were in the car on our way to Sunday school. Our oldest asked where our youngest was. I reminded him that his little brother doesn’t go to Sunday school. He gets to stay home with his mommy (or his daddy – depending on the day). The big guy declared, “I wish I was him!”

It’s an interesting thing to wish you were someone else. We often forget, when wishing to be someone else, that if were the “someone else” we’re wishing to be, we would have to be all of them, and not just the desirable part that sounds groovy in the moment.

I told the big guy that if he were his two-year-old brother, not only would he get to stay home during Sunday school, but he would also not know how to read words yet. Instead of finishing the last chapter in his latest Minecraft book, he’d be back to doing “Elephant and Piggie” picture walks, which are fun and exciting, but not the same. His eyes scrunched up, one brow raised, and he gave it some thought.

I told him that if he were the little guy he’d still be scared to go in the basement playroom by himself, he couldn’t ride a two wheeler, he wouldn’t get to go on the water slide at the pool, and “The Lego Movie”…forget about it! Now the wheels were turning.

The three big sibs spiraled into a collective thinking rampage!

“If I were you I couldn’t….”

“If you were me you wouldn’t…”

“You don’t like…”

“She doesn’t think…”

Then, like a meteor crashing into the village square, our uniquely sophisticated four-year-old daughter announced, “Hold on, if I were someone else I might not love my favorite color…orange!

The pigment washed out of each of their little faces. A collective gasp resonated through the back seat of the truck cab. Shockwaves shuddered palpably through them.

Wide eyed and confused, they looked around at one another unable to conceive of a world in which this kid’s favorite color wasn’t orange. It would have completely changed her…to the core.

It wasn’t something any one of them could consider without extreme discomfort. Just the thought of it sent them into a bizarre, kid-world, communal grief state of being.

Slumped over and deflated from the impact of such an outlandish paradigm, our six year old sighed, “I’m sure glad you’re you.”

They all shook their heads in agreement before staring out the windows for a few moments of reflective thinking. It was pretty darn cute. I smiled, but held back the laughter so as not to ruin the moment.

So here it is though, and from the hearts, minds and mouths of babes, a pretty solid and simple truth:

We are each what we each are.

Moreover, that we are each solidly and simply what we each are, might very well be for the best thing, for each of us and for each other.

I’ve been told that genuine serenity results only from true fulfilledness in what we are and what we have, rather than wantfullness around that which we are not and that which we don’t have, and while I’m quite certain that neither “fullfilledness” or “wantfullness” are actual words, I agree with the premise.

How do we, as parents and educators, support the kids we serve in finding the type of serenity that comes from self-appreciation?

How do we refrain from pushing and shoving our kids into directions that their spirits don’t advocate for or enjoy?

How do we set a standard expectation for self-love while modeling humility, providing opportunities for interest and ability-driven growth, engaging in interactions that promote understanding, compassion, and kindness, while creating learning environments that afford our kids safe passage along the sometimes painful, but arguable natural and necessary, oscillating pathways of simultaneous progressive-exploration and static-being that are holistically unique to each of them, and do so in conjunction with rich the collective development needed to thrive in this world of diversity?

Frankly, it beats me…but it’s stuff I find worth some reflective consideration as I seek to serve them well.

Meanwhile, I’ll try to stay on course with some good old fashioned modeling. Given that if I were someone else I might not love my favorite color, I think I’ll simply continue being me.

In it together for the kids.

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

The Perfect Lie

Sometimes I tell my kids, “That’s perfect!”

Sometimes I tell them, “Nothing’s perfect.”

My son caught me in the perfect lie the other day.

We needed to get out of the house. He was drawing a picture. He was in one of those moods during which he becomes overwhelmed by a visceral need to “get it right” before moving on. I know the feeling. I understand that this need can be problematic, in part because there often seem to be no “getting it right,” maybe especially for those of us who feel the need in that way (viscerally).

I wonder if those who don’t feel the need to “get it right” all the time are actually “getting it right” by thinking that “not quite right” is in fact “right,” on the premise (as Carol Dweck wrote in her book Mindset) that “becoming is better than being.” Ironically, I genuinely believe that’s “right.”

Regardless, I’m thinking there might be some apple and tree stuff going on here, which is beside the point, other than to suggest that I was confident our hero wouldn’t shift his attention to whatever pressing play-date or junior athletic need was looming, until the drawing looked like whatever he was tying to make it look like.

So, after exercising what I considered a good deal of patience I exclaimed, “That’s perfect!”

He smiled, put down his crayons, and off we went.

A few days later he was back at it. This time, we had nowhere to go and nothing else to do. I was excited that he was taking his time. I was present with him in that moment. I was in awe of his racing, creative mind. I didn’t want him to be stifled by the perfect lie. My motivation had changed.

He got frustrated. He wasn’t “getting it right.”

This time, in a sincere effort to help him get unstuck and shed some frustration I told him, “Nothing’s perfect.”

He looked at me with a crinkled face. He asked, “Then why did you tell me that my drawing was perfect before?”

Oops. I forgot that they don’t forget a thing.

Carol Dweck would be ashamed of me.

I suppose I could have explained that sometimes adults mislead kids when we’re trying to get them to do things the way we want them to, but that didn’t seem sensible. How would he ever trust me again? I was in a pickle (figuratively).

I told him that I shouldn’t have said it. I told him that one of the greatest things about life is that we’re always learning and that there’s always room to grow. I exposed my manipulative ways and revealed that the other day I was trying to get him to move more quickly. He smiled. He got me. It brought him joy. I was happy to help.

I thought about how easy it is for me to utter a tiny falsehood or a harmless misrepresentation to my children when it seems to serve my purpose. I found myself wrestling with the idea. I certainly can’t be the only parent who misinforms his kids from time to time. I tell myself that it’s for their good when I do it. That should count for something. The intention is there. Am I misleading myself? This reflective pathway is wrought with irony.

It’s not like I’m telling him that the earth is flat, of that pigs can fly, or that spinach tastes good.

However, it strikes me that the perfect like could actually be whopper if I’m not careful with it. What if he develops a fixed mindset? Then I’d be sorry.

I once read about a Native American folk tradition set on the foundation that no human being is, or can produce anything “perfect.” Within this tradition was the practice of purposefully leaving flaws in artwork; woven blankets with loose strings or off pattern colors, carvings that might be unbalanced or disproportionate, etc.

The idea being that life is a process and not a product. That the aim should not be to achieve perfection in any given moment, but to keep moving forward, learning all the while, and seeing evolved outcomes unfold along the unique and wondrous pathways we each tread.

I was caught in the perfect lie, and I’m glad of it. I may be better off. I’m thinking that being caught and reflecting on the experience might even enhance my ability to parent in a growth-mindset oriented way. It could help me help my kids live enhanced journies by instilling in them an enthusiasm for things like “becoming” and “beyond” instead of “finished,” “perfect,” or “right,” and that seems right. Right (you know what I mean)?

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

3T Learning And Leadership (trus(T)act): Trust Yourself And ACT [a(IQ)]

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Abraham Lincoln once said, “Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.”

Stephen Covey encourages us to seek understanding of those we partner with and serve as the foundation of relationship building and communication.

The Dalai Lama contends, “The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.”

And Eeyore so eloquently reminds us, “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”

I believe in reflection. I believe that genuinely reflective pathways have the power to supplant fear in favor of hope, constraint in favor of possibility, and defeat in favor of progress.

I believe that reflection can be a driver of growth when coupled with the understanding that stumbling cause us to practice regaining balance, that falling force us to practice dusting ourselves off and getting back up, and that challenge in all forms lead us to triumph we might otherwise consider out of reach, or worse yet, find unimaginable.

I believe we need reflection in order to press on in right ways. I believe we must process each moment with a certain degree of consideration and patience.

I would suggest with great fervor that authentic and effective learning and leadership calls for us to imagine experiential reflectivity as a catalysts to self-improvement, and then to interweave the imagining of such with a wholehearted consideration that our subsequently enhanced selves might just serve to enhance the world in which we live, and finally have a positive impact on the well being and happiness of those we serve, including ourselves.

However, as a dedicated reflective learner I have cause to wonder if there are times in which deep, reflective thinking can stifle progress. It is through that wondering that I found a possible connection between reflection in learning and leadership, and tact.

In his Article, “Reflection in Education: A Kantian Epistemology” Henk Procee points out that Van Manen shakes up thinking about reflection by brining in the idea of tact and pointing to the following three related components:

“1. A highly developed sensitivity to situations and persons; 2) a well-cultivated capacity to combine heterogeneous aspects, without having explicit rules for doing so; and 3) the unique role of the individual involved in this process.”

In other words, if you buy into that tact plays a potentially contrary role to reflection in learning and leadership, even only in certain discernable instances, you might consider listening rather than speaking, seeking to understand others well enough to at least consider the lenses through which they see the world (and their pathways within it), and to always recognize the splendor and value you know exists in the multitude of beautiful weeds that spring up around us as reminders of what our eyes are capable of beholding if only we would let them.

In other, other words, there might be time in which we’ve already reflected enough to simply trust ourselves and act.

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

Hi Potential, Nice to Meet (and Exceed) You: Considering A New Potential Paradigm

I say that it’s our job (parents and educators) to help the children we serve meet and exceed their potential.  You might ask, “How is that possible?”  If you’re a regular Berg’s Eye View reader you know that I believe in limitless possibilities.  In fact, if you are a regular reader, you probably do to.  Through a traditional lens the word potential implies an end.  It represents a thing that we can achieve when we achieve everything we can.  It suggests that there’s a highest peak and a grand finale.  I don’t think there is.

Truly, how do any of us know what we’re capable of until we go for it?  Why would anyone ever imagine that there’s a cap on what can be accomplished without reaching just a bit further?  Why would we assign those kinds of limits to our children?  Our Students?

Don’t get me wrong…I do appreciate a good goal.  Something to shoot for makes a lot of sense while you’re shooting, but once you hit it, were do you go from there?  If reaching the thing you’re shooting for means meeting your potential, where do you go next?  Do you simply stop?  I say no, and I say we must not let our children think that there’s a limit to what they can go after.   Again, I believe we’re here to help them meet and exceed their potential.  Each time some potential is met, I say it needs to be reconsidered.  From my perspective potential is a living and growing thing, and I would argue that it deserves to be addressed as such.  We deserve it.  Our incredible children and students deserve it.

Sure, you win a few and you lose a few.  We don’t end up accomplishing everything we set out to accomplish, but how often do you surprise yourself?  How often do you do something spectacular and remind yourself of potential that you didn’t know, or forgot you have.  To the best of my knowledge, none of us has a surefire way to know that something is out of our reach.  Framing potential as an end might have the potential to stifle potential itself.

How do you help your students see beyond their perceived limitations?  In what ways do you encourage the type of enthusiastic exploration that leads to places beyond our wildest imaginations?  How do you help those you serve believe?

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Thankful Thursday #3: Not Forgetting The Relationship Part

This afternoon my district did a wonderful thing.  We had a meeting.  I know what you’re thinking, lots of districts have lots of meetings all the time.  Indeed, but I’ve never been to a meeting like this one before.

This meeting was led by a group of people who’ve been teaming on shared leadership initiatives for some time now.  Some of those people are our district’s union leadership and some of those people are members of our district’s administrative cabinet.  The group spent some time in Maryland this fall studying an existing model of shared leadership.  They spent an intense four or so days with one another.  By “with one another” I mean to say that they were together day and night for the entire time.  They ate together, they worked together, they walked together, and they traveled together.  During that trip they spent just about every minute together with a group of people?  You get to know one another.

When you spend every moment together, working with one another on common goals, thinking and planning, reflecting, formatting next steps, reaching out in new and innovative directions, and digging into actions that match your individual and collective core values, you run the risk of getting to know one another very well.  Isn’t that how stakeholders in any given school community spend their time?  Turns out getting to know one another very well is really good for organizational health and wellbeing.  In other words, relationships really do matter.

I was talking with Liz Schroeck after the meeting.  Liz is one of the facilitators, a union leader, and a wonderful third grade teacher in my building.  She was on the “together every moment” trip this fall.  She experienced the existing Maryland model first hand.  She understands and firmly believes in the power of genuine relationship building.  I brought up the idea of how fast paced our days are at school.  We talked about some of the challenges involved in slowing down to focus on the relationship part when we’re running around trying to do lots of important things simultaneously.  She reminded me that there’s a balance and that the relationship building process takes time and patience.  Good point!

This meeting was yet another example of the faith that our district’s leadership has in the power of positive partnerships.  Our superintendent, Dr. Shaner, is constantly reiterating that we are, “in the business of hope and inspiration.”  What a cool testament to that notion that a group of teachers and administrators feels comfortable enough to spend their time working on getting larger groups of teachers and administrators together for learning, growth, and collaborative development.  And what a cool testament to the authenticity of that group’s mission that Liz would remind me of the balance that needs to be struck.

I missed Thankful Thursday this week.  It was a goofy one with two snow days, and I got thrown off a bit.  How fortuitous that I had an opportunity to be involved in something today that I’m truly grateful for.  I deeply appreciate the incredible district that I work in and the wonderful people who I work with.  I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to a part of an organization whose core values speak so clearly about the value that we place on the people who make up our organization.

In what ways do relationships and relationship building make a difference in your life?  What role do the people in your school community play for one another?  Where is there room for growth?

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

When Push Comes to Shove: Patient Pathways to the Release of Responsibility

When you push something you work to keep it in motion and you stick with it.  You might step away for a moment, like when you push a grocery cart you let go every now and again to choose a ripe mango or grab a quart of ice cream, or when you push a child on swing, that child repeatedly goes away during one part of the swing arch but always comes back during another part.  When you shove something it’s gone.

I would suggest that when it comes to the development of children, certainly elementary school children, we’ve got to push much more than we shove.  In fact, I would further suggest that the only true shove elementary educators need to impart on our students comes as we wish them well on their way to middle school.  There does come a time when we can no longer keep watch over them, but until that time arrives, it’s exactly what we’re charged with doing.  From kindergarten to fifth grade we have to think about that eventual shove and the development of independence it requires.  Below are a few strategies I use when working on releasing the responsibility of independence to my students before push comes to shove.

The Stroll.  I like The Stroll because nothing about it says, “you’re in trouble.”  Even so, you can use it with students who are in trouble if you’re looking to serve a side of learning along with the trouble (something I highly recommend).  The Stroll is simple.  You walk around the building for five or ten minutes with a student of your choice.  As you walk you demonstrate professionalism, kindness, compassion, humor, comradely, respect, and any other characteristics you’re interested in modeling through the interactions you have with other students, teachers, parents, and anyone the two of you come across.

Sometimes during strolls the student you’re with has organic opportunities for guided practice as well.  The Stroll is simply a nonchalant way to extend a relationship and model your expectations simultaneously.  Once you’ve strolled, you can decide on a range of next steps from simply dropping the student off wherever he or she is going, to processing the interactions that he or she just witnessed and/or engaged in.  You can be overt or subtle.  The Stroll is easily adapted to meet the needs of any given situation.  You may or may not see some immediate growth, but regardless, it’s a good start and a viable practice for ongoing efforts.

The Commonality Declaration.  For me this strategy works best when dealing with communication through frustrations (but there are certainly other applications).  It is what it sounds like.  You tell a student about how it’s difficult to communicate when you’re frustrated.  The cool thing about telling a student something like that is that it’s true.

Students, especially young ones, don’t naturally default to understanding that the adults in their lives are human beings.  They don’t always see that we’re alike in many ways.   When I tell a student who’s just made a bad decision during a moment of frustration that I too have to work hard to focus on positive thinking and good decision making when I’m frustrated, that student usually takes a moment to think about it.

When I talk about my own challenges as related to the situation at hand before accusing, reprimanding, and/or suggesting major disappointment, it usually preempts the accusing, reprimanding, and suggesting major disappointment parts in such a way that nearly renders them unnecessary.  The Commonality Declaration, when delivered with authenticity, can be an inroad to some great collaborative learning…even during the most challenging disciplinary situations.

The Belief Statement.  This is the one where you make it unwaveringly clear to a student that you believe in him or her.  It’s where you convince a student beyond a shadow of a doubt, no matter how that student came to be sitting on the other side of your desk, that you believe he or she has the capacity to pull through even the toughest challenges into even the most miraculous triumphs.  My district’s superintendent, Dr. Bob Shaner, consistently reminds our administrative team that, “We are in the business of hope and inspiration.”  The Belief Statement is a good strategy for communicating that there’s always hope, and when delivered with sincerity, it can help to open doors of inspiration for self realization and positive progress in the incredible students that we serve.

In what ways do you support, encourage, and communicate with your students when, and before, push comes to shove?

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Thankful Thursday: My Incredible Wife

The background.  Gratitude is powerful in many ways.  Expressing gratitude is important to those whom you’re grateful to/for because it lets them know that they’ve made a positive impact, and that’s a nice thing to know.   It’s important to you (the grateful one) because it solidifies that positive impact, and that feels good.  Knowing nice things and feeling good are both capable of enhancing people’s lives.  So recognizing and expressing gratitude has the potential to enhance our lives and the lives of others; it’s a win, win kind of situation.  Thursday seems like a good day to express mine because I’m an elementary school principal, and elementary school principals really appreciate phrases like “Thankful Thursday.”  So welcome to my inaugural “Thankful Thursday.”

The situation.  As much as I drone on about how important the consistent integration of core values into words, actions, and decisions is, I sometimes miss that mark in my own life.  It’s one of the hazards of being human.  We don’t always follow through even with things that we genuinely believe in.  One of my core values tells me that I should be patient and thoughtful even and especially when I’m frustrated.  I think that we each have the capacity to treat one another well even in the most challenging moments.  I feel strongly that it’s important to be reflective about frustrations.  In heated moments, I think that we need to closely monitor our words and actions so that we don’t let heightened emotions spill out into negative impacts on other people.

Yesterday morning I was frustrated.  Additionally, my frustration had nothing to do with my wife or my kids, but, for about ten minutes while we were gathering our stuff to get out of the door I was short with all of them.  I projected my frustration.  I had a cloud of it hanging over my head and hovering around my body.  Not ideal for a positive start to the day, not fair to my family, and again, not aligned with my core values.  Also, I’m pretty hard on myself, so my initial frustration combined with a plummet into negative energy generated additional frustration.  I tell people not to wallow, and I wallowed.

Later, when I was beating myself up in reflection, my incredible wife reminded me that we all have moments of deviation from our core values path.  She told me that one of the best parts of being a family is the part in which we all love each other even during those moments.  She talked to me with clarity and wisdom about integrity and self-awareness, and she suggested that multilayered frustration could be turned into an opportunity at any moment during any of the layers.  She reminded that there is no wrong time to come around to learning and growth.  She was positive and patient even thought I was considerably cranky.

The gratitude.  I’m thankful to be married to a woman who knows me as well and seemingly even better than I know myself.  I’m thankful that my wife has the amazing ability to consistently direct and redirect me toward my best self.  I’m thankful that she’s kind, compassionate, and able to keep our ever-growing family glued together so well.  I’m thankful that she exposes me to beauty and wonder in places that I might never have looked for either.  My journey has been so profoundly enhanced by her love and partnership, and on this my first “Thankful Thursday,” I am feeling truly thankful for my incredible wife!

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Respectful Assertiveness: Teaching Our Children How to Cope and Communicate

I recently attended an extremely informative panel discussion on children’s mental health.  Among the many eye opening and critical points made by the panel was the fact that life is filled with challenging social and emotional situations.  They suggested that teaching our children how to be deal with such situations can help them significantly in many ways.

We all need coping mechanisms and communication skills.  Starting to develop effective ones at early ages goes a long way in being able to access them later in life.  Opportunities to exercise thoughtful bravery, intentional kindness in the face of unkindness, respectful assertiveness through uncomfortable interactions, and fidelity of character in various disagreeable circumstances are invaluable to our children’s path toward effective coping and authentic happiness.

It’s not easy to watch our children sad or hurting.  When I feel compelled to run the rescue of the kids that I serve I have to remind myself that independence is the goal.  The fact is, I’m not always around when they need me.  In some situations they simply have to be able to take care of themselves.  Of course as parents and educators we need to be cognizant of appropriate developmental capacity and the release of suitable levels of responsibility for independence, but still, I would suggest that we are not doing our children any favors when we run to their rescue.

A few days ago a fifth grader came into my office with a complaint about one of his peers.  Apparently the child had been calling him names.  He wanted me to make it stop, and I wanted to.  But more importantly, I wanted to help him develop his capacity to make it stop on his own.  We had a great conversation about his concerns and the potential for respectful assertiveness in this situation.  I told him that sometimes all it takes is letting someone know how you feel and what you expect.

I coached him on how to do that in a strong but compassionate way.  I worked to help him understand that oftentimes when a person chooses to be unkind he’s actually unhappy.  I guided him through possibilities for expressing his concerns and ongoing needs while also being sensitive to the potential sadness that the name caller might be feeling.  I reminded him that I’m always here if it doesn’t work.  I didn’t want to make the mistake of letting him feel that he was on his own or that he didn’t have options, I just wanted him to know that I believe in effective communication and that I believe in his ability to use it.  I also made clear that I believe in his capacity to cope with this unfortunate challenge.

Today the same student came rushing into my office with a huge smile on his face.  Turns out it seemed to work this time.  We all know that it doesn’t work every time, but I truly believe that our children do benefit from the development of tools and strategies that they can employ in challenging social emotional situations, highlighted opportunities to use those tools and strategies along their paths to adulthood, and the clear articulation of our faith in their strength and determination for peaceful resolutions and mutual happiness.

We must be giving our children support and permission to sort through the many social and emotional challenges that come along with being alive in this world.  We must teach them how to work with one another in good times and in bad, because we know all to well that they will continue to experience both throughout their lives.  Like it or not, we also know that they will very soon be required to do so without our guidance.  Like our parents knew and theirs before them, we won’t always be around to catch our children when they fall.  It’s not easy, but I would suggest that it’s critically important to focus intently on the development of coping and communication skills in our children, even and especially when we’d rather just protect them from the struggles that often accompany that development.

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

It’s All Good: Fostering Excitement for Positive Progress in School

Today a student approached me and said, “I had a good day I art!”

I replied, “Way to go!”

Then, with a huge smile on his face we gave me a fist bump and walked away.  He was exited.  He was proud.  Unsolicited, he was reporting positive progress.

I suppose that I could have read this interaction in a number of ways.  Maybe he spends his days thinking about how he can impress me with good behavior and success reports.  This happens to be a student with whom all of the adults in his life (including me) have been engaged in a targeted effort to understand and address some relatively unique challenges that he’s facing.  He could have been looking for ways to show me that he’s taking responsibility for his learning.  But that would be giving me (and the other adults in his life) a lot of credit.  Maybe our praise isn’t always on his mind (although the concept seems decent fodder for a future reflection).

No, what I’d rather believe is that he could have simply been excited about the positive progress he was reporting.  Even if the thinking about, the planning for, and the reporting of “good” news itself had something to do with the excitement, it could have been ultimately intrinsic, or at least a catalyst to internal satisfaction.

I know a great teacher named Bill Cecil (Best Year Ever: Winning Strategies to Thrive in Today’s Classroom) who talks about “setting the table.”  He insists that it almost doesn’t matter how kids experience the feeling of success initially, just that they do.  He believes that feeling it leaves them wanting more.  So do I.  Maybe this particular student had been building an understanding of what it feels like to have a “good” day and was compelled to share his excitement over that achievement.

In my experience, people (big and small ones) like to do good, to feel good, and to share good.  At the risk of sounding naive, I would like to think that this student found an opportunity to share the “good” that he had done along with the “good” that he was feeling.  Which reminds me that as as an elementary school principal I should be doing all I can to drive a culture in which that kind of sharing is celebrated.  Just a simple “way to go” and a fist bump spread his excitement to me.  I was energized.  I was proud.  I wanted to share.  I’m sharing now.  It feels good!

So, feel good, do good, and share good.  Model the triad to those you serve and embed the practice in your school culture.  Celebrate when others do the same.  People will catch on, it will spread, and most importantly, students will have enhanced opportunities to understand what an incredible impact “good” can have on their motivation and excitement for learning.  I you’re not already, at least give it a try…you might like it.  Even if you don’t, remember that with regard to exploring pathways toward enhanced learning, it’s all good!

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Trust Me: Building Partnerships in the School Community

I’m continuously working hard to build my capacity as a leader and a learner.  I feel strongly that the two go hand in hand.  Over the past couple of years I’ve been on an incredible journey that began with my transition from the classroom into the assistant principal’s office; I wasn’t called down…I was hired.

In fact, the process of being hired for that job catalyzed a paradigm shift for me…one that had been on the cusp of happening.  I knew what direction I wanted to head in, I had a clear vision of the impact I was looking to make, and I was hopeful to find a school community who’s stakeholders would invite me to join them with that direction and vision in mind.  Six weeks of an interview process forced me to dig just about as deep as I ever have.  The authenticity with which the Rochester community listened, prompted, and processed my candidacy left me know choice but to bring myself back to the basics and begin to build from there.

I’ve since integrated that work into all areas of my life.  Consequently, I’ve been engaged in the breaking down of my philosophy and my practice as an educator, a husband, and a father.  I firmly believe that integration has enhanced my ability to affect positive progress as each, separately and simultaneously.  Also, after consistently framing my efforts at learning and growth through this integrated lens for the past couple of years I continue along the path almost as a matter of habit.

Breaking myself down through critical reflection and processing hasn’t always been easy, in fact it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant at times.  However, through the challenges and triumphs I’ve realized with great clarity that it’s also a highly effective practice for me.  Holding myself up to a mirror built upon my core values (static and developing) also holds me accountable to the same.

To that end I’ve adopted multiple tools and strategies for consistent reflective practice, not the least of which has been my focus on regular reflective writing and the sharing of that writing as a learning and leadership boggler.  I often feel like a kid in a candy store.  The learning has been intense and exciting.  With every passing day I discover new inputs that make my eyes widen and my mouth water for more.

As I moved from the assistant principal to the principal role this past summer, I was thrilled to be able to reflect on the partnerships that had been so easy to building in the wonderful district who’s stakeholders invited me in.  One of Rochester Community Schools’ defining characteristics is that from top to bottom, from front to back, and form inside to out, I have not met a single person who seems anything less that eager and excited about collaboration.  It’s an extremely community-centric community.

Our central office leadership has been involved in my learning and growth every step along the way.   Through modeling, expressions of support and encouragement, and a clearly demonstrated value for shared leadership, my supervisors are building the kind of culture that I am aiming for at the building level.  With their example and my reflective learning in mind I’ve narrowed my developmental goal to the building of partnerships that perpetuate joyful teaching and learning.  I plan to maintain that goal indefinitely and regularly seek pathways to growth and indicators of achievement to celebrate along the way.

One of those pathways has been a research focus on building partnerships with the concepts of trust, buy-in, and shared leadership at the heart.  Through a reflective self-study I’m seeking meaningful progress.  I recently reached out to the faculty I serve for critical feedback.  I worked hard to provide anonymity in an effort to maximize comfort and generate authentic feedback.  I presented my request in the form of an activity that I called “Frankly.”  Each faculty member was given a sheet of paper with the following prompt:

“Frankly”

A Gift to Seth

I know that asking for a gift is typically considered taboo.  However, now that we’ve been together for over a month I would greatly appreciate it if you could thoughtfully write down some ideas and insights that you think might help me reach and exceed my potential as a building principal.  In short, I’m asking for some critical feedback…and I’d greatly appreciate it if you give it to me straight.  I’m hoping that the anonymity of this structure will provide a platform for each of you to express yourself candidly.  When you finish, please fold the paper in half from top to bottom, then once more from side to side, and them it in the bowl.  Thank you in advance!

I was specific about the folding because I wanted to do all I could to make sure that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish one from another.  I left the room.  Admittedly, I was a bit nervous, but I was excited too.  I intended the activity as an opportunity for me to see my own practice through multiple other lenses (those of people I’m working to build trusting partnerships with).  I knew that I would have to temper my pride.  My hope was that I would get some real critical feedback and that I would be mature enough to process it with humility, authenticity, and true eye on leadership and learning.

The feedback came.  Some of it stung and some of it reaffirmed my direction.  All of it was meaningful.  Initially, I planned to publish the feedback in list form.  However, I’ve since thought better of that plan with confidentiality in mind.  Alternatively, as I process the data I’ll communicate with my faculty to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable publication options.  I would like to share specifics in the hopes that others on intentional learning and leadership pathways might benefit.

In the meantime, without quoting any of the responses, the following are some broad strokes from the data that have already given me cause to adapt my practice, in some cases resulting in the integration of adapted systems and structures.

– I know that I’m trustworthy, but it’s impossible for those I serve to truly know the same without the development of genuine relationships.  That takes time, patience, authenticity, and transparency.

– Follow through is critical to progress.  Those I serve must know that I am going to do what I say.

– Messaging should be concise.  Educators are busy people who don’t have time to linger.

– It takes time for people to feel comfortable being honest and open.  I need to show my faculty that they’re safe in every interaction.

– People need to vent.  I must foster a culture where frustrations can be processed in professional ways.

– Solutions are key to progress.  Ongoing dialogue that has no end can halt progress.  Decisiveness is an important attribute of effective leadership.

– Feedback is only meaningful when it can be heard.  There is a balance between critical and compassionate.

– There is little more important in trusting collaboration than support.  My faculty must know that I support them in their practice and in their growth.

– Everything that educators do boils down to teaching and learning as the two relate to student wellbeing and achievement…that must come through at all times.

– Perception is reality.  My faculty must know that the ship is being steered with intention at all times.

Stay tuned for more reflective processing as I use this data in my efforts to build trusting partnerships with all stakeholders in my school community.  I would love to hear any connected thoughts or idea in the comments section below.  Your input is very much welcome and appreciated!

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.